NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Mike McMillan readily acknowledged teachers and administrators bargained for a long time before coming to terms on a multiyear contract.
But the 15-month period of talks, which began in April 2013, was worth it, he said.
“It was important to get it right, and we did a thorough job,” said McMillan, a K-12 art teacher and incoming president of the North Ridgeville Education Association. “We wanted to make sure everything was done properly and not leave anything open to interpretation.”
McMillan talked about the new pact following Saturday morning’s special school board meeting, where board members voted to ratify the contract.
The new agreement calls for salary increases that will average 4.8 percent over three years.
“The increase comes out to just over 1.5 percent a year over the whole contract,” McMillan said.
While the new package technically covers three years, one year of the package was an extension of the old contract, which expired in July 2013.
The agreement also calls for teachers and others covered by the 265-member union to pay 2 percent less in insurance costs.
Teachers were paying 17 percent for health insurance under their contract negotiated in 2011 but now will pay 15 percent, which is the state average for employees’ share.
“It was an amount we could live with, and the board could afford,” McMillan said.
The district has a self-funded insurance plan.
“We wanted to make sure the health trust is solvent enough,” McMillan said.
He acknowledged that in recent years, contract talks have increasingly become a game of “figuring out how to compensate your workforce in a way that external forces (such as insurance costs) do not eat it up.”
A member of the district’s negotiating team for the past decade, McMillan said, “We have spent the last 10 years trying to make our contract one of the best in the county.”
The union voted to approve the contract in June before the school year ended.
“It’s very difficult to get a membership our size together over the summer, so we did it when we knew everyone was still around,” McMillan said.
The contract was approved by 90 percent of the 90 members of union members who cast ballots, McMillan said.
At the time talks began in April 2013, class size was another key issue.
“The more bodies you have in a class, the less time each student who needs attention gets it,” McMillan said.
Both sides agreed a 28-student classroom is ideal, although numbers are higher in some of the elementary schools and the soon-to-be-replaced middle school.
“That is the number we try to target,” McMillan said. “Twenty-eight is a threshold we don’t like to cross. When we do, education starts to deteriorate. If we are under that number, education seems to improve.
“It will be great to open things up and not be restricted by what we’ve had to live with for so long,” McMillan said, referring to crowding that has existed for years at several buildings including the middle school, which was built in the 1920s to house about 750 students but now has an enrollment closer to 1,000.
“We have grown exponentially since then,” McMillan said.
McMillan added the school system is both blessed and cursed.
“We’re not shrinking like other school districts (are), which is good, but with our (state) funds more or less frozen, there’s less money to educate each child.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.