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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Teacher strike averted

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Board of Education yesterday approved a fact finder's report resulting in the first new contract with teachers in seven years.

By doing so, the possibility of a teachers' strike was avoided.

The school board voted

4-1 to approve the fact finder's recommendations. Darlene Fisher cast the no vote.

Jack Ford, who made the motion to approve the report, said it's a "good step in the right direction."

"When you bargain collectively, particularly in Ohio, you give and take," Mr. Ford said.

"And nobody walks away from the table with everything they wanted and hopefully nobody walks away that lost everything that they were trying to gain in the first place."

Toledo Federation of Teachers President Fran Lawrence said teachers, who were prepared to strike if the board rejected the report, were "euphoric" as news of the board's action spread.

"They were very strong in their willingness to go on strike, if necessary," she said. "Naturally, they are relieved, as I am, that action does not have to be taken."

One of the main items in the fact finder's recommendations is resolution of the issue of the deferred payment of the 2.01 percent salary increase that goes back to 2002.

Under the agreement, the teachers will receive a one-time payment of 4.02 percent by the end of August, representing two years' worth of the owed 2.01 percent.

To complete the deferred payment, which is now about six years and nearly $16 million worth, that 4.02 percent will be added to teacher salaries each year of the proposed two-year contract.

Teachers also will get raises of 1 percent next school year and 2.8 percent for 2009-2010.

Those raises and the 4.02 percent in back pay will remain in the salary schedule to keep the district competitive.

"This settlement moves us in the direction of closing the gap between our teacher salaries and neighboring districts and other large cities," Ms. Lawrence said.

Other economic factors include similar salary increases for paraprofessionals and

additional pay for substitutes, both of whom also are members of the teachers' union, as well as supplemental pay changes.

Ms. Fisher said that she supports teachers and the compensation included in the report, but she could not vote yes because that would mean approving "status-quo contract language" that needs to be revamped to effect positive change.

"We need some considerable contract language allowing the board and the administration to direct policy," she said.

The deferred payments and salary increases for teachers are expected to cost the district about $17.2 million, Dan Romano, the district's treasurer, said.

He explained that several budgetary changes have altered the district's forecast for the upcoming years, allowing it to afford the increases.

In the fall, the district's projected five-year forecast painted a very different financial picture than what it is now being prepared for the Ohio Board of Education.

Fiscal Year 2009, for example, was looking at a $7.8 million balance in the fall projections.

This spring, including the increased expenditures with the proposed contract, the district is projecting a $14.9 million balance.

Mr. Romano said a change in the way adjustments are made during the year to reflect enrollment changes is saving the district money, as is not having 100 percent of positions filled and changes to the health care network.

More tax revenue than originally anticipated also is included in the forecasts, he said.

The district will be in the red after this two-year contract, specifically a deficit of $26 million by Fiscal Year 2011.

However, the district expected to be in a deficit by that time even without the increases in salaries.

The school board will cast another vote on the overall contract when the fact finder's recommendations are merged with what already had been agreed to tentatively by the district and the union at the negotiating table.

Superintendent John Foley said negotiations, which had been ongoing since March 17, have been amiable and the agreement between the district and the teachers' union is a good compromise.

"Overall, it's a step in the direction to put the district on the path to the future," he said.

The current contract between the district and its teachers expired March 31 after three extensions since 2004.

The district remains in negotiations with members of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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