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Northport teachers to get $5.5M in pay increases under agreement

Teachers in the Northport-East Northport school district will get roughly $5.5 million in pay increases over four years under the terms of an agreement ratified by the school board Monday night.

The four-year agreement between the district and the teacher' union includes a caveat to halt raises if the district faces catastrophic losses in its ongoing legal fight with the Long Island Power Authority.

Salaries ranged from $49,559 to $126,610 under the expired contract, while the new deal, which expires in 2018, provides for salaries to range from $53,700 to $137,231 by 2017-2018.

The deal has an "escape clause" for the final two years in which teachers would give up their raises if the district is hit with a tax reduction of $2.2 million or more as a result of an ongoing tax assessment case with LIPA over its Northport power plant. Teachers would have the right to reopen those talks.

"Overall we fared better this round of negotiations than we did in the previous contract," said union president Antoinette Blanck, noting the union ratified the agreement Friday after a nearly yearlong period of working without a contract.

Teachers will receive a total of one step increase over the full four years of the contract.

The cost to the district will be about 2 percent more than the last contract, said John Gross, the attorney representing the district in contract negotiations and the LIPA litigation.

Unlike most districts in New York, Northport does not have a provision to continue providing teachers with step pay increases when a contract expires.

"It's a fair agreement," Gross said. It's "close to the tax cap that the district has to live with, and we have the all-important escape clause."

LIPA is pursuing tens of millions of dollars in past tax assessments it has paid to the school district and local governments, and is seeking a lower assessment in the future.

"We were trying to be respectful of the community, cognizant of the issues that faced the district," Blanck said.

The potential financial fallout from the LIPA suit has hung over the board as members have devised budgets in recent years.

Former Superintendent Marylou McDermott cited the suit as a reason for the budgeting practices criticized by the state comptroller in an audit issued last fall.

The audit found the district had a pattern of over-budgeting and under-spending, resulting in overestimating expenses by nearly $34 million over five years.

Blanck said in October that teachers would be more aggressive in contract talks after the audit was released. They declared an impasse later that month and had been in mediation since December.

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