By Jordan Cohen
More than 130 teachers packed the board of education meeting demanding that Superintendent Mark Robinson resume contract negotiations.
There have been no bargaining talks since Dec. 1 when Robinson said he presented the board’s “best-and-final offer” to the teachers who subsequently rejected it.
The teachers, represented by the 180-member Niles Education Association, have continued to work under their old contract, which expired Aug. 28.
At the Wednesday night board meeting, each teacher carried a yellow sign with a drawing of a black table and the words “come back” over it to implore the superintendent to resume bargaining.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, about 60 of the teachers addressed the board — each comment consisting of one sentence:
“Mr. Robinson: come back to negotiations.”
However, Michael Guarnieri, the last teacher to speak, added that the teachers wouldn’t hesitate to make sacrifices, but questioned Robinson’s warning of the possibility of layoffs if the contract issue remains unchanged.
“How can we make student-centered decisions if you’re making cuts before negotiations?” Guarnieri asked.
Robinson did not comment during the meeting, but afterward met in an executive session to discuss all options with the board.
“I heard what they had to say, but in order to return to negotiations, I would have to pull the last, best offer off the table,” Robinson said.
One option may be to implement the agreement without the teachers’ approval, which is permitted by law.
The Ohio Department of Education has warned that Niles could be declared in fiscal emergency by the end of this month unless it submits a plan to eliminate its projected deficits of $375,000 by June of this fiscal year and more than $2 million in 2013.
Robinson said Tuesday that reducing the cost of the teacher agreement is essential to cutting the deficit.
One of the major contract stumbling points is health benefits.
Under the current contract, the district pays all health-care costs for teachers hired before October 2008, but an NEA spokesman confirmed that the board’s last offer requires teachers to pay “at least 10 percent” of the premiums.
The district’s nonteaching employees have already agreed to a contract requiring them to pay from 10 percent to 15 percent of premium costs.