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Hilliard Schools dispute headed to federal mediator

A federal mediator is now involved in a contract dispute between Hilliard School District teachers and administrators after teachers overwhelmingly defeated the district's latest contract proposal. teachers have been working without a contract since the beginning of the year. District spokesperson Carrie Bartunek says the main stumbling block in negotiations has been employee health care. The most-recent contract called for incremental increases in premiums. Teachers balked at that, rejecting the contract by a margin of 92 percent.

Union president Rick Strater declined to discuss contract details, but he says the union is anxious to get a deal done. One tool they're using is requesting that teachers stop participating in after-school activities for which they're not paid.

And the move appears to be working.

Bartunek says the district earlier this week sent an email to parents telling them many after-school programs have been suspended, including tutoring for the Ohio Graduation Tests.

"As an administration, we're disappointed that's it's come down to that. It is unfortunate that it has affected our students, and we appreciate the patience of parents as we work through this time."

Federal mediator George Albu confirms his office has received the case. He says he hopes to bring both sides into bargaining talks as soon as possible.

Caught between the two sides is a crucial operating levy up for vote on next month's ballot. The measure would increase taxes on a $100,000 home by $291 a year. That would increase district revenue by about 22 million dollars a year. District officials say a no vote would force the district to cut more than four million dollars from it's annual budget.

With so much as stake, Bartunek says it's in the best interest of both parties to speed up contract talks.

"It's an important levy for our school district The dollars are critical to the continued success of the district, so yes, at this point we want to move on and start focusing our energies on that."

Strater says the union supports the levy, but adds it's a separate issue from the union contract, and will not affect negotiations.