LOWELLVILLE Teacher strike looms if district talks fail

The district ranks last in average teacher salary among 14 Mahoning County school districts.
LOWELLVILLE -- Through 22 years of teaching for the Lowellville School District, Cathy Russo says she has seen a salary gap widen between her district and others.
Contract negotiations between the district and the teachers union began in April, but teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.
An impasse was declared 10 days before that and federal mediators have been called in to assist in negotiations.
Russo, a spokeswoman for the Lowellville Education Association, said discontent is growing among her co-workers.
"We've been patient with working without a contract, but the patience is wearing thin," she said.
Strike intent: Just last week the LEA gave its bargaining team the ability to file an intent to strike.
She said if talks don't advance during the next mediation session Nov. 29, it's possible such an intent could be filed.
If so, the measure is followed by a 10-day period where talks may still occur. If a contract isn't settled by then, teachers hit the picket lines.
During the school board meeting Wednesday, Russo said Lowellville has lost five teachers over the past few years to school systems with higher pay. If the pay scale doesn't improve, Russo said she's afraid the district will become a training ground where teachers work for a few years and then move on to better-paying jobs.
Ratings: The district sits seventh out of 14 districts in Mahoning County in base salary for teachers with a bachelor's degree, says the 2001 Education Report of the Ohio Public Expenditure Council. Teachers here start out at about $24,035 while starting salary in Canfield, which tops the list, is $25,803.
Lowellville ranked last in its average teacher salary of $34,307.
According to the report, seven districts have average yearly salaries in the $40,000 range. Western Reserve School District is the closest to Lowellville in average salary at $36,527.
But how are the teachers faring in the classroom?
The school district ranked ninth out of 14 districts in Mahoning County, both this year and last year, meeting 17 of the 27 state standards in the State of Ohio District School Report Card. The nearby Campbell School District met only 14 of the standards. The Struthers School District met 16.
South Range schools were tops in the county meeting all 27 standards.
Lowellville Superintendent Richard Buchenic would not comment while negotiations are taking place.

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