Columbus, Ohio teachers start school year on picket lines

(The Center Square) – Students in Ohio’s largest school district will begin classes Wednesday remotely after teachers rejected a final contract offer and voted to strike late Sunday…

(The Center Square) – Students in Ohio’s largest school district will begin classes Wednesday remotely after teachers rejected a final contract offer and voted to strike late Sunday night.

Columbus Education Association teachers were on the picket line at several school buildings Monday morning, the first day teachers were scheduled to report, after 94% of its members voted to strike for the first time since 1975.

“Today makes a historic moment with CEA and the Columbus community. CEA educators are on strike today to fight for the schools Columbus students deserve. This strike is an investment in the future our city. We will continuing fighting until we have safe and properly maintained schools in every neighborhood,” CEA Spokesperson Regina Fuentes said at a Monday morning news conference at one of the picket lines.

The Columbus Board of Education planned an emergency meeting at 8 p.m. Monday to discuss the strike, planning to immediately enter into closed session. The union called for protest outside the meeting, beginning at 7 p.m.

“Tonight’s vote by the Columbus Education Association is incredibly disappointing. We are saddened by the unfortunate situation our families, our community and, most importantly, our children now face,” Board President Jennifer Adair said in a statement.”

As previously reported by The Center Square, the board put in place an online learning planning last week in case of a strike. Students are to report Wednesday. The plan includes using nonunion substitutes as teachers.

Also, the district will open grab-and-go meal sites from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., beginning Wednesday. Students can get lunch for the day and breakfast for the next day.

“School starts on Wednesday, which means our children will be learning online. We know this is not ideal, but we have an obligation to continue educating and supporting students despite the current circumstances,” Adair said.

The board’s final offer came last week and included increased staffing for school nurses, psychologists and speech language pathologists; adding planning days for teachers in the 2024 and 2025 school years; and a commitment to have CEA at the table to address equity-based staffing.

The board’s original offer also included guaranteed base salary increases each year for three years in addition to step increases based on employee experience; a retention and recruitment bonus of $2,000; and new paid family leave that goes beyond employees’ sick leave.

“Our offer to CEA put children first and prioritized their education and their growth. We offered a generous compensation package for teachers and provisions that would have a positive impact on classrooms,” Adair said. “Our offer was also responsive to the concerns that have been raised by CEA during the negotiations process. Our community’s children are the Board’s priority, and our offer reflected that fact.”

The two sides have not met formally since a 12-hour negotiating session Aug. 18 with a federal mediator failed to produce a new contract.

“We never stopped reaching out to the board. We will continue to reach out. We want this done. We want to be in the classroom. We want to negotiate. We need to get them to the table to get this done,” Fuentes said.

The union represents more than 4,000 teachers and educators.