The school board wants to know by early next week if the teachers will vote on a tentative contract
By JEANNE STARMACK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN —Teachers’ refusal of extra duties is hurting the school district’s routine, so the school board has asked again that the teachers accept most of a contract proposal and go into arbitration on one issue.
The board met in another closed session Thursday to discuss tactics after the Austintown Education Association refused its request for an arbitrator to settle a sticking point over contract language. That language involves how much planning time teachers have and how much input they have over scheduling it.
Teachers began “work-to-rule” days last week, working only from their start times until they are supposed to quit for the day. They said they would prove that extra time they spend on activities before and after school would be missed.
Superintendent Doug Heuer said Thursday that has happened. He said holiday musicals at several schools had to be canceled this week.
“These are long-standing traditions,” Heuer said. “The kids look forward to them ... We want the district back to normal.”
Heuer said another problem is that individual teachers have contacted board members to get an explanation of binding arbitration. Board members cannot answer them, because that would be considered an unfair labor practice, Heuer said.
He said union officials have to discuss those types of issues with their membership.
“So the board still has the same proposal on the table,” he said. The board wants AEA officials to meet with members to answer their questions and determine if they’ll take action on the proposal, he said. The board wants an answer by late Tuesday afternoon.
He said he has given the board’s response to AEA leaders, who were to meet Thursday evening with their Ohio Education Association representative.
Heuer said the board has scheduled another emergency meeting Wednesday in case the union turns down the request.
Alf Nelson, the AEA’s labor consultant from the OEA, said union leaders will consider the board’s request. “When we have a response, we’ll let that be known,” he said.
Union leaders had said Tuesday that the AEA prefers to go back into negotiations with a federal mediator rather than relinquish control over the decision to an arbitrator.
In a letter to the school board, the union also asked for a “cooling off” period, wanting the negotiations to begin again in January, said Heuer.
Planning time during the work day appears to be the only stumbling block, making the Austintown district the only one of 10 in talks with teachers this year to remain unsettled on a contract.
Teachers say their planning time is valuable for preparing lessons and tutoring kids who need extra help.
The school board has tried to eliminate language in the old contract that gives teachers input on how much planning time they have. The board believes that decision should be up to administrators, board president Michael Creatore has said.
A second planning period at Fitch High School is a bone of contention, with the board wanting administrators to have the right to tell teachers to teach during the second period if there is a high demand for their courses.
Creatore has argued that the teachers’ average time in front of students during the day, 4.25 hours, is not enough. He points out that the state has recommended 5.5 hours of teaching time.
Teachers have countered with their own figures that show their teaching time is in line with other districts in the area.
Creatore has an acrimonious relationship with the teachers union. He has said he believes the union is stalling until he leaves the board in January and it can negotiate without him.
Teachers appear willing to accept a 1 percent raise the first year of the new contract and no raise in the second, and an 8.5 percent health-care premium pickup. Their salaries range from $29,000 to more than $66,000.
Health care costs the district $1,008.45 a month for family coverage and 415.16 a month for single coverage. Premium pickups are now 7 percent, or $70.60 for family coverage, and $29.06 for single coverage. Those figures would rise under the new proposal to $85.72 for family coverage and $35.29 for single coverage.