Tallmadge School Board, teachers union negotiations stall over 'working conditions'

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published:

Tallmadge -- The Tallmadge City Schools Board of Education and Tallmadge Teachers Association are in the midst of labor negotiations that center around one sticking point: "working conditions."

The approximately 160 members of the TTA -- all the teachers and guidance counselors in the school district -- have been working without a contract since it expired June 30. Representatives from both sides say they're not sure when they'll come to an agreement.

About 50 members of the TTA attended the Board of Education meeting tonight -- the first meeting of the new school year.

Although neither the School Board nor the labor union specifically identified the negotiation obstacle, both citing an agreement not to disclose particulars of the talks during the bargaining process, TTA President Jeff Moyer says his group isn't in "crisis" or considering striking. He said the general topic of "working conditions" excludes anything of a financial nature.

"We just want the same thing our area districts have. We're not asking for anything special," Moyer, a science teacher at the high school, told the Tallmadge Express.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson declined to comment about the negotiations, saying that both parties have agreed to bargain in good faith.

In a written statement he read to the School Board, Dave Obney, a teacher with the Theater Arts Training Academy vocational program, said members from the labor union came to the meeting tonight because they "have been unable to reach a fair agreement with the Board solely because the Board is insisting that they control a very important working condition." He continued that state law requires working conditions to be negotiated.

Obney said that almost none of the school districts in the area are taking the position the School Board has about this topic of working conditions. Cuyahoga Falls, Woodridge, Nordonia Hills, Twinsburg, Aurora, Field, Mogadore, Ravenna, Rootstown, Streetsboro and Waterloo are among 16 school districts in Summit and Portage counties he said have taken a different stance than the Tallmadge School Board has. Obney said the other school districts in the area not listed here aren't in the contract bargaining stage yet.

"We are very disappointed. We hope the Board decides to give us an equal place at the table," Obney told the School Board. "This position is certainly in line with their ideas on shared decision making, mutual commitment to problem solving and interest-based bargaining."

School Board President Rick Kellar told Obney his perspective was "interesting" and referred to a previous discussion the Board had with the TTA's negotiators. He said if the union members had been at that meeting then they might not be in opposition of the Board's perspective.

"You can get caught up in that one little issue that I think is more of a statewide issue -- the union at the state level -- than of the TTA, but you guys are welcome to adopt that statewide position ... ," Kellar said. "I think we're pretty fair as a Board. I think we're pretty supportive as a Board ..."

It's been six years since TTA members worked without a contract because of extended labor negotiations with the School Board. According to Moyer, the parties reached a new contract sometime during the first nine weeks of the 2007-2008 school year.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com

Facebook: Holly Schoenstein, Record Publishing Co.

Twitter: @SchoensteinH

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