December 31, 2011
WAPAKONETA — After being denied a request Saturday to continue negotiations, Wapakoneta teachers say they are ready to strike.“We are moving forward. We are preparing for a strike,” said Shelli Jackson, labor relations consultant for the Ohio Education Association. Teachers already gave the negotiating team the authority to issue a 10-day strike notice if it deemed it appropriate. No notice had been given as of Saturday, but one is likely in the coming days. “We are hoping that, maybe after a couple of days, the board will have time to think about it and have common sense prevail and understand that it will be in the best interest to everybody if we go back to the table and negotiate an agreement,” Jackson said. The board met Saturday morning and approved 4-0 implementing its “last, best and final” contract offer as of today. One member was not at the meeting. The board previously notified teachers that they had the board's final offer. Superintendent Keith Horner declined comment Saturday. He previously said the board was preparing for a possible strike. The two sides have been negotiating since April, including multiple meetings with a federal mediator. Teachers asked the board Saturday to come back to the negotiating table and said talks could begin as soon as the meeting concluded. It instead voted to implement the offer. The move, Jackson said, makes a strike a much bigger possibility.“The board has given us more incentive today to go ahead and drop that strike notice,” she said. “I am just truly disheartened by the board's decision to go ahead and implement even after we extended the olive branch to try to negotiate.”Things have been tense between the two sides for a while. In November, the board filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union, arguing it bargained in bad faith by canceling meetings and bringing different members to negotiating sessions. Teachers have been working under a contract that expired June 30. The new three-year, “final” offer gives teachers no base raises during the contract. There would be no automatic step increases based on longevity in the second and third years of the contract. Teachers would also pick up more in insurance costs.The district, like many, has faced difficult financial times. It had $1.2 million of deficit spending last fiscal year and is projected to spend $1.6 million more than its annual revenue this year.Administrators and exempt employees took a pay freeze this year, although union officials say insurance and administrative perks need to be considered. The district's classified staff recently agreed to a two-year contract, including the same terms offered to the teachers. You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.