WEA issues plea to talk: Teachers share thoughts, experiences with board

Wapakoneta Education Association (WEA) members re-enforced their position on contract negotiations Saturday during a public forum with Wapakoneta City School Board of Education members.

Board members officially conducted two meetings, the first being the district’s annual re-organizational meeting. The second meeting was used for discussing employment of personnel and negotiations, all discussed in executive session. However, the public comment section of each meeting  highlighted the morning’s talks.

WEA members, wearing buttons supporting their cause with phrases such as “I work here, I live here, I work here,” and “I don’t want to strike, but I will,” made up all but a handful of attendees at the meeting of approximately 115 people.

WEA members reiterated the point that they feel the board is offering incomplete or misinformation to the public to support administrations side of the standoff.

WEA Crisis Chair and Wapakoneta Middle School teacher Todd Crow continued the plea for the school board to return to the negotiating table.

“We know collective bargaining works, even in these difficult economic times,” Crow said. “WEA has worked hard to identify cost savings to  the district, but bargaining requires mutual respect and sense of a shared mission, including shared sacrifices. We want to return our focus to what we do best, teaching the students of the Wapakoneta City Schools.”

A retired teacher from the district also shared her thoughts on the negotiations.

“The main problem is that the public is getting just enough information to be outraged,” Priscilla Elshire said.

Elshire discussed wording in the final contract offer made by the school board to the teachers. Many teachers fear that the wording in the contract eliminating step-increases over the length of the two-year contract could be dictated to mean that step increases were eliminated permanently.

“In other words, the steps are gone forever,” Elshire said.

Elshire argued that the contract read like a mini-Senate Bill 5, something she said voters had rejected.

She also revealed her sentiments about Bill Pepple, the school district’s representing attorney.

“I believe you are all reasonable men,” Elshire said. “I don’t believe the same about Mr. Pepple.”

After her comment about Pepple, another woman who could not be identified left the meeting.

A Wapakoneta Middle School teacher said she came to the district thinking she could make a difference and felt that the district had given up on the teachers.

“I came to Wapakoneta not because I wanted a job…,” the woman said. “I believed I could make a difference here. Why has the school board given up on the teachers. The greatest impact is going to be felt by our future teachers.”

Wapakoneta High School teacher Carrie Becker felt that teachers are being painted negatively in the midst of the negotiations.

“There are people out there who believe people teach so they can get off in the summers…,” Becker said. “I haven’t met a teacher who is not consumed by her career choice. Common sense, courtesy and cooperation are losing the race. The WEA and the BOE should be working towards a common goal.”

Amy Crow, whose husband is a Wapakoneta Middle School teacher in the district, said the negotiations are putting unneeded stress on the students.

She addressed the board with buttons of several students on the front of her shirt. She said she spoke with several of the students.

She also felt that athletics is being given a higher priority.

“The new turf on the football field got more coverage and support than the teachers,” Crow said.

She said children have concerns about the school remaining open if the teachers strike. She shared one student who told her that she felt embarrassed to graduate from Wapakoneta High School because of the attention and another who feared being able to play sports if they had to go to another school.

Francene Slife, who has children that teach in the district, said board members need to get back to the negotiating table.

“All I hear is name calling,” Slife said. “I want to see some reasoning here. Whatever the issues are …, let’s just get together guys.”

Others commented that the issue is quickly dividing the community and that documents recently made available online were full of discrepancy.

School Board President Willie Sammetinger acknowledged that it is a rocky period for the district but that the district would ultimately prevail.

“We appreciate your comments,” Sammetinger told the large contingent. “We know this is a difficult time. Somehow we will get through it. The sun will still come up tomorrow like it has the last 3,000 years.”

After the meeting, Sammetinger said he could not address the negotiations due to legal restraints, but school board members are hopeful of a resolution.

“At some point there will be a resolution,” Sammetinger said. “At this point, I don’t know what that is.”

Sammetinger said that board members are hearing a lot from community members.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Sammetinger said. “A lot of ‘he said she said,’ however, the information we are getting has been overwhelmingly in support of the board. Don’t budge seems to be the theme.”

Sammetinger estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the comments coming in from the public are in support of the board’s position.

The teacher’s union gave their negotiating team the authority to issue a 10-day strike notice in December if they saw fit.

To date, no notice has yet been given to the board.

School administrators have acknowledged that they currently are putting a plan in place to hire substitutes to ensure classes continue should the union decide to strike.