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Compensation remains a sticking point in Columbus teachers' contract negotiations

Columbus Education Association members march in a "practice" strike outside the Columbus Board of Education meeting August 16.
Matthew Rand
Columbus Education Association members march in a "practice" strike outside the Columbus Board of Education meeting August 16.

For months, the Columbus Board of Education and the Columbus Education Association have been locked in a bitter contract dispute. Now with less than a week before teachers say they'll go on strike, compensation remains a key sticking point.

A deal failed to materialize from Tuesday's negotiations, although both sides said progress was made.

Columbus Education Association spokeswoman Regina Fuentes said the previous meeting August 10 was ended by the school board without addressing key economic issues, including salary, class size, and other considerations that will require the district to spend money, adding "this is not a salary driven dispute."

"We want the district to be accountable for the promises they made in regards to HVAC. We want to implement programs back into the school system that are actually going to help our students, especially with the trauma and the the hurt that they felt over the last couple of years having to be remote or hybrid," she said. "We are actually actively trying to address these issues, and we just need the district to listen and be willing to negotiate."

Before Tuesday's school board meeting, board president Jennifer Adair said they are encouraged that talks are ongoing, and they look forward to "finding opportunities for unity and alignment."

"But to be clear, CEA filed a notice of intent to strike without telling the board what it would take to reach an agreement. Today, less than a week before our teachers are set to return, CEA continues to refuse to negotiate about compensation, which precludes us from getting our students back in their classrooms."

Two weeks ago, the school board filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state's Employment Relations Board, claiming the teachers union "failed to bargain in good faith regarding compensation."

According to that filing, the union made an initial proposal on March 28 for pay raises of 8% a year over the next three years.

Fuentes disputes that account, saying economic issues such as pay still haven't been discussed. She called the district's claim an "unfair" tactic to discredit teachers.

The school district has announced plans in the event of a strike that involve a return to remote learning.

Meanwhile several parents voiced their concerns at Tuesday's school board meeting. Sarah Short's daughter is in 1st grade at Indianola Informal K-8 School. She said she feels "hopeless, stressed, and frustrated" by the possibility of entering "another year of uncertainty and interrupted learning for what appears to be, to an admitted outsider, to be mostly procedural arguments over not just reasonable demands, but demands that are critical to ensuring the success of our students."

Another parent, Andrew Klein, has a child starting kindergarten at Cranbrook Elementary School.

"Whoever came up with the idea that I'm going to send my first year kindergarten student to zoom school with a substitute teacher is completely out of touch with reality," he said.

The teachers union is set to meet on Sunday, and will either ratify a new contract or vote to go on strike starting 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.