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APS Board approves new teacher contract

12/12/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

Board also begins termination process for Firestone teacher

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron Public Schools (APS) teachers have been working without a contract since July 2012. With bargaining between the Board of Education and the Akron Education Association (AEA) teachers union at an impasse, a fact finder was brought in to help settle the disagreements.

Third-party fact finder Patricia Thomas Bittel made her recommendations Nov. 27 following a hearing with both sides in October.

A majority of AEA members voted on the report Dec. 8 and “overwhelmingly” accepted it, according to AEA President Pat Shipe.

At its Dec. 9 meeting, the APS Board of Education unanimously approved the report and recommendations.

Under the new three-year contract, the teachers will receive raises of 2 percent in January 2014, 2.35 percent in July 2014 and 2.85 percent in July 2015. Board President Jason Haas said teachers have not had a raise since 2008. They received a one-time bonus in 2011, he said, but it did not affect their base pay.

In return, the educators will contribute more toward their health care costs, a major cause of the district’s increased expenses.

The fact finder recommended, and both sides accepted, doubling of both the monthly premiums and deductibles for insurance coverage. Now teachers will pay $50 per month for single coverage and $100 for family coverage.

The deductibles will be $300 annually for single and $600 for family, in network, and $600 single and $1,200 family for out-of-network expenses.

Due to larger state funding than expected, APS Treasurer Jack Pierson in his recent five-year financial forecast projected the district being $9 million in the black by 2018. This projection is what the board’s acceptance of the fact finder’s recommendations is based on, said Haas.

He commended both negotiating sides.

“It took a long time, but it played out efficiently,” he said. The fact finder’s report “gave us a little and gave them a little,” he added.

Nonbargaining-union employees (administrators, secretaries, etc.) will receive the same pay raises, Haas said.

In other business, the board unanimously approved giving notice of intent to consider termination of Firestone High School music teacher David Spondike.

Spondike has been suspended from teaching since Oct. 28, the day after he posted an angry racist message on his Facebook page after an episode during Halloween trick-or-treating the day before at his house.

He later posted a YouTube video in which a friend took responsibility for the content. But Spondike, instead of showing up for a hearing with the school board and administrators Nov. 21, sent them a letter in which he took responsibility for the postings, which, he said, “were done in a moment of anger and with unnecessary haste.”

In the letter, however, he said he believed he had the right to use such language to express his feelings and he had sought professional counseling for anger management.

Following a closed hearing with Spondike Dec. 2, board members voted Dec. 9 to send Spondike a letter the next day of their intent to consider termination of his teaching contract, the first step in his due process under Ohio law, according to APS legal counsel Rhonda Porter.

Spondike has 10 days from receipt of the letter to request a hearing with a referee, Porter said. If he does, she will schedule it with a neutral third-party referee, who will afterward make a recommendation to the board, which it may accept or not.

If Spondike does not request a hearing within 10 days, the board may act on termination, she said. As of the issuing of the letter, Spondike is on unpaid leave, she said.

The board “has been very diligent in the matter,” said Haas. “We take seriously our responsibility when it comes to terminating an employee; we take every step in due process.”

The APS student chosen to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the meeting was Nyaisha Colpetro, a fifth-grader at Portage Path Community Learning Center. According to Haas, Nyaisha’s favorite subjects are math and reading. She has even started a book club for children at the Highland Square Library, he said.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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