September 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande School District and its teachers have reached an agreement on a revised contract.

Terms of the contract, approved by the school board Thursday, call for La Grandes teachers to receive base salary increases each of the next two years.

The agreement calls for teachers to receive a salary increase of 2 percent for the 2001-2002 school year. In 2002-2003, La Grandes teachers will receive a pay increase that will equal the rise in the Consumer Price Index plus 1 percent.

Terms of the agreement also call for health insurance coverage to be boosted. The school district will cover the full cost of health insurance premiums from October through June 30, 2002.

The school district had been paying $454 a month for health insurance premiums. This figure will jump to $575 a month in October when the price of premiums rises. Teachers have been paying about $35 a month for health insurance over the past school year.

La Grandes teachers approved the contract this week.

Kyle McKinney, president of the La Grande Education Association, said the contract revision was approved by the teachers with some reluctance.

They passed it begrudgingly, said McKinney, a math teacher at La Grande High School.

McKinney said that the 2 percent salary increase for 2001-2002 will not make up for the local cost of living increases over the past year. He cited things such as price increases in the cost of natural gas and electricity.

The teachers are in the third year of a four-year contract. A reopener clause stipulated that salary and benefits could be

renegotiated after the first two years.

The agreement states that the health insurance portion of the contract can be renegotiated for 2002-2003 if the cost of premiums rises after June 30, 2002.

Should this occur, the recommendations of a new school district health insurance committee would be considered. The committee is comprised of two teachers, two administrators, two school board members and one member of Union Baker Education Service District.

The committee is examining how health insurance costs can be reduced without lowering the quality of coverage.

Terms of the contract agreement call for the health insurance committee to continue meeting at least for the rest of the school year.

It was a key to the settlement, said La Grande School Board member Guy Weishaar.