September 4, 2008
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS , OH
On behalf of the District bargaining team:
As is often the case when labor negotiations reach a stalemate, community members have approached District officials with questions concerning the stalled talks between the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education and the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union. Frequently, at times like these, facts get lost in the shuffle and disinformation becomes the rule rather than the exception.
The Board of Education would like to speak openly and honestly about the current labor impasse with the Teachers Union. It is important to know the federal mediator has scheduled both groups to meet again on Wednesday, September 10.
The Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District Board of Education takes very seriously its fiduciary responsibility to our communities. In addition to raising academic achievement and meeting the varied needs of our students, we also have maintained a focus on fiscal responsibility. We openly acknowledge our financial accountability to the taxpayers and residents of our District, and are sensitive to the fact that our citizens have continued to increase their tax burden to support us.
It is certainly no secret that we are all in the midst of difficult economic times. Residents in our communities struggle with a skyrocketing cost of living coupled with a decline in the housing market. Since property taxes are the primary source of revenue for our District, the high foreclosure rate negatively affects the amount of taxes we collect. Additionally, the state economy is also struggling, resulting in uncertain, and in some areas reduced, state funding. As a large school district, we experience the same significant increases as our residents do in utilities rates and other costs.
Difficult decisions have been made by the Board of Education in the face of these unfortunate dynamics. In addition to $7 million in permanent staffing reductions (over 125 staff members) over the course of the last several years, the Board, proactively responding to the realities of declining enrollment, made the difficult but necessary decision to close an elementary school, resulting in an additional $1 million in annual staff savings.
It is in this environment that we began collective bargaining with all of the employee unions in the District in March of 2008. Utilizing a collaborative, interest-based bargaining approach, the District’s bargaining representatives in good faith offered what we believed to be a reasonable and appropriate salary and benefit package that balanced the financial realities of public education with our desire to acknowledge the hard work of our dedicated staff.
This offer was accepted by all (OAPSE 102 – cleaners, secretaries, food service; OAPSE 617 – custodians, bus drivers; OAPSE 100 – early childhood program employees; and EAPSC – administrators, all accepted and are under contract) but one of the unions in the District. In other words, both our lowest and highest paid employees recognized this to be a fair and competitive offer given the difficult economic times and the need to assist in the long-term financial health of the District.
However, this identical financial package has been repeatedly rejected and criticized by the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union (representing licensed teachers as well as security monitors).
The notable terms of the salary and benefit package accepted by the District’s other unions are as follows – a 2.5% salary increase in each year of the new three-year contract, increasing contributions to the 100% covered insurance plan from $20 a month single / $50 a month family to $40 a month single / $100 a month family, and eliminating a costlier (Kaiser) healthcare option.
Cleveland Heights teachers work approximately 10 months each year and earn an average salary of $62,121. Each year, teachers automatically move up a 14-step salary schedule, which provides the majority with a built in salary increase above and beyond the negotiated increases. This automatic movement is often enhanced through an additional increase in recognition of additional educational credits for college coursework completed in that year.
The only salary increase in dispute in these negotiations with the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union is the base salary increase which would be over and above the embedded pay increases (steps).
The moderate healthcare concessions the District seeks are reasonable and bring contribution levels in line with other area school districts, while still providing for outstanding health care coverage for our deserving staff. In addition, the Board’s offer allows teachers who wish to maintain coverage through the more costly Kaiser plan to do so by simply agreeing to pay the difference between it and our primary (Medical Mutual) plan. (It should also be noted that of the approximately 140 Kaiser enrollees, fewer than 50 are teachers. The other unions had the majority of the enrollment and willingly removed this coverage completely at the request of the Board in collective bargaining).
In spite of the fact that all the other employee groups have settled contract talks with the Board for this same financial offer, the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union claims that it is “not asking for anything the Board does not have,” in seeking a higher settlement. In other words, they would ask that we spend now without regard to the effect of such spending on future budgets. This fiscally irresponsible position completely ignores the current economic realities of public education and of our communities. As each of the District’s other employee groups acknowledged by accepting the identical salary and benefit package, every financial decision we make now ultimately affects the level of additional millage needed in future tax levies and the long-term financial health of our operation. Our offer was carefully constructed with these factors in mind.
The Board’s representatives have met on numerous occasions for many hours with the teachers’ union leaders since March in an effort to secure a new contract. The continued unwillingness of the union leadership to accept the fair and reasonable financial package proposed by the Board and accepted by the District’s other employee groups has caused a stalemate in these talks. However, we will continue to pursue a contract under the auspices of the federal mediator consistent with the agreed-upon dispute resolution method in the current agreement with the teachers. When the federal mediator calls, our bargaining representatives will respond and continue in good faith to finalize a contract.
The Board of Education continues to have full faith and confidence in the bargaining team that has tirelessly represented our interests in these negotiations. We want to assure our residents that the District will continue in its mission of preparing all students for success in a global economy without interruption.