Members of the Worthington Education Support Professionals (WESP) and exempt classified staff have ratified a new three-year contract, agreeing to forgo pay raises for the first six months of 2012 and the entire 2012-13 school year.

Members of the Worthington Education Support Professionals (WESP) and exempt classified staff have ratified a new three-year contract, agreeing to forgo pay raises for the first six months of 2012 and the entire 2012-13 school year.

The Worthington Board of Education on June 27 unanimously approved the contract.

The agreement covers the district's 450 secretaries, food-service workers, bus drivers and other classified staff members.

Superintendent Melissa Conrath called the agreement "very fair to taxpayers."

"Like the WEA (Worthington Education Association), it is an unprecedented settlement," Conrath said. "The district staff understands the challenge the community faces."

Last month, the teachers union and board agreed to a similar contract.

"We're all in this together," Conrath said. "All of our employees contribute to the success of our students."

She said the recent negotiations were "very cooperative, and I feel good about the process."

WESP president Pam Sturiano told the board that the district's employees did it for the students they serve.

"We come to work every day because we love working with the kids," she said.

In an interview following the meeting, she said union members took a realistic approach to negotiations.

"I feel good," she said. "We all know what's going on in the world. My neighbors don't have jobs or their jobs are in danger."

Sturiano said 396 of the 450 classified employees are union members, and the vote to ratify the contract was an overwhelming 244-14. More than 150 members didn't vote.

Board member David Bressman credited the classified employees for making "a huge sacrifice."

"I worry about support staff and their ability to sustain this contract," he said, citing concerns over the escalating cost of health insurance.

Board president Marc Schare said he thought two areas deserved a closer look. He said the agreement breaks faith with an audit done last year, identifying areas where classified workers were underpaid and overpaid. He also expressed concerns that the health-care cap still requires a 90-percent pickup by the board. Schare said he was disappointed in the lack of transparency because the document was not available to the public prior to the board vote.

School board vice president Jennifer Best praised the support staff.

"We appreciate you stepping up to the plate and making concessions," she said.

Board member Charlie Wilson said the lack of drawn-out negotiations results in significant savings for the district in legal fees.

"It is a great day for our school district and our taxpayers," Wilson said.

The current contract, which includes a 1.95-percent cost-of-living raise for calendar year 2011, expires in December. The new contract takes effect June 30 and runs through June 30, 2014.Under the terms of the new agreement, support staff will forgo pay raises starting in the first six months of 2012 and during the entire 2012-13 school year. In the 2013-14 school year, they will receive a 1.25-percent base-pay raise but will forgo scheduled step increases based on longevity.

District treasurer Jeff McCuen said those step increases range from a low of 30 cents per hour to a high of $1.30 an hour and the total annual value of step increases is about $90,000.

Under the agreement, support staff will pay any costs toward their health-care premiums beyond the district's contribution caps: $8,750 for a single plan and $23,100 for a family plan.