Contract brings sighs of relief

EAST PALESTINE – Following seven months of what teacher Cindy McKinstry described as the “strangest” negotiations in her 21-year career, the East Palestine Education Association has a new contract.

The three-year, approved the school board last week, includes a 2 percent increase on the base salary and no changes to health benefits.

McKinstry, a middle school teacher and president of the EPEA, said the roughly 75 union members had not received raises at least the last three years. Step increases were still given during those years, and continue in the new contract, she added.

The lengthy negotiations that began in May were held up for several reasons, she said, but mostly to address changes to the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, which continued to change during the negotiations.

“It was a long process to go through because we had to rewrite the evaluation process there were a lot of things to work through,” she said.

Teachers in the district and across the state were not pleased with the new system that would evaluate them by their performance through classroom observations and student academic growth, both weighted at 50 percent.

The evaluation also put more emphasis on state testing.

McKinstry said while the district worked to rewrite its own evaluations to meet the state standards, more changes were being thrown into the mix.

By early November the Ohio Senate introduced legislation to change the evaluations yet again, only this time to reduce the impact of student achievement scores. The legislation passed the Senate this month and a vote is expected in the House early next year.

Even without a system set in stone McKinstry said the district is moving forward with evaluations and building principals have already sent out schedules for evaluations that will be conducted in January.

Negotiations were also held up by the 16-day government shutdown, she said.

The district was using a federal mediator who could not work during that time.

Overall, the negotiations were not contentious.

“We are pleased with the raises and pleased the board worked with us. The new superintendent has said he wants to invest in people. The bottom line is always the kids,” she said.

Superintendent George Fisk was also pleased with the agreement and thanked board members Judy Daubenmire, Sue Weigle and Treasurer Rick Ellis for their involvement in the negotiations.

“It was a long process but a good one,” he said.

Administrators also have gotten raises. The 2 percent annual increase is retroactive to July of this year and ends in June of 2016.

It affects Fisk and the three building principals, who were all hired last year and had not yet been given raises. It also affects Ellis, the only administrator not new to the district.