Teachers take opportunity to give their side of talks

Two weeks after an invitation only meeting where Wapakoneta City Schools administrators explained their position to a select crowd, teachers took advantage of a public comment period to voice their side.

Teachers addressed Wapakoneta City Schools Board of Education members and administrators Saturday for more than two hours during a special meeting of the board.

Ohio Education Association Labor Relations consultant Shelli Jackson said she is “still perplexed and astounded that we continue to find ourselves across the table in a manner such as this. I don’t see this with the other school districts that I work with.”

She said the one factor that has changed from previous negotiations is a new school district’s attorney — Bill Pepple.

She also addressed a complaint of the board noting any time the union representatives received a proposal or counterproposal from the board that the document would be in excess of 30 pages and the changes were not marked for quicker and easier reading.

Jackson noted she was disheartened when she heard Wapakoneta school instructors, especially those who have been in the district for more than 30 years be referred to as “bad teachers” by Pepple.

“I come in mostly to facilitate, I am not here just for the side of the union,” Jackson said. “I take a step back and look to find what is the real issue here and a lot of times it is a lack of communication and stubbornness on both sides.

“So in closing, let’s get back to the table and let’s get a successor agreement in place,” she said.

Wapakoneta Middle School teacher Mark Law said that during previous negotiations that union representatives could discuss issues directly with former Superintendent Dean Wittwer and not through an attorney.

He pointed out board member Ron Mertz even told him not to trust Pepple. Mertz confirmed making the statement to Law.

“Our students are the one’s losing in this situation,” Law said. “We all have to work together for the common good.”

Eighth-grade mathematics teacher Greg Ruppert presented a 10-page document providing information regarding administrator and certified staff, or teacher, salaries and benefits.

“I graduated from Wapakoneta High School and I came back to teach here because I love this town,” Ruppert said. “I love this school district, I think we have great administrators, I think we have great teachers, I think we have great cafeteria workers, I think we have great people.”

The document also showed costs associated with using Pepple to handle negotiations for the school. Ruppert calculated $123,292.91 has been spent on Pepple’s services to date.

He also presented information regarding Gregg Gascon, a consultant with Uniserv Education Research Development, who provided Ruppert with a 20-page health insurance program analysis as an example. Ruppert said Gascon would be willing to help the school district.

“Mr. Gascon said he would come in and overhaul our insurance program and even negotiate an insurance plan that would benefit all employees and decrease the cost to the district a great deal,” Ruppert said. “A meeting was set up but that was cancelled by the board. I think that was a very wrong thing to do.

“This guy is a guru and he was going to do what would benefit all of us — I believe that with all my heart,” he said. “I think we missed an opportunity there because that would have cost us zero dollars.”

Wapakoneta High School teacher Denny Cosart told board members that all he could do Saturday morning was “to present to you what is in my heart as a teacher, as a veteran teacher.”

“This is a crisis now, but this is really about the future,” Cosart said. “We always look at things as win-loss situations, but why can’t we look at this as a win-win situation. Why can’t we use this opportunity right now to make a contract advantageous to us in the future so we get the best people in here.”

He also posed a dilemma to board members.

“I want to know how you think you can move this school district forward without the support of the teachers,” said Cosart, who was among many teachers who wore buttons saying, “You can’t put students first, if teachers are last.”

Others to speak included teachers Bill Dellinger, Jean Turner and Melanie Webb and district resident Terry Campbell.

Wapakoneta High School teachers Cortney Rogers and Ashley Rostorfer brought tears to the eyes of teachers and others gathered in the Wapakoneta Performing Arts Center for the meeting.

Rostorfer, who had back surgery at the end of November, shared how she would come in and prepare lesson plans for Mark Short who was serving as the substitute teacher for her geometry and algebra classes.

She noted the pain she went through to get to school on Sunday and other nights to complete the work so Short could teach the students. She would need assistance getting to and from school because her physicians would not clear to drive.

“I am not telling you this because I want a pat on the back, but I want you to know that we are not selfish and we are not greedy,” Rostorfer said. “I can tell you more about the sacrifices teachers make not for you or for me but for our students.

“You have great teachers here, we just want to be treated that way,” she said.

Rogers, who moved to Wapakoneta from her hometown of Fremont, told board members she made the move because of “this great place called Wapakoneta” and that it was a great place to teach.

Rogers, who sat in on negotiating sessions, said the disrespect shown toward her and other members of the negotiating team was hurtful. She was upset school administrators cast them as greedy when she knew how much time teachers gave to help make students and the district successful.

“I know you have a job to do and I am actually a rational person and having sat across the table from you I could understand your point of view — and I can do the number crunching and I can read your five-year forecast,” Rogers said. “What has always bothered me through this whole process is that you would never listen to our side. If I can understand your side, I don’t understand why you could never understand or listen to our side.

“I really do hope we can get back to the table and can negotiate because I really do think we can reach an agreement,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to really bring this district forward. There have been a lot of bridges burned here and a lot of hearts hurt, but I never thought any of you would do this — never.”