For the first half hour of their October regular meeting, moved to the second Saturday of the month, the Edon Board of Education allowed for residents within their school district to address them in a town hall format. After that, four prepared speakers were given time to say their piece.
Tense would be the best way to describe what followed.
At times bordering on hostile, emotions ran high as the people of Edon made their thought on the five month long contact dispute between the board and the Edon Northwest Teacher’s Association (ENTA). Members of the community were visibly upset that the issue had yet to be resolved, with some stating that the conflict had been felt by their children.
“My child came home and told me that the teachers were going to go on strike.” One parent said.
That possibility hasn’t been ruled out, though both sides have made it clear they’d much rather avoid a strike. However, each side has also let it be known they are prepared to deal with the situation if the need arises.
With such talk circulating, some parents informed the board that they would not be sending their children to school if a strike takes place, even if alternative teachers were to be used.
There are Edon residents who even feel as though the failing of these negotiations could lead to the demise of the district itself.
“I have a kid who graduated from this school, and I have two more that will graduate from this school.” Pat Manahan proclaimed. “Right now, I think my fourth will not.”
Others expressed their fears that Edon would be consumed in a consolidation with another district within the next five years.
As for why negotiations have yet to bare fruit, Edon High School English Teacher Steve Stamper cited individual conversations he’s had with three separate board members. In these conversations, though he felt both sides were being understood each time, no board member could tell him why the teachers were so upset.
“After five months of negotiations, you should be able to know that.”
So what is it that has ENTA up in arms?
“If you think this is about money, then you’re wrong.” Suzanne Hollabaugh, a long tenured Physical Education teacher and coach of various Edon Athletics, spoke in a prepared statement. “This is about respect.”
That feeling of disrespect is stemmed from four straight years of pay freezes taken on by Edon teachers, the first year of which was taken on voluntarily in 2010. Believing it to be understood between the two parties that there would be no losses to the teaching staff at the time, ENTA agreed to a new contract in 2011, which didn’t allow for any wage increases for three years. The board saw a need to dismiss five teachers just months after the agreement had been reached, though it should be noted this did not violate the signed agreement itself.
Filling those new positions only caused more controversy. As all five of the newly hired teachers entered the job with years of experience, they were brought in at a higher pay grade than those under the freeze.
That freeze itself is also a point of contention with the Edon teachers. Thanks to the State Teachers Retirement System requiring all teachers to pay an additional four percent into the retirement system, beginning a year ago, ENTA members are seeing less income even though their pay rate has stayed the same.
This is something the Edon School Board should understand quite well. Like almost every other district in the area, Edon has seen its state funding decreased over the past five years, despite the Ohio Government requiring them to fund new programs on their own. In fact, that very burden is part of the reason why they can’t afford to increase their teachers’ salaries, according to the board.
Another key point of the board argument is the inability to pass an operating levy. Not since November of 1978 has such a levy made its way past district voters. Nor has the district been able to pass an income tax to assist school funding, a claim only Edon and North Central can make in Williams County. Yet, this is a point in which both sides base their argument.
In her own speech to the board, Music Teacher Cathy Frastaci noted that Edon residents pay the lowest school taxes in the county. And yet, even with several cuts made to various programs, Edon teachers have thrived.
“Just this year, we ranked ninety-ninth out of 610 school districts in the state, or in the top sixteen percent of schools statewide.” Frastaci said. “The next highest school in our county was Bryan, ranking at 286.”
The cuts themselves were also an issue with Frastaci.
“Our teachers can no longer sit back quietly and watch our school cut itself into oblivion.”
After the town hall portion of the meeting, the board returned to its usual setting.
Superintendent Ewers made mention to the board of a renewal of the Permanent Improvement Levy, which has been in place since 1990. This renewal will be on the ballot and in the voters’ hands in November. Funds from the levy would go towards repairs to the school’s parking lot, replacing two school buses, and building maintenance ten years into the future amongst other things. Money from the levy would not be allowed to go toward the salaries of personnel.
Debra Green was approved by the board as the school’s Elementary Quiz Bowl Advisor for the 2014-2015 school year. Green was awarded a volunteer contract.
The board concluded the session by entering into Executive Session to discuss ongoing negotiations. No action was expected.