The Darien RTM passed a teachers' contract Monday night that will affect overall personnel costs for teachers, including health insurance, pension costs and unemployment insurance.

Seventy-one of the 78 members present voted in favor of the contract, which is effective July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2015, and covers 446 teachers.

RTM District 4 member Jim Cameron said he read the entire contract and voted against it.

"We know that the Board of Education budget represents roughly two-thirds of this entire town's budget," Cameron said. "This contract provides 15 paid sick days for each teacher, five personal days, it gives them free life insurance. There's even a $500 deductible should their car be vandalized on school property. There are two funds, one $30,000, another $20,000 of tuition aid for teachers that want to go on and do further study. I think I chose the wrong career. This is a wonderful contract, but this town I do not think can afford it."

RTM Finance and Budget Committee Chairman Bruce Orr, District 5, said that salary and benefits "represent nearly 85 percent of the $76 million (annual) budget, so a 1.5 percent salary increase at current staffing levels equals about $800,000 a year."

Yet the Board of Education, the Darien Education Association, and the Finance and Budget committee, who were among those that negotiated the contract this month, were influenced by their options for moving forward. If the RTM voted against the contract, state statute would require it to be voted on by the state arbitration panel, whose decision is binding.

"The general consensus of those committee members who voted in favor was that if the contract went to arbitration, there'd be a slight chance the board, and we as taxpayers, could get marginally better terms," Orr said. "And there was an equally slight chance that the terms could be worse."

Orr said this decision was a positive step in keeping the rising cost of health care in check.

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RTM Education Committee Chairman Lois Schneider agreed.

"The health insurance plan going forward will be an HSA plan, which helps reduce plan costs and increases while still delivering good health coverage," said Schneider, who also explained the teachers' salary structure for the new contract.

"The structure of the teacher's salary is based upon steps and general wage increases," she said. "The salary's structure is a complex combination of years of service and advanced degrees and/or credits completed by teachers. Increases occur within steps. An individual teacher's increase depends on where they are in the step."

Despite cost concerns and other risks involved in the committees' decision to pass the contract, Schneider offered another explanation.

"The majority of our committee supported the resolution as teachers are the key element in the success of our students' education," Schneider said.