Ohio kids back to school after teachers end strike

Education

Students show support for their striking teachers outside Whetstone High School in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. A strike by teachers in Ohio’s largest school district entered its third day Wednesday — the first day of school for some 47,000 students, with some of those students and their parents rallying to their sides. (AP Photo/Samantha Hendrickson)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (NewsNation) — Students across Ohio’s largest school district returned in person to school buildings Monday for the first time this school year following the district’s first strike since 1975.

The Columbus Education Association (CEA) approved a new three-year contract Sunday. The Columbus City School Board signed the contract unanimously during a special meeting Monday morning.

“We are so excited to get back to where we belong — our classrooms — doing what we do best — educating our students and shaping the future of our great city,” said CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes in a statement after Sunday’s vote.

It was one week ago when 94% of CEA members voted to strike, prompting the school year to start remotely for students Wednesday. On Sunday, 71% of that membership voted to accept the contract, 29% rejected it.

Details of some issues in the proposed contract were released during Sunday’s CEA meeting. Included in the agreement is a guarantee from the district that all buildings will be fully equipped with climate control by the 2025 school year.

The contract gives CEA members a 4% annual raise for the duration of the three-year deal. Reports state that the union was initially seeking an 8% annual raise.

In addition, class sizes were lowered by at least two students for every grade level. This is the first time CEA has been successful in negotiating this into a contract, according to a presentation at the meeting.

According to CEA, other agreements reached in the new contract include:

  • the first-ever limitations on the number of buildings assigned to each elementary art, music and physical education teacher, with scheduling intended for one specialist per subject area per building;
  • the first-ever contractual limitation on the number of CEA positions that can be outsourced to out-of-town corporations, thereby ensuring that students are educated by experienced professionals from the local community;
  • a ground-breaking paid parental leave program for teachers, as well as salary increases for each of the next three years which will help attract and retain high-quality educators for students.

Also, all teachers will be paid a full paycheck for last week, meaning they will get full pay and health care benefits for the days of the strike.

The one item that the board did not budge on with health care benefits from the teachers: No movements were made to make changes for the members of CEA to those benefits.

“It is important to remember that just ten short days ago, at our last bargaining session before the strike, CEA was told ‘no’ on guaranteed air conditioning and heat in every building, ‘no’ on class size reductions in middle and high schools, and ‘no’ on improved access to art, music and P.E. at the elementary level,” Fuentes said in the statement.

Columbus City School Board President Jennifer Adair called the contract a “child first” agreement.

“This is a contract that keeps students at the center of all we do and supports our board’s educational mission for Columbus City Schools,” Adair said. “Together with CEA leadership, we have created an agreement that recognizes the critical role all CEA members play in achieving our mission.”

Teachers walked the picket line for the first three days of last week before a marathon negotiating session between the board and the union resulted in a tentative deal early Thursday morning.

District parents said the way the teachers fought to better their children’s education proves why they are such great role models for the students.

“We have to have investment in schools for our future to be what we need it to be for our kids,” said parent Liv Gjestvang.

“That’s my kind of fight,” said parent Venitra Glass-Matthews. “That’s what you want for your kids. That’s what you want for your community. We are better for it.”

The union represents nearly 4,500 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists, and other professionals in Ohio’s largest school district. All members were eligible to vote on the contract.

NewsNation affiliate WCMH contributed to this report.

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