Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Accord averts teachers strike
The new pact is expected to be approved in about three weeks.
EAST LIVERPOOL Ken Halbert Jr., city schools superintendent, recalls driving past the district's Westgate Elementary school last May.
Halbert, of Poland, at the time was the superintendent of the Wellsville School district.
It was 6:25 a.m., and the school didn't open until 8:30 a.m.
"There were 15 teachers' cars in the parking lot two hours and five minutes before school began," the superintendent said Monday.
"That told me a lot about the dedication and professionalism of the teachers," the educator said.
East Liverpool was searching for a new superintendent, and Halbert applied for, and got, the position.
On Sunday evening, the board of education and the East Liverpool Education Association tentatively agreed to a three-year contract as a strike deadline loomed. Teachers were set to walk off their jobs Monday morning.
It may take about three weeks for the contact to be prepared and voted on, school officials said.
Details are not being announced because Judge C. Ashley Pike of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court had issued a gag order earlier in the talks after the teachers complained that at least one board member was releasing information to the media.
Halbert said he was pleased with the agreement that he expects also will bring new and better changes to the district that has seen some tough times.
Here's the situation
The superintendent said, "I really like challenges."
And his philosophy is that people don't go bad; systems do.
East Liverpool, like Youngstown, was hard hit when steel mills and manufacturing began to decline in the early 1970s.
"Ohio is the No. 1 state in the U.S. for the loss of population ages 15-45," Halbert said.
The loss of jobs and population has helped put the East Liverpool schools in a state-ordered fiscal emergency.
That means if the teachers and the board both given their final approval of the new contract, the pact still must be approved by the state-appointed Financial Planning and Supervision Commission for the district, said Karla Crothers, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.
The district has 2,440 students and an annual budget of about $24.5 million.
From the financial standpoint, Halbert said, "It was the best we could do."
Labor contracts normally go into effect Sept. 1 in the district. The district has about 240 teachers, and there are 135 nonteaching workers in Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. Talks with that union are also under way.
The tentative agreement will help the district get back on track with capital improvements. Plans to renovate the district's high school, middle school and two elementary schools have been on hold as the district dealt with various issues.
The state will pay the lion's share of the work, and voters earlier had approved their share. And the district has moved into the "continuous improvement" in the state's ranking system.
Halbert credited that accomplishment to the students and the teachers.