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Strike deadline approaches for Columbus teachers after Thursday session ends with no new deal

 Columbus Education Association president John Coneglio speaks with reporters following a 12-hour negotiating session on Thursday, August 18, 2022.
Matthew Rand
Columbus Education Association president John Coneglio speaks with reporters following a 12-hour negotiating session on Thursday, August 18, 2022. Teachers could vote to strike if they reject the Columbus City Schools Board of Education's latest contract offer.

A marathon bargaining session that lasted for about 12 hours Thursday failed to result in a new contract agreement between the Columbus Board of Education and the district's teachers union.

The school board presented teachers with what board president Jennifer Adair called their "last, best, and final offer."

"The offer is strong; it is responsive to the concerns that have been raised; and it reflects how vital our teachers and certificated staff members are to our district," Adair said in a statement.

The deal calls for increased staffing for positions such as school nurses, psychologists, and speech language pathologists.

The contract offer also would give teachers additional planning days starting in 2024.

Additionally, there's language committing to have the Columbus Education Association at the table to address equity-based staffing.

The deal also gets into pay rates for teachers, something that has been a sticking point throughout negotiations.

Documents show that earlier in these talks, CEA was asking for a 8% pay increase a year for the next three years.

The board countered first with a 2.5% and then a 3% increase.

This new final offer preserves that 3% raise, along with a $2,000 recruitment bonus and other benefits.

"By the end of this three-year contract, a teacher who last school year was paid the district’s average salary of $74,000 will be earning more than $91,000 – a 23% increase from the start of the contract. Guaranteed," Adair said.

Union leadership was not impressed with the proposed deal. CEA president John Coneglio said the union bargaining team had actually ordered pizza, ready for talks to continue well into the night when the new "final offer" was proffered. He accused the school board of walking away from its kids.

"Nothing's changed since their last final offer. And but if they want to meet tomorrow, they want to meet Sunday, they want to meet Saturday, I'm ready to do it. Our team is ready to do it. We want to do what's best for the the kids in Columbus," Coneglio said.

On the issue of compensation, Coneglio said both sides agreed in the very beginning of the negotiating process they would first take care of non-economic items, before shifting to economic items.

"The board decided that they didn't want to follow that process anymore, and so that was part of the problem, Coneglio said. "But we never really had any discussions about pay or benefits or anything like that."

The board has said if there's a strike, they'll start the year with substitute teachers and remote learning. Coneglio says that's a terrible plan, and not what's best for kids.

"We want to be in front of our kids, we want a fair contract, we want a safe working conditions for our students and, and the teachers. And so we're gonna continue fighting," he said.

Meanwhile, school board president Jennifer Adair said it doesn't have to come to that, and urged the union to let its members vote on this latest proposal.

"No one wins in a strike. Not the school district, not the teachers, not the community, and certainly not our students," she said.

CEA members will meet Sunday evening at the Columbus Convention Center to vote on whether to strike beginning on Monday.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.