Cline Elmentary School fourth-grade teacher Sarina Alesi teaches essay-writing techniques to her students. Centerville City Schools and its teachers union have already ratified a new three-year contract to take effect this summer. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Raises for Ohio teachers appear to be returning

Half of local schools pursuing new teacher contracts

Half of the Miami Valley’s school districts are negotiating new multiyear contracts with their teachers unions this spring, a challenge because two-year state funding levels won’t be known until about June 30, the day many of those existing contracts expire.

Twenty of 40 school districts in the greater Dayton area have teacher contracts expiring this summer. The list includes bigger districts like Dayton, Fairborn and Troy, high-performing suburbs such as Bellbrook and Vandalia-Butler, and smaller districts including Brookville, Bethel and New Lebanon.

So far only Kettering and Centerville City Schools have ratified new contract agreements that take effect for next school year. Bellbrook and Covington have tentative agreements that have not yet been formally approved.

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“There are projections out there on what (state funding) we’re going to get, but we try to be conservative on those, because you never know what’s going to happen between now and June 30 when the budget’s passed,” said Ken Lackey, director of business services for Kettering schools. “We don’t build in the full amount of the projections, and you also take into account what the worst-case scenario might be.”

Raises coming back

The two contracts ratified so far show a return to stronger teacher pay raises after several leaner years during and after the recession. Kettering’s new three-year contract calls for base pay raises of 3 percent the first year, then 2.5 percent and 2.25 percent the last two years. The raises in Centerville’s agreement are two years of 3.5 percent each, followed by a year at 3.375 percent.

Both districts had annual raises of 1.5 to 2 percent in their current contracts, and Kettering teachers had gone through a three-year pay freeze on the back side of the recession.

“I would say pay raises are bouncing back (statewide),” said Van Keating, senior staff attorney for the Ohio School Boards Association. “I’m seeing a lot of 2 and 2.5 percent (raises), but not too many 3s. Now, is that making up for the past freezes? No. It would take a lot more than (2 percent raises) to make that up.”

The local districts that have already reached agreements are ones that don’t have to rely as much on state money. Lackey said just over 20 percent of Kettering’s budget comes from the state, with a much bigger chunk coming from local tax money. Centerville gets less than 15 percent from the state, while many low-wealth communities rely on the state budget for more than half of their funding.

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Keating said it’s not uncommon for some of those state-dependent districts to continue contract negotiations into the summer, when they’ll know the next two years’ state funding exactly. He said he’s also seen new contracts this year with contingency provisions, calling for changes or renegotiation if state cuts go beyond a certain level.

Mad River Superintendent Chad Wyen said his district moved to two-year contracts years ago specifically because the state budget is done on a two-year cycle. Mad River is one of many districts negotiating simultaneously with their teachers (represented by the Ohio Education Association), as well as their secretaries, aides, bus drivers and other non-teachers, often referred to as “classified” employees. More than 15 local districts have classified staff contracts expiring this summer.

Tipp City was the last local school district without union-represented teachers, until they organized in 2015. In several local districts, including Piqua, Centerville and Valley View, the classified staff is not unionized.

Better communication

Centerville teachers union president Brian Cayot said there are always tweaks in new contracts, from health insurance premiums and work schedules, to new state laws and rules. This year, he pointed to langauge on teacher mentoring programs, school counselor evaluations and the switch from a minimum number of school days to a set number of hours of instruction.

But both Kettering and Centerville said bargaining went relatively smoothly this year on their teacher contracts.

“We try to work collaboratively throughout the contract period, so when there are big changes, we’re not looking at them for the first time at the negotiating table, because that leads to frustration on both sides,” Cayot said. “Our negotiations committee meets monthly to talk about what’s going on in district, things coming out of Columbus that are impacting us.”

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Keating said one clear trend is that contract negotiations are going faster than they did years ago, when very few contracts were ratified before the end of the school year. He credited the Interest-Based Bargaining system for the improvement.

“That has really caught on,” Keating said. “It relies a heck of a lot less on writing proposals, then coming in and arguing. It’s more of a joint-problem solving approach.”

Lackey said that model helped Kettering’s groups come to agreement quickly. Milton-Union Superintendent Brad Ritchey said his district recently did IBB training and have exchanged “interest statements” heading into the first negotiation date.

Not all negotiations go smoothly though. The classified staff in both Jefferson Twp. and Northmont schools are working under the terms of expired contracts because they didn’t reach new agreements in 2016. Northmont spokeswoman Jenny Wood said the district expects negotiations to resume later this year.

Cayot said getting contracts done allows everyone to focus on education.

“I think it’s a relief for everybody involved, both administration and teachers, to know that we have a contract for the next three years, and it should be good working terms,” he said.