Board goes public with contract offer to teachers union; offers 2-percent raise for for four years

North Ridgeville

By Michael Fitzpatrick

The tension between the North Ridgeville Education Association and the North Ridgeville Board of Education ratcheted up a few more notches after the last board meeting, Feb. 21. The 200 or so members of the NREA who attended the meeting departed early after the board elected to discuss negotiations publicly and even posted slides detailing the “final best offer” it had made to the union as well as other financial information the board used as proof to support its offer.

NREA President Michael McMillian said the move was equivalent to negotiating in public and said it’s a violation of state labor law. He added the incident to a list of other grievances the union has cited in an unfair labor complaint it has filed against the North Ridgeville Board of Education with the State Employees Relations Board (SERB).

“They took bargaining out in public, for whatever they think that’s going to get them,” McMillian said. “We already have the ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) that’s filed, so everything else is just added to it. We are just waiting for a ruling from SERB.”

“We aren’t terribly thrilled they want to bargain in public,” McMillian added.

On one slide, the board showed its last offer to the NREA offered 2-percent raises for the next four years and also would add step increases (additional pay based on time in service). The board also offered to kick in an additional $100,000 a year to the health insurance trust.

Superintendent Jim Powell said the board went public after receiving multiple questions from the public asking why it was “stalling” the negotiations, which began in the summer of 2016.

“We wanted to communicate to the community where we were, because up until now the board
has tried not to say anything because they believe you don’t negotiate in public, but the board got to a point where they were just backed into a corner,” Powell said.

The board contends it never heard back from union officials after it sent out its last best offer in January. Because the NREA never responded to the offer, the board considered talks at an impasse and had a legal right to go forward with making details of the negotiations public.

McMillian, when asked about the last best offer, said the union had prepared a counteroffer and was preparing to submit it, but the board went public before it could do so.

“We’ve been doing everything according to protocol since we stopped bargaining,” McMillian said.

The board’s final offer was made sometime in January and before approximately 200 union members attended a Jan. 21 board of education meeting, where many union members and residents got up to speak in support of the teachers and ask about the status of negotiations.

According to Powell, the board’s offer would give teachers a 2-percent raise over the next four years and would cost the district an approximate $186,000 the first year in wages. That number would climb to $744,000 in the fourth year.

Powell said maintaining such a salary schedule is “unsustainable” based on the district’s current revenues.

A big problem, Powell pointed out, is the money NRCS receives in state funding. It is 12th out of 14 Lorain County districts in state dollars per pupil at $2,095. Clearview, Powell also pointed out, receives $6,964 a student, Lorain receives $5,564 a student and Keystone receives $4,186 a student.

“That makes a huge difference on your revenues and what you can pay teachers,” Powell said.
North Ridgeville ranked 13 out of 14 districts when it comes to revenues it receives from residents. The NRCS get 86 percent of its funding from taxes on home and property owners in North Ridgeville. Elyria, on the other hand, receives 65 percent of its funding from its local residents.

Powell understands teachers want more money, but state funding – or lack of it – is a huge problem for the district.

“The problem is in Ohio the way schools are funded you can’t possibly sustain that (yearly 2-percent raises). You have to constantly go back to your voters and you have to constantly look for new revenues. It’s inherent in the way schools are funded in the state and nobody want’s to talk about it, and that’s the bigger issue over all of this,” Powell said.

NREA contends the district is also losing young talented teachers because of low wages. The union contends many teachers start their career here, but then move on to better-paying jobs with other districts. According to the union, NRCS prides itself on its teacher training program.

Powell claims the union is overblowing the problem of teacher loss due to low wages.

“That’s just not accurate,” Powell said.

He said, while the district has lost many teachers over his five years as superintendent, only two or three left for other districts because of better pay. Teachers have left for a variety of reasons, from quitting teaching to stay at home, to moving out of the district to follow spouses who move because of job transfers, to teachers who make career changes, according to Powell.

Teachers also contend their starting pay is among the lowest in the county. Teachers start out at $35,000 a year. However, the board contends career earnings for teachers who spend 30 years-plus with NRCS rank seventh out of 14 districts.

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