CONCORD — Mt. Diablo school district teachers overwhelmingly voted to ratify a contract settlement Thursday that would help pay for medical benefits, but provide no pay increases through June 2010.

"I'm excited that after about 16 months, this is finally settled," board President Gary Eberhart said. "I wish we could have done better. But, given the financial constraints that we're under with the economy and the state budget, this is probably the best we could do."

A little more than 1,300 teachers voted, with 1,173 favoring the contract and 133 rejecting it, said Mike Noce, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers union. One teacher abstained.

"There were people who were unhappy, especially people who didn't need medical (coverage)," Noce said. "I was just hoping that people would look at the big picture. It really addresses the problem that this district has in attracting and retaining teachers."

The contract, which still must be approved by the school board, would provide $3 million in 2009 and $3.3 million in 2010 toward health benefits, which teachers have sought for more than a year while working under an expired contract. Teachers would get no pay increases through June 2010.

To help pay for the benefits and balance its budget, while dealing with reduced state education funding, the school board expects to cut $6.6 million from other areas of its 2009-10 budget by Feb. 10. Trustees cut $1.8 million Tuesday and anticipate slashing $4.8 million more.

The board also expects to pursue a parcel tax in June that could generate about $7.5 million. But uncertain state funding this year has district employees and board members wondering how much deeper they may have to cut.

The County Office of Education must review the contract before the board can approve it, Superintendent Gary McHenry said.

"We have to have verification from the county superintendent of schools that we can afford that offer," McHenry said.

Eberhart said he hoped to schedule a special Jan. 6 meeting to sign the contract, instead of waiting until the next scheduled session Jan. 13.

"It's kind of a monumental thing that has occurred and I think it deserves being ratified as soon as possible," he said. "I'm hopeful that with the new board majority, with this contract settled and with other (bargaining) contracts that are imminent, that this is going to be a starting point where we can all begin to work together to move the school district in the right direction."

Theresa Harrington covers the Mt. Diablo school district. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or tharrington@bayareanewsgroup.com.

More information:
View the contract at www.mtdiabloeducationassoc.org