The Westerville Board of Education approved a teachers' contract Monday that will freeze base salaries for the next year.

The Westerville Board of Education approved a teachers' contract Monday that will freeze base salaries for the next year.

The Westerville Education Association, the union representing the teachers, also approved the contract Monday, with a 96-percent vote from its present membership.

The contract marks the first time in the district's history that teachers have taken a pay freeze, board Vice President Kristi Robbins said.

While the contract will run only from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2010, it does include a provision for a successor contract, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Wanner, who handled negotiations for the district.

With an $18-million deficit projected for the district for fiscal year 2010-2011 and $10.9-million in cuts already made for the 2009-2010 budget, the base salary freeze will help the district continue to operate at its current level of service, Wanner said.

"It ensures that the district will maintain a quality work force," he said.

Members of the school board praised teachers for their willingness to take a pay freeze when the district is facing a difficult financial situation.

"It's great to be able to sit here tonight with a contract that shows are teachers understand where we are," said board member Denise Pope.

Board member Cindy Crowe said the teachers' support of a freeze on base pay shows their commitment to the district.

"It just shows they really care about Westerville," she said.

Even with the freeze in base pay, approximately 54 percent of Westerville's teachers will receive step increases this year that will cost the district about $1.3-million, district treasurer Scott Gooding said.

State law mandates that districts have "steps," which offer rewards for years worked within a district and additional education, but the state does not dictate the size of the step increases.

The district's administrators, who do not receive step increases, have agreed to a salary freeze this year.

The salary freeze comes on the heels of the district's decision to place an 11.4-mill replacement levy -- a 7.97-mill increase -- on the Nov. 3 ballot in an attempt to avoid budget cuts in the 2010-2011 school year.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com