What's the latest on negotiations on a new Columbus teachers contract?

The Columbus Education Association unanimously voted Thursday night to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike.
The Columbus Education Association unanimously voted Thursday night to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike.

Columbus Education Association and the Columbus City Schools Board of Education will meet Tuesday and Thursday, according to the union.

The Columbus City Schools Board of Education has requested two negotiation sessions this week to try and hammer out a new contract with the Columbus Education Association.

The district's Board of Education bargaining team announced Monday that it had requested that federal mediator Joe Trejo of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service contact the CEA, the 4,000-member union that represents Columbus City Schools teachers and other employees.

“It is our sincere hope that CEA will meet with us and bargain in good faith," School Board President Jennifer Adair said. "It is time to set aside the rhetoric so that together we can create opportunities for unity and resolution."

“We will swiftly and thoroughly review any comprehensive proposal from CEA and will be responsive and engaged in respectful bargaining,” Adair said. “This is what our students and our entire school community deserve.”

CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said Monday afternoon they were contacted by the mediator after learning about the Board's request to return to bargaining from the media.

Columbus teachers strike? City council expresses concern

The district's call for negotiations comes after Columbus City Council issued a statement Friday afternoon about the stalled talks between the state's largest school district and the CEA and the impact on the district's more than 47,000 students.

"Columbus City School students are our future leaders and deserve a quality education. Kids need to be in class, in-person, safe and learning," according to the statement. "As a body, City Council has consistently supported our friends in the labor movement and their right to collectively bargain for a better workplace. The collective bargaining process creates the opportunity for workers and employers to find solutions that work for everyone. Our kids, teachers, parents and all residents have been through some incredibly difficult years. Stability is critical and that starts with our kids headed back to school to learn.”

So what happens next?

The federal mediator will arrange contract negotiation sessions between the two sides in an effort to reach a settlement before the scheduled start of classes Aug. 24.

Will there be a strike?

On Thursday, CEA filed its formal notice to the State Employment Relations Board to strike if it does not reach a new contract agreement before school is scheduled to start Aug. 24.

Columbus schools: Leaders of teachers union vote to issue 10-day notice of intent to strike

The teachers union filed its intent to strike and picket one week after the CEA’s legislative assembly unanimously voted to issue a 10-day notice of the union’s intent to strike.

Union members will meet on Aug. 21 to vote on whether to officially initiate a strike. A strike could begin on Aug. 22 if no agreement is reached on a contract.

How does this affect the first day of school in Columbus?

Columbus City Schools announced plans Thursday for remote learning using non-union substitute teachers if CEA were to strike if a new contract agreement is not reached before school starts Aug. 24.

The district will move to “synchronous and asynchronous remote learning” and the district’s buildings will be closed to students and community members, according to information on a district webpage.

“The District Administration will send parents and students correspondence regarding the procedures to begin the remote learning program before the first day of school,” according to the district.

Students would be required to attend school through remote learning if there is a strike on the first scheduled day of classes on Aug. 24. (Woodcrest Elementary School, the district's only year-round school, returned to classes July 27.)

"The District already has many capable full-time substitutes who will be supplied with the curriculum, which has already been prepared, so that students may smoothly enter into the remote learning experience," according to the district. "In addition to our substitutes, the District’s own administrators and those teachers who choose not to strike may provide remote instruction to their students."

School meals would still be provided in the event of a strike, distributed at designated sites on designated days that will be announced at a later date.

Many sports and extracurricular activities will be rescheduled or canceled since teachers make up almost 60% of the coaching staff and extracurricular advisors, according to the district.

Who would teach the online classes?

Columbus City Schools has 600 substitutes would be given the curriculum to teach remotely, said Columbus City Schools spokeswoman Jacqueline Bryant.

"In addition to our substitutes, the District’s administrators and those teachers who choose not to strike may also provide remote instruction to their students," she said. "We believe that starting the school year remotely is the best alternative for getting students back to school on time."

What are the stalling points in the negotiations?

The CEA is asking for smaller class sizes; full-time art, music and physical education teachers; functioning heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in schools;  more planning time for teachers; a cap on the number of class periods in the day; and "other working conditions that recruit and retain the best educators for out students."

The district has responded to the issue about HVAC systems by saying it is updating the HVAC systems in 13 of its 109 school buildings this summer using $35.6 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds created due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While work to update the HVAC systems will be completed at seven of those buildings in time for the scheduled start of classes, Bryant acknowledged to The Dispatch in a story Monday that work at six other buildings won't be completed until September.

In addition, two other buildings — Columbus Alternative High School and Hubbard Elementary School — will have to wait until the start of the 2023-2024 school year to get building-wide air conditioning.

When was the last time there was a strike in Columbus City Schools?


Megan Henry is a Columbus Dispatch K-12 education reporter. Reach her at mhenry@dispatch.com or (614) 559-1758. Follow her on Twitter @megankhenry. Sign up for her education newsletter here.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus teachers union files strike notice: What we know