Anyone who pays property taxes is well aware of where the biggest percentage of the money goes — schools.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories about the current employment contract between the Wayne Highlands School District and the Wayne Highlands Education Association.

 Anyone who pays property taxes is well aware of where the biggest percentage of the money goes — schools.

But exactly how is that money spent?

Like any business, the biggest expense is personnel. The same is true with school districts.

Another factor with school districts is that educators work under a contract agreement. Every so often, that agreement has to be renegotiated.

Such is the case with the Wayne Highlands Education Association (WHEA) and the Wayne Highlands School District.

It was in 2008 when the last contract was negotiated. That contract will expire on June 30, 2013.

That means contract negotiations are about to commence.

"Everything is on the table," said Greg Frigoletto, superintendent of schools and the person who will lead the district in the negotiations process.

"It's give and take," said Todd Miller, president of the WHEA.

The current contract

Both Frigoletto and Miller acknowledge that when the current contract was negotiated, the economy was booming.

That contract went into effect in July 2008. Just a few months later, the bottom fell out of the economy and it's yet to fully recover.

In that contract, the school board and union came to an agreement about salary increases.

In that agreement, teachers were given a 17.5 percent salary increase over five years.

Here's an example: In the 2008 contract, the salary for a starting teacher with a bachelor's degree was $35,505. In the current year, that has increased to $41,746.

The contract also states the total days to be worked by teachers in a year is 184. Total instructional days are 180. The other four days are for professional development.

It also states that teachers are required to work from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. except on Friday or on a day before a scheduled school vacation, when school is dismissed at 3 p.m.

For a starting teacher on the lowest end of the pay scale, that translates to $226.88 per day. Based on a seven and one-half hour work day, that is $30.25 per hour.

On the upper end of the scale, the numbers are higher.

For instance, the maximum salary listed on the current year scale is $86,891. That's for someone who has more than 15 years experience and a master's degree plus 60 credits for continuing education.

That means that person would make $472.23 per day. Based on seven and one-half hours, that translates to $62.96 per hour.

It should be noted these figures are based solely on the language in the current contract and do not reflect extra work, like lessons plans and grading, that many teachers do on their own time.

The insurance issue

And that is just the salary. There are other benefits, as well.

The most costly benefit paid by taxpayers has to do with insurance.

In the current contract, the school district pays the full premium for health, dental, vision and life insurance for all employees. That includes family plans for the union members.

A right to know request was submitted to the school district requesting the total cost for all employee related insurance premiums paid by the taxpayers for the 2011-12 school year.

Total cost paid based on 385 employees was $5,107,896.50.

Here's the breakdown, again based on 385 employees:

• Vision — $40,135.44

• Life — $40,046.

• Dental — $256,964.40 ($55.62 per person/per month X 12 months X385 employees).

• Health — $4,770,750.66 ($1,032.63 per person/per month X 12 months = $12,391.56 per employee/per year X 385 employees).

Totaling up all of the insurance paid, it works out to $13,267.26 per employee paid by the taxpayers.

One of the big questions which people are asking is if this will change when it comes to the new contract.

Miller said the union is currently surveying its membership.

One of the key questions: "What's possible in this economic climate?" said Miller.

Miller also said they are asking for an analysis of the district budget and part of their strategy will be based on that information.

He said "nobody" is interested in something that "is unaffordable to either side."

Miller reiterated what Frigoletto said, as well.

"Everything is on the table," said Miller.

Frigoletto, who used to be a member of the teacher's union, said he will take the lead in the early rounds of the negotiations. He will meet with the representatives of the union and "see where it goes."

Miller said the union has assembled a team. He said the "ground rules" will be discussed with the district as negotiations get started.

By law, negotiations have to begin no later than Jan. 10. However, Miller said he hopes to "be going earlier."

Frigoletto said in actuality, the entire school board is the negotiating team. However, it is likely certain members will be getting more involved.

"Most likely, we will include a core group," said Frigoletto.

Coming in future stories: Extracurricular costs, athletic expenses, sick and personal leave days and more details on the current contract.