No settlement could be reached between Ottawa Township High School teachers and the school board as the teachers union enters Day Three of its strike.
Nearly 200 people, most dressed in crimson and white, gathered on the walkway leading up to the high school Thursday night with one goal in mind: Make sure no one leaves the
building until a deal is done.
An impromptu meeting between the OTHS Education Association and school board members was called for 6 p.m. so the teachers union could submit a new contract proposal. The two sides have been unable to agree on a settlement due to salary and insurance.
The 1,500-student school has stopped classes since the strike began Wednesday. The 113 teachers at the school have yet to reach a deal with the board over insurance and salary. The teachers, who make an average salary of $68,138, currently do not contribute for their insurance benefits.
When that proposal was handed to the board for review at 6:25 p.m., OTHS teacher Tracey O'Fallon walked outside and shouted instructions to the hundreds holding candles on sticks inside red plastic cups.
"They've got the contract in their hot little hands so we need you to chant: End this strike," she said.
For the next 55 minutes the crowd gathered as close as they could to the opened front door of the school and chanted loudly as heavier and heavier rain eventually whittled the crowd to nearly a quarter of its original size. The sound of the chanting echoed throughout the hallway just outside of the board room where the school board's negotiating team was reviewing the teachers proposal.
Among those participating in the vigil was Ottawa resident Bob Piercy, whose son Luke is a student at the school. Piercy said he didn't favor either side of the negotiating table; he just wanted the strike to end so his son and classmates could go back to school.
"I understand the strike part of it, but they should be able to get this worked out while the kids are still in school," he said.
Others were students such as seniors Marisa Stalker and Kelly Johnson and juniors Katie Moriarity and Kelsey Hardee, who held candles and chanted as loudly as they could,
"I know we're not always on our best behavior but the teachers come to school every day to teach us so we came out here to support them," Moriarity said.
Shortly after midnight, the board left the negotiations without being able to come to an agreement.
"We are very disappointed that the board walked out of what was the one chance we had to end the strike before the weekend," stated Glenn Weatherford, president of the Ottawa Township High School Education Association, in a press release. "We were prepared to stay as long as it would take to get an agreement. Now the football team takes a loss and the music program is canceled."
"We remain committed to negotiating a fair agreement and we're willing to meet at any time and place in order to do so," Weatherford stated. "But it does us little good if the board continues to walk out without an agreement. The only way this will get resolved is if the board stays put and is willing to put a fair offer forward. We're hopeful that will happen sooner rather than later."
According to a press release from the board, it agreed to meet on the premise that the teachers would present a substantive proposal aimed to settle negotiations.
"After an exchange of proposals, the teachers proposed an increase of $1,400, $1,400, and $1,700 on the base for each of three years of the contract, respectively. The first year increase to the base would equate to a 4.1 percent base increase, a 6.8 percent average increase for the faculty as a whole, with a maximum increase of 9.6 percent. In addition, the teachers accepted the board's preventative care package and offered to contribute $12.50/month for family insurance and $5.00/month for single coverage in Year One beginning Jan. 1, 2010.
"The teachers asked to reinstate an insurance committee to implement recommendations in Year Two. In years two and three the teachers offered to contribute $25/month for family and $10/month for single coverage. These contributions are significantly less than what has been proposed by the board.
"The board repeated its proposal adding wellness benefits to be paid by the board at 100 percent up to $350 per year for each covered single or family member. The board also repeated its proposal of a 1 percent salary increase on the base salary for each year of a three year contract, no contribution to be paid by employee for single coverage, and an insurance contribution for family coverage of $172.11 per month in year one, with a subsequent contribution not to exceed $215 per month in year two and $269 per month in year three. This includes an additional payment of $1,500 annually for each teacher repeating Step 17 of Schedule III and Schedule II. The purpose of these payments is to be certain that those teachers do not earn less this year than last year due to the insurance contribution."
The teachers rejected this proposal during the negotiations.
Board president George "Skip" Hupp, who wrote the press release, stated "the Board firmly believes this proposal to be fair."
Hupp also outlined what the board had previously agreed to during these negotiations:
- Increase the summer compensation of counselors from $27 per hour to 1/180th of their contractual salary for each day worked;
- Increase summer and professional work compensation from $27 per hour to $28 per hour in the first year and $29 per hour in years two and three;
- Increase overload compensation from $2,700 per semester to $2,900 per semester;
n Compensate Saturday Detention at the summer and evening professional rate;
- Increase all flat dollar rates for extracurricular activities;
- Add compensation for additional clubs (Recycle Club, Chemistry Club, Podcasting Club, and Character Counts coordinator) at the increased extra-urricular rate;
- Add an additional stipend for the cheerleader director and ticket manager;
- Increase the internal substitution rate from $26 per class period to $27 in year one, $28 in year two, and $29 in year three.
"Thus, in addition to its salary proposal and insurance proposal, the board has committed significant additional dollars for the performance of these various duties," Hupp stated.