by Ellin Walsh
Cuyahoga Falls -- Prospects for agreement on a new contract with the Falls school district's teachers' union before summer vacation are unlikely, reports Superintendent Dr. Edwin S. Holland.
"Talks haven't stalled," the superintendent told the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press May 17, "but they really slowed down to a near stop yesterday."
Diane Clause, president of the CFEA, did not return a phone call or e-mail by press time.
Approximately 35 members of the 355-member Cuyahoga Falls Education Association filled the chambers of the Board of Education May 16, clad in fluorescent T-shirts bearing the slogan, "United."
The district's contract with the CFEA expires Aug. 26 and a negotiating session had been conducted earlier May 16.
Sue Bell, a member of the CFEA and a teacher at Roberts Middle School, addressed the Board. Bell observed the union had made concessions to help the district become fiscally solvent following discovery of an unanticipated deficit in 2005.
Those concessions included restructuring salary hikes; offering a retirement incentive; placing freezes on the administrative compensation plan; waiving the attendance bonus for 2005-06 and 2006-07; and increasing the employee co-pay for office visits in the Preferred Provider High Option.
"Those were temporary concessions," Bell said, adding, "... Now the Board is asking that those concessions be made permanent and that additional concessions be made. The Cuyahoga Falls teachers feel that we have helped do our part to make this district solvent again. The Board seems to have pillaged our contract and all we're asking for is a fair and equitable contract."
Bell was the only CFEA member who spoke at the May 16 Board meeting.
Parent Mary Nichols Rhodes praised the district's teachers, saying her children's education had "never faltered" during the fiscal crisis. Rhodes' comments drew applause from the audience.
Holland had said his goal was to reach a new contract with the CFEA before summer vacation.
"I've always been upbeat and tried to be positive about the future of negotiations," Holland said, "but I can't do that after today [May 16]." Saying he had hoped more progress would have been made during that day's talks, the superintendent said "it is not likely that there will be a contract resolution before the end of the school year and it's questionable at this point whether there'll be a contract resolution before the start of school next year."
The next negotiating session between the two parties is scheduled for June 7.
"There are issues in this contract that are extremely costly and detrimental to the operations of this district," Holland said, adding, "some of those items contributed to the financial crisis that we had two years ago."
For instance, according to Holland, the district cannot continue to have CFEA members pay nothing for their health insurance.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting will be June 6 at 7 p.m. in the Harold E. Wilson Administrative Center. The following meeting will be conducted June 27 in the high school library. A public forum will be conducted at 6:30 p.m., followed by the meeting at 7 p.m.