By William Kincaid
New Bremen Teachers Association (NBTA) accepted a deal on base salary increases Wednesday night, pending final approval by the board of education.
If the agreement gets the expected approval, it will end a dispute that has been ongoing for nine months.
Teachers agreed to a 11Ú2 percent increase in base salaries for the 2005-2006 school year and a 2 percent increase for the 2006-2007 school year during a teachers' association meeting Wednesday. The salary increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.
"Members of the NBTA voted to avert a strike in the district by agreeing to the board's final offer," Ohio Education Association Representative Jennifer Romick wrote in a press release issued to the newspaper Thursday. "Although the 63 members of NBTA were very unhappy with the proposed increases, the teachers put their personal feelings aside and put the welfare of their students first."
NBTA President Shannon Pence said the teachers felt they didn't have many options. Although she didn't know what the teachers' official vote count was, she said it was not unanimous to accept the offer. The NBTA and the board have been negotiating over the contract since April. The two sides argued over salary amounts, and the board filed an unfair labor practice against Pence who the board claimed released fraudulent information to the media.
In Thursday's press release, Romick wrote that the agreed-upon salary settlement doesn't cover current inflationary economic trends and will barely affect the current district carryover. The school's carryover is $1.8 million or 28 percent of last year's total expenses, according to Pence.
"After months of bargaining with no increases offered by the board, teachers felt their choices were limited: take the nominal raise or strike," Romick wrote.
Board member Norm Holcomb, who was the board president during most of the negotiations, told The Daily Standard he had no comment because he is no longer the president.
Current board President Mark Barhorst could not be reached for comment.
Pence told The Daily Standard the teachers did not want to strike.
"No way, let's not go there," she said about a possible strike. "I don't think we were ready to put our walking shoes on by any means."
Pence also said she didn't see any other route but acceptance of the agreement.
"It was the same pressure point," she said. "I felt we were really at a wall and that they weren't going to budge."
Pence said the negotiating team originally worked to get the teachers a 2.8 to 3.5 percent base salary increase -- not a 11Ú2 percent increase as the board now offers.
But Pence said she is content with the board's proposal, because New Bremen is no longer at the bottom of the base salary scale as compared to other local schools.
However, she believes the two sides have a long way to go before their relationship can be repaired.
"It's just not a very cooperative atmosphere," Pence said. "I am certainly very optimistic that we will be able to change the relationship. A lot of healing has to be done on both sides ... that will be our major goal."
And that healing must start now, according to Pence, because in the spring of 2007, the NBTA and the board will have to start negotiations for the next contract.
"We need to start now talking and opening the lines of communication," she said.
Pence said the NBTA is going to work on improving communication with both the community and the board, in addition to addressing concerns about the ongoing superintendent search.
"There's little gripes that kind of fester," Pence said. "They need to get resolved in more of a diplomatic way ... when problems come up we can't sweep them under the rug."
Pence said she wants the board to involve both the teachers and the community in their process of selecting the next superintendent.