The long-going battle between the South Butler School District and its teachers ended on Wednesday, putting away a four-year long contract dispute which resulted in a teachers’ strike earlier this year.
The teachers union voted Wednesday night to accept a contract put forward earlier this month by a three-member arbitration panel. School board members voted to approve the contract last week.
It is an eight-year contract, retroactive back to 2014, and puts an end to a labor dispute that centered around wages, healthcare costs and post-graduate work compensation.
Brooke Witt, the union representative who negotiated for the South Butler teachers, says many of them are relieved a contract is back in place, but they certainly weren’t celebrating last night.
“I think there’s an exhale you get to take when you have that certainty, but there was certainly no cheers. There was no party,” Witt said in an interview on Thursday.
Witt declined to provide specific details on the vote, but did say 90 percent of the 167 teachers did participate.
She says although this dispute is settled, the surrounding issues between the district and the teachers are still there.
“It’s been really tough on them, coming to a place for the last four years where they felt that they weren’t valued and respected,” Witt said. “While it’s great the contract was settled, the fallout from this will reverberate for years.”
What’s next? Witt says the union wants to move forward with a strategy to change the landscape for next time and re-establish a good relationship with the school board.
President of the South Butler School District Education Association Ian Babb echoed those thoughts.
“This is a bittersweet moment,” Babb said Wednesday night in a press release following the union’s vote. “While I am glad that we can move forward from this point with a strategy to effectuate a real change in this District, the new contract is not what we had hoped for, nor is it an accurate reflection of what the teachers should have earned in these last four years. That being said, we feel our efforts will be better spent creating a new culture at the South Butler County School District that will start with attempting to build a relationship with the administration and recruiting pro-public education candidates to run for future School Board elections. We need community members who understand the value of the District’s largest asset, are willing to make decisions to appropriately support those who have dedicated their lives to the students, and help the community flourish with that investment.”
The contract now in place will run through 2022.
The solicitor for South Butler says the district is relieved the teachers union voted to end the long contract dispute.
Tom Breth spoke for the district during the negotiation process.
“The board feels this contract meets the financial and educational needs of the school district,” Breth said. “It’s not everything that the board wanted through this process but it’s a reasonable compromise and the board was thrilled to hear the teachers joined them in approving the award.”
Breth said the board is looking forward to moving on from this dispute, which took its toll on the school board as well.
“These are very serious and difficult issues to work through,” he said. “I think the board is looking forward to hopefully putting any negative feels that may exist between the teachers and the board behind them.”
Breth went on to say that the board is very proud of the teachers, the school community and the administration and that it was never an issue of respect…but rather a difference of opinion with regard to the financial limitations the district faces.