Columbus teachers union votes to strike days before school year begins

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — The Columbus teachers union in Ohio is on strike after a vote on Sunday, just days away from the district’s first day of school on Wednesday.

Teachers began picketing outside over a dozen of the district’s schools on Monday morning. The union said it will gather outside schools from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day until a deal is reached.

The Columbus Education Association, with 4,000 members, reached a 94% majority on the vote Sunday.

“It is with a full understanding of the sacrifices that students, parents, and teachers will make together to win the schools Columbus Students Deserve that CEA members overwhelmingly rejected the Board’s last, best and final offer tonight and voted to strike,” Columbus Education Association spokesperson Regina Fuentes said on Sunday in statement.

The Columbus Board of Education called the decision to strike “incredibly disappointing” in a statement on Sunday.

Fuentes said Sunday the board has “tried desperately” to make the compromise about teacher salary, teacher professional development and teacher leaves.

“Let me be clear,” Fuentes said. “This strike is about our students who deserve a commitment to modern schools with heating and air conditioning, smaller class sizes, and a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music and P.E.”

Jennifer Adair, Columbus Board of Education President, said in a statement on Sunday the board’s offer “put children first and prioritized their education and their growth.”

Adair said the board offered a generous compensation package for teachers and responded to the concerns raised by the teacher’s union during the negotiations process.

The union and board last met in a mediated discussion on Aug. 18, where the board offered guaranteed raises of 3% annually for three years and $2,000 per CEA member in retention and recruitment bonuses.

According to the board, by the end of the contract, a teacher with a current average salary of $74,000 will earn more than $91,000.

The board’s last offer also stated that it committed funds to install air conditioning in every school, with the exception of one that already has central air in about 50% of the building and is slated to be replaced by a new school in a proposed facilities master plan, the board said.

With the 2022-2023 school year scheduled to begin on Wednesday, the board has decided to make back-to-school virtual, led by substitute teachers, in order to begin instruction on time, according to their statement on Sunday.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement Sunday night that there needs to be another negotiation, in order to get students back in the classroom.

Ginther said the past few years have “underscored the value of our teachers, the resiliency of our kids and the need for Columbus City Schools to position itself for the future.”

He added the pandemic, “more than anything,” made clear that it is essential to get students back into the physical classroom.

“A responsible solution is within reach, but only if negotiations restart now,” Ginther said.

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