With the threat of a strike still hovering, the contract dispute between the Reynoldsburg school district and its teachers has now become a case of dueling accusations of unfair labor practices.
The Reynoldsburg Education Association complained to the State Employment Relations Board in late June, claiming the district had violated collective bargaining rules by publishing details of its contract offer to teachers on the district website. Then-REA spokeswoman Gina Daniels said doing so “disrespected the process.”
The district filed its own complaint Aug. 25, charging that the teachers union “walked away” from a conceptual agreement reached three weeks ago.
Tricia Moore, director of shared services and partnerships for the school district, said the complaint was filed against the REA and the Ohio Education Association because the REA negotiating team “walked away” from a conceptual agreement made at 2 a.m. Aug. 6 after a bargaining session that lasted 20 hours.
“At the end of the session, both sides shook hands and said they had an agreement that each would advocate to their respective members and all that was left was to get it on paper,” Moore said. “Then two days later, the union team came back in and said, ‘we don’t agree’ and changed their position.
“Legally, they call it bad-faith bargaining.”
Moore said concessions on both sides had resulted in the agreement Aug. 6 to keep the current salary schedule, with a minor change affecting 14 teachers that would have cost about $7,000.
“When they came in Friday of that week, that is the time they shared the draft agreement posted with REA notes, making changes in the salary schedule to 70 people, which would result in a comprehensive rewrite of the schedule that could result in a long-term cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Moore said.
She said when the district balked at the changes, the union team walked away. Later that night, teachers voted to authorize their team to issue a 10-day strike notice at its discretion.
The two sides are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator Sept. 5.
Kathy Evans, who took over as REA spokeswoman when Daniels left Reynoldsburg, said the district complaint is “the latest disappointing action taken by the board.”
“It’s a shame that rather than focus their energies on reaching a fair agreement that addresses reasonable class sizes and unprecedented teacher turnover, the board chose instead to file a charge against us,” Evans said. “I can only imagine what our district would look like if the board spent its time working with the teachers in the best interest of high quality, rather than finding new ways to attack us and negotiate through the press.
“The REA is prepared to go to the table on Sept. 5 and make every effort to reach an agreement that is fair to our teachers, students and community,” she said.
Evans said teachers are still not comfortable with a proposal that does not include a firm cap on class sizes, has a compensation package partially based on teacher evaluations under a new, untried state system and does not include enough planning time.
She said Reynoldsburg’s open enrollment policy has increased class sizes in many district buildings.
Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning said the schools will remain open if teachers strike.
Board members voted Aug. 19 to hire Huffmaster, a Michigan firm, to bring in substitute teachers who will cross picket lines if necessary.
“We continue to believe the compromise the REA walked away from is fair and provides major benefits for our teachers,” Thomas-Manning said. “But if a strike is called, schools will remain open. Non-REA staff would report as normal – principals and administrators, secretaries, teaching aides, library aides, school psychologists, bus drivers, cooks, custodians and central office staff.”
Moore said the $81,000 Huffmaster contract would go into effect if the union issues a 10-day strike notice.
“The board’s negotiating team very much wants to get this resolved and to entertain the possibility of a strike is not our choice,” she said. “We are forced by the vote that occurred to make sure things are lined up so our students will have a safe and productive place to learn.”
She said the district knows “it can’t replace Reynoldsburg teachers overnight.”
“What we can do is find qualified substitutes who will be screened and background checked and carefully selected to maintain educational progress for our students, if we are forced to do that,” Moore said.