COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The union representing Columbus City Schools employees just got bigger.

Nearly 300 building substitutes across the city recently announced their intent to unionize with the Columbus Education Association, joining the ranks of nearly 4,500 school employees. At a school board meeting Tuesday, building substitutes took to the podium to demand that the board voluntarily recognize the union – something board members seem poised to do.

Kim Maupin retired from Columbus City Schools in 2019 after more than three decades as an educator. Since then, she’s been a building substitute at Southwood Elementary, and although the roles are in many ways similar, she told the school board that the protections she had as a teacher are nonexistent as a building substitute.

“I went from having a fair contract and support from a strong union, which allowed me to focus on educating the children, to this new position, which also requires me to have all of the same responsibilities that I had before – without the support,” Maupin said.

Building substitutes are full-time employees who step in when a teacher is absent, either short-term or long-term, and are assigned to one of the 110 schools across the district. For some building substitutes, the role is their first educational job; for others, like Maupin, being a building substitute offers a way to continue teaching after retirement.

Ayana Wilson has been a building substitute for six years, liking the idea of being able to bounce around classrooms and topics as opposed to only getting to know and teach one class of students. She loves her job and the children she works with, she told the school board, but she’s dismayed by a lack of communication to building substitutes and a disregard for the integral role they play in ensuring students reliably receive instruction.

“I also abhor the general sense that building subs are glorified assistants rather than the full-time teachers we are often called upon to be,” Wilson said to the board. 

Wilson said without union representation, building substitutes are left to the whim of administrators with no avenue for group advocacy. It’s led to her and her colleagues not being paid over winter break, for instance, and being pushed out of summer class instruction.

“We have been without a voice for too long,” Wilson said. “We have the right to have a voice, to have access to the support that the frontline workers already have every single day.”

At last week’s board meeting, Board President Jennifer Adair spoke to the room, teeming with building substitutes, to share the board’s appreciation for their work.

“The board wants to thank you for your service,” Adair said. “You are essential members of the team, and we look forward to beginning this process with you.”

In a news release Thursday, Adair said the board intends to follow the same process it did when recognizing the district’s newly formed union of safety and security employees. In November, the board unanimously voted to recognize the union, and the employees have already negotiated a contract.

“Columbus City Schools and the Columbus Board of Education believe in the power of collective bargaining and unions,” Adair said in the release. “We look forward to a collaborative, respectful dialogue and working together to ensure the best outcomes for our staff and students.”

At the meeting, John Coneglio, president of the Columbus Education Association, said the union intends to begin collective bargaining on behalf of the building substitutes immediately and will include the group when negotiating districtwide contracts in 2025. Recalling the teacher strike over a lack of contract at the beginning of the school year, Coneglio said he believes the district has started to “turn a corner” – a corner further turned by the recognition of building substitutes as unionized employees.