LOWELLVILLE SCHOOLS Board, union to push bargaining date up to work on pact

Board members said arbitration is not an option concerning contract negotiations.
LOWELLVILLE -- The Lowellville schools teachers union and the board of education have agreed to move up their bargaining date to try to speed negotiations for a contract.
Cathy Russo, spokeswoman for the Lowellville Education Association, said this morning that a federal mediator and legal representation will still be available for consultation during talks, but both sides will try to work better together.
"At least it seems like together we're starting to break through and get this thing going in the right direction," she said.
Russo said the LEA president and vice president met with the board about an hour after Wednesday's meeting to deliver the news. The LEA has also agreed to pay for substitutes so teacher-negotiators can attend talks Friday morning.
Heated meeting: This is a big step following the nearly two-hour meeting Wednesday that included yelling, speeches and statistics. Afterward, school officials, the union and parents agreed on one thing: Better communication is necessary.
Red-faced board members stood up from their chairs to confront a room of more than 75 people, many of them teachers, venting the frustration of working through a federal mediator since August -- something board member Ralph Conti said was instituted by the teachers union and has slowed negotiations.
Russo approached the board and said teachers do not want to strike, they simply want a fair contract.
A room of teachers with red buttons stating "I don't want to strike but I will!" emphasized her point.
Strike date: A strike is set for Jan. 22 if a tentative agreement is not reached by Jan. 21. Negotiations are entering a 10th month; teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.
The board reacted by passing a strike resolution setting guidelines, should a strike occur.
"They have refused to talk to us directly across the table," Conti said Wednesday. "Will things go smooth? I don't expect things to go smooth."
Negotiators were scheduled to meet only Saturday. But during the meeting the board proposed to release mediators and meet with LEA officials to speed things up. Many board members offered to meet as soon as today.
Both sides must agree to leave behind a mediator for talks to commence without one.
Other issues: But communication doesn't seem to be the only sticking point. Conti said the board has agreed that a change in hospitalization issues is necessary and that arbitration is not an option.
Shouting matches erupted during parts of the evening.
At one point, board member Roy Palumbo insinuated that teachers weren't aware of what was being negotiated.
"You better start asking your negotiating team questions!" he yelled. "It's getting uglier, and it doesn't have to be this way."
The board also offered to waive an agreement not to disclose contract issues when audience members asked what the holdups are. The LEA did not respond to the offer.

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