Struthers teachers reach tentative agreement

The last raise teachers received was 2 percent for the 2005-06 school year.



STRUTHERS — Just three days before their intent to strike was to become a reality, Struthers teachers have reached a tentative contract with the board of education for the 2007-08 school year.

Negotiating teams were able to reach a mutually acceptable contract Friday afternoon, said union spokesman Richard Gage. The teachers’ previous contract had expired nearly two months earlier.

Details of the agreement are being withheld pending a union vote at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. But Gage said he thinks the tentative contract will meet with approval from the district’s 130 teachers.

“We are very pleased that we’ve come to a tentative agreement and that we are going back to work to do the jobs that we love,” he said.

Struthers teachers are due to return to work Monday to prepare for the first day of school Aug. 27. A strike by teachers was to begin Monday if the union was not able to come to terms with the school board, said Gage. The Struthers Education Association had issued a 10-day notice of intent to strike Aug. 7.

The two sides had been in a stalemate since June 28 when the district’s 130 teachers overwhelmingly rejected the board’s final offer for the school year, said Gage. Until Friday, the board of education had not returned with a counteroffer, he said.

Last pay raise

Struthers teachers have not received a raise since they were given a 2 percent boost during the 2005-06 school year, said district Treasurer Michael Evanson.

Last year, the average salary for district teachers was $51,199, or slightly less than the state average of $53,536, according to the Ohio Department of Education. New hires with a bachelor’s degree start at $28,192. At the other end of the scale, a teacher with 26 or more years’ experience who holds a master’s degree plus the maximum professional certification earns $64,278.

In terms of qualifications, Struthers teachers register slightly higher than the state average. The Ohio Department of Education reports that 99.6 percent of core courses in Struthers are taught by teachers meeting the state guidelines for “highly qualified teacher.” Statewide the average is 96.5 percent.

Evanson blames the district’s financial problems for the standoff with its teachers. Struthers City Schools was declared to be in fiscal emergency in 2005. As a result, the district forfeited its financial autonomy, said Evanson. It now operates under a recovery plan approved by the state’s Financial Planning and Supervision Commission.

Evanson said the district was simply trying to adhere to the plan, although he acknowledges that its teachers have borne the brunt of the financial squeeze.

“That laid out the roadmap we have to follow exactly,” said Evanson. “Disproportionally the cutbacks are in personnel.”

Gage said Struthers teachers have been sensitive to the district’s financial situation, accepting wage freezes, cuts in supplemental staff and health care.

“We have been extremely flexible in assisting with the district’s financial problems,” he said. “We are being flexible in these negotiations.”

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