An arbitration panel has made recommendation for resolving key issues in a long-festering contract dispute between the School Administrative District 58 board and its teachers union, but the school board has balked at accepting the arbiters’ recommendation for health insurance benefits.

The Mount Abram Teachers Association has been without a contract since June 30, 2013, and talks have bogged down because of pay, health insurance benefits and procedures to be followed in case of teacher layoffs in the district.

After teachers worked for two school years without a contract, the dispute went to a three-member arbitration panel last July. The panel issued a confidential report last month that recommended no pay raise for the 2012-13 school year, 2 percent for 2013-14 and 2.5 percent for 2014-15.

On Tuesday, the school board revealed the arbitration panel’s recommendations and said it considers that pay package acceptable, provided that it limits retroactive pay for the 2014 and 2015 school years to teachers who are still employed by the district on the date the new contract is signed.

Teachers in the district, which includes Avon, Phillips, Kingfield and Strong, have been working under a salary freeze, and the district has operated under the old contract.

The Mount Abram Teachers Association president has said the deadlock has left frustrations high and morale low at the Franklin County school district, which has a $9 million budget this year. Association officials were unavailable Tuesday.

The board members, however, argue their hands are tied by shrinking federal, state and local funding for schools and the rising cost of providing health care benefits.

The arbitration board – made up of one member selected by the teachers association, one by the school district and a neutral representative picked by the other panel members – unanimously recommended that the board pay 85 percent of the cost of the single insurance plan and 75 percent of the cost of a family plan.

The school board, however, said in its news release that it wants to protect itself against the risk of sharp hikes in health costs by paying a fixed dollar amount, with a 3 percent increase each year, rather than a set percentage of the teachers’ health insurance benefits. The board said it is not willing to take the “financial risk” of tying its contributions to a percentage of the premiums calculated by the Maine Education Association Benefits Trust rating

system.

“Although the board is willing to pay more for the cost of insurance than is recommended by the arbitration panel this year, the sticking point in negotiations has been the board’s desire to pay a fixed dollar amount,” the statement said.

The school board has offered to set its base insurance payment slightly higher than what its contribution would be under the arbitrators’ recommendation. For example, the board is offering to pay $6,354 for single coverage, $85 more than it would pay if the district covered 85 percent of the current premium as recommended by the arbiters. Under its proposal, the district would pay $304 more than its projected 75 percent share of a dependent family plan.

A third major issue in the contract dispute has been use of state-required “effectiveness ratings” for teachers as a factor in determining who gets laid off if cutbacks are made in the teaching staff. The arbitration panel has recommended that the ratings be used “if available.” The panel said the two sides will have to continue to negotiate that issue to come up with an evaluation procedure that would meet the standard for teacher effectiveness ratings.

The average salary of a teacher in SAD 58 in 2012-13 was $47,227, which was slightly less than the state average of $50,790 per year, according to the Department of Education.