By Elizabeth Goussetis
In the final days before the last round of contract negotiations took place Aug. 4 and 5, Reynoldsburg teachers and parents were going door-to-door canvassing the neighborhoods to talk with people about class size.
Although earlier discussions centered around the Reynoldsburg Board of Education’s proposals, teachers recently have focused on class size limits, something they hope to change in the new contract.
The current contract doesn’t have a numerical cap, but includes a set of guidelines.
“We have some issues with how its being followed,” said Reynoldsburg Education Association spokesperson Kathy Evans.
For example, teachers are concerned about how much time students spend in what is known as “extended learning time,” where a paraprofessional monitors students who are working on computers with curriculum software purchased by the district.
“Replacing student/teacher interactions with technology, we think, is out of touch,” Evans said.
One high school AP history class had 38 students last year, according to a recent Reynoldsburg Education Association news release. At STEM Middle School at Baldwin Road, where Evans is a counselor for grades 5-8, she said one seventh grade math class had 44 kids.
In a statement from the REA introducing Evans as the new union spokesperson (the outgoing spokesperson, Gina Daniels, is leaving the district), Evans said “I strongly believe our community values a cap on class size that fosters a safe and supportive learning environment. Our students, educators, and community deserve a contract that invests in those classroom priorities and builds the foundation for student learning.”
The administration’s proposed policy, which can be read on the district website along with a detailed explanation, has attracted statewide attention in part because of the unusual approach of swapping out teachers’ traditional health insurance plans for cash that teachers could use to purchase a plan of their choice on the health insurance marketplace. The proposal would also do away with 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 policy was written by a team of two board members (Andrew Swope and Elaine Tornero) and three administrators, led by Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning.
Just before negotiations began on Aug. 4, two groups of supporters went to two main intersections in Reynoldsburg with signs supporting the teachers. One large banner read, “Tell Andy Swope our students deserve better.” Swope, the school board president and half of the board’s two-member negotiating team, has been the primary target of the teachers’ campaign to influence the school board’s decisions.
“Our parents have gotten very involved,” said Evans.
Some have started a ribbon campaign, tying red, purple and gold ribbons around mailboxes and trees, and selling t-shirts to display support for the teachers, researching and writing letters to the editor.
“This is year 29,” Evans said of her time in the school district, “and I’ve not seen this kind of involvement in this community.”