Edon School District In Need Of Treatment For Contract Dispute

VR LOGO - WEBTime heals all wounds.

What a ridiculous saying. If left untreated, a wound can kill a person, depending on its severity.

There have been several wounds inflicted upon those within the Edon School District.

The state of Ohio continues to cut funding to rural schools such as Edon, also adding new costs for which they have to deal. This has been a devastating wound to the district, and the Edon Board of Education has been forced to make several tough decisions over the past five years.

Edon teachers have suffered their own wounds as well. Offering to take a voluntary wage freeze in 2010, they agreed to a three year pay freeze in there last contract with the board, hoping to aid the school in such difficult times. They also believed there was an understanding that no teachers would be let go during this period.

They were wrong, as three of their ilk were directly released from their positions by the board, while two more saw their hours cut to the point that they sought employment elsewhere. A source close to the situation claimed that it was a lack of student interest in the courses said teachers taught that led to their dismissal, and that it was difficult for board members to justify continuing to pay them their salaries given their financial situation.

Despite whatever reasoning they may have had, the teachers felt betrayed by the board, a wound that cuts deeper than any other.

Now, after more than five months of failed negotiations, Edon Northwest Local Schools is on the verge of chaos. The teachers have had enough of sacrifice, and have demanded pay raises they rightly deserve by placed into their new contract with the district. The board claims it doesn’t have the funds to meet this demand, however. Neither side has shown a propensity to budge, and now the district is may be on the verge of a teachers strike.

Can this be avoided?

“I can tell you that the board of education continues to want to work towards a speedy resolution to the contract dispute with our teachers.” Superintendent Ed Ewers stated about the situation.

That speedy resolution may have hit a sizable speed bump recently.

After the last round of negotiations had failed, the board elected to release the terms discussed in the meeting to the public through several radio stations and newspapers, including this publication. The move much maligned by the Edon Northwest Teacher’s Association (ENTA), with chief negotiator Mark Blue, who brings twenty-five years negotiating experience to the table, referring to the decision as, “Highly irresponsible, reckless, and careless.”

Board member Dave Wehrle had a different perspective on the release, however.

“We did it because it was in the best interest of the kids.” Wehrle defended the move.

He went on to cite that parents of students were gaining a majority of their knowledge on the situation from their own children, a development in which both sides of the dispute have expressed regret.

Another issue arose from the release as well. There are some questions as to just how authentic the details given to media sources were.

“The information that I read was inaccurate.” Said Blue.

In response to this claim, Ewers had this to say.

“The information published is a true reflection of the negotiated offers.”

Regardless of what really transpired behind the closed doors of the negotiation room, the one clear fact to come out of the ordeal is that no contract has been signed as of yet. With each day that passes without an agreement between ENTA and the school board, the possibility of a teacher’s strike looms larger and larger. The question of what the school will do in such a scenario becomes more pressing as well.

“We certainly hope to avoid any potential strike, but if that happens, the District will work hard to provide an education for our students.” Ewers explained. “We certainly realize, however, that our best option is to keep our teachers in the classroom.”
Edon teachers aren’t taking the prospect of a strike lightly, either.

“It’s the last thing we want to do.” Blue spoke on the potential of a strike.

There is no set date for which the teachers are planning their work stoppage at this time. However, backed by a unanimous vote from the teachers themselves, ENTA negotiators have been authorized to strike. If it comes to that, early November seems to be the most likely time frame for said strike to occur.

Of course, there is a process involved in orchestrating a strike for public school teachers. They must first make their intentions known to the Ohio Education Association. Then, the State Employee Association Board needs to be notified. Lastly, a ten day notice must be given to the district board of education before the strike can finally begin.

If the school were to come to terms with its teachers before, or even after they went on strike, one would have to wonder from where the money to satisfy the conditions of a new agreement would come. According to the five year forecast drafted by District Treasurer Kerry Samples projects that Edon will have just $6,795 in its General Fund come 2018 on its current spending course.

Blue, however, mentioned that the school has been deficit spending for six years, and that the General Fund was supposed to be in the red by 2014. Instead, the fund currently has a roughly $1.7 million surplus, an accomplishment he attributes to the four consecutive years of pay freezes suffered by Edon teachers.

“They feel very disappointed that the board and superintendent have forgotten their sacrifice.” Blue announced on the teachers’ behalf, before continuing. “I’ve done this for a long time, I’m not trying to put the school into bankruptcy.”

The money generated from that sacrifice is already spoken for, according to financial projections made by Samples, though. So where would the funds necessary to compensate the teachers for their efforts be generated?

That’s where things get a bit more complicated.

The simple solution would appear to be to simply pass a levy in order to procure the money from taxpayers. After all, residents of the Edon District pay the lowest school taxes in Williams County, and the cost of a levy necessary to rectify this issue wouldn’t be too heavy a burden on the average household.

There’s a flaw in that line of thinking, though.

“Forty-one percent of district residents are farmers.” Wehrle pointed out. “A two percent tax increase might raise the average household’s taxes by $20 (for example), but a farmer’s tax increase will be a lot more than that $20.”

This is because of all the acreage necessary to grow crops and sell them at a profit. Wehrle mentioned that he’s seen a farmer’s property tax cost as much as $16,000, and that’s just in his personal experience.

With these wounds nearly causing amputation amongst various groups of Edon residents, separated by their differing opinions on the situation, both parties involved in the negotiations really seem to want what’s best for the village.

“It is our hope to come up with a fair agreement and bring this community together.” Blue proclaimed.

Ewers expressed a similar interest in ensuring a positive outcome from this experience.

“All steps will be taken to make sure we continue to have a safe learning environment for our kids.”

Bringing the community back together. Having a safe learning environment for our children. These are ideals necessary to heal the district.

The rest will come in good time.

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