'Last, final and best' offer implemented, teachers prepare to strike

Wapakoneta City School teachers are preparing for the worst — a possible strike — and hoping for the best — Wapakoneta City School administrators and board members reopening negotiations.

Wapakoneta City School Board of Education members voted 4-0 during a special board meeting Saturday morning to implement its “last, final and best” contract offer which took effect  New Year’s Day. Board member Pat Gibson had an excused absence from the meeting.

“We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision and the whole entire process,” Ohio Education Association (OEA) Labor Relations consultant Pat Johnson told the Wapakoneta Daily News after Saturday’s meeting. “The gloves are off. I think the board and administration are cowards. It was a very cowardly act today.

“All we are asking for is to go back to the table,” she said.

The entire WEA negotiating team was present at the meeting and willing to start negotiations after the New Year’s Eve day meeting.

“As stunned as we are with the board’s actions to implement a contract, you know we have not bargained to impasse on all issues,” WEA Co-President Kim Holloway said during Saturday’s meeting. “The Wapakoneta Education Association came to the negotiations table expecting a counterproposal from the board and was prepared to engage in further discussions on a number of issues.

“The WEA truly believes that both sides continue to have room to negotiate and quite frankly, the WEA strongly believes we are not done negotiating,” she said. “It is clear from the status of the parties’ proposal and the negotiations to date that a mutual agreement is attainable. Therefore we are formally asking the board to return to the negotiations table so that both sides can resume negotiating a fair and equitable successor collective bargaining agreement.”

With the board’s decision, the WEA and the teachers are ready to take the next step.

Johnson explained the teachers voted in December to give the OEA the authority to issue the 10-day strike notice on behalf of the teachers to school  administrators. No notice had been given as of Saturday evening since they must follow OEA protocol.

Superintendent Keith Horner addressed a possible strike by the teachers.

“We have a plan in place,” Horner said. “We intend to have school and to teach the students.”

Horner declined to comment further on the board’s decision after Saturday’s meeting.

Horner explained school board members and administrators could not meet with union representatives on Saturday.

“The negotiations process between the Wapakoneta City Schools and the Wapakoneta Education Association is under the jurisdiction of a federal mediator,” Horner said. “The federal mediator has the ability to bring the two sides together. Any discussions without the federal mediator facilitating the process would be inappropriate.”

Board members referred all questions regarding negotiations to Horner or the board’s attorney Bill Pepple, of Cleveland.

OEA Labor Relations consultant Shelli Jackson and Johnson met with the teachers after the board meeting and they plan to meet with the teachers again on Tuesday. They also intend to set up a strike headquarters next week.

After a roll-call vote was taken, Jackson said other issues between the union and administration and board cannot now be addressed with what board members approved Saturday.

“Whatever you voted in is clearly not in the best interest of your staff, your students or your community,” Jackson said. “For a person who has worked on contracts throughout the state and with teachers who have been on strikes, the amount of harm you are creating is unmeasurable, unfathomable and you will regret it for the rest of your life.

“This is not what we are here for,” Jackson said hoping contract negotiations could be re-opened. “Quite frankly I am very appalled and very sorry and I wish we had a better reason to celebrate tonight, but I guess we are going to go ahead and move forward and do what we need to do.”

The “last, final and best” offer is a three-year contract with no base raises for teacher salaries and no automatic increases based on teacher longevity in the second and third years of the contract. Teachers also would be required to pay more into the cost of health insurance provided by the board.

According to financial reports presented by the board, the school district has lost money four of the last six years. During the 2011 fiscal year, the district lost $1.2 million, cutting the ending cash balance to $3.4 million.

The district is expected to lose an additional $1.6 million this fiscal year.

The existing teacher contract expired June 30. Teachers have been working under the terms of the previous contract before the “last, final and best” offer took affect Sunday.

Teachers and students return to class Tuesday.

Teachers and administrators began negotiations in April. A federal mediator attended five meetings between the end of August and early November to help reach a deal.

In November, board members approved the filing of an unfair labor practice against the WEA for bad faith bargaining, claiming that the association had cancelled nearly a quarter of all its scheduled bargaining sessions and had continually rotated different teachers in and out of the bargaining process.

Board President Willie Sammetinger told the Wapakoneta Daily News Saturday that board members agreed to provide the teachers an opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns with negotiations. Board policy of five minutes per speaker and a total of 30 minutes total for public participation was suspended.

“We allowed them quite a bit of leeway in regard to the rules in fairness to everybody,” Sammetinger said. “We felt it would be best to allow them all to address the board with their concerns, thoughts and feelings.”

Johnson said the teachers welcomed the chance to have board members listen to their side.

“We appreciate the board letting the teachers speak because it was a great opportunity for the teachers to express what was in their hearts,” Johnson said.