Westerville teachers won't strike a deal with the board of education on salary and benefits before the March 6 vote on the district's five-year, 6.71-mill levy request.

Westerville teachers won't strike a deal with the board of education on salary and benefits before the March 6 vote on the district's five-year, 6.71-mill levy request.

"Yes, we would have liked to have had a contract for ratification by now, but those discussions are not complete," board President Kevin Hoffman said at a Feb. 27 school board meeting.

Facing a $23-million deficit in the 2012-13 school year, the board asked the district's four unions to reopen negotiations in December, though contracts weren't set to expire until the end of June.

Agreements to freeze pay and decrease the district's contributions to employees' health savings accounts were reached by the three unions that represent bus drivers, mechanics, custodians, maintenance workers, food-service workers and educational support staff.

The insurance portion of the contracts is contingent on whether all four bargaining units strike a similar deal.

Hoffman said discussions with the Westerville Education Association (WEA) have taken longer because under state laws passed last summer, the district is required to negotiate language in the contract on reduction-in-force procedures and teacher evaluations.

"Our discussions with the WEA are very different than those with other unions," Hoffman said. "We want to approach that in a measured and pragmatic manner."

Reaching a consensus with the union also takes longer, Hoffman said, because of its size. The WEA represents nearly 1,000 teachers, while the other unions represent fewer than 200 employees each.

The union has been in "extensive dialogue" with members and the board, WEA president Chris Williams said, but "the complexity of the WEA contract" has kept a quick agreement from passing.

Williams said the WEA is committed to working with the district and came to the board with concessions in July, giving up $1.7 million in salaries and benefits for the current school year.

"Next year will be our second year of salary concessions," Williams said. "The teachers of Westerville have done their share over the years, negotiating smaller increases than our Franklin County counterparts. ... The teachers of Westerville have been doing their part in an ongoing fashion. This is not a one-time occurrence."

Some residents at Monday's meeting criticized the board and the union for not coming to an agreement before the election.

Robert Edwards, founder of the anti-levy group LevyFacts, called the lack of an agreement "a failure of epic proportions."

"The WEA has failed our kids, failed our parents, failed the taxpayers and failed their fellow district employees," Edwards said. "When the taxpayers truly need shared sacrifice the unions have illustrated how the need of the few outweigh the need of the many."

Pete Wilms, who campaigned against the November levy, said the announcement about a lack of an agreement with teachers determined his vote on the levy.

"I find myself in the reluctant position of not being able to support that levy," Wilms said.

But Rick Bannister, co-chairman for the pro-levy campaign Our Community, Our Schools, applauded the announcement that the teachers and the board still are working on an agreement. He said it's a sign that the district is "finishing what they started."