Update: For Monday’s developments on the Columbus teachers’ strike, follow this link.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus teachers voted Sunday night to go on strike, a culmination of five months and 22 negotiations that failed to produce a single contract agreement.
At a meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the 4,500-member union, Columbus Education Association (CEA), voted to commence a strike after it and the Board of Education could not agree on the terms of its labor contract, setting Ohio’s largest school district up for an unconventional first day Wednesday: Teachers with picket signs and students learning from substitutes and administrators online.
“It is with a full understanding of the sacrifices that students, parents, and teachers will make together to win the schools Columbus Students Deserve that CEA members overwhelmingly rejected the Board’s last, best and final offer tonight and voted to strike,” CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said in a statement after Sunday’s vote. “In multiple efforts to negotiate through the media after walking away from the bargaining table, the school board has tried desperately to make this strike about teacher salary, teacher professional development, and teacher leaves.
“Let me be clear. This strike is about our students who deserve a commitment to modern schools with heating and air conditioning, smaller class sizes, and a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music and P.E.”
Teachers were seen leaving Sunday’s meeting carrying “On Strike” picket signs, some with the slogan “On Strike for the Schools Our Students Deserve.”
According to the union, 94% of members voted to reject the district’s latest offer, with the same percentage voting to strike.
The current teachers’ contract expires at midnight. Teachers began picketing Monday morning at 20 different sites around the district.
Following Sunday’s vote, the Columbus City Schools Board of Education called an emergency meeting for Monday at 8 p.m. with the expectation it would immediately enter into a closed executive session to discuss the district’s next steps.
Columbus Education Association spokesperson Regina Fuentes joined NBC4 Today Monday to discuss the latest on the strike. She also addressed reporters Sunday night after the union voted to go on strike. You can watch Fuentes’ comments in the video player above.
In a statement, Columbus School Board of Education President Jennifer Adair said called the union’s vote “incredibly disappointing.”
“School starts on Wednesday, which means our children will be learning online,” Adair said. “We know this is not ideal, but we have an obligation to continue educating and supporting students despite the current circumstances.
“We value and respect our teachers, and we will continue on a path toward collaborative solutions that address what is best for our children,” she added.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, in a statement, urged both sides to return to negotiations.
“The CEA and the school district must return to the table and get our kids back in the classroom,” he said. “A responsible solution is within reach, but only if negotiations restart now.”
Students attending any of the district’s 112 schools, if teachers remain on strike, will see the first day of school through a computer screen, as the board’s “alternative outcomes” plan called for the district’s full-time substitutes to assume the absent teachers’ roles and teach class remotely.
The union vote to strike is the latest in a months-long dispute between the parties, who remain stuck in a stalemate over the terms of the contract – including school building conditions like HVAC, smaller class sizes, full-time art and physical education teachers in elementary schools, and teacher pay – despite holding 22 bargaining sessions since March.
Other sticking points arose over issues like sufficient planning time for teachers, a cap on the number of class periods during the day, and outsourcing positions to for-profit companies. the union said.
After the board delivered what it called a “fair, comprehensive, and respectful” final contract offer on July 28, the union unanimously moved to issue a 10-day strike notice, blasting the final offer as a “take it or leave it deal” that it refused to accept.
About a week later, on Aug. 11, the CEA filed its official intent to strike with the State Employment Relations Board, opening the door for union members to strike on Monday, two days before the first day of school.
The board, with the threat of a strike on the horizon, released its alternative outcomes plan – including remote learning via district-provided Chromebook computers, grab-and-go meals at sites across Columbus, and tech support personnel available for help.
Because teachers make up nearly 60% of the district’s coaching staff and extracurricular advisors, the board said sports and activities will either be rescheduled or canceled.
The union’s decision to strike is historic, as Columbus has not seen its teachers on the picket line since 1975.
The district’s latest offer of a contract, the one rejected by the union, is below.