August 20, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande School Districts classified staff will receive base salary increases each of the next two years under a revised contract approved Monday by the school board.

The agreement calls for the classified staff to receive a salary increase of 2 percent for the 2001-02 school year. In 2002-03 the staff will receive a pay increase that will equal that of the rise in the urban 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 in 2001-02. The district is paying $454 a month per classified employee for health insurance. Premiums are presently $508 a month. This means that classified employees had been paying $54 a month out of their own pockets for premiums.

The districts approximately 120 classified staff employees include custodians, secretaries, cooks and educational assistants.

The agreement also calls for the health insurance portion of the contract to be renegotiated for 2002-03.

The employees are beginning the third year of a five-year contract which started July 1, 1999. A reopener clause stipulated that salary and benefits could be renegotiated after the first two years.

Jim MacKay, the Oregon School Employees Associations chapter president, is happy with the agreement.

I think that the settlement is fair and workable for both parties, said MacKay, a member of the school districts maintenance staff. He said the agreement is fair in light of the school districts declining enrollment and the slowing economy.

School board chairman Ron Arritola also said he is pleased with the settlement, which he also said was fair. Arritola said the classified staff is deserving of the salary and health insurance coverage increases.