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School Board Approves Contract Staffing Plan Over Union Objections

CEA President John Coneglio addressing union members ahead of Tuesday's school board meeting.
Nick Evans
CEA President John Coneglio addressing union members ahead of Tuesday's school board meeting.

Across the street from Tuesday night’s Columbus City School Board meeting, union members gathered to protest the board’s plan to hire an alternative staffing firm amid contract talks. Chanting slogans, they urged the board to use the money for librarians, nurses and school psychologists.

The $5,000-a-day contract approved Tuesday covers planning for a potential strike if contract talks with the Columbus Education Association fall through. Those plans include what the board terms “alternative staff.” Those contract workers would be called upon if CEA members go on strike.  

The board's vote follows union members voting to give negotiators permission to issue a 10-day strike notice if they deem it necessary.

Ahead of the vote, school psychologist Tiffany Eggleston pushed back against the board. Eggleston noted she’s a product of the district, and her role extends far beyond the school building—including impromptu conversations at the grocery store ahead of Memorial Day.

“I could go on all day about my personal feelings about this district and our families, but let’s get to the practical,” she told board members. “I have spent multiple years studying and training to be a school psychologist, and I cannot be replaced by alternative staffing.”

Courtney Johnson has spent most of her 18 years teaching in high school English classrooms, but she says the two years she spent as a K-8 library media specialist were the most challenging she’s faced. Librarians are stretched so thin, she said, “that we barely get to know all the teachers’ names, let alone all of the students.”

Johnson was even harsher about the district’s strike contingency plans.

“An investment in our school librarians is an investment in the literacy of our students," Johnson says. "What could be a more worthy investment? It’s certainly a better use of our public dollars than hiring unqualified scabs to cover our classrooms during a strike.”

But Deputy Superintendent John Stanford argued the school district is simply being prepared.

“The negotiations are progressing and we will absolutely continue to bargain in good faith and responsibly with our CEA leadership, but we must be prepared for the first day of school or any day of school with no teachers in the classroom,” Stanford said.

Stanford painted the board’s move to set up an alternative staffing plan as a response to the union’s vote allowing a strike if a deal can’t be reached. And he parroted back a version of the CEA’s "students deserve" slogans.

“Our students deserve a safe environment for learning and access for food to feed both their minds and bodies,” Stanford said. “Our students deserve teachers that are in the classroom teaching.”

The agreement with Michigan-based Huffmaster is capped at $50,000. The district's contract with CEA expires August 18, the day before teachers are scheduled to report to work for the 2019-2020 school year.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.