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Sandusky teachers ‘break even’

Tom Jackson • May 13, 2014 at 5:30 PM

Sandusky’s school board approved a new teacher contract giving frontline educators modest pay hikes.

   “It’s basically a break-even contract” said Brian Nitschke, president of the teachers union.

   The school board also filled three administrator positions, including jobs new job descriptions designed to foster the district’s transformation plan.

   Members of the teachers union, the Sandusky Education Association, voted overwhelmingly about two weeks ago to approve the new contract terms. The school board’s unanimous vote to approve it wraps up the negotiations that have been ongoing since January.

   The board met Monday morning.

   The new three-year contract begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2017. Teachers will retain the step pay increases they receive as their experience grows. In addition, they will receive base pay hikes of 2 percent the first year, 1.5 percent the second year and 1 percent the third year. Teachers did not get an increase in base pay this year.

   That keeps teachers in about the middle of the pack in comparison to pay at other area school districts, said district superintendent Eugene Sanders.

   Teachers will pay more for health insurance and a larger amount into the state retirement plan, which totals more than the contract raises, Nitschke said.

   “When all is said and done, we’re actually taking a pay cut still, rather than the pay increase it looks like on paper” he said.

   The contract lowers class size for kindergarten through second grade from 26 to 25 students. That’s important for teachers who want to give young students as much individual attention as possible, Nitschke said.

   Sanders said the contract also adds 20 minutes a day to elementary school schedules, giving the equivalent of eight days of additional instruction to aid the district’s stronger emphasis on science.

   In addition, newly-hired teachers will be on probation for two years and can be dismissed for any reason, Sanders said.

   Teachers will be judged largely on the performance of their students, a “paradigm shift” over former practices, he said. And new layoff policies will allow the district to weigh teacher ratings in deciding who to keep, rather than just relying on seniority.

   Sanders and Nitschke said the district and the union were able to work together to put students first. The union and the administration haveTea forged a positive, productive relationship in the last year few years, Nitschke said.

   The board also voted to hire Richard Koonce, a former school board member, as the new college and career readiness coach at Sandusky High School, a newly-created position. It named Todd Downing as the new K-6 athletics and activities coordinator, another new post. And it picked Anthony Stacey as the family and community liaison for Sandusky Digital Academy.

   Sanders said the district paid for the new posts using retirements and attrition rather than spending additional money.

   “They need to know we’re not just adding on people” he said, referring to school district taxpayers.

   Sanders said it’s important for the school district to get more of its students to go to college and succeed there. He said Koonce demonstrated his leadership skills when he took over coaching the girls’ basketball team at Sandusky High School last year.

   “The girls’ team had their first winning team in 25 years” he said.

   Sanders said it’s also important to strengthen athletics and activities at the elementary school level and that Downing is expected to help in that area.

   “He’s going to position us for success at the elementary level,” he said.

   Last week, voters in the district gave overwhelming approval to a 3.275-mill five-year renewal levy, with 70 percent of the voters saying yes.

   Board president Tom Patterson said school officials are grateful for the city’s strong support. The district is well on the road to doing great things, he said.

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