LISBON - After rejecting a contract two weeks ago, members of the Robert Bycroft Education Association plan to vote on a revised one sometime this week.
The union covers the teachers at the school and their assistants, two nurses, an early intervention specialist and two speech pathologists - about 28 people in total. Although no specifics have been provided about what the negotiations' main concerns are about, Superintendent Bill Devon admits most negotiations have issues with salaries and health care.
Negotiations began last June and the most recent contract ended in August. The school year began without one. A federal mediator was utilized starting in November in an effort to help create a contract acceptable to both sides.
But so far, the contract has not been passed.
While teachers are not talking about striking, the contract vote which had been scheduled for last week was canceled for unknown reasons. The teachers are scheduling a vote at the end of this week.
Controlled by the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disability, the Robert Bycroft School is just one of the board's facilities. There are also the three workshops, including the Beaver Creek Candle Co.
The BDD has four different levies. Both Devon and spokeswomen from the RBEA crisis team, Patti Polite and Phyllis French, are quick to praise the programs at the school and the voters who have continued to support them through the years.
"We have outstanding teachers and they wear many hats," Polite said. "I think we have a great program and the community has always been very supportive of us."
Budgeting figures show the BDD began the year with a balance of $7.43 million in one fund and expects to collect another $6.6 million in taxes this year from the levy that supplies that fund. Under the MRDD residential services fund, there was a carryover balance of $958,804. Three other funds hold substantially less money.
Salary figures from across the county show teachers at the Robert Bycroft start at $28,903, which is third from the bottom of the list just above Leetonia and Southern Local. The county average for starting teachers is $29,600.
Devon points out the teachers receive step pay, additional money just for being at the school for a certain number of years. Additionally, he said they technically need more of a carryover balance than what they have for two reasons.
First, the BDD levies are property tax levies, which means no money comes in until sometime in April. For that reason, more than $4 million is used for operations before the school collects the beginning of next year's revenues.
Additionally, Devon said the school is required to provide assistance in the form of Medicaid waivers for all the identified disabled people across the county, even those served by other organizations such as Threshold in East Palestine. Devon said the BDD sends 40 cents to the state to bring in each $1 of funding for those in need of care, such as someone whose family is no longer able to care for them. Some require little assistance and some require around-the-clock care. Devon said there are 250 Medicaid waivers being used by people in the county out of 701 residents who have been identified as disabled, according to his figures.
Devon said it is his goal in the current economy not to have to ask voters for more money. The only exception may be improving a 1979 levy which is collecting little by today's standards.
At the same time the district has been able to create a bus garage, is preparing to connect into the new water project to provide better water to the facilities and trying to address Internet speed issues at the school, Devon points out. At last month's meeting, the board approved a nearly $34,000 contact with 21st Century Alarm to boost security at the buildings nearest to the Columbiana County Jail. Still the security is to keep people out, not prevent clients from wandering outside.
Additionally, Devon notes he has had to fill some management positions, but those were state-mandated.
While neither side is really saying what will happen if this contract does not pass this week, Devon notes he does not plan to give more again, noting he gave a little after the first contract was voted down.
"We are hopping we can work things out for the good of the kids," Polite said. "As usual, the kids are what's in our heart."