Westerville teachers filled the Westerville Central High School commons during Monday night's school board meeting, lining staircases, benches and the balcony.

Westerville teachers filled the Westerville Central High School commons during Monday night's school board meeting, lining staircases, benches and the balcony.

Hundreds of teachers, all dressed in black, cheered as one after the other stood and criticized the school board for not having reached a contract agreement with the Westerville Education Association (WEA).

"We are deeply disappointed to be here tonight with no contract, especially because the first two words of the month have been fairness and respect," said Westerville North High School teacher Tom Peet on behalf of the WEA.

The district has not had a contract agreement with the WEA, which represents the district's 1,026 teachers, since the last contract expired Aug. 31. Contracts with the district's three other unions expired June 30.

Peet said the district is failing to recognize the dedication of the teachers, who he said have "bailed out" the district time and time again, by taking a 0-percent base-pay increase in 2009 and a 1-percent increase in 2006, donating time and money to the 2009 levy campaign and by spending their own money and extra time in their classrooms.

"The teachers you see are the ones who have bailed you out time and time again," Peet said. "We have never let you down."

He said something is clearly wrong when the district has not met agreements with all four of its bargaining units.

"You have no contract with your hardworking custodians. You have no contract with your hardworking bus drivers. You have no contract with your hardworking secretaries. You have no contract with your hardworking teachers," he said. "There is only one common denominator, and that is you, the Westerville Board of Education."

Heritage Middle School teacher Anne Bates admonished the school board for its lack of agreement on a pay raise for teachers after teachers championed the 2009 levy on behalf of the district.

"I don't understand why this board, the board that I campaigned for would allow this district to be in such a predicament," Bates said. "What we were promised in return (was) compensation - contracts that would make us competitive."

McVay Elementary teacher Debby Petrozzi said the board must offer teachers a "fair and equitable" salary, and without such an offer, Petrozzi said she would be willing to strike.

"Any contract that does not pull us out of number 11 out of 16 for pay in central Ohio, I will vote no for. Any contract that is presented to us that puts us in the bottom third, I will vote no on," Petrozzi said. "If we cannot resolve these issues, and we are asked to strike, I will say, 'Yes, I will.'"

Her comment was followed by a standing ovation from teachers.

Blendon Middle School teacher Pam Aylor accused the school board of taking advantage of teachers' passion for their work, which she said drives them to work hard despite increased challenges and lack of raises.

"You seem to be using our passion for children against us," Aylor said. "Our passion for children will never die, but our company loyalty can be altered."

Last year, Aylor said, the WEA approached the district and offered to take a 0-percent base-pay increase to help save money and, potentially, jobs. Many teachers did still see pay raises through step increases included in the contracts.

"I don't know too many people who are willing to forgo a pay raise for the sake of their companies," Aylor said.

Of the 25 people who commented during the meeting, the vast majority of whom were teachers, only one person spoke against the WEA and asked the board to take a conservative stance on raises.

"I ask that you, as board members, keep in mind the ongoing state of the economy," Westerville resident Jo Ruhl said.

With the federal government declaring no increase in the cost of living this year and offering no increase in Social Security benefits, Ruhl said teachers should be offered a 1-percent increase in base pay, be asked to take on an increased share of their benefits and see step increases eliminated.

Without such measures, Ruhl said, the district will continue to be back before voters regularly to ask residents to raise taxes.

"This is just not sustainable, and it's not necessary. The last levy barely passed," Ruhl said.

She also criticized the teachers for working to the rule of their contract earlier this month in a show against the school board.

"It came across as petty and unprofessional," Ruhl said. "I believe they were being paid as usual. I believe they were accumulating vacation days as usual. ... I applaud our other district bargaining unions who are continuing to do their jobs without the media attention."

The school board did have a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, after ThisWeek's press deadline, but no action was scheduled to be taken following an executive session. As of press time, no other meetings were scheduled, aside from the board's next regular meeting on Oct. 11.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com

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