The audience, numbering about 200, burst into applause.
"I'm just relieved that it's over," said parent Diane Rice.
Board members expressed similar sentiments.
The particulars of new pact - suggested by one member of a three-person panel that was formed to help the two sides reach agreement - fall somewhere between the final offers made by the board and union.
"We were hoping for something a little bit more on our side," union spokeswoman Kate Shaw said, but she, too, expressed relief and said teachers were ready to move forward.
The board wanted a three-year contract; the teachers wanted five. The contract is four years long.
The two biggest obstacles to settlement had been salary and benefits.
This year's average salary is $75,604.
Under the new pact, teachers will receive raises of 2.25 percent this year; 2.35 percent in 2006-07 and 2007-08; and 2.45 percent in 2008-09, not including the automatic step increase all but the most experienced teachers receive every year. These average 2 percent.
Teachers had asked for raises of 2.5 percent this year and the next two years and 2.8 percent in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The school board offered 2.25 percent each year. According to a presentation made by School Board President Gregory Lucidi, the contract is projected to bring the average teacher salary to $85,547 by 2008-09, with starting teachers making $45,176 and the highest-paid making $98,222.
In health benefits, the final offers of both sides agreed on the percentage teachers would pay of their health-care benefits, but the teachers wanted those costs capped at totals ranging from $950 this year to $2,200 the final year.
The agreement calls for the same percentages and grants the teachers their cap, but sets it at $2,000 each year. It gives the school board the prescription plan it wanted, which calls for higher copays for drugs not on a preapproved list.
At one time, the union and school board had hoped to reach an early settlement. They began negotiating in May 2004 - more than a year before the old contract's June 2005 expiration. But by this past March, the sides were talking with the aid of a state mediator. In the summer, the two negotiating teams reached a tentative agreement that called for across-the-board raises of 1.5 percent, not including the step increase. But in a rare move, union members voted down what their team brought them. And that's when things really got ugly.
The union team asked for more when it returned to the table, but the school board offered less. On Oct. 17, the teachers left their classrooms for the picket line.
The strike angered many parents, who themselves took to picketing both the administration building and the schools where teachers marched. Many of them organized into a group that is lobbying legislators to make teacher strikes illegal in Pennsylvania. They are recruiting other parents from across the state to join their movement and plan to lobby for student and parent issues beyond strikes.
Students worried about getting caught up in their class work and getting college applications in on time. Some student activities were canceled - as were many vacation days, which now will be used as strike makeup days.
Teachers returned to their classrooms only after they had exhausted the number of strike days state law allows before the two sides are forced into nonbinding arbitration.
Under nonbinding arbitration, each side selected an arbitrator to represent it, and together they chose a third, neutral person, Margaret Brogan. Dates had been set for formal hearings - one was to have taken place yesterday - but at the end of December, Brogan brought the sides together informally, and based on that meeting, drafted the proposal that is now the new contract.
Had either the teachers or school board rejected it, the formal arbitration process would have resumed and the arbitrator panel would have drafted a proposal. Had either side rejected it, the teachers could have struck a second time.
Many who spoke seemed eager for the community to put the tension of the negotiations behind it.
"There are no winners here tonight, should anyone think any party got what it wanted," board member Howard Goldberg said. "The price paid was much too high."
Contact staff writer Kellie Patrick at 215-702-7807 or email@example.com.
Here are the highlights of the last, best offers made by the Pennsbury Education Association and the school board and the neutral arbitrator's proposal, which is now the new contract:
Union: Five years.
School board: Three years.
Arbitrator: Four years.
Union: 2.5 percent this year and the next two years; 2.8 percent in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Does not include the annual, automatic raises, called step increases, which vary but average about 2 percent per year.
School board: 2.25 percent this year and the next two years, not including step increases.
Arbitrator: 2.25 percent this year; 2.35 percent in 2006-07 and 2007-08; and 2.45 percent in 2008-09, not including step increases.
Union: For the basic Personal Choice 10-20-70 plan, employees would pay 7 percent of the premium up to $950 in the first year; and then 8 percent up to $1,200; 9 percent up to $1,500; 10 percent up to $2,000; and 10 percent up to $2,200. Teachers would pay more for other plans.
School board: For the basic Personal Choice 10-20-70 plan, employees would pay 7 percent of the premium this year; 8.5 percent the second year; and 10 percent the third year. Other plans would cost more.
Arbitrator: For the basic Personal Choice 10/20/70 plan, teachers would pay 7 percent of the premium this year; 8.5 percent in 2006-07; and 10 percent in the final two years, with a $2,000 cap each year.
SOURCE: Pennsbury Education Association, Pennsbury School Board, and district administration