Suburban Columbus Pay Proposal Draws Wide Interest

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A suburban Columbus school district wants to replace scheduled teacher raises with merit pay and bonuses. And it wants to eliminate its group health care coverage. The contract proposal has caught the attention of labor experts, school administrators, and teacher unions.

With just a few weeks before a new school year starts, Reynoldsburg schools are embroiled in controversial wage and benefit talks with its teacher union. The current contract runs out on July 31.

The school board wants to replace it with a new contract that eliminates both group health care coverage and teacher raises based on longevity and academic credentials.

Lawyer George Crisci has negotiated public employee contracts for years. He said he’s never seen such a proposal.

“I’m not sure if it’s something that simply may be part of the region where the proposal was made or if it’s specific to education or just a very novel idea by an employer that seems to be attempting to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act,” said Crisci.

Reynoldsburg school leaders want to eliminate group health care coverage. Instead teachers would get a lump sum to buy their own health insurance. The contract would require teachers to shop for their health care coverage on state or federal exchanges.

District spokeswoman Tricia Moore said it puts more control in the hands of teachers.

“And what it allows us to do is take the resources that we’re putting into providing this set of benefits for our employees and allowing the employees to figure out the right balance of those resources for them,” said Moore.

The board also wants to change teacher pay. Gone would be automatic salary increases based on longevity and academic credentials – like a masters degree. Instead, the best teachers would get merit pay and performance bonuses.

“And it does this by creating some flexibility in how we pay teachers that’s partly based on performance and value that they contribute to our students,” said Moore.

The proposal includes a bonus of up to $30,000 for a top rated teacher. Teachers rated effective would be eligible for smaller bonuses based on their school’s performance on the state report card.

Crisci said such a proposal represents a major change for public employers.

“That is a very, very different, I’m not sure that I would necessarily say radical, but it certainly is a very different way of approaching teacher compensation,” said Crisci.

Crisci adds that it remains uncertain whether a proposal based on merit pay and elimination of group health insurance would cost the district more or less.

Not surprisingly, leaders of the Reynoldsburg teachers union oppose the board’s offer and a federal mediator has been called in.

The Ohio Education Association urged teachers from other districts to protest at last week’s board meeting. Hundreds showed up.

OEA Vice President, Scott DiMauro, said the statewide union doesn’t want the Reynoldsburg offer to gain traction.

“You know it’s been pretty clear from the outset of this process that the teachers are not supportive of this direction. So, I really hope that kind of this direction that the Reynoldsburg Board is taking isn’t the model for other boards to follow,” said DiMauro. 

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement before the start of the new school year, the existing contract with its step salary increases and raises for academic credentials will be extended.

A two day session with the federal mediator is scheduled in early August. Under existing collective bargaining law teacher unions in Ohio have the right to take job action, including the right to strike.