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Ringgold talks ordered

| Monday, June 27, 2005

Ringgold's twice-extended school year will end Tuesday, but some teachers and district officials will be plenty busy.

Beginning next week, a series of court-ordered bargaining sessions will resume. The sessions are designed to avoid a repeat of the contract impasse that lead to two teachers' strikes this school term.

Washington County Common Pleas Judge Paul Pozonsky issued the order Friday after meeting with attorneys for the teachers and the district.

That order requires:

- Three negotiating sessions of at least three hours be conducted in the week beginning July 4.

- Four negotiating sessions of at least four hours in the week beginning July 11.

- Five negotiating sessions of at least five hours in the weeks beginning July 18 and 25.

- If no contract is reached, attorneys for the two sides must resume talks 11:30 a.m. Aug. 1 in Pozonsky's courtroom.

State mediator William Esselsten, who is overseeing the talks, was ordered to report progress to the judge.

Ringgold teachers, who have been without a contract since September, walked off the job Feb. 22 and returned to work March 8 - under state Act 88 guidelines that limit public school work stoppages and require 180 days of instruction completed by June 15.

The sides agreed to undergo nonbinding arbitration after they failed to come to an agreement, and each side submitted a proposal to the arbitration board. On May 19, the arbitrators supported the district's contract proposal. The association overwhelmingly rejected the arbitrator's decision and walked off the job June 7.

Teachers returned to the classroom June 17.

Both sides welcomed the court-ordered negotiations.

Ringgold Education Association President Joe Imbriale said the mediator will choose the dates. He said the order is designed to force the sides to talk until a contract is reached.

Board President Denise Kuhn said the judge's order forces the union to negotiate.

"There's quite a few school districts which don't have contracts," Kuhn said. "I wonder how many have judges get involved?"

Kuhn said the association requested Friday that the court force the two sides to be sequestered at the courthouse until a new contract was reached.

"They think the only way to get a contract is to get us to negotiate under duress," Kuhn said. "At least the judge's order is fair. It recognizes that the board members have jobs and lives."

Both Imbriale and Kuhn believe progress has been made toward a contract, but agree they are far apart on issues related to salary and health care benefits.

Kuhn said she is unsure whether the court-ordered talks will lead to a new contract.

"I'm not sure if they're willing to move off their last offer," Kuhn said. "The ball is in their court. We've made the last two offers."

Superintendent Ed Repka said he would like to see a deal in place before summer's end.

"We're hopeful that's going to be the end effect," Repka said. "I think both sides are hopeful of reaching a new contract."

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