West Branch BOE approves no-raise contract extensions

BELOIT- The West Branch school board Thursday night approved a two-year extension with no increase in base pay with its certificated and classified employees unions. The current contracts expire on June 30.

Under the terms of the new contracts, teachers and classified staff members will not receive an increase in their base salaries in either year of the new two-year contracts (2014-15 and 2015-16 school years), marking fours years they will go without increases in base pay. Employees qualified for step movement on the salary schedule will receive a step increase, commensurate with their experience.

“In all jobs in the school business, your salary is linked to the number of years that you have worked for the district,” schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart said in a written release. “Both teachers and classified employees who are relatively new to the district make significantly less than their more experienced counterparts. The step increases allow for the less experienced employees to move on the salary schedules.”

Weingart noted that the average base salary for teachers in Mahoning County is $31,997; West Branch teachers begin at $30,212, the second lowest in the county.

In addition to no increase in base salaries, all employees will contribute more toward their health insurance premiums, moving from the fixed amount stipulated in the expiring contract to the new agreement’s 10 percent of the premium and increasing with health care costs. If the school district realizes any savings in their health care premiums (commonly known as a premium holiday) then the employees will share in portion of the savings to offset increases in health care costs.

Weingart commended the school board and unions for working together to reach a smooth and effective agreement.

“This is a difficult time financially for school districts in Ohio,” he said. “Many school districts in Ohio are working without contracts or are involved in long, difficult negotiations.

“I believe that this agreement is a statement to the community that West Branch employees are realistic about the economic condition of the state and the community and want to do their part to keep West Branch moving forward in a positive direction.”

Mike Helm, president of the teacher’s union, the West Branch Education Association, noted in the written release that the contract will benefit the needs of younger employees by including the step increases.

“It is important that we attract and retain the best and brightest young teachers that we can,” he explained. “It’s about competition. If we are not competitive with our wages, we will lose good, young talent, and that is not in the best interest of the school district.”

Ted Lenigar, president of the classified staff union, the West Branch Classified Education Association, also acknowledged the efforts to keep younger employees.

“This is a good, solid district that provides fantastic opportunities for our kids,” he said in the release. ” The majority of our classified employees will not see any increase in salaries. Our younger, less paid staff members will see a slight increase each year. That’s important if we are going to be able to keep good people working for the district.”

Board President John Wallace expressed the board’s appreciation of both unions’ willingness to settle the contracts quickly without costly negotiations, but reminded residents that even with the four years of no salary increases, the district is still facing a deficit due to reductions in revenue from the state, educating students for $1,500 per pupil less than the state average at the lowest millage level allowed by the state.

“We hope that the community understands that we are all doing our part to keep the district strong and keep it an exciting place for our students to learn and participate,” he said. “However, we all need to get behind the school district income tax initiative on the ballot this May. Despite the concessions of the West Branch employees, if we do not provide additional revenue, we will have to cut staff and programs and that is not in the best interest of our students.”