By Elizabeth Goussetis
Reynoldsburg teachers returned to their classrooms with a new contract after months of negotiations with the Reynoldsburg Board of Education and a 15-day strike.
Teachers approved the contract on Oct. 9 after a five hour meeting and the board held an immediate meeting to ratify the contract the same day.
The new contract ended with a compromise on class size issues, one of the primary points of concern for teachers and parents. Teachers had rejected earlier offers by the board, saying they didn’t trust the board to adhere to “goals” and wanted firm caps.
Although the new contract does not have hard caps, it sets more specific goals for class sizes, with limits of 25, 32, and 35 students for elementary, middle and high schools respectively.
“We feel like because it’s written there, if we have an eighth grade class that’s at 33, we can file a grievance and bring it to the attention to the board and superintendent,” said REA spokeswoman Kathy Evans.
The previous contract had a districtwide average ratio goal of no more than 25 students per teacher. The district has never breached that districtwide number because certain classes, like special education, have a much lower mandated ratio, which skewed the average. Meanwhile, teachers reported classes last year with numbers well above the current per-class limits.
“We feel like it’s a step in the right direction,” Evans said. “It’s not the step we really wanted, but it’s a step.”
The new contract does not extend any protections against employment discrimination for teachers based on sexual orientation. Both Evans and district spokeswoman Tricia Moore said that issue was not among those in the final discussions.
The district agreed to hire a new school nurse in a written agreement separate from the actual contract, Evans said. The current school nurses each have six schools to represent.
The district was able to implement some of the proposed merit pay changes, although not the restructuring that had been proposed. In the new contract, the district will have $4,000 (up from $2,000 in the last contract) per year in bonuses to distribute to teachers whose students perform well. Also, the district will have up to $3,900 per year for a new fellowship award, which can be awarded based on more flexible criteria for teachers who fill a particular need or demonstrate innovation.
“The purpose of the fellowship is to recognize great teaching and filling of critical roles,” Moore said. “What we envision is being able to hold those teachers up as models…there’s an elevation of status in addition to the financial reward.”
In the third year of the contract, bonuses will be offered that are tied to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. Rather than using the system for teachers’ entire raises, the new contract provides for flat bonuses of $1,200, $800 and $400 for the top three tiers of teachers, with no bonuses for teachers in the lowest category.
The new contract offers teachers base pay increases of 2 percent this year, 1.6 percent next year, and 1.9 percent the following year.
Teachers received paychecks on Oct. 13, after learning on Oct. 10 their anticipated paychecks had not been deposited. Teachers had expected a reduced paycheck that included pay for the days worked before the strike began and some had arranged for loans based on those expectations. REA officials threatened in a statement to sue for wage theft unless the district issued paychecks by Oct. 14. In an effort to resolve things quickly, district officials said, they issued a full paycheck Oct. 13 and will calculate the difference over the rest of the year. REA representatives said they would have preferred to have been involved in the decision.
“The board needs to finally understand that they cannot continue to live in a bubble and that they need to actually talk to us,” said REA co-president Kim Cooper in a statement.
A lawsuit against the district was dropped after the contract agreement was approved. The lawsuit, filed by parent Tom Drabick, an attorney with a union that represents school support workers, had alleged the district failed to maintain a safe environment inside the schools.
After the first day back at school, Evans said students were helping teachers move back in and everyone was re-adjusting. “(The first day) really was fine at my building,” Evans said, “We were glad to see the kids, no problems that I am aware of. I think everybody, kids and adults, are just getting settled back in.”