COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – For six hours Tuesday, negotiators for the Columbus City School Board and the district’s teachers’ union, the Columbus Education Association (CEA), returned to talks to come up with a teachers’ contract before the start of the school year next week.

CEA President John Coneglio said some progress was made during Tuesday’s meeting, but the process has been slow.

“We made some movement on a couple issues, but I think our core issue, about enforceable HVAC language, they wouldn’t make any movement on that and that’s really important to us,” Coneglio said.

In addition to HVAC improvements to district buildings, some other issues holding up an agreement are better hiring and retention of teachers and smaller class sizes, according to the union.

The district’s current contract with the union is set to expire Aug. 21, three days before the first day of school for students. The union is set for a membership meeting that day.

Columbus parent Jennifer Lawson said she’s happy to see both sides back at the bargaining table.

“They know what they need and I trust them,” she said. “I’ve had wonderful, wonderful experiences with the school and with the teachers and I’m here to support them when they say what they need.”

Lawson said with school eight days away, and the current contract expiring in five days, she wants to see some type of resolution. She said she does not want the school year to start in remote learning, which is a possibility should the teachers strike.

Lawson said she plans on supporting the teachers during a demonstration before Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“We caught wind that it was OK for the community to join them, so I’m really excited to do that,” she said before the protest. “I kind of look for any opportunity to support the teachers and this is a really important one.”

Parent Matt Monjot will also be at the demonstration.

“Give a voice to the teachers and the parents who are feeling frustrated with this,” he said.

Monjot’s daughter is a rising freshman at Whetstone High School. He said he will take place in the demonstration as a way of sharing his point of view with the school board before Thursday’s negotiations.

“It creates uncertainty with all the parents and puts us into a difficult situation, especially when it seems like so many of the teachers’ demands are things we want for our students,” he said.

“I don’t expect it to be resolved by the weekend, but I really really hope that things are coming together so it can be resolved very quickly and we can start a normal school year on Aug. 24 with and not because the teachers said, ‘I guess we’ll give it up,’ because it was done properly,” Lawson said.

Coneglio said Thursday’s bargaining session is a top priority.

“It’s very important, you know? Obviously, it’s our intention to reach, to try to reach a settlement with the district and a fair contract, but we need to make some movement and there’s some important issues and one of those is the heating and cooling in our buildings — we need enforceable language,” he said.

At the start of the board’s meeting Tuesday, Columbus City Schools Board President Jennifer Adair addressed Tuesday’s negotiations:

“We returned to the bargaining table today with Columbus Education Association at the board’s request, and while we still do not have a compromise, we are encouraged that talks are ongoing. As I have stated several times, we are fully committed to our teachers and to treating all of our employees with respect. We are bargaining in good faith and we look forward to finding opportunities for unity and alignment. But to be clear, CEA filed a notice of intent to strike without telling the board what it would take to reach an agreement. Today, less than a week before our teachers are set to return, CEA continues to refuse to negotiate about compensation, which precludes us from getting our students back in their classrooms, yet we remain hopeful that our students and families will have the first day of school they deserve: in person and with our teachers. “

Columbus City Schools Board President Jennifer Adair

The board then entered into a closed executive session.

The union has said it wants the other outstanding issues addressed first before negotiations start on compensation.

Prior to the meeting, members of the CEA and supporters rallied outside the district building where the meeting was being held.

“I do think that happy, relaxed teacher in good work environments means happy, relaxed students in good learning environments and I’m supportive of the teachers because of that,” said parent Patrick Clark.

“I cannot stand idly by as you attempt to push around the teachers,” another parent said during the community comment portion of the board meeting. “How can you miss that the hardest working people in the district are the ones inside the building?”

Another parent who spoke at the meeting said there is blame on both sides for the current situation, while others have big concerns the school year will start remotely if the teachers do strike. One thing they all agree on is they hope to start school next Wednesday in person with CEA educators.

In other business at the meeting, the board approved an incentive for substitute teachers, giving them an extra $100 a week if they work all school days for that week. This would cover the first six weeks of the school year or other times of high need.

The board also approved funding to expand the district’s Zoom license to allow for whole school online meetings across the district.

Both of those items play a part in the district’s plan to offer remote learning to start the school year should a strike happen.