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West Branch BOE rejects teachers’ new contract offer

September 8, 2012
By KEVIN HOWELL , Salem News

BELOIT- The West Branch Education Association has apparently failed in its attempt to continue negotiations with the school board for a new collective bargaining agreement.

According to WBEA President Mike Helm, the board Thursday night rejected the union's offer to approve the board's "last, best and final offer" with a "what if" clause that provides eligible teachers an additional half step (annual pay raise based on experience) in the second year if the funding becomes available. Alf Nelson Jr., labor relations consultant for the Ohio Education Association, said that "what if" clauses are relatively common in situations such as the WBEA's.

Helm said the union requested the clause because throughout the negotiations the board had said if the funds were available, it would give that extra half step.

"We offered to accept their last, best offer with one exception- we wanted the board to give us the other half step only if new funds became available; if not, the contract would stand at a half step," Helm said in a written statement. "We were stunned that it was rejected. This was a no-lose situation for our board. It is almost like they are daring us to strike."

Helm said the WBEA will meet next week to decide what direction to go, with continued hopes that the board will change its mind. Possible action includes working under the terms of the contract without ever approving it and issuing a strike notice. An unfair labor practice suit is unlikely due to the relatively short length of the contract, he said earlier this week.

The board declared an impasse in negotiations last weekend and imposed a successor collective bargaining agreement effective July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2014, after several months of failed negotiations. Teams for the two groups called for assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in May and agreed to a tentative agreement in June, but it was rejected by the union in early August. The teams went back to the negotiating table, but that attempt failed as well.

According to schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart, the board's "last, best and final offer" asks teachers to pay more each month toward the cost of health insurance, but freezes the amount of employee contributions for the next two years. The offer also includes an absolute pay freeze in salaries for the first year, and a half step (roughly 2.5 percent) pay increase for eligible employees in the second year.

There is also additional compensation for advanced education and a financial incentive for outstanding attendance both years of the contract.

The contract reflects the financial constraints under which the district must operate, Weingart said.

But Helm described the contract as decidely concessionary, noting teachers will be making hundreds of thousands of dollars in concessions including tuition reimbursement, professional days, one and half years of pay freezes and five supplemental contracts.

"The incentives that they are offering will affect relatively few or are already there," Helm said. "We're resisting because this is affecting our young teachers. We want to retain the good, young leaders we have here."

When asked about the board's refusal of the union's offer, Weingart explained that it was not dismissed lightly.

"They discussed it at length, but ultimately the board felt it had stretched as far as it could in the final offer," he said.

Weingart said that while the offer was appreciated, the reality was that the two teams had been negotiating for eight months and had reached a tentative agreement that was rejected by the union.

"There comes a point where you have to look at it and say it is what it is," he said.

A list of the financial provisions and provision changes in the contract can be viewed at a "Questions and Answers" link under News and Information on the school's website.

Kevin Howell can be reached at khowell@salemnews.net

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