Teachers antsy about contract

COLUMBIANA – The clock is ticking for a new contract for the teachers in the Columbiana Education Association (CEA).

Forty-five union members dressed in Columbiana Clippers T-shirts attended the school board meeting this week to say they are looking for a “fair and equitable contract.”

The union has been negotiating with the board since their most recent two-year contract expired on June 30.

CEA President Julie McClish said their main concerns are job security and compensation now that the state has approved a new method of teaching evaluations.

Under the new system teachers will be evaluated by their performance through classroom observations and student academic growth. Both are weighted at 50 percent.

McClish said she isn’t against the new evaluation system but believes the 50 percent weight on academic growth isn’t fair, especially for teachers whose students don’t take the state tests.

For example, state testing is conducted for language arts and math, but not social studies, she explained.

“The new state evaluation changes everything,” she said.

She also said that with more of an emphasis on state testing poor grades could lead to a teacher being fired.

The evaluations also affect teachers’ salaries and the Columbiana teachers aren’t the only ones opposed to the new system. Not far away in the southern part of the county the system has caused friction between the members of the Beaver Local Education Association and its administration during recent contract negotiations.

Beaver union members have even threatened to strike, and although they attended this week’s board meeting, did not speak publicly about the stalled negotiations.

The Beaver Local board in June adopted the new evaluation system policy guidelines without the union’s requested changes.

When the new evaluation system was first being discussed in 2011, the Columbus Dispatch reported, some teachers across the state believed that while student growth and achievement is a good measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, it isn’t something that can be “fairly gauged.”

McClish hopes the teachers’ hard work and dedication can be seen by the district regardless of state evaluation systems, which have changed over the years.

“The teachers want to support the negotiating team and stress to the board that we are united and deserve to be rewarded for our continued loyalty, hard work and dedication … We have a unified and dedicated staff which is evident through our excellent rating status over the past seven years,” she said.

She also said she hopes the board will offer a “fair and equitable agreement” at the next negotiation meeting.

As for the total wage freeze the union agreed to two years ago, she hopes it will be lifted.

The freeze was part of the recent contract and allowed for step increases only in the second year.

When approached for comment after the meeting, Superintendent Don Mook’s only statement was that he hopes the next negotiation meeting goes well too, and “We appreciate and respect our bargaining unit.”

A deadline for a contract has not been set and the union hopes to have one before the start of the new school year.