Teachers with the Big Walnut Local School District showed up in force at the Sept. 10 school board meeting to voice dissatisfaction with the progress of contract negotiations.
The Big Walnut Education Association, along with the union representing support staff, are both in negotiations for new contracts. Teachers passed out fliers in the high school parking lot at the Big Walnut football game Sept. 7, urging residents to contact board members.
The district has about 200 teachers and certified staff and about 40 support workers, including secretaries. About three dozen teachers and others, many wearing red T-shirts saying in gold letters on the front "Excellent Staff = Excellent Students," attended the meeting.
BWEA spokesperson Shannon Mignogno told board members that teachers are disappointed in the progress of the talks. A one-year extension to a three-year agreement expired on June 30 and teachers have worked without a contract since then.
"We don't feel the board of education and administration respects us for the work we do," said Mignogno, a teacher since 2004. "We have sacrificed our time. We have sacrificed financially for the good of the students and community. We initiated a pay freeze (a couple years ago)."
The district has faced financial difficulties in recent years, including state cutbacks and a recession. After two levy failures, voters approved a five-year, 7.5-mill levy in November 2010 which has helped put the district back on track financially. Cutbacks, including staff layoffs, had taken place prior to passage of that levy.
Blanda Lynam, a member of the support staff who has worked in the district for 17 years, reminded board members that times have been hard on everybody.
"I don't think we are asking for too much. I believe in this district, too," she said.
Neither school nor union officials would discuss specifics of the current negotiations. Teachers met with district officials on Sept. 6 and were to meet again on Sept. 11. Continuing talks with support staff, whose current three-year contract also has expired, are set to resume at the end of the month.
Contracts were reached earlier this year with unions representing bus drivers and mechanics and also with food service workers. Those three-year agreements included raises averaging about 8 percent.
However, union members made some concessions, including paying more for health-care benefits.
Board President Pamula Lillie said on Sept. 10 that the board and school officials are doing the best they can.
"We are confident we will be able to come to an agreement that is fair to staff and fiscally responsible to the community," she said.
Superintendent Steve Mazzi reinforced Lillie's comments, saying the board and administrators are continuing to work hard to resolve contract differences.
Several residents also spoke at the Sept. 10 meeting.
Ryan Dunlap, who said he is a financial planner and 11-year resident of the district, urged everyone to understand that taxpayers have a stake in what happens.
"We have to make sure that you guys are fiscally responsible," he said. "We don't want you to send the wrong message (to the community)."
Chris Podraza said she worked as a volunteer on the levy campaign two years ago.
"Tensions are high ... I'm asking you as a community member to make it (the levy) last," she said.
In other business, Mazzi and Angie Pollock, the district's director of academic achievement, filled the board in on preliminary results of the district's annual state report card.
Due to an ongoing investigation by the state auditor into attendance discrepancies in some districts, including Columbus, distribution of final report cards has been delayed. They usually are released by the Ohio Department of Education in late August.
According to preliminary data from the ODE, Big Walnut expects to get a 105.4 score on the state's performance index, which measures achievement test scores in several categories. The maximum score is 120. The district scored at 102.3 last year.
Individually, the high school scored 109, according to preliminary results, up from 103.6. The middle school earned a score of 102.8, up from 101.7. Big Walnut Elementary School was at 105.8 as compared to 104.6 a year ago. Souders Elementary School scored 107.8, up from 104.9, and General Rosecrans Elementary School was at 103.5 as compared to 97.9 a year ago.
While Mazzi and Pollock cautioned that these are preliminary results, they said they don't expect to see any changes once the final scores are in.
"These are really good and I commend everybody," Lillie said.