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Teacher contracts in sight

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On Tuesday this week the Yellow Springs school board and the local district’s teacher’s union met with a federal mediator to draft a tentative agreement for a contract for the district’s 51 teaching staff members. The agreement had been in jeopardy just the week before, but after declaring an impasse and invoking the aid of mediator Steven Anderson, the parties were able to move past the sticking point.

“We have a tentative agreement, and once both parties ratify it, the next step is to put it in front of the board” for a vote, District Superintendent Mario Basora said on Tuesday. Basora also leads the district’s negotiating team.

The details of the new contract were not able to be publicized before both parties had a chance to formally approve it, but according to Basora, the board could formally approve it as early as the next meeting on Thursday, Aug. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in the Mills Lawn conference room.

Negotiations stall

At last week’s regular school board meeting on Thursday, July 11, the teachers expressed disappointment with the district over its failure to approve a contract for the coming year. During the board meeting YSEA President Vickie Hitchcock read a statement about the negotiation process.

“On June 24 a tentative agreement was reached with a handshake between Mr. Basora and me … It is unfortunate and disheartening that Mr. Basora, whose authority it appears has been taken from underneath him on behalf of this board, has reneged on the interest-based bargaining process and this tentative agreement.”

At least 10 teachers came to the board meeting in support of the union statement and the tentative employment agreement, which had been unanimously approved by a YSEA vote on July 8. The YSEA represents 51 full-time teaching staff.

Contract negotiations began in June and were led by two teams who agreed from the beginning to use interest-based bargaining, or IBB, which is a joint problem-solving bargaining method and an alternative to traditional position-based bargaining. The two teams of five representatives each negotiated for nine days, reaching a tentative agreement on June 24. While the teachers voted to approve the agreement, the school board had not yet voted.

According to Hitchcock in her statement, in committing to the process of IBB, both the board and the teachers agree to allow their representative teams to negotiate for the collective good and to honor and accept the product that comes out of that joint process.

“What is agreed upon in a tentative agreement is maintained, otherwise it negates the integrity of the process,” she told the board. “The key and fundamental part of IBB is that once both teams have agreed that a bargaining issue is resolved, that issue is done.”

On Friday following the board meeting, the two sides reached an impasse, or a stall in the negotiations. Following a board meeting in executive session on Saturday, the district and the YSEA agreed to meet with mediator Steven Anderson from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Moving forward

While neither side of the bargaining table was able to describe the details of the disagreement, on Monday Basora said he was hopeful that the process would move forward this week.

“I feel really positive that our meeting with the federal mediator will help us come together and come to a resolution very soon,” Basora said. “The goal is to come out of the meeting with an agreement … so that we can turn our focus from negotiations and onto this great, exciting new school year.”

Representing the district are Basora (the district’s lead negotiator), District Treasurer Dawn Weller, board members Sylvia Ellison, Angela Wright, and alternate Aïda Merhemic, and Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh. Hitchcock, YSEA Vice-President Shawn Jackson and three other teachers represented the YSEA in negotiations.

The district and the YSEA last signed a two-year contract in 2011 in which the teachers took a pay freeze and agreed to increase their share of health insurance premiums from 10 percent to 15 percent. The administrators also took a pay freeze that year and agreed to the same healthcare coverage ratio. Due to state funding cuts and an economy that refused to recover from the recession, the district had been deficit spending for several years and threatening to take its carryover fund to zero by 2014. Over the past two years the district also made further budget cuts by reducing the teaching and support staff by nearly 10 positions through attrition.

However, last year the district passed a new 7.5-mill property tax levy, adding $949,000 a year to the district’s budget. And last week the board approved a new three-year contract with the classified staff union, Ohio Association of Public School Employees. That contract, which took two and a half days to create, gives the staff a 3 percent increase in salaries for each year of the contract. Two years ago OAPSE also took a pay freeze and benefit decrease due to budget constraints.

While some teachers said that this year’s tentative agreement with the YSEA was “reasonable” and on par with the OAPSE increase, the OAPSE contract includes a “me too” clause conferring any financial increase added to the YSEA agreement to the OAPSE one as well. The district has about 19 classified staff positions.

Teachers this year are also facing a state mandated 1 percent increase per year for four years in the amount of their salary that goes into the Ohio Teacher’s Retirement System.

“Teachers have gone without a raise for three years now — that and the additional 1 percent increase into the state retirement system is really driving some of the negotiations,” Hitchcock said this week.

But teachers are still hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

“I sure want to start the year with a contract,” Yellow Springs High School teacher Desiree Nickel said last week.

In other school board business:

• The board accepted the resignation of McKinney/Yellow Springs High School band and orchestra director Dennis Farmer. During his eight-year tenure Farmer initiated several programs, including a jazz ensemble, the annual community/student band concert, and a music boosters program. Farmer was the district’s only full-time music teacher; Mills Lawn music teacher Jo Frannye Reichert fills a position that is just over half-time. The district is looking to fill the full-time position as quickly as possible before the beginning of the school year.

• The board hired new third-grade teacher Jessica Liming, who spent two years as a long-term substitute teacher at Fairborn primary school. She was chosen from a pool of over 200 applicants.

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