Westerville News & Public Opinion

Three district unions land 4-year contracts

Maintenance workers, bus drivers and secretaries will get 2 percent raises each year through 2017-18

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The pay freeze has thawed for most Westerville City School District workers.

New four-year contract agreements approved this week carry 2 percent annual pay increases for members of three separate unions representing classified employees in the district.

The Westerville school board and union leaders for Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 138, OAPSE Local 719 and the Westerville Education Support Staff Association agreed to new four-year contracts that include changes to health insurance, calamity day pay and the 2 percent annual pay raises.

School board President Nancy Nestor-Baker said that contract negotiations were quicker this year as both sides were able to come up with a solution easily.

"This was a very rational, reasonable set of negotiations," Nestor-Baker said.

The two OAPSE locals represent the district's custodial workers, maintenance staff, food service staff, bus drivers and mechanics. WESSA represents the district's school secretaries, English as a second language aides, health aides and building monitors.

The board approved the three new collective bargaining agreements at its meeting on Monday, June 30.

After a levy failure in November 2011, the board and district officials needed to cut the budget by about $23 million. As part of those cuts, the board negotiated a two-year pay freeze in 2012. The previous two-year contracts were set to expire this summer.

The new contracts include health insurance elements that align with the Affordable Care Act, officials said. Since changes with health-care mandates and costs can be unpredictable, the new contracts can reopen to negotiate solely on health insurance by the third or fourth year of the contract.

Negotiations will occur if the cost of health insurance increases more than 10 percent each year.

Calamity day pay also changed in the new contracts. Employees who are called into work on a calamity day will be paid 1.5 times their normal pay rate instead of double-time.

The contracts also outline that the superintendent decides who works on calamity days.

The new contract stretching through the 2017-2018 school year is unusual, district officials said, since most districts do two- or three-year contracts.

"It's kind of unheard of," said Bart Griffith, district treasurer. "This district is sitting good financially because of all the things we've done in the last three years. There is enough money that I can certify a four-year contract.

"Most districts don't have that. Sometimes they don't have the money to balance out two years or three years, so four years is kind of unheard of."

The new contracts show that the district is financially healthy and stable for the first time since 2011.

"The district is very healthy right now," Nestor-Baker said. "We are in great shape as long as we stay in the parameters we set ourselves and as long as we don't have any storms that come at us. If those things stay at bay, we'll be all right."

The contracts work within the state-mandated five-year financial forecast parameters. Since the contracts won't change in the next four years, the district expects benefits in budget estimate accuracy, too.

"Four years also gives us stability because we know what is coming at us for the next three years," Griffith said.

The board has a while before it negotiates an agreement with the district's fourth union, the Westerville Education Association, which represents teachers and licensed professionals. The current WEA contract began Sept. 1, 2012 and runs through Aug. 31, 2015.

The Westerville Board of Education will meet next at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 9 at the district's Early Learning Center and administrative offices, 396 Eastwind Drive.

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