The Brookings-Harbor School District and the teachers' union have agreed on a 3-year contract that both sides are calling a success - and resulted in raises in salaries and health benefits for most of the districts' 190 employees.

"The teachers and staff are very happy with the way things turned out," Matt Bennett, union negotiation chairman for the Brookings Harbor Education Association (BHEA), said Friday.

Under the ratified agreement, union members will take a 2 percent pay cut the first year, which will be offset by the district decision to pay the employees' contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). Doing so gives union members a net pay increase of 3 percent the first year.

Union members also will receive an additional 2 percent pay increase in years two and three. The members' insurance cap (the amount the district pays toward health coverage), will increase by $25 this year, followed by an additional $35 in years two and three.

The contract agreement also covered areas such as working hours, class preparation time, grievance procedures and overtime.

The union and school district began contract negotiations at the end of May and concluded talks by the end of June. The union, Bennett said, surveyed its members before the first meeting to determine what was important to them.

Several meetings lasted as long as eight hours, while others lasted about four hours.

The board negotiating team consisted of then- district Financial Director Don Sweeney and school board members Katherine Johnson and Bruce Raleigh, both first-timers to the negotiation table.

For the union, Bennett, also a first-timer, was joined by four to six members who represent the teachers and classified staff such as bus drivers, administrative assistants and teachers' aides.

Bennett also worked beside a consultant from the Oregon Education Association, Susan Anderson, a veteran of union negotiations for Brookings and throughout the state.

In the past decade, negotiations between the Brookings school district and the union have been contentious, with both sides typically miles apart on issues such as compensation and number of work days.

This year was different.

Using words like "transparent" and "straightforward," Bennett said negotiations were positive and productive.

"This is my first year doing negotiations, but I heard from other teachers that this was the best year ever," he said. "We ended up with a contract that was feasible for the district and makes the teachers and staff happy."

School board member Raleigh agreed.

"The board's goal was to reach an agreement that worked for the district, while treating the staff as the professionals they are," he said. "We wanted to send a clear message that we appreciate them."

Raleigh credited Johnson for helping to maintain "a positive, professional" attitude." He also credited Sweeney for providing an in-depth analysis of the district's finances that helped both sides start on an even playing ground.

"Don restructured the district's debt and found money that was being underutilized," Raleigh said. "He and previous business managers have taken conservative approaches over the years, especially since the recession in 2008, and, while we've had to cut some programs, we were still doing better than many school districts."

Bennett said Sweeney's effort was appreciated.

"The goal was to focus on the data, discuss and reach an agreement," he said. "Don laid everything out for us. It was straightforward and transparent. Both sides knew what the district's financial situation was and we worked from there."

Raleigh said the district anticipates having enough money, mostly due to a stable enrollment, for the next three years to sustain the union contract.

"Sustainability is important and we, the board, considered that," he said.

The district's decision to pay the employees' contribution to the retirement system was important, Bennett said. The district stopped doing that nearly a decade ago.

"With the PERS and the pay increase each year, union members are now at or close to the average of other schools along the south coast," Bennett said.