In recent weeks, the negotiations between the Reynoldsburg School Board and the Reynoldsburg Education Association have focused on the Board’s proposal to switch to merit-based pay and eliminate district-sponsored healthcare.  These proposed changes are dramatic and have rightly deserved much scrutiny.

A larger-than-usual number of teachers have resigned from the district this year, leading the School Board to argue that the exodus of quality educators is a reason their proposed “more competitive” pay structure is needed.  In our last post on the subject, we pointed out that the pay structure in Reynoldsburg is actually comparable and competitive with other local districts and that eliminating a benefits package that is also comparable with competing districts would be detrimental to the district in attracting and retaining the best teachers.

David Schottner, co-president of the Reynoldsburg Education Association also resigned recently to take a job in Bexley, a nearby school district.  In his final speech to the Board on July 15, the night his resignation was accepted, one might have expected Schottner’s  to focus on their radical contract proposal and criticize their eagerness to negotiate the terms through the media.  Instead, Schottner spoke at length about the climate that the School Board has created in the district, confirming an idea that we posited in our last post as the real reason teachers are leaving the district in droves.

Here’s an excerpt from Schottner’s powerful speech [emphasis added]:

I pride myself on being an advocate. I advocate for students, I advocate for teachers, and I advocate for public education. That said, I have failed to advocate for myself. As you know, you will be asked to accept my resignation tonight. Leaving Reynoldsburg was not an easy decision. I have experienced nine wonderful years teaching here. I adore my students, I value their families and I respect the colleagues I have taught with. As you may or may not know, sexual orientation is not a protected class in our contract or board policy. You may ask what this means. On the surface, having a non-discrimination policy means that the board and district will not discriminate in any way based on a person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, religion, sex, age, disability or military status. By sexual orientation being left out of that list, there is no guarantee that a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered will not be discriminated against in the Reynoldsburg City School District. In my mind, not including sexual orientation in the antidiscrimination policy means that I could lose my job just for being gay. If a parent or community member complained to you as a board and demanded that gay and lesbian teachers not be allowed to teach the students of Reynoldsburg, you would face a difficult decision. Do I think that I would lose my job in Reynoldsburg based on my sexual orientation? I truly hope not, but I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t, and that is scary. There have been instances over the past nine years where parents have made issue of my sexual orientation. In most cases, actions were taken to appease the parents. Children have been moved out of my classroom because their parents weren’t comfortable with a gay educator teaching their child. I have been asked to not mention my same-sex domestic partner in the same introductory newsletter where my colleagues mentioned their spouses. I guess these actions were meant to protect me, but the only real way to protect my GLBT colleagues and me is to include sexual orientation as a protected class in our contract and in your board policy.

As you know, the rights of the gay community vary by issue and by state and even by city and school district. I am asking that you take action now and not wait for the federal or state government to tell you to treat everyone equally. I am leaving a school district that I love, but sadly one in which I have always felt like a second-class citizen. I am moving to a school district that provides insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their staff members. My move was not influenced by economic factors. The fact that Bexley offers insurance to same-sex domestic partners is not an issue of money for me. It is an issue of respect. I am moving to a school district that includes sexual orientation in all of its policies, and even posts those policies throughout their school buildings for all to see on a daily basis. The Bexley City School District is proud to display their equality for all to see, and I hope one day Reynoldsburg will do the same. We will never know for sure, but you may have missed out on some amazing educators who chose to not apply to Reynoldsburg because of this policy. I also ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of the gay students in our Reynoldsburg classrooms. How would they feel if they knew their school leaders were not willing to protect and respect their gay teachers? As of tonight, exactly one half of Franklin County School Districts include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, and one half do not. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be the tipping point and find yourselves in the majority of school boards in our county that embrace equality? I have failed to advocate for myself because I knew that without written protections, I was not safe to stand up for the rights of the gay community and myself. On my way out the door, I choose to advocate for myself and I am asking you to do what we teach all of our students to do and treat everyone with kindness and respect. Thank you for your time.

Again, in his final speech to the Board, why did the co-president of the teachers’ union choose to spend the vast majority of his allotted time talking about discrimination in the district instead of the supposedly “larger” issues of compensation and benefits that the School Board would have us believe are the keys to hiring and retaining the best teachers?

That is a major question that needs answered and we have recently uncovered some video evidence that seems to explain why.

On Youtube is a video series titled Right America Feeling Wronged that follows the views and actions of Republicans leading up to the 2008 Presidential election.  Featured in the video series is the current Vice President of the Reynoldsburg School Board, Elaine Tornero, campaigning for John McCain.  She is not shy about espousing her strong conservative views; views that help to explain why the recently resigned co-president of the Reynoldsburg Education Association felt so compelled to talk about the problem of discrimination in the school district…

With Elaine Tornero representing the School Board on the negotiations team, it’s no wonder that the issue of discrimination has risen to the forefront of discussions and led many top-notch educators to seek employment elsewhere.  As long as Reynoldsburg has leaders supporting discrimination in the school system, they will never “attract and retain” the best teachers.