ASHLAND -- Approximately three months after the Ashland City Board of Education and the Ashland City Teachers Association reached an impasse in contract negotiations, the board has presented a new last best offer, which strictly alters the financial portion of the proposed contract.
Following a brief executive session at the Monday, Nov. 18 school board meeting, board president Dr. James Wolfe read a prepared statement about the new proposal that may have been created in response to the board's impending deadline for approval of district's five-year financial forecast. The board unanimously approved the forecast Monday, despite concerns of meager year-end balances as low as $87,441 at the conclusion of the 2020 fiscal year.
"Over the past several weeks, the Board of Education has been reviewing an updated five-year forecast. It has now approved that five-year forecast. Given that the Board of Education's last best offer was premised on financial assumptions under previous five-year forecasts, the board of education, after consulting with legal counsel, now believes it can now modify the financial portion of the last best offer even while we remain at impasse with ACTA," Wolfe said.
However, an agreement between the two parties may not be near. The rest of the resolution process, he said, "remains disappointedly distant." The results of fact-finding process taken in the case of an impasse -- or deadlock in contact negotiations -- won't be available until January 2020.
"Further, the Board of Education does not believe further negotiation will be productive, and thus, we remain at impasse. Nevertheless, the board tonight will forward an updated last best offer premised on the current updated five-year forecast to the ACTA for consideration," Wolfe said. "In the spirit of dispute resolution, the Board of Education has further modified the nature of the financial aspects of the contract to more accurately reflect the stated desires of ACTA, as professed by the ACTA negotiating team.
"Should ACTA ratify the updated last best offer, the board of education offers to have a special meeting to approve the agreement so the 7 and a half hour day can be re-instituted immediately and pathways can be determined for those who wish to make up the lost collaborative time."
"We could probably get this all ironed out."
ACTA president Melissa Baker, however, had come to the meeting with different intentions.
"Dr. Wolfe, it saddens me that you think we couldn't go back to the negotiating table and make some progress. Because I really think we could," she said.
She explained that the ACTA negotiating team had cleared five dates in December to meet again. She presented the dates and asked if the board would consider any of them.
"I think if we met one more time, we could probably get this all ironed out, and everybody could go back to doing what they do best," Baker said.
She later continued, "There is nobody in ACTA right now -- all 205 members of us -- there is nobody that doesn't want this to end, and I'm standing in front of you all saying that. We would like this to end as peacefully and kindly as we can have it end because it's been a very difficult year."
She criticized the board's decisions to spend money on the field house and high school renovations. That money, she argued, could have been offered to teachers instead.
"We did spend money on buildings. It seemed well advised at that time. We made a good decision, but we did spend that money, and it dramatically lowered the amount of money we have to negotiate raises," Wolfe said in response. "And that did happen, and I can't undo that.
"We are going to have very nice buildings that will last for a very long time, but the price we've paid is that we've not been able to offer the kind of raises this time around that clearly our teachers have expected."
Others who spoke brought up Superintendent Doug Marrah's salary. They said it was one of the highest in the area.
Wolfe defended this, too.
"I don't have any hesitation saying, the value Dr. Marrah has brought to this district has far exceeded his salary over and over and over again," he said.
He sees the "only option" as going to the taxpayers to request more money for teacher raises -- a proposition that prompted some groans from the crowd.
He'd later express a desire to see the contract negotiations settled by the end of the year. He believes the board has altered the offer in a "positive way," but says the board won't return to the negotiating table at this time.
Board member, Mike Hiemann said his goal with the recent changes was to address what he called "sticking points."
"I do believe that has taken place," he said.
He encouraged the ACTA to be open-minded and ask questions.
Board member, Zack Truax encouraged all the teachers to "see it for themselves, read it for themselves and... not take the word of someone else secondhand."
"You should know your contract. You should understand it. And you should not be made afraid to ask questions about it. And you should not be shouted down when you do have questions about it," he said to the crowded room.
A former teacher took offense to this, and took to the microphone when the public was given the chance to comment. His remarks were met with applause and the occasional "Amen." Others held signs up. One sign said, "I am a teacher, parent, taxpayer, voter," and another read, "Long serving teachers punished with salary decrease."
"Where this goes, I don't know. If this is where it gets ratified or not, I don't know," Truax said. "But I do know everyone should be able to have their own opinion and not be made to feel badly about that opinion or about that vote. It doesn't matter what it is."
"If the shoe fits, wear it."
Board member Bryan Lefelhoc says both the Board of Education and teachers union are both fighting for the same thing.
He recounted how a woman from his church had come to speak with him last week. She told Lefelhoc that she has a sign in the front of her yard in support of the teachers, but she said, "I support you, too."
"The idea that I don't support the teachers, the idea that there are two sides, the idea that we're not all Ashland Arrows, the idea that we're not all part of Ashland, the idea that we're not all trying for the same thing," he said.
It's simply untrue, he continued. He related the situation to a "big beautiful oak tree" with a "rotting root system" beneath it. He apologized for not seeking ways to build trust, to prepare in previous years.
"Had I seen it three years ago, five years ago, when this started to go, maybe we could have done something different," said Lefelhoc, a longtime board member who did not seek re-election this past November. He'll end his term at the end of December.
He offered both the crowd and his fellow board members advice: "If the shoe, fits wear it." The saying that his father would once repeat to him, Lefelhoc said, is relevant to everyone involved in negotiations.
"If you can find any piece of you that doesn't trust the way it should, or looks for reasons not to trust... looks for reasons to make a bigger divide, looks for reasons that anything in the contract is meant to be hurtful, that looks for reasons not to accept any of the things we're trying to do," he said.
If the shoe fits, wear it.
"I hope that whenever we pick sides, (we'll pick) like my friend at church, who said, 'I'm for you, but I'm also for them.' We're all Arrows." Lefelhoc said. "I know this contract will get settled, they always do. It'll either be ugly or it'll be right. And we'll move forward. But I don't believe it's about money, I believe it's about trust."