By Kevin Kelley
The Westlake City Schools’ new contract with its nonteaching union employees includes no pay increases and no step, or pay grade, increases for up to two years.
The Board of Education approved the contract with Local 319 of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees at its June 10 meeting by a vote of 3 to 1. Board President Tom Mays and members Carol Winter and Barb Leszynski voted for the contract. Nate Cross was the dissenting vote. Member Tony Falcone was absent. OAPSE members had previously approved the contract.
The contract is effective from Jan. 1 of this year through June 30, 2014, with another six months dependent upon whether the district can certify it has the money to pay the employees that long. By law, public school districts can only enter into contract for time periods in which the financial forecast certifies the district will have a balanced budget.
A 5.9-mill operating levy that would have provided funds to keep the district’s budgets balanced through 2016-2017 failed by 44 votes in the May 7 election. Before the election, district officials said deficits would appear before the end of the 2014-2015 school year unless the levy was passed or cuts were made. Superintendent Dan Keenan has proposed $930,000 in cuts to the district’s annual budget. When fully implemented, the cuts will greatly reduce the deficit, the superintendent said.
The district could also present a new operating levy to voters on the November ballot and not have to consider increasing the millage by making the cuts, Keenan said.
OAPSE members will see no raises in 2013 or 2014 under the new contract, Keenan said. No step increases will take place in August under the contract either. The restriction on step increases will continue next year if the contract can be certified for another six months, the superintendent said.
The new contract also requires OAPSE members to pay more for health insurance. Employees will pay more of their premiums – 13 percent through December of this year, and 15 percent from then on, with certain caps in place if costs rise by more than 30 percent beginning next year. Currently members pay 10 percent of their premiums. Prescription copays will double under the new contract.
In January, the district and its teachers union separately approved a new 18-month contract that included a 2.5-percent decrease in educators’ base salaries during the contract’s final 12 months.
Cross, who voted for the teachers contract, said he voted against the OAPSE contract for two reasons.
“First, I was given the financial forecast showing the fiscal impact of this contract 20 minutes before I was asked to vote on it,” Cross told West Life. “That is unacceptable.”
Cross also referred to the defeat of the operating levy last month.
“My fellow board members’ decision to ratify this contract puts us on the path to future tax increases, and further limits our ability to control spending,” Cross said.
Mays said any board member can call the superintendent or treasurer’s office to obtain budget information. Mays said he did not believe Cross made such calls.
“It’s incumbent on every board member to get his information,” Mays told West Life.
Mays also said the board had been unanimous going into negotiations in regard to what it sought to accomplish with the contract and, in fact, accomplished its goals and then some.
“Between the OAPSE contract and the teachers contract, it allows us to save the district money that we discussed from the beginning,” the board president said.
Mays said it was “confusing” why a member would vote against the contract.
Keenan said the new OAPSE contract improves the district’s financial forecast. Delaying ratification of the contract would have hurt the district financially, the superintendent said.