By Elizabeth Goussetis
Reynoldsburg teachers and administrators will return to the negotiating table Aug. 4 and 5 with a federal mediator to work out a new teacher contract, a few days after it expires on July 31.
Teachers, parents, and students filled the Summit campus high school auditorium for the July 15 school board meeting, to voice concerns about the district’s new proposal for teacher compensation.
Teachers, parents and community members are concerned about increasing class size, the concept of “merit pay,” the district’s lack of domestic partner benefits, and being asked to do more with less.
But mostly, they talked about respect.
“We don’t feel it (the new proposal) respects us as professionals,” Gina Daniels, a high school history teacher and Reynoldsburg Education Association spokesperson. “It’s certainly a disappointing offer, it’s not respectful, it doesn’t serve the community in the best way, and we don’t think it’s in the best interest of our kids.”
The administration’s policy eliminate step increases in pay in favor of a system that ties raises to statewide performance system scores and offers bonuses for school performance and for teachers who go above and beyond. The new policy would swap out the teachers’ traditional health insurance plan, and instead, would give teachers cash to purchase a plan of their choice on the health insurance marketplace.
The policy was written by a team of two board members (Andrew Swope and Elaine Tornero) and three administrators, led by Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning.
Daniels was one of the teachers who submitted her resignation at the board meeting. According to the Reynoldsburg Education Association, the union that represents the teachers, 51 teachers resigned from the district since last August, which Daniels said is more than double the 20 resignations from certified staff submitted during the previous school year.
The cause of the spike in resignations is unclear, but the higher-than-usual number of teachers and administrators resigning this year prompted school board member Joe Begeny to call for an extensive exit interview process to learn why teachers are leaving.
“With the high numbers who have left the district it’s in our best interest to learn why,” Begeny said.
He plans to meet with the board’s policy committee after the negotiations are over to discuss the exit interview process.
“This kind of turnover is rare for a district unless there is a significant number of retirements,” he said.
School officials indicated that linking teacher evaluations to pay would encourage poorly performing teachers to improve or look elsewhere for work, while allowing for flexibility to attract and retain the best teachers. According to district spokeswoman Tricia Moore, some highly rated teachers may be leaving for better pay in other districts and the district would like the flexibility to be able to make counter-offers to keep the best teachers.
The majority of Reynoldsburg’s teachers rate in the highest and second highest categories, with 21.4 percent “accomplished” and 62.6 percent “skilled.” “Developing” teachers make up 13.2 percent of the district and “ineffective” teachers are 2.8 percent as of last school year. While only 16 percent of the teachers are in the bottom two groups, 33.3 percent of the resigning teachers are in that group. However, the highest rated teachers are also leaving in higher numbers this year: 23.1 percent of teachers leaving have the “accomplished” rating.
Some speakers at the meeting pointed to the teacher exodus as evidence of poor working conditions and/or frustration with the new proposal.
“Excellence is leaving our district and moving to neighboring districts,” said parent Margaret Mary Lunzy, holding up a poster with the names of departing teachers and a chart showing the increase in resignations.
Daniels said the reason for the increase may be a combination of ongoing factors and the new proposal.
“Working conditions that have been continuing and ongoing in Reynoldsburg, that are getting worse every year, and this proposal doesn’t look like it’s going to solve any of those conditions,” said Daniels.
The teachers’ union filed a complaint of fair labor negotiations against the district over the FAQ page on the school district website. The district’s proposal has drawn attention from across the state, and led to an increase in civic involvement among community members.
“We’re overwhelmed with the support from parents in community, in Reynoldsburg, understanding that teachers want what’s best for the community,” Daniels said. “It has rallied the community around the teachers, and I’ve seen more support for the teachers this year than I’ve ever seen in the 12 years I’ve been here.”
Begeny hopes to use this increased community involvement to improve communication to solve any future issues that come up. Mike Evans, a retired Reynoldsburg teacher who attended the board meeting, credits social media in part for the swell in parent interest in the negotiations.
“I’ve negotiated a lot of contracts for this union and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Evans. “I think the parents have finally heard some things, I think, that woke a lot of parents up.”