Tighter budgets, the Affordable Care Act and the new teacher evaluation system have led to shorter contracts and less contentious negotiations between school districts and teacher unions, a state official says.
Between May 2012 and June 2013, there were 55 teacher contracts finalized statewide, according to data provided by the Ohio School Boards Association. Of the 55, there were 22 teacher unions that agreed to both a salary freeze and an increase in health insurance premiums at some point during the length of the contract, according to a newspaper analysis.
Van Keating, director of management services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said that’s “not an unusual number” for a year’s time span, but noted that prior to Senate Bill 5 — which was repealed by voters — contracts were typically three years in length. Now, one- and two-year contracts are more common.
“It’s hard to figure out what the pattern is now,” Keating said.
Shorter contracts also have made it easier for school treasurers to certify that the district will meet the contract’s financial requirements, Keating said.
Locally, of the 20 schools that responded to a Dayton Daily News request for information, Beavercreek, Centerville, Dayton, Fairborn, Kettering, Miamisburg, Trotwood-Madison, Valley View and Xenia are in the midst of negotiations or will soon begin.
School districts that recently finalized agreements with their teacher unions include Huber Heights, Mad River, Oakwood, Springboro and Vandalia-Butler. Among the major issues agreed upon are salary freezes and adjustments in health care premiums. Work rules and retirement benefits also are major sticking points during contract negotiations, school and union officials said.
With unknown variables such as the teacher evaluation system and Affordable Care Act, school districts and unions share common concerns moving forward, which has led to a generally cooperative atmosphere, Keating said. Both parties are “watching nickels and dimes a little bit more” than in the past, he said.
“When schools have the money, they certainly don’t want to skimp on their employees because they know their employees are important,” Keating said. “If they have the money, they’ll pass it along. Obviously, there are some that don’t have the money, and the unions understand they don’t have the money and they’re settling for zeroes (no salary increase).”
Becki Villamagna, an Ohio Education Association labor relations consultant who represents Beavercreek, Centerville, Fairborn, Kettering, Mad River and Oakwood, said the organization is “not ignorant to the political climate or a district’s climate” during any collective bargaining discussions.
Beavercreek will continue negotiations after the teachers union rejected a proposed contract last week.
Patrick Poor, president of the Beavercreek Education Association, said the start of the school year is not in jeopardy and the teachers will “go on business as usual.” The school board spent just over an hour last week in executive session discussing contract negotiations with the BEA.
Kettering’s contract with its teachers expires in June and preparations will begin in the fall for negotiations, Villamagna said. The Kettering school board agreed last week to put a 4.89-mill additional levy on the November ballot.
“In Ohio education, that’s the way of life,” Superintendent Jim Schoenlein said. “The community has to believe that the administrators’, school board’s and teachers’ bottom line is what’s best for the kids and how we provide the best possible education at a reasonable cost. The community has to trust the school people that that is their top priority.”
Huber Heights will save more than $1.8 million over the next two years after the school board approved in June two-year contracts with the Huber Heights Education Association (certified and classified staff) and the Dayton Public Service Union.
The savings is due to a step freeze for both certified and classified staff ($744,464); furlough days ($607,761); health insurance adjustments ($293,082); and a 3 percent salary reduction for administrators ($172,000).
“Through negotiations, we were just trying to come up with what was the best way to acknowledge the work force and the job they do, and also base it on the limitations we have with the budget,” Huber Heights Superintendent Sue Gunnell said. “Everyone is trying to do their part, so not one group is having to shoulder the majority of the burden.”
In May, the Oakwood school board and the teachers association approved a three-year contract that links pay increases to performance and evaluation. Pay for all district employees had been frozen for two years.
Oakwood treasurer Kevin Philo said the agreement was “groundbreaking” because it impacts all of the district’s 225 employees, including administrators. He said the district won’t save any money with the new contract, which took effect July 1.
The traditional step-increase system has been completely eliminated in Oakwood.
“The idea is to reward teachers for the good work that they’re doing, but it’s also an incentive,” said Jay Lane, president of the Oakwood teachers association. “You have some control over that increase. It sharpens everybody’s focus a little bit.”
The area has not been without some tension.
With both sides preparing for a potential strike, Springboro’s school board and teachers union agreed last month to a new two-year contract that includes the teachers’ first base pay raises in five years in exchange for another 5 percent of health insurance premiums, leaving the split at 80 percent for the board and 20 percent for the employees.
The next round of talks for the Fairborn district is set for Wednesday, and union leaders said the possibility of going on strike is an option that has not been discussed.
“I do not expect us to make much progress because they haven’t made any movement at all,” Villamagna said. “I can’t tell you what the outcome will be. We haven’t had any concrete communication on specific issues, and we’re waiting for them to do something.”
In late June, the Fairborn school board canceled three union contracts to control costs by preventing any automatic pay and fringe benefits increases, which led union officials to question the legality of the unprecedented move.
Canceling the contracts, which district officials said will save “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” impacted about 500 employees in the Fairborn Education Association, Fairborn Classified Employees Association and Dayton Public Service Union. The school board and DPSU agreed to a one-year contract last week.
The FEA and FCEA have agreed to pay freezes, larger class sizes and adjusting insurance coverage to lower the cost for the district, according to Mandy Creekmur, president of the FEA.
“Until the entire thing is done, we don’t have a contract,” said Tess Little, Fairborn school board president. “We didn’t have the money to pay the old contracts. We hope to get it settled before school starts.”
The first day of school for teachers is Aug. 19 and students return Aug. 21.
“We’re getting ready for school and we’ve got this dark cloud hanging over us,” Creekmur said. “It devalues the whole education system. We should be working together for the education of the children.”