Little progress has been made in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg since the School Board there made their first contract proposal back in May. After making the absurd initial demands, the School Board engaged in a strategy of negotiating in public to try and drum up support from the community by painting the teachers in a bad light.
Meanwhile, the Reynoldsburg Education Association (REA) continued to try to negotiate with the School Board while the existing contract expired in July. As the school year approached, the union took the official step of voting to authorize their leadership to issue a 10-day strike notice with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB).
Not surprisingly, the school year began without a hitch on August 13 as Reynoldsburg’s teachers continued to exhibit the professionalism that they have demonstrated for years in the face of adversity – excessive class sizes, forgoing previously negotiated raises in their last contract, and discrimination in the workplace. Also not surprising, the Columbus Dispatch published an article titled “Reynoldsburg schools have normal first day despite strike threat” that showed surprise that the teachers even showed up for work that day, continuing the newspaper’s negative narrative against public school educators.
Support for Reynoldsburg teachers is growing in the community. The last two School Board meetings have been moved to a much larger-than-usual venue to accommodate the growing number of educators, parents, and community members showing up to voice their support for the teachers. More than 600 people showed up at the July 15 board meeting and again this past Tuesday night when the School Board voted 4-0 to hire a firm to bring in “replacement teachers” in the event that the teachers file the strike notice.
The two sides have not met since August 5 and are not scheduled to meet again until September 5, when they will meet with a federal mediator at the Columbus office of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).
According to a press release from REA spokesperson, Kathy Evans, the two sides are working to reach an agreement, with teachers standing firm on their proposal for reasonable class size limits, and a means of addressing unprecedented teacher turnover in the district. Said Evans, “We are hopeful that a resolution will be found, but the Board’s current proposals are out of touch with the values of our community. We are continuing our fight for the schools that Reynoldsburg students deserve. Class sizes have been out of control and we are losing teachers left and right, which is unheard of here in Reynoldsburg. We will continue working towards a fair contract that respects our students, our teachers, and our community.”
We’re hopeful that the Board and Administration will engage in sincere, professional negotiations and act as responsibly as Reynoldsburg’s professional educators, who continue to work without a contract.
While we’d like to remain optimistic that the negotiations will come to a peaceful resolution soon, we have much reason to believe that the Reynoldsburg Board and Administration will continue to hold a hard line in negotiations and continue to push for the use of standardized testing as a determining factor in the compensation of teachers. First year Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning, who was hand-picked by the School Board in January, has direct ties to the Kasich Administration and the Ohio Department of Education. Before being selected as Superintendent, Thomas-Manning served multiple stints as a principal in Reynoldsburg under current State Superintendent and Kasich pal, Dick Ross. In 2012, she took a job with the Ohio Department of Education after Kasich overhauled the State Board of Education and ousted most of the ODE leadership in order to bring in leaders like Stan Heffner and, subsequently, Dick Ross.
Thomas-Manning’s brief stint at ODE had her leading the Division of Accountability, with one of her key projects being the implementation of new accountability measures, most notably the new, expanded school report cards with the A-F grading system, enacted by the Kasich Administration. Thomas-Manning was also tapped to stand in for Superintendent Ross on occasion when presenting to the State School Board.
Given Dick Ross’s long-standing relationship with Reynoldsburg, it’s hardly a stretch to connect him to the selection of her to the Superintendent post in order to work to enact some of the Kasich administration’s most extreme views about public education and public educators, and the Reynoldsburg School Board’s proposal is a textbook version of everything Kasich, Inc., has tried to change about schools — increased standardized testing and use of one-day, one-shot student test scores to evaluate teachers, with a side helping of union busting thrown in for good measure.
Thomas-Manning helped write the School Board’s initial proposal and intends to hold a hard line in negotiations, including bringing in replacement teachers, if needed. “We certainly hope that it does not come to a strike, but if it does, our schools will remain open. We will make the necessary preparations to ensure the least disruption as possible for our students.”
Let’s hope that Thomas-Manning and the Reynoldsburg School Board are able to be reminded that they are not employed by Governor Kasich or State Superintendent Ross, but are employed to serve the Reynoldsburg community, a community that wants these negotiations to end and is increasingly supporting the side of the teachers. If the Board and Thomas-Manning keep holding a hard and unreasonable line in negotiations, they’ll end up unnecessarily causing a strike that will surely lead to them losing their own jobs after Reynoldsburgs well-respected and high-performing teachers return.