Here are the major contract issues beyond discipline between Akron, teachers

Teachers and staff fill the seats with an overflow crowd in the hall outside of the boardroom at the Akron Public School Board meeting to hear how the district is spending its stimulus dollars on Monday in Akron.
Teachers and staff fill the seats with an overflow crowd in the hall outside of the boardroom at the Akron Public School Board meeting to hear how the district is spending its stimulus dollars on Monday in Akron.

A fact-finder's report details 19 issues the Akron Public Schools and its teachers union could not agree on during contract negotiations and offers recommendations representing wins for both sides.

The union has rejected the report, while the Akron Board of Education accepted it.

The two sides began bargaining the new contract in mid-April. By the end of May, the union of about 1,600 teachers and 800 licensed professionals declared the differences too great to reconcile. Remaining sessions, including a late June meeting scheduled with a federal mediator, were canceled.

The biggest issues, according to votes and survey by teachers union members, are school safety, student discipline and how administrators would define assault.

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But negotiators also will be led by the mediator through disagreements on year-round schooling, raises that could add between $15 and $20 million a year to the district’s budget by 2025, teacher concerns over access to student behavior records and employee health care costs.

Here are the issues beyond student behavior as detailed in the fact-finder's report.

Teacher pay raises

The distance between proposed wage increases can be measured in millions of dollars.

The school board, which argued that its proposal was more in line with recently negotiated contracts, called for 1.95%, 1.95% and 2.1% raises in each of the next three years, plus a $500 contract signing bonus.

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But inflation is higher than its been in two generations, and teacher shortages are lifting everything from the cost of hiring substitutes to the bargaining power of unions.

The union came down from its originally proposed 7%-7%-6.25% annual wage increases and offered 5% in each of the next three years.

The union’s analysis, which relies on figures in the school treasurer’s five-year forecast from May and covers all employees because non-bargaining members typically get the same deal as union members, suggests that three consecutive years of 5% raises would increase annual payroll by 2025 from $224.4 million to $239.7 million, a 6.8% increase.

“No comparable district is showing a 5% increase in any year or is close to a three-year average of 5% as the union is proposing,” the fact-finder wrote.

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Treasurer Ryan Pendleton's analysis, comparing his forecast 1.75% raises against the union's request for 5% raises, shows an increase in salaries (again assuming they extend to non-bargain members) from $222.2 million to $241.4 million, an 8.7% increase resulting in $19.2 million more in annual payroll by 2025.

“Moreover, the Ohio Department of Education’s Cupp Data (which analyzes local tax burdens, revenues and expenses of Ohio school districts) show that Akron spends a greater percentage of its operating revenue on salary and fringe benefits than any other comparable urban district,” the fact-finder wrote, citing an exhibit provided by the school board.

The union argued that administrative salaries have increased 33.38% in Akron in the past five years compared to 1.18% in comparable districts. Meanwhile, Akron teachers are making 8.07% more compared to 12.64% more in comparable districts.

And the teachers unions said federal pandemic aid with few strings attached has provided a cash infusion that makes it possible to offer more competitive salaries that will attract and retain talent — an argument the school board received as an unsustainable use of one-time stimulus funds.

Forecasts call for deficit spending and a levy

The fact-finder noted that expenses outpace revenue in every year of the district’s five-year forecast, which was updated in May (in the middle of negotiations) and earlier this month to reflect even less cash on hand five years out.

Treasurer Pendleton said the reason for dwindling cash balances from the November, May and current five-year forecasts is the allocation of federal stimulus dollars that hadn’t been earmarked for new programs or spending when negotiations began.

The fact-finder ultimately recommended 2.25% increases in the first two years of the new contract and a 2.5% increase in the final year, higher than — but closer to — the board’s proposal.

And the arbitrator signaled the need for a levy in the near future.

“The district will need to put a levy on the ballot,” the fact-finder said. “Unfortunately, levies have not generally passed in Akron. Of the thirteen operating levies placed on the ballot since 1985, only six have passed (Employer Exhibit # 47) and only two of those passed on the first attempt.”

Year-round schooling

The union presented evidence that disputes the academic benefit of year-round schooling. An extended school calendar, which some say would stabilize or counter learning lost during the summer, is a strategy current and past school boards and superintendents have considered.

But the administration, according to the fact-finder, did not provide sufficient research on the subject.

“Before making any type of calendar change,” the fact-finder found, “the district needs to do its due diligence in studying the feasibility of such a plan and whether or not it would be acceptable to its constituents in the district and community.

But that doesn’t mean the idea is dead. Though the fact-finder's report was rejected by the union and, therefore, will not govern labor relations these next three years, the fact-finder presented a path to exploration and agreement on a shorter summer break and a longer school year than what the state requires.

The fact-finder accepted the administration’s request to add two members to a Calendar Committee that would study, in the next year, the pros and cons of stretching out the school year, an effort that could impact teachers' hours and annual pay while cutting into family plans in the summer.

“Before making any type of calendar change,” the fact-finder concluded, “the district needs to do its due diligence in studying the feasibility of such a plan and whether or not it would be acceptable to its constituents in the district and community."

Digitizing student records

The union objected to the administration’s proposal to digitize student records, which include tracking of student transfers from building to building, disciplinary infractions, behavior  and “any safety concerns for which an incoming educator should be made aware.”

The union raised a concern that digital access to these files, which teachers can pull in hard-copy form today, could be revoked.

The fact-finder largely dismissed that concern, saying the move to digitize records — some of which, like discipline, are already kept online — “is more of a housekeeping item.”

Health insurance premiums

On health care, the employer proposed 1% increases in 2024 and 2025.

The union successfully argued, though, that the years leading into and through the pandemic have delivered health care cost savings for the district and additional expenses for members.

“From 2017 to 2022, healthcare costs increased by 1.3% resulting in almost a $4.5 million savings to the district,” the fact-finder reported. “Conversely, employee premiums over the same period of time increased by 122.7%. Thus, the union feels a temporary freeze on member premiums is justified, reasonable, and equitable.”

Attorney Don Malarcik, who represented the union in negotiations, said 84% of members signed up for the wellness program in the past five or six years. By doing so, they saved the district money while making “sacrifices,” Malarcik said, like moving from name brand to generic prescription drugs and migrating to a large-scale health care provider, with many having to switch or lose their primary doctors.

The fact-finder recommended no increases to the employee contributions on health care premiums in all three years of the new contract, which was a win for the union, though it ultimately rejected the report on balance.

Reach reporter Doug Livingston at or 330-996-3792.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: APS, teachers disagree on more than student discipline, report shows