Union angered over starting pay for teachers in district’s new STEM school

By Michael Fitzpatrick

The North Ridgeville Board of Education and the North Ridgeville Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers, continue their stalemate in negotiating a new contract for the teachers.

The teachers want more money, including better starting pay, and say the district is losing its good young teachers to other districts after paying to train them because they leave for better money.

The board is claiming it made a fair offer to the teachers and that it can offer no more if it wants to be fiscally responsible or they’d have to go back to voters to ask for more money.

The teachers have been working on an expired contract since July, but their unhappiness over the state of the negotiations has increased over time and they’ve also taken to coming to board meetings in large groups and peppering the board and Superintendent Jim Powell with questions about the negotiations.

The union showed out in force for the April 10 meeting. During that meeting, the board approved hiring four new teachers for the district’s new STEM school, also known as Ranger High Tech Academy, which opens for its first year next fall. The board approved hiring the new teachers at salaries considered very high when taking into consideration their experience, a fact pointed out by at least one union member during the public comment section of the meeting.

Hired were:  Jennifer Detmar at $73,000; Molly Jeffrey, $68,300; Sheila Woidke, $51,900 and Erika Zavatchen, $73,000. To earn those salaries, the union contends, the teachers were given step increases other teachers in the district have not gotten.

The union’s overall sentiment of the hiring of the STEM teachers at such a high pay rate was that it did not display a fiscally responsible behavior by the board, according to union communications chairman Courtney Browning.

The district is only required to pay a teacher coming into the district at a step level of five years’ experience, no matter how many years of teaching experience that teacher may have. In North Ridgeville’s case, according to the union, teachers have come into the district with more than five years’ experience, but only paid at a step level equivalent of five years.

“The teachers feel hurt and disrespected,” said Browning.

Powell said the teachers all have special skills sets that allow them to write curriculum for the program while working with corporate partners in the project, like Hyland Software, the French Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and University Hospitals. Those skills command a higher starting pay.

Powell also went on to say the High Tech Academy is designed to bring students back to the district. The district is currently losing approximately $1.5 million a year in state funding because students living in the North Ridgeville district are opting to go to charter or online schools. Powell’s argument is the Tech Academy could bring those students back to the district along with the funding. If that happens, the district would have more money to pay teachers more.

Powell said the Board is willing to sit down with the union and a federal mediator to negotiate. But in earlier statements, the board has indicated that it would not move off its last best offer to the union.
Browning said the union is “ready, willing and able” to return to the bargaining table.

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