Westerville teachers, board OK deal
Westerville’s teachers approved a contract last night, but it came after a contentious and narrow vote.
More than 94 percent of the district’s 970 teachers voted, the largest turnout and closest vote ever recorded, said union spokesman Trevor Kielmeyer, who has taught in the district for 18 years.
The union didn’t release final numbers on the vote, but Kielmeyer said there was a lot of tension among teachers during the balloting. Most of the discussion was about “ensuring that we offer everything that we’ve always offered to the children,” he said.
On learning the result of the union vote, the Westerville school board voted unanimously last night to accept the three-year contract. The first day of school is Wednesday, and the approval puts an end to talk of a possible strike.
The district recently eliminated 100 employees, reduced course offerings and bus service and doubled pay-to-play fees, said Kevin Hoffman, board president. Still, he said, “we were able to persevere,” retaining an excellent-with-distinction rating.
The contract appears to strike a middle ground on several points of negotiation from previous proposals. Teachers had wanted a promise of a 3 percent raise after a two-year pay freeze, and the district’s initial plan did not promise any pay raise. The new agreement includes 2 percent raises in the third year.
Teachers had proposed freezing their pay — both salaries and step raises, which are based on seniority — at the levels where they would have been had they not given up raises last school year. The new plan freezes pay at current levels, with step raises resuming in the third year.
But the contract gives teachers two of their major demands. First, it will bring back eight teachers who had been laid off amid cuts this year. Bringing back those teachers guarantees that only teachers who specialize in art, music or physical education will teach those subjects. Second, the contract brings back recess aides, allowing teachers time to hold meetings and work one-on-one with students after lunch.
Kielmeyer said that, overall, some teachers could experience up to a 20 percent net loss in income over the contract’s three years. One of the largest concessions will come from younger teachers, said Kielmeyer.
“Going two years without step (raises), without a salary increase ... for some, that’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said. Many teachers have been leaving for other districts.
Asked if the tough negotiations will create sour employees, Hoffman said: “It’s a difficult process in good times. In tough times, it’s even worse.
“When it comes time to serve the children, they will make magic happen.”
Union officials have said that they never seriously discussed a strike, but in emails obtained by The Dispatch, union officials warned members of the possibility.