Cleveland Heights-University Heights teachers union declines ‘last, best, final’ contract offer, with more talks set

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education and district teachers are set to return to the bargaining table Nov. 5 after the union overwhelmingly rejected the latest contract offer last week.

What was implemented by the school board on Sept. 29 as the district’s “last, best and final offer” was voted down by the nearly 500-member Cleveland Heights Teachers Union by a tally of 437 to 11, with one abstention.

There were also 41 members who either did not return their ballots or turned them in late. Factoring them in as well, that worked out to 89 percent of the membership voting to decline the board’s offer, CHTU President Karen Rego said.

“Of the ones who voted, it was 97.5 percent” rejecting the contract offer and further authorizing the American Federation of Teachers Local 795 executive board to strike.

That, in turn, would require a 10-day advance notice of intent to strike being presented to the school board, which has not happened. Another round of negotiations has been scheduled.

“We are planning to negotiate Nov. 5, so that is positive movement,” Rego said. “We always want to stay at the table until we come to an agreement.”

While the school board voted to implement the one-year contract so that it would otherwise go into effect on Jan. 1, board President Jodi Sourini said earlier that the district remains under a “continued duty” to negotiate.

“We will also meet any continuing bargaining obligation in the event the union shows a willingness to make meaningful change,” Sourini said on Oct. 2.

The teachers union remains receptive to surmounting the impasse that the school board cited in its Sept. 29 contract vote.

“In order to come together, both sides are going to have to come up with a creative settlement,” Rego said Monday (Oct. 12).

The union’s most recent one-year contract ended June 30, with nearly 60 hours of negotiations taking place from June 11 through Aug. 19, including the use of a federal mediator beginning in July 2020.

The mediator is also expected to be back at the bargaining table Nov. 5, two days after “Issue 69,” a proposed 4.8-mill operating levy, appears on the General Election ballot.

“Since the levy outcome is unknown, we don’t know if the district offer will change,” Rego added Monday. “Our demands remain the same at this time.”

Points of contention

Rego also disputed the $1 million price tag the school board has claimed the teachers’ latest contract proposal would cost the district.

“We don’t believe that the ‘$1 million’ (figure) is an accurate number,” Rego said.

In a Sept. 30 statement released by the district, officials said that the school board and the teachers union “reached agreement on nearly all of the non-monetary issues” and certain monetary ones.

These tentatively agreed-upon points include supplemental contracts, support for co-teachers and additional monetary support for disability and life insurance.

At the same time, the sides “failed to reach an agreement on the critical financial terms,” including the fact that there are no pay raises other than graduated salary steps based on experience. In the previous one-year contract, teachers got a 2 percent pay raise.

Then there is the proposed increase in individual contributions to healthcare premiums that would more than double the current rate of 6 percent up to 15 percent.

The school board argues that the current employee contribution is “out of line with any comparable district,” and the increase to 15 percent would save the taxpayers $1.1 million a year on the teachers’ payments.

Factor in the roughly 300 additional employees in the district who would also be covered under the new health premium payment plan, and those potential savings could increase another $500,000 to $1.6 million annually, CH-UH Schools’ Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Scott Gainer said.

The new health plan also includes some co-pays and deductibles where there were none before, resulting in close to another $1 million in savings, Gainer added.

Combined savings are expected to add up to over $2.5 million annually, although Gainer pointed out that those amounts would be less in the first year, since the higher healthcare premiums and “plan design changes” would only cover the second half of the 2020-21 school year and budget.

District officials have pointed to a running deficit incurred through the loss of as much as $9 million this year in EdChoice private tuition vouchers, an issue they continue to attempt to negotiate — and possibly litigate — at the state level.

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