Aug 23, 2022 - News

Columbus teachers on strike for the first time in 47 years

A crowd of teachers holds signs and cheers during picketing
Columbus Education Association members cheer yesterday outside Downtown High School after a news conference led by spokesperson Regina Fuentes, right. Photo: Alissa Widman Neese/Axios

Columbus students set to return to school tomorrow are instead starting the year with online classes, picketing teachers and a district in turmoil.

What's happening: The Columbus Education Association (CEA) is on strike for the first time in 47 years due to a months-long contract impasse.

Why it matters: More than 45,000 students are affected just as families finally expected some normalcy.

State of play: Ohio's largest school district plans to staff virtual classes with a pool of 600 substitutes, plus administrators and teachers who cross the picket line.

  • That's a significantly smaller staff than the union's more than 4,000 educators.
  • Classwork will be "asynchronous," meaning it's not taught live and younger students will depend on someone guiding them at home.

What we're watching: Over 1,400 families have pledged to not log on and "cross the virtual picket line."

  • Students who don't participate will be marked absent and subject to state attendance laws, Board of Education President Jennifer Adair said yesterday at a news conference.

What's more: The strike will also disrupt non-academic activities. Because most coaches are teachers, athletics are canceled.

  • And students must stop at designated sites for grab-and-go food instead of receiving free meals in the cafeteria.

What's next: The district and union are working through a federal mediator, but as of last night, no bargaining sessions had been scheduled.

The bottom line: Though both parties say their demands have students' best interests in mind, kids stand to lose the most from another disrupted school year.

The big issues

While collective bargaining in education is typically a private matter, an unfair labor practice complaint that the board filed with the state has shed light on some sticking points.

  • The union has mostly discussed its demands broadly.

🏫 Facilities: All but three of more than 100 schools will be fully air conditioned by September, the district says. Two will receive it in 2023, and one is slated for eventual replacement.

  • The union says many existing systems aren't functioning properly, and it wants written promises for improvements and maintenance.

🧑‍🏫 Smaller class sizes: The district has offered to gradually reduce class sizes from 28 to 27 kids for grades 4 and 5, along with capping high school teachers' daily student totals at 150, down from 180.

  • A reduction to 27 in grades K-3 was included in the previous contract. The maximum for middle school classes is 35; for high school classes it's 36.
  • The district says its average class size is 22.
  • The union, however, says many classes are over capacity — an issue compounded when teachers are absent and classrooms get combined.

🖍️ Full-time elementary art, music and physical education teachers: The district's final offer is unchanged from the previous contract, except that unified arts teachers now wouldn't be assigned to "more than two buildings at a time."

  • These classes are taught once a week for 45 minutes.

💰 Pay: The district alleges the CEA "failed to bargain in good faith" and says the union won't budge on demanding 8% annual raises over three years.

  • The district countered with 2%, 2.5% and 3%, plus a $2,000 retention bonus.
  • The union says it hasn't discussed pay yet, in order to address the other issues first.
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