Officials with South-Western City Schools don't anticipate reaching or approving any contract agreements with unionized teachers or classified personnel this month.

Officials with South-Western City Schools don't anticipate reaching or approving any contract agreements with unionized teachers or classified personnel this month.

A federal mediator has scheduled a negotiating session between the district and the South-Western Education Association, which represents teachers, for Dec. 20. No talks have been scheduled with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, which represents classified workers.

Even if the Dec. 20 session is fruitful, superintendent Bill Wise said before the Dec. 13 school board meeting that given the holidays and the timeframe for ratifying any agreement, it will be January before the board likely can vote on anything. No more regular board meetings are set in December.

"We met with SWEA on Dec. 8 and spent most of the day negotiating," Wise said. "I think it's fair to say the meeting was more productive than some of the earlier meetings. We started to have better communication on the issues, but significant work is still to be done."

The district has not had any talks with OAPSE since mid-November. Officials from both unions have said at previous school board meetings that they want their members to be treated fairly.

Both unions voluntarily gave up base pay raises in the past year. Step pay increases, based on education and years of service, continued. An administrators' union also gave up base pay raises last year and has agreed to do so again as part of its new one-year contract.

SWEA and OAPSE have worked without contracts since June. SWEA officials announced last month that teachers would work only hours they are contractually required to and would not put in any extra time after the end of the school day.

Rob Starrett, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board last year, told the board at the Dec. 13 meeting that the district's five-year forecast projects deficits of $38-million in fiscal year 2014 and $90-million in fiscal 2015 without any new money in the district.

He cautioned administrators and the board to be tough during the current contract talks.

"We want you to stand firm and do what is best for the community as a whole," Starrett said. "The largest portion of the projected deficit is salary and benefits increases. These increases are where the trimming must come from."

He noted that should state funding be cut up to 20 percent next year - as some have suggested because the state faces a projected $8-billion deficit in the next two-year state budget - that South-Western will be especially hard hit. The $18.5-million raised annually by passage of a 7.4-mill levy last fall would be all but wiped out.

"I would like to leave the unions with one thought," he said. "During the levy campaign last year, all we heard from you was, 'It's for the kids.' So are you going to stick to your word and let the kids use it for their education or are you going to try to take it away from them in your negotiations?"

No teacher or classified union representatives spoke at the meeting.

In another matter, Wise told the board that two of the five make-up days required for students at Darbydale Elementary School will be held at the end of the winter break on Jan. 3 and 4. The school was closed earlier this fall because of a small explosion in the boiler room caused by a methane gas leak. No one was injured.

Wise said district officials surveyed Darbydale parents and the majority agreed that holding classes on two of the winter break days was acceptable to them. The other days will be made up later in the year.

Treasurer Hugh W. Garside Jr. told the board on Dec. 13 that future board meetings will be virtually paperless as the district attempts to save some money by not printing meeting agendas or attachments.

The district has established a site, BoardDocs, on its web page where the public can access board agendas and other materials and can print those out if they want to, Garside said.

The public also can watch a Smartboard set up in the board room that will display agenda items during meetings. The format will begin with the board's Jan. 10 organizational meeting.

A district official said after the Dec. 13 meeting that the district has not determined how much could be saved annually by going paperless for the meetings.