WOODBRIDGE - The 225 teachers who work in the Amity Regional School District are facing the new year with a refreshed three-year contract, which has them set for a pay increase and a new medical benefits system.

The Amity Board of Education unanimously ratified the contract with the teachers at its regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 9. Three years ago, the last time a contract was reached, was through arbitration.

"I thought this was a very amicable and focused set of negotiations," said Superintendent Dr. John Brady. "The teachers were just as eager to work with the board as the board was to work with the teachers."

Brady said that 90 percent of voting teachers present at the meeting voted in favor of the contract.

Due to an 80 percent jump in insurance premium costs, said Brady, the system by which teachers receive medical benefits has been changed. The teachers will now pay healthcare costs upfront, rather than a yearly co-payment, into a healthcare savings account. The new health benefits system is expected to save the district more than $800,000 over the course of the contract.

"It's a win for the teachers, the board, and for taxpayers," said Brady.

Karen Shenkman, president of the Amity Education Association, said the new health benefits system was one of the best parts of the new contract, estimating it will save teachers money in the long run.

"The raise would've been eaten up by healthcare costs," said Shenkman, who has also taught for 32 years in Amity.

The teachers' wages will increase by over 7 percent over the three year contract. The wages will increase 2.25 percent in 2006-2007; 2.46 percent in 2007-2008, and by 2.99 percent in 2008-2009. Starting next year, a new teacher with a bachelor's degree will be given a starting salary of $39,344, and a teacher with a master's degree will start at $40,895.

Shenkman also noted that these most recent contract negotiations were very smooth, with many teachers pleased with the results.

"I've been doing this for 30 years, and we went in with one definite thing, which was a way to get some kind of handle on health care costs, and get an increase in salary. And we did achieve that," she said.