By Kevin Kelley
Members of the Westlake City Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a new, one-year contract with the Westlake Teachers Association Thursday.
Under the contract, teachers will receive no percentage raises for the 2014-2015 school year, and step increases, or increases in pay based on years of service, will be frozen for one year. Teachers can still receive more money next year if they obtain a more advanced academic degree or reach milestones in steps toward such a degree.
“This agreement shows a true partnership exists between our educators, administrators and the community, which is represented by this board right here,” board member John Finucane said.
Board President Carol Winter said both parties – the district’s negotiating team and the teachers union – found common ground at the negotiating table.
Winter said the two levy losses last year and residents’ comments had an impact on the contract.
“In determining the direction for the negotiations, we really did consider input from the community,” Winter said. “Certainly the levy loss in November was a message from the community, and that was very important to us as we went through this process.”
The board’s goals were to save money on personnel costs and preserve student services, Winter said.
Winter said the contract will preserve up to 13 teaching positions. The district had been considering laying off up to 33 teachers following the failure of the operating levy in November.
“This contract, to me, shows that the teachers were willing to take another hit to salaries and benefits to keep more teachers in front of our students,” Winter said.
Although the contract is for only one year – July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015 – Winter said it will save the district $2.3 million over the next four years. That’s because the step freeze will not be made up in future years, she said. In addition, the contract states that spouses of teachers who can obtain health insurance from his or her employer cannot be covered under the teacher’s insurance. Spousal insurance was eliminated for new teachers in 2006, but grandfathered in for veteran teachers. Under the new contract, the grandfather clause is removed. However, spouses who must obtain their own insurance will be reimbursed by the district up to $175 per month beginning Jan. 1, up from $150 per month in the previous contract.
Superintendent Dan Keenan noted that the teacher salary schedule is the same in the new contract as it was in 2011. That contract has teachers holding a bachelor’s degree starting at $39,836; not counting the one-year step freeze, teachers with only a bachelor’s degree will make $73,697 in their 20th year. Teachers with a master’s degree start at $47,803; in their 20th year, they can make $83,656.
“For the third consecutive year, the teachers have conceded on things that they had already negotiated to have,” Keenan said, referring to the current and new contracts.
“For teachers at the top of the (pay)schedule, they actually are going to make 2 percent less take-home pay than they did in 2011 because of the provisions for paying more into their retirement,” Keenan said.
The new contract includes a clause stating that teachers shall not be required to take a certification test related to the state’s Third-Grade Reading Guarantee legislation. The test is one of three ways teachers can be certified to teach remedial third-grade students. Keenan said the test, which costs $150, offers teachers no new expertise.
Westlake Teachers Association President Amy Butcher explained that the test provides no learning opportunities to educators.
“It’s just a test to get a credential to do something you’re already credentialed to do,” she said.