Schools, unions face busy contract talks season

The agreements affect school budgets and working conditions for staff.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

More than half of the Dayton area’s public school districts will be in contract negotiations with their employee unions this spring, affecting school budgets, plus pay and working conditions for staff.

While COVID-related issues like online teaching and safety protocols have dominated the past year in schools, those issues seem to be less central to contract talks.

Kettering City Schools and the Miami Valley Career Technology Center are among the very few who have already ratified new contract agreements this spring. Superintendent Nick Weldy said there were no changes tied to COVID issues in MVCTC’s new three-year contract, adding that after a “crazy year,” people wanted to keep negotiations simple.

Kettering’s school board and teachers union did include a pandemic-related memorandum of Intent in their new three-year deal. But it simply says that if the district offers a remote school option next fall, that plan will be developed with input from the teachers union.

“I feel like our district has done a great job of working together to try to do what is best for everyone all year,” said Kettering teachers union President Karen Gouge. “So we left that language open to a discussion between the board and (the union).”

Scott DiMauro, president of the state’s largest teachers union, the Ohio Education Association, said multiple districts reached COVID-related MOUs with their unions over the past year.

Some dealt with the challenges of simultaneous online/in-person teaching and some with safety protocols, especially for unions that include food service and custodial workers. DiMauro said some of those agreements will sunset this fall as schools get closer to normal approaches.

Sara Clark, chief legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association, said it makes sense that negotiations will depend on how the year has gone in each district.

“There isn’t a standard model for how schools have operated during the pandemic and, as a result, I think negotiations will vary significantly from one district to the next this spring,” Clark said.

Failure to agree

A few schools were unable to reach new agreements with their unions last summer, and employees are still working under the terms of expired contracts.

The single union that represents Vandalia-Butler’s teachers, custodians, secretaries and others is in that situation, and district officials say negotiations are ongoing.

Contracts for teachers and busing staff in Lebanon schools expired last summer, and while the teachers reached a new deal in December, the transportation staff are still in negotiations.

Greenon schools’ classified staff are working under the terms of an expired contract. District treasurer Brad McKee said he couldn’t say much because of a confidentiality clause concerning negotiations. But he confirmed that the State Employment Relations Board is involved in Greenon’s dispute resolution process.

Wages, contract details

Twenty-three of 40 local school districts are either in negotiations now, or will be within a month.

Centerville, West Carrollton, Springboro and Northridge are in talks now. Fairborn, Miamisburg and Troy will start late this month or early in May. Xenia Superintendent Gabe Lofton said his district reached a tentative agreement with their teachers union, and will start talks with classified staff next week.

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools, whose May 4 tax levy will have a significant impact on district finances, have not started negotiations with either of their unions yet, according to Superintendent Doug Cozad.

Among the contracts that have been wrapped up, wage increases have been fairly low compared to previous years. Kettering’s three-year deal calls for the district’s base salary to go up 2% in the first year, 1.5% in Year 2 and 1% in Year 3, according to district spokeswoman Kari Basson. Lebanon’s two-year deal from December includes 1.75% and 1.5% raises, Treasurer Eric Sotzing said.

MVCTC’s new contracts for both teachers and classified staff include raises of 2.5%, 2.0% and 2.5% for the three years, while the district’s share of employee health premiums will go down very slightly, Weldy said.

Tecumseh teachers had been working under an expired contract all year until ratifying a new deal in March that runs through June 2022. Treasurer Denise Robinson said rather than a base salary increase for 2020-21, the parties agreed to one-time stipend payments of $1,500 per person (2.5% of a year’s salary for someone making $60,000).

COVID issues

Robinson said Tecumseh’s new contract did not address COVID-19 concerns. Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said his district is nearing the end of negotiations, and they’ve also been limited largely to salary and benefit issues, after teachers took a base salary freeze for this year.

OSBA’s Clark said those COVID-year issues have cropped up in some negotiations around the state — things like class size limits, live-streaming protocols, snow day policies, evaluations for teachers during remote learning, and teacher leave policies due to quarantine situations.

“With regard to safety concerns and protocols, I think there is some reluctance to put language in the negotiated agreement … since the standards, requirements and recommendations are so fluid,” she said.

How school union contracts work

Every local school district’s teaching staff is unionized, primarily through the Ohio Education Association, although a few are affiliated with the Ohio Federation of Teachers. In a majority of districts, other “classified” staff (custodians, bus drivers, food service and others) are represented by a separate union.

Each local union negotiates a contract (2 or 3 years is common) with its individual school district. The contracts generally follow a similar form, with employees’ pay largely determined by their length of service and education level.

But the details vary widely — the maximum annual teacher salary listed in tiny Jefferson Twp. schools’ contract is $66,742, while Beavercreek, Centerville and Kettering are among the districts where a teacher can hit $100,000.

Some critics have argued that teacher pay systems should reward quality of performance rather than just years of experience. Oakwood is one of the few Ohio districts that has a merit pay plan in their teacher contract, but that plan is currently undergoing a review by the district and union, with recommendations due in January 2022.

OEA President Scott DiMauro pointed out that Ohio is hitting the 10-year anniversary of Senate Bill 5, when voters solidly approved collective bargaining for public employees. He said there’s wide disagreement on how to measure teacher effectiveness for merit pay plans, and argued that the current salary scales eliminate previous gender inequities in teacher pay.

Terms of these contracts are important financially because 70-85% of most schools’ general fund expenses are staff wages and benefits. Schools lost some state funding in the past year, but got a boost from federal COVID relief money. Now they’re carefully watching the ongoing state budget process, which includes debate over a new school funding formula.

— Jeremy P. Kelley, Staff Writer

Teacher contract status

This list shows which year each school district’s current teacher contract expires.

Summer 2020 — Vandalia-Butler (working under terms of expired contract)

Summer 2021 — Centerville, Springboro, Miamisburg, Troy, Fairborn, Xenia, Mad River, West Carrollton, Bellbrook, Tipp City, Valley View, Northridge, New Lebanon, Newton, Bethel, Waynesville, Eaton

Summer 2022 — Dayton, Beavercreek, Huber Heights, Lebanon, Northmont, Franklin, Trotwood, Tecumseh, Milton-Union, Bradford, Greeneview, Yellow Springs, Cedar Cliff, Jefferson Twp.

Summer 2023 — Piqua, Miami East, Covington, Brookville, Carlisle, Greenon

Summer 2024 — Kettering, Oakwood, Miami Valley CTC

NOTE: Several other districts are negotiating with unions for non-teaching staff in 2021.

Source: Ohio’s State Employee Relations Board

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