BELOIT- The West Branch school board and its educators have agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement.
The board and the West Branch Education Association on Wednesday entered into a memorandum of understanding that will provide eligible teachers an extra half step (roughly 2.5 percent) pay raise based on experience in the second year if money becomes available. The board had previously rejected the offer last week.
With the signing, the teachers accepted the contract imposed by the board last week and will cancel their directive restricting teachers' work schedule to the specific hours outlined in the contract.
"I'm happy that the WBEA and school board continued working together and came to a compromise," said Mike Helm, WBEA president. "It's a good day for everybody ... especially the kids."
Teams for the two groups had been negotiating for several months with the assistance of a federal mediator but failed to reach an agreement before the start of school. The board imposed its final offer last week after the WBEA rejected both a tentative agreement and the final offer in August due to concessions which Helm estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of the contract, including 1.5 steps (roughly 7.5 percent) in salary raises for eligible teachers.
The contract includes an absolute pay freeze in salaries for the first year and a half step pay increase for eligible employees in the second year as well as additional compensation for advanced education and a financial incentive for outstanding attendance both years of the contract. Teachers will also pay more each month toward the cost of health insurance, but the amount of employee contributions will be frozen for the next two years.
According to Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart, the memorandum of understanding, which acts as an addendum to the imposed contract, addresses the issue of pay raises based on experience by linking the additional half step to additional state funding.
"Specifically, school districts in Ohio that are experiencing declining enrollment have traditionally been provided with 'supplemental guarantee' funding, which addresses loss of revenue due to loss of student enrollment," he said in a written statement. "West Branch continues to attract record numbers of students through open enrollment (nearly 300 students from other districts this year) but the school district continues to experience a decline in the number of resident students. This is not uncommon in northeastern Ohio, but the net result is fewer total students."
Weingart said that enrollment in the district is approximately 2,200 students, down about 200 students in the last three years. Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, if the district receives the supplemental guarantee funding in the second year of the contract and if that funding exceeds $200,000, the district will provide the additional half step as compensation to all eligible teachers. If the district does not receive the additional funding, then the teachers will not receive additional compensation.
In the written release, board President Terry Criss praised the negotiating teams for their professionalism and commitment to the district.
"We worked together and met for many long hours to address the concerns expressed by both teams," he said. "I believe that this compromise is a good solution because it allows us to conclude talks and focus on the business of educating children in our district."
Helm also expressed his appreciation for the board's willingness to approve the memorandum of understanding.
"On behalf of the association, we want to thank the board for its dedication to the staff, our parents, and, most of all, our students," he said in the release.
With the teachers' contract settled, all employees in the district will experience a pay freeze this school year.
The board ratified a renegotiated contract with the classified employees union last summer which had the employees work last year under the same terms as the prior contract, but accept an absolute pay freeze as well as pay more into health care premiums this year. In June the board approved an agreement with all confidential employees and administrative staff under the same conditions. The confidential employees' medical and prescription drug rates will be consistent with the classified employee contract while administrative personnel's medical and dental rates will be consistent with the teachers' contract.