Teachers approved the contract Wednesday, according to Jay Pickering, Lorain Education Association president. Pickering wouldn’t release the vote tally but said approval was substantial.
“The membership is happy with our work,” Pickering said of the negotiations, which began in April and concluded last week.
Pickering wouldn’t comment on contract details. However, several teachers who voted for the contract said it ends the wage freeze they agreed to in 2011 when the school district was facing a $12 million deficit and on the brink of bankruptcy and a state financial takeover. The union agreed to $4 million in benefit and wage concessions in 2011.
If approved by the board, the new contract would reinstate seniority-based wage increases — known as STEP increases — over an 18-month period. However, teachers would not be paid retroactively for the money they lost because of the freeze. The contract also includes an approximately 45-minute longer day for elementary schools, teachers said.
Among the teachers who said they voted for the contact was Hawthorne Elementary School kindergarten teacher Allison Caldera. Caldera, a 33-year-old mother of three, has been laid off three times since being hired in 2003.
Caldera said her family will benefit from the raise she’s getting because of her seniority, but she’s not in it for the money.
“I do this because of my passion for teaching,” Caldera said.
Tamara Jones, a ninth-grade teacher at the Credit Recovery Academy, said the contract strikes a good balance between the district, which just righted its finances, and teachers who’ve made concessions and experienced substantial layoffs. About 98 teachers were among the 182 school employees laid off last year as part of eliminating about $7.4 million of the $12 million deficit. Some have been recalled because of resignations, retirements and passage of a levy in November.
“We have given back a lot as teachers,” said Jones, a 39-year-old mother of one hired in 2008. “It’s a good contract.”
The seven-year levy will raise $3.12 million annually, helping eliminate the deficit along with increased state taxpayer money in the new biennial budget. Surpluses have been predicted for the next three years although board members said they need to attract more students. The approximately 7,000-member district has lost about 3,000 students over the last decade.
Sharon Morgan-Cecil, a Washington Elementary School second-grade teacher hired in 1986, has seen Lorain’s hard times first-hand. Morgan-Cecil, a mother of two grown children, said the freezes and layoffs have been hard on her younger colleagues.
Morgan-Cecil said the new contract makes children a greater priority by calling for smaller class sizes to increase learning.
“I’m excited and hopeful,” she said.