COLUMBUS – The Columbus School Board unanimously agreed on Friday evening to approve a one-year extension to the Columbus Education Association’s contract, through 2011-12.

“We believe that the extension will provide the financial concessions and improvement to teaching that will help both kids and taxpayers in Columbus,” superintendent of schools Bryan Davis said.

Specifically, Davis said that the contract will help the district accomplish three things; staff stability, savings for taxpayers in light of impending cuts of state aid and improvement to the quality of teaching.

That third element will involve the fact that performance and training will now be moved ahead of seniority as the criteria for deciding who will be laid off.

Under the agreement, teachers will see a net decrease in their take-home pay of approximately seven percent.

Their salaries will actually increase by the amount of the Consumer Price Index, but they will now contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries into the Wisconsin Retirement System (up from zero) and pay seven-and-a-half percent more of their health insurance premiums (for a total of 12.6 percent).

Davis said that teachers gained “the security of knowing what next year will bring” by agreeing to the extension.

“Everything was done in unity and the spirit of moving forward for the district,” he added.

“This agreement stands through June 30, 2012, even if the budget bill gets signed,” Davis said.

On Monday of this week the board issued two preliminary notices of non-renewal to teachers.

Those notices went to a high school family and consumer education teacher (based on certification issues) and to an elementary teacher (based on performance).

March 15 is the deadline for final notices of non-renewal, which sever contracts with affected teachers on June 30.

A non-renewal is different than a layoff, under which a teacher remains bound to his or her contract and can be called back for two years.

According to contracts in the Columbus School District, May 15 is the last day the board can issue layoffs.

Davis said Monday night that layoffs will be coming later as the board reacts to a potential budget shortfall next year of anywhere between $400,000 and $900,000.

Current battles over the budget and budget repair at the state level have left local districts uncertain about their immediate fiscal futures.

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