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New process aids teachers, board to come to agreement

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After an unusually brief negotiating period, the Yellow Springs Board of Education approved a tentative contract with the school system’s teachers at its June 12 meeting. The teachers union had approved the agreement earlier in the month. In past years, negotiations have gone on through summer to the start of the school year. In 2005, an agreement was not reached until October.

According to Chris Rainey, newly retired president of the Yellow Springs Education Association (YSEA), the key to successful bargaining was a new approach in health insurance that will free up dollars for teacher salaries. Another factor was the fact that both sides bargained without lawyers and union representatives. At the start of the process, Rainey said, Superintendent Norm Glismann suggested that the school system employ a method called Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB). In IBB, the two groups set aside their personal agendas and work for the benefit of all involved. In the past, this method had not worked in the district, but this time around “it worked like a charm.”

“We are lucky to have a community that backs us,” Rainey said. “And the board wanted to protect the community’s investment. It’s amazing how collegial two sides that are adversaries can become when they are working together to solve problems. Both sides were sick of issues not being resolved until the next school year. Both sides were looking for a calmer, swifter resolution. Kudos to Norm for suggesting IBB.”

Each side was represented by five people. For the teachers, rotating participants were Rainey, Dave Smith, Robin Fast, Kevin O’Brien, Becky O’Brien and Sarah Amin. The board team included Glismann, board members Richard Lapedes and Anne Erickson, treasurer Joy Kitzmiller and administrative assistant Susan Griffith.

Interviewed before the board meeting, Glismann said the teachers’ raises amounted to a 4 percent increase in the first year of the contract and 3 percent raises in each of the last two years.

According to Rainey, money was less of an issue than “transparency in communication.” The teachers want to know why decisions are made in budgets, assignments and expectations for their working hours, he said. Third party teacher evaluations were another item of importance to the teachers.

“A committee will be formed for next year to create a completely new teacher evaluation instrument,” Glismann said. The committee will consist of the two principals, Glismann, two Mills Lawn teachers and three teachers from YSHS/McKinney School.

“We brought it to the table,” Glismann said. “The old method was too complicated and burdensome. The teachers didn’t really like it either. It was too procedure oriented, rather than teacher improvement oriented. And it took up too many pages in the agreement.”

The new approach to health care has its “pluses and minuses for both sides,” according to Rainey. “It will save the board money and result in better pay raises for the teachers. The teachers passed it by a huge margin.”

In the past, medical coverage options were limited to single coverage and family coverage. Kitzmiller brought to the table policies from four different companies, two of which were offering a new feature, single parent coverage, which costs less than full family coverage, because only one adult is covered. According to Rainey, about 11 percent of the teachers fall into this category. The teachers have also agreed to a higher deductible and 90 percent in network coverage, where in the past, 100 percent of bills were paid if treatment was in network. Teachers make monthly contributions to the health insurance premiums, but the schools contribute at a greater rate.

In return, in addition to increased salaries, at the beginning of every year, each teacher will have $500 deposited into a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) also known as a 125 Plan, to which they can add up to another $1,900 tax-free with which to pay for whatever is not covered.

After two days of training with a federal mediator in the IBB system, the two sides met for seven sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., to hammer out the agreement in short order, Glismann said.


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