Teachers will head back to the classroom later this month with a contract between the union that represents them and the school district.

Three trustees on Thursday approved a tentative agreement between the Del Norte Teachers Association and Del Norte County Unified School District. Trustees Angela Greenough and Roger Daley were absent.

The new contract includes a 4 percent increase to the staff salary schedule and additional professional development, according to Coleen Parker, the district’s human resources director. Professional development will focus on meeting the needs of the district’s English language learners, foster youth and economically disadvantaged students, she said.

Parker said she and her staff worked over the summer with DNTA to come up with a tentative agreement. Last year, teachers returned to their classrooms without an approved contract with the district. It took the union and school district until January 2018 to negotiate a contract both parties could agree to.

In addition to a salary increase, which Parker described as a cost of living adjustment, and more professional development, the new teachers contract increases the amount the district pays in health benefits from $10,500 to $10,700. The new contract also includes more options for retirement benefits, according to Parker.

According to the negotiated contract, under one option retirees and their spouse are required to enroll in Medicare Part A upon their respective 65th birthdays or when they’re eligible for Medicare.

The second option involves giving the retiree an annual cash payment equivalent to 80 percent of the medical plan rate of the most comprehensive composite medical plan.

Under the third option, the retiree can choose any plan offered by the district and receive an annual cash payment equivalent to the difference of 80 percent of the medical plan rate of the most comprehensive composite medical plan. If the plan chosen is more than 80 percent, the retiree will not receive an annual cash payment, but would have to pay the difference to the district, according to the contract.

“If you have a retiree who has the ability to have seven years of benefits because they’re 58 years old and they worked in the district 38 years, you’re saving ($28,000) on them having this option,” Parker said. “There’s folks that have spouses that work at the prison, let’s say, and they have a better health package than us, so they have this cash out option and, frankly, if you’re very healthy you might move to another state that has a cheaper health care package that you can buy. That opens up some flexibility and helps us with that retirement cost because as we all know, it’s pretty steep.”

During his report, DNTA President Marshall Jones thanked the school district and the union’s bargaining team for being able to reach a tentative agreement.

School board members also updated job descriptions for classroom teachers and career technical education teachers. The job description for classroom teachers hadn’t been updated since 1995 and hadn’t included information about the physical environment, Parker said.

“We’ve not had job descriptions for extra duty work, so we’re shifting some of the dollars around for those things,” she said, adding that the job descriptions were updated with input from DNTA. “Department chairs for the high school and Crescent Elk are getting the same stipend. We spent a lot of time with district staff talking about what is it that you really want to have happen for those extra duty hours and so we’ve got those job descriptions done.”

The new description for career technical education teachers also includes more information about the work environment as well as the physical demands of the job, according to Parker.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .