Reynoldsburg teachers met Monday, Sept. 29, to discuss what the school board offered during a Sunday bargaining session, but a resolution to a strike that started Sept. 19 does not appear imminent.

Reynoldsburg teachers met Monday, Sept. 29, to discuss what the school board offered during a Sunday bargaining session, but a resolution to a strike that started Sept. 19 does not appear imminent.

The number of substitute teachers had increased to about 241 by Monday, with attendance at 75 percent in kindergarten through eighth grade and at 66 percent at the high schools. Parents have raised questions about the quality of education being offered by replacement teachers they say are "substandard."

Parent Crystal Slone said she visited her daughters' classrooms at Taylor Road Elementary last week.

"In two days, I witnessed (subs) falling asleep and telling kids to 'take a nap,'" she said. "And the language barrier between these subs and the children is ridiculous. In one fourth-grade classroom, it was so bad I actually ended up teaching the class while the sub did nothing.

"I was left alone in the classroom with the children several times and this man would disappear," she said. "He didn't know me -- for all he knew, I could have been crazy."

Other parents have said students were crowded together in one room, instructed to "color" for hours or work on lessons that are not grade appropriate.

Teachers continue to stress that their main concerns are class sizes and working conditions, not salaries.

Reynoldsburg Education Association spokeswoman Kathy Evans said the board refused to address the major sticking points between the two sides during Sunday's talks, which were convened by a federal mediator.

She said the school board appears unwilling to compromise on class sizes, despite the fact many other districts have caps on class sizes written into their contracts.

"The board offered no new suggestions or solutions, neither verbally nor in writing," Evans said.

District's latest offer

Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning said the latest district proposal would give 79 percent of teachers "a guaranteed raise of 13 percent or more over three years," as well as merit-based performance bonuses.

Health insurance benefits under the latest district proposal call for teachers to pay 10 percent of their premiums, with deductibles of $400 for individuals and $800 per family.

Teachers want a firm cap on class sizes -- 25 students per teacher at the elementary level and 30 students at the junior high and high school.

The caps could necessitate hiring at least 16 more teachers, which is where the board is digging in its heels, saying the union proposal would be too expensive.

Regarding class sizes, Thomas-Manning said the board "will continue to make every effort to provide one classroom teacher for every 25 students on a districtwide basis."

Parents posting on the Raider Strong We Care Facebook page said maybe the district should hire more teachers. Louis Salvati posted that Gahanna schools have about 7,000 students, as does Reynoldsburg, but Gahanna has 519 teachers, according to its district website, while Reynoldsburg has 360.

Why they left

Former teacher Charlie Carpenter said he taught in Reynoldsburg for 12 years then left when the district's first proposal dropped group health insurance and based compensation on merit pay and teacher evaluations.

"I felt the proposal was disrespectful and was not in the best interests of the students or teachers," he said.

Carpenter said he did not have classes of more than 25 students while he was at Summit Elementary, but did have shorter planning periods, "and those planning times were filled with meetings, leaving very little time to plan."

He said the amount of testing, progress monitoring and paperwork not related to his students' success increased, "becoming unreasonable and demanding what little planning time I had left, ultimately removing my focus away from the students."

Former Reynoldsburg teacher Alisha Sleeper said she felt guilty for leaving, but is now "in a place with a great new staff and in a district where teacher input is valued, teachers are respected and class size caps and compensation are fair."

"I left behind some of the most incredible and dedicated educators I have ever worked with," she said.

Sleeper taught at Baldwin Road Junior High School for five years. She said she experienced "continuous change in assignment and administration" and she said teacher input was largely ignored. Her class sizes ranged from 26 to 34 students, but she said many teachers in her building had classes of 38-plus students.

She said the evaluation system the district implemented is seriously flawed, so that scores from one test given to her students included life science questions -- a subject students would not be taught until later in the school year. Consequently, she said, student scores on the test caused her to drop from a "skilled/accomplished" rank to a "developing" rank.

"I re-ran the numbers of the test, excluding points for life science standards, and a majority of my students would have passed the test at my expectations of 70 percent or better," she said. "I can't explain the feeling I have, knowing that I've been marked 'developing.' I can't imagine my pay being linked to this system."

Columbus Dispatch reporter Charlie Boss contributed to this story.