Pact reached, strike averted at West Branch
By David Skolnick and Denise Dick
The union representing teachers in the West Branch school system and the district’s board of education reached an agreement on a new two-year contract.
The two sides reached a deal with no base-pay salary increase late Wednesday, averting a potential strike by about 150 teachers in the district.
After several months of negotiations, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on the final points of the contract.
The school board offered its final and best offer to the union Sept. 3. The union rejected offer.
The major issue during negotiations was step-pay increases normally provided to teachers based on years of experience.
The board wanted a half-step increase in the second year of the contract, while the teachers requested either a half-step in both years or a full step in the second year of the deal.
About 60 percent of the district’s teachers already are at the top of the step in salary, said Mike Helm, president of the teachers’ union and an eighth-grade math teacher.
The memorandum of understanding links the additional half-step sought by the teachers’ union to the district receiving at least $200,000 in “supplemental guarantee” state funding, which provides money to offset the loss of revenue caused by student enrollment declines, said Superintendent Scott Weingart.
The district has received that funding for several years, including this school year, he said.
There are about 2,200 students at West Branch, down about 200 from three years ago.
With this agreement, the union canceled its “work-to-rule” directive, which meant teachers were only working their scheduled hours. That policy was in effect since the start of the school year.
“We worked together and met for many long hours to address the concerns expressed by both teams,” said Terry Criss, school- board president. “I believe that this compromise is a good solution because it allows us to conclude talks and focus on the business of educating children in our district.”