Signs of education

Cans of black and red spray paint, drip cloths and plastic replaced black and red pens, text books and notebook paper for a few hours Sunday afternoon.

Wapakoneta City School District teachers gathered at their headquarters in the former J&D Bicycle Shop on North Street to make signs which refer people to a website with information regarding their position in negotiations with school administrators and Board of Education members.

“We are making these signs to get our position out on the issues,” said Wapakoneta Middle School teacher Todd Crow, who is serving as the local crisis chair for the teachers’ union Wapakoneta Education Association (WEA). “We want the people to be able to have the opportunity to see both sides of the issue and make an informed decision.”

WEA members want the school board and administrators to return to the bargaining table with the intent of resolving outstanding issues and to reach an agreement on a new contract.

Starting Jan. 1, teachers started working under the “last, final and best” offer from the school board. The three-year contract freezes teachers’ base salaries and offers no automatic increases based on teacher education level or longevity. The contract also states step increases would not be restored in future contracts.

The offer also would require teachers to pay more for the cost of health insurance.

School administrators said the contract offer is necessary because the school district lost $1.2 million for the school year ending June 30 and is expected to lose another $1.6 million at the end of this school year, or June 30.

“The WEA understands the district’s current financial situation and has already agreed to a freeze on the base salary and step increases through June 2014,” Crow said Sunday. “WEA also has agreed to pay more of the health insurance premiums. However we cannot agree to the contract the board has implemented.

“It demands that we ignore state law that contains a salary schedule that compensates teachers for their level of education and experience,” he said. “We voluntarily did that for this contract due to the financial situation. The board wants to remove it forever.”

Crow explained the teachers also object because the board wants sole authority to choose the teachers health care package and to establish the cost of that coverage.

“We see this as an unreasonable position since we have always worked with the board to make changes when needed to maintain adequate health care and, at the same time, contain costs,” Crow said. “We are not asking for more money, we are looking at ways to save the money every year forward. Their proposal will have us right back to these issues in three years.”

Crow referred to bringing in Gregg Gascon, a health insurance specialist, to help with health insurance planning.

Using a utility knife to cut a template for signs, Crow talked about how their efforts are to convince the board members to move forward on one issue.

“Our goal is to convince the board to return to the bargaining table,” Crow said. “WEA is doing all it can through federal mediation and the State Employee Relations Board to settle the contract.

“We believe an agreement can be reached if the board would return to the table and bargain in good faith.”