NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – The teachers union in Niles is close to going on strike if a deal can’t be made for a new contract. The first of two federally mediated negotiating sessions happened Friday morning at Niles Rhodes Avenue Elementary.

According to Tony Perrone, president of the Niles Board of Education, an agreement was not reached during Friday’s three-hour negotiating session, but he says progress was made.

“We hope further conversations will lead to a mutual agreement prior to the expiration of the current contract on August 31 and prevent the [Niles Education] Association’s intention to strike on September 1,” Perrone said.

Teachers union spokesperson Traci Kempe disagrees with Perrone’s statement, saying no progress was made and the two sides are still on “opposite ends.”

Kempe says there’s only one issue on the table: salary.

“It is definitely pay. Again, we are asking simply to be paid equitably. We want to be paid fairly with school districts around us. We are the second lowest in Trumbull County and we’re not even anywhere near the county average,” she said.

The second negotiating session will be on August 31.

The meeting Friday morning had one goal: to avoid a strike. Niles teachers have been negotiating with the school board for a new contract since March. Earlier this month, they issued a strike notice.

On Friday, members of the Dragon community gathered to show support for their children’s teachers. An event was put together on social media saying, “We want strong teachers for our kids and they deserve fair pay.”

WKBN reached out to the school district about the ongoing meetings. WKBN got a statement back from superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen. She says the district and teachers can agree that the number one priority remains the students.

“It only intensifies our commitment to continue bargaining in good faith to reach a contract settlement that is fair and equitable for all parties,” Thigpen said.

“We cannot say this enough — our number one priority remains our students. We all look forward to welcoming students back in the classroom this coming Monday as we begin a new school year,” Perrone said.

In the case of a strike, students will begin remote learning. Elementary students will be provided learning packets and communication with a substitute teacher. Grades 6-12 will use an online learning service, in the meantime, to work at their own pace with a curriculum aligned with state standards.

One more vote on whether to strike is required, but WKBN was told that teachers are prepared to walk if they don’t get what they want.

District buildings are closed to students and community members. The district says Trumbull County Career and Technical Center students will not be impacted. Sports will go on as planned and other school clubs or organizations will be suspended.

The school board says a contingency plan has been put in place in case teachers go on strike. The entire contingency plan is on the school’s website.