The Reynoldsburg Board of Education this week approved the purchase of 735 Chromebook laptops for $209,959.

The Reynoldsburg Board of Education this week approved the purchase of 735 Chromebook laptops for $209,959.

The purchase comes shortly after the board approved a contract with Michigan-based Huffmaster for $81,000 to provide substitute teachers to cross picket lines if necessary.

Tricia Moore, director of shared services and partnerships, said the laptop purchase, approved in a special school board meeting Aug. 27, was necessary to help substitutes keep students on track in their studies.

"We're already using some learning tools that are Web-based, which include some instructional tools and curriculum practice," Moore said. "So we will expand that with the laptops to support substitutes and make sure students are working on the correct things."

Board members likely will approve spending more money if teachers strike by hiring a number of additional administrators, Moore said. She said the district plans to bring in additional administrative support, such as retired school superintendents and principals who live in central Ohio.

"They will help provide oversight and generally support the principals in making sure schools are safe and productive," Moore said.

She said the number of administrators needed has not been determined so the cost is unknown.

Parent Tracey De Feyter said she is concerned about the quality of the substitutes. She said it makes her "incredibly uneasy."

"I'm concerned that our already crowded classes would be combined because Huffmaster won't be able to bring in enough people to replace all of the teachers," De Feyter said. "I'm concerned that untrained replacement staff will be allowed to look after students with special needs and IEPs. I fear no real learning will take place.

"Mostly, though, I worry that my 8-year-old will be frightened when he sees the intimidation tactics reportedly used by Huffmaster employees used on his beloved teachers as he walks into or out of school," she said.

De Feyter said she heard Huffmaster substitutes were more like "security guards with questionable backgrounds."

Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning sent a letter home to parents Aug. 28 to attempt to alleviate such concerns, she said.

"This letter is to let you know what we are doing to make sure that all students continue to receive the highest-quality education possible if our teachers do go on strike," Thomas-Manning wrote.

She said Huffmaster specializes in recruiting, screening and selecting skilled substitute teachers in case of a work stoppage.

"The company will follow our high standards for screening applicants, including state and federal background checks and proper licensure through the state of Ohio," she wrote. "We will prioritize positions to support our most vulnerable students first, with the expectation that we will be adequately staffed at all levels."

Teachers on Aug. 8 authorized their union leadership to give a 10-day strike notice, at their discretion. That strike notice has not been filed thus far.

The union and district negotiating teams are expected to meet with a federal mediator Sept. 5.

"We hope that the teams can work out an agreement," Moore said. "Our preference is to keep Reynoldsburg teachers in the classrooms. We have great people doing wonderful things for our kids in this district. But we don't have control over whether the union leadership will strike, so we have to be prepared in case they do."

Read more about this story in the Sept. 4 edition of ThisWeek Reynoldsburg News.