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Akron teachers union files strike notice against Akron Public Schools

Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media

The Akron Education Association Thursday filed a notice with the state signifying it intends to go on strike if an agreement can't be reached on a contract with Akron Public Schools Board of Education within the next 10 days.

The teachers' union could go on strike on Monday, January 9 if negotiations don’t pan out, which would mean almost 3,000 teachers and other staff walking out, leaving open the question of how the district will continue to educate 20,000 students.

The union has been operating without a contract since mid-2022. Sticking points, according to union leadership and records of negotiations, include teacher safety, student discipline and pay. The union and the district’s negotiating team had been meeting with a federal mediator throughout December but were unable to come to an agreement. The strike also comes after multiple serious safety-related incidents occurred recently, with two students bringing loaded guns to school buildings, along with a student being stabbed in November. Earlier this month, the board of education approved $3.5 million for upgraded external safety measures like new metal detectors, along with some mental-health programming.

Akron Education Association President Pat Shipe expressed frustration in a press release Thursday.

“The Akron community’s outpouring of concerns regarding school safety and security are bein ignored by Akron Public Schools,” Shipe said. “Weeks of unparalleled fighting are now daily occurrence within Akron school buildings, yet the Superintendent and Board continue tot want to water down the definition of assault and force students, teachers, parents and families to endure more violence, disorder and disruption to the education of the majority of Akron students.”

The union in its letter also made several allegations about the board, district administration and Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack:

  • That Akron Public Schools used American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for “Extravagant travel and housing for attendance at seminars at resorts in Florida and Colorado,” and treated administrators to holiday dinners and alcohol at a local brewery.
  • That Superintendent Fowler-Mack “refuses to move within” the school district, but instead maintains a suite at a hotel within walking distance of her office.
  • That the board has “refused to answer” who is footing the bill for that living accommodation, among other questions.

Responding to the allegations, Akron Public Schools director of marketing and communications Mark Williamson released a statement saying "Most of the claims contained in this document, if not all, are patently incorrect."
In a previous statement about the strike notice itself, Williamson said
"Akron Public Schools respects and values its teachers and the work they do for children every day. We know that if we keep negotiating, we can reach an agreement in the best interests of Akron educators, students, parents, and our community. APS is prepared to stay at the table day in and day out to resolve this situation and keep children learning. We hope the Akron Education Association shares this commitment with us."

In a letter to teachers union members sent Wednesday, the negotiating team alleged the board has “little to no desire to bargain in good faith” or to answer the union’s public records requests.

The board of education is meeting tonight to discuss negotiations with the union, and has another meeting scheduled for Thursday next week as well. Board of Education leaders have previously stated they were hopeful to come to an agreement with the union, citing common goals of providing a good education to all Akron students.

According to a copy of a fact-finder’s report that attempted to find solutions to disagreements between union and administration in November, the district administration had called for a little less than 2% raises each year over the next three years, while the union asked for 5% each year.

The fact finder said even with modest salary increases, expenses are outpacing revenue each year, meaning the district will need to seek a levy in the coming years. Of the 13 levies placed on the ballot since 1985, only six were approved by voters and only two passed on the first attempt.

The union in the press release said the district has "never been in a better financial position than they are currently experiencing" with the infusion of federal pandemic relief, while 20% of teaching positions currently remain unfilled or "filled with unqualified staff."

Updated: December 30, 2022 at 3:38 PM EST
This story has been updated to include a response from Akron Public Schools on allegations raised by the teachers union.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.