The Board of Education unanimously approved new contracts for teachers that include a wage freeze in 2010-11. Step increments, which reward higher pay for longer service, have also been frozen.

Pam Iacono, who was involved in the negotiations as a Board of Education representative, called the wage and step freezes unprecedented and a "true zero" contract.

"It`s a huge concession on the part of the teachers and I`m so grateful for their willingness to do it for the students," she said.

The freeze in the step increments is what sources involved in the negotiations said make the contract so significant. Normally, each year a teacher would be given a bump in pay and an increase until they reached step 25.

"The fact is that there will provide a significant savings to the district," said Margaret Mary Fitzgerald, assistant superintendent for human resources.

There are 940 teachers represented by the Fairfield Education Association, and the teachers voted in favor of the two-year contract on Monday. If the contract was not approved, it would have gone to an arbitrator to make a decision.

The teachers will receive a 2 percent increase in 2011--12, the final year of the contract, and step increments will also be unfrozen. Insurance for medical, dental and prescription plans will also be slightly more expensive.

In the past, contracts have been for three years and involved much more generous wage increases. The three-year contract from 2004--07 saw annual wage increases of at least 4.63 percent. That number was lowered in the 2007-2009 contract with wage increases ranging from 2.7--2.95 percent.

"The teachers made a huge economic concession during the first year of their contract," said Marilyn Feranec, president of the Fairfield Education Association. She praised the teachers` willingness to forsake a wage increase in light of the town`s economic climate.

Sources involved in the school and the town aren`t exactly sure when -- if ever -- there was not just a wage freeze, but a step increment freeze. Feranec, a lifelong Fairfield resident, believes there may have been a freeze in 1990. Others called this contract unprecedented.

A tentative agreement was reached two weeks ago the first time a federal mediator came in to aid negotiations, which had begun in August.

"Obviously there was a lot of back-and-forth in a lot of negotiations but the important thing was both sides were professional," Iacano said.

A contract for special education trainers, which was negotiated separately, was also approved by the Board of Education. The 21 trainers will be getting retroactive pay increases from 2007--08 and 2009--09 to the tune of 2.9 percent each year. This school year, there will be no wage increase, and in 2010--11 a possible salary increase will be opened up for collective bargaining

Catherine Albin, chairman of the Board of Education, and Feranec, president of the Fairfield Education Association issued a joint statement that said: "The Fairfield Board of Education and the Fairfield Education Association worked closely together to reach an agreement that was fiscally responsible. This contract reflects the current difficult economic conditions facing our town. Agreement was reached through the efforts and commitment of the negotiation teams."

The Representative Town Meeting still needs to approve the contracts for them to go into effect in July.