Reynoldsburg News

Reynoldsburg schools

Contract talks collapse; mediator called in

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The Reynoldsburg school district claims teachers used the word "strike" in a message to union members and teachers say they were "disrespected" when the district released too many details of its contract proposal online after a public records request.

As a result, the Reynoldsburg Education Association (REA) filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the State Employment Relations Board and the district asked that a federal mediator be called in to handle contract talks.

Meanwhile, about 120 teachers -- some towing toddlers or pushing strollers -- marched in front of the Reynoldsburg City Schools administration building June 30 "to voice their disappointment" in the school board.

"So far, we have been disappointed in the proposal the board has offered and how they have disrespected us during the process," REA spokeswoman Gina Daniels said.

Daniels said that disrespect includes the district publishing details of its proposed contract offer on its website at reyn.org/FAQ.aspx.

"We filed an unfair practices complaint with the State Employment Relations Board last week, because of that FAQ," she said.

She said negotiations between teachers and the district broke down Thursday, June 26, when the school board negotiating team "left the bargaining table, refusing to negotiate further until a federal mediator could intervene."

Bargaining was set to resume June 30 at a neutral location with the mediator, Daniels said.

Tricia Moore, district director of partnerships and shared services, said the district negotiating team was "stonewalled" last Thursday when the REA negotiating team "refused even to discuss the district proposal, dropping strong hints they saw the discussion at impasse," she wrote in the updated FAQ entry.

She said the district team decided that if there would be "no open and straightforward discussion of the issues," they would ask for a federal mediator, which is a provision in the current REA contract.

The district team thought the mediator, who began negotiations at a neutral location (Monday's bargaining session was in Westerville), "was the best way to ensure the bargaining continues in good faith," Moore said.

She said the REA circulated an email letter among its members a couple of days before the June 26 negotiating session that urged them "to prepare for a strike later in the summer."

She said the district published the FAQ page online after a public records request from The Columbus Dispatch.

"We knew there were questions about the progress of the negotiations and about the board's proposal after the proposal was published in the newspaper," Moore said. "We wanted to be responsible to our constituents."

Daniels said the district proposal bases salary increases on merit pay, which puts too big an emphasis on standardized testing.

"Standardized testing assumes all students learn and think in exactly the same way," she said. "It forces teachers to take a one-size-fits-all approach to education. REA is disappointed that the district is emphasizing this approach and worried that our students will suffer as a result."

She said the district's proposal to eliminate group health insurance and pay teachers a cash sum so they could buy their own health insurance from the state through the Affordable Care Act is another sticking point.

"We are concerned by the loss of group health insurance," Daniels said. "REA wants Reynoldsburg to be able to attract and retain high-quality teachers and keep morale high. Eliminating group health insurance will not bring in or keep quality teachers in Reynoldsburg."

Daniels said including a salary schedule in a contract is a more "sustainable way to predict funding" than merit bonuses.

"It also forces us to focus on high-stakes testing and we don't think that is best for our students," she said. "We want teachers to concentrate on what we do best -- fostering student growth and learning."

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