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Teachers Strike, No New Talks Scheduled In Reynoldsburg

A contract dispute in Reynoldsburg schools spilled onto the sidewalks Friday. Unionized teachers are now on strike with little immediate prospect of a resolution. As teachers picketed and carried signs on sidewalks outside Reynoldsburg High School, some commuters honked horns in support. Most of the 7,000 students in Reynoldsburg were greeted by substitute teachers and private security guards when they arrived for class on Friday. High school student Nantenin Tamara and four other students were among the first to arrive at school. All four expressed support for their teachers even though they had to cross the picket line to get to class. "Because its important. If I don't go to school I won't be able to graduate or have a job," says Tamara.

Student Arianna Palmer says she had no choice but to go to class. "You know my parents don't let me skip, first of all and you know, I have to go. Its mandatory in my family. Otherwise I'd be on strike with the teachers, for sure," says Palmer.

A last minute bargaining session failed. Union negotiators characterized the final board offer as a "poison pill" that would require teachers to give up their right to strike by agreeing to binding arbitration from a third party. Superintendent Tina-Thomas-Manning expressed disappointment. "We are very disappointed that we have a strike in our district, very disappointed that our teacher's union did not see the offer of binding arbitration as an absolute way of common sense and resorting to a strike. We're very disappointed in that," says Thomas-Manning.

Thomas-Manning says some buildings on Friday were not fully staffed. The administration offered $175 a day for substitute teachers and used a Michigan firm to recruit both teachers and additional security for the duration of the strike. No new talks are scheduled. Both sides say they'll return to bargaining when the federal mediator calls for more talks. The contract talks were contentious from the start. A federal mediator was called in June. All offers presented by the board and rejected by union negotiators included provisions for merit pay or pay based on teacher performance. Early-on the board also wanted to eliminate group health care coverage in favor of lump sum payments so teachers could buy their own health insurance. Later proposals re-instated health coverage and some annual pay based on longevity. While the board has published some details of its offers, the union has kept wraps on specific-counter-proposals saying only that teacher turnover and class size are a problem. One high school student who declined to give his name says some classes are too crowded. "Me and my friends or my parents talk about how classes should be smaller because in school there are like 35 students in one class at one timesometimes and then other classes have ten or six kids. So, more kids should be put in other periods." (unidentified student)

The union respresents 350 teachers and support personnel, including guidance counselors and nurses. The teachers will picket 12 hours on every school day until the strike is settled.