By Kevin Kelley
The Westlake City Schools Board of Education and Westlake Teachers Association have reached a tentative agreement on a one-year contract.
The teachers union has scheduled a vote on the contract for Thursday. School board members have also scheduled a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at which they are expected to approve the contract provided the union’s members approve it.
Under the tentative 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.
School board President Carol Winter said the contract will preserve up to 13 teaching positions.
“The board believes it’s fair to both the community and the teachers,” Winter told West Life.
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.
Even with the reimbursement, the complete elimination of spousal insurance will save the district several hundred thousand dollars each year, district officials said.
Why is the contract for only one year? Under state law, districts cannot certify contracts that require more money than the district can be certain that it will receive. A longer contract could have been made, but additional years would have been contingent on the passage of a levy. District officials have said they are at the end of the levy cycle and need new revenue. Twice in 2013, voters defeated operating levies that would have given the district additional dollars. Superintendent Dan Keenan has proposed cuts to the district’s annual budget following the levy defeats. In February, the school board approved a pay-to-participate program for sports and extracurricular activities.
As soon as news of the tentative agreement became known, critics of the districts and teachers’ salaries posted comments online. The union’s concessions are only being made to help the district pass a levy, then it will be business as usual, the critics alleged.
Winter was reluctant to discuss details of the contract before the union vote. However, she said the board entered the negotiations with the goal of balancing an appreciation for the teachers’ worth with concern over strapped taxpayers. The tentative agreement also shows that the teachers understand the district faces serious financial challenges, Winter said. Finally, the board president noted that the board’s job is to retain top-notch, experienced teachers for the district.
Critics want the board to move outside the financial and labor structure all Ohio public school districts find themselves in, Winter said. But that’s not possible, she said.
“Within this structure, we think it’s a pretty darn good deal,” Winter said. The contract also puts the district in a good position for future negotiations, she added.
Westlake Teachers Association President Amy Butcher told West Life she thought the contract was a fair deal for both sides.