The Reynoldsburg Board of Education voted 4-1 Aug. 4 to approve a new contract with district teachers, with dissenting board member Elaine Tornero calling it "a gift basket to the union and no one else."

Board President Joe Begeny said highlights of the deal include new guidelines for class sizes, planning time for teachers, the continuation of merit bonuses for teachers and financial security for the district.

"We shouldn't have to go to the taxpayers until at least 2023, which is 13 years between levy requests," he said. "As with all negotiations, each side didn't get all that they wanted, but everyone worked together and accomplished so much in the four days spent together that I couldn't be happier with their efforts."

The new contract, effective from Aug. 1 to July 31, 2020, calls for base pay for starting teachers to increase this month by 2.5 percent to $41,696; in August 2018 by 2.25 percent to $42,634 and by 2 percent in August 2019 to $43,487.

Teachers affected by a step freeze on the pay scale in 2013-14 also will recover a step under the new contract.

Begeny said he is happy with the new contract.

"When you look at the long-term liability, we were able to provide things like class size and teacher planning time, but not mortgage the district's future," he said. "So we won't have to go on the ballot any time in the near future.

"Honestly, I'd like to thank both sides for getting this job done and for making a statement that all of this is really all about the kids," he said.

Tornero wasn't as pleased.

"This is a contract with concessions for the teachers union and nothing in return for the students and taxpayers," she said. "Teacher seniority over merit is in the new contract. Is that what's best for students and taxpayers? This contract is a gift basket to the union and no one else."

Class size and planning time, along with a salary schedule and reduction-in-force policy that teachers thought was based too much on merit were sticking points in the district's last negotiations with the Reynoldsburg Education Association, which resulted in a 15-day strike in September 2014.

The new contract gives each teacher a minimum of 220 minutes per week for instructional planning, evaluation and conferences. It states planning time will be directed by teachers for an average of two and one-half days per week. The contract also calls for a group of teachers and administrators to study the use of and implementation of planning time and to present findings to the school board by the end of the 2017-18 school year.

The word "aspirational" was connected with class sizes in the old contract, but that word has been deleted; the new contract states class sizes will be limited to 25 students per core academic class in grades K-4; 30 students per core class in grades 5-8 and 35 students in grades 9-12.

If the number of students in a class or caseload exceeds the guidelines, teachers may request a meeting with administrators to discuss the issue and explore alternatives, which could include "adjusting schedules, adding paraprofessionals, providing additional compensation ($5 per student per day for the time that the class size or caseload exceeds the guidelines)," according to the new contract.

"How does five dollars per student per day -- paid to a teacher for each student over a class size guideline -- help students?" Tornero asked. "How does it take a class from overwhelming to manageable?"

Board member Debbie Dunlap called the vote "a landmark moment."

"While I was not a part of negotiating the contract, to negotiate a new contract in four days was monumental for this district," she said. "I'm proud of everyone involved and happy they took the time to really listen to each other."

She said the agreement covers both teaching and learning conditions.

"I firmly believe that the teachers' working conditions are the same things as the students' learning conditions and I think this contract addresses both," she said.

pwillis@thisweeknews.com

@PamelaThisWeek