COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Columbus City Schools has unanimously approved a new agreement with the district’s support staff.

The agreement with the Columbus School Employees Association (CSEA), approved Tuesday, applies to the district’s secretaries, food workers, and bus drivers, among other positions.

“It was a battle, a long battle,” said CSEA President Lois Carson. “Probably one of the hardest negotiations I’ve even been in on.”

The agreement will increase wages for all union members, pay a retention and recruitment bonus, and move some positions from seven to eight hours a day.

The two-year contract includes a three percent base salary increase for all union members this school year and then another 2.25 percent increase next year.

The retention and recruitment bonus is $2,000 to be paid out of the two years of the contract.

“These bonuses are another way of showing our appreciation for our CSEA employees who have continued to help support our students and our community during the pandemic,” said Dr. Talisa Dixon, district superintendent.

Carson said there are points she’s proud of, but there are others she would like to work on, saying that the district’s support staff has become even more important because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Well, three percent’s not a lot when you come in the door at 13, 14 bucks an hour and you work three hours a day,” Carson said. “So, we still have some concerns we hope, with time, the district will discuss with us.”

The agreement also makes Juneteenth a paid holiday.

Carson said she’s calling for more respect, saying their jobs are crucial, too.

“If this pandemic has not taught school systems anything else, the least of us, the unsung heroes in us, are the ones who are least paid and always mistreated and always forgotten,” she said.

“I need you to know that there is not a moment in time that this board has not respected the work that you do and continue to do because you are essential now more than ever,” said Columbus School Board President Jennifer Adair.

Carson said she would like the district to address staff shortages, adding that in addition to the ongoing bus driver shortage, there are secretaries in some schools helping with medications.

In other CCS business:

The CCS Board of Education also signed off on a new contract to help with contact tracing for COVID-19 in school buildings.

The board approved an agreement to work with ProLink, which will provide 60 nurses to help with the tracing. The agreement will cost Columbus City Schools $4.6 million.

Two weeks ago, nurses rallied saying they were overworked and stressed by those duties. 

Dixon said the goal is to not have any school nurses dealing with contact tracing, adding there will be a transition period until ProLink fully takes over the task. 

The district also approved a new contract with Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) to offer a transit pass program that will allow approximately 1,600 CCS ninth through 12th graders to access COTA services free of charge.

Passes will allow students unlimited usage of COTA’s regularly scheduled services and for qualifying students, unlimited usage of COTA mainstream service.

Passes will be distributed to students through a phased approach, with the passes being active Oct. 20, 2021, through Aug. 24, 2022.