Gahanna-Jefferson teachers contract process not going swiftly

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group

Another mediation session is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Oct. 7, between the bargaining teams of the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association and Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools after an agreement couldn’t be reached Sept. 29.

The education association, which represents about 572 certified teachers, met with the district’s negotiating team and a federal mediator in the hopes of coming to terms.

Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools administrative offices

Judy Hengstebeck, the district’s communications coordinator, said the school board approved the current, one-year teachers’ contract on June 26, 2019, and it went into effect July 1, 2019.

The terms of that agreement remain in effect until a new agreement is reached, she said.

A return to in-person teaching and instruction is scheduled Tuesday, Oct. 13.

More:Gahanna teachers make district's board, administrators aware of concerns

More:Contract talks with Gahanna-Jefferson teachers continue with federal mediator

“The GJEA is disappointed in the board’s unwillingness to consider safer and equitable options for hybrid and distance learning that will set our students up for success,” said Betsy Baker, GJEA spokesperson. “Instead, the board’s team told us they are unilaterally moving forward with a plan that will ultimately disenfranchise some of our students. Their plan will not provide all students the same level of participation and interaction during the school day – not with their classmates, and not with their teacher.”

Baker, who teaches geometry and AP Calculus at Lincoln High School, said the education association would continue to bargain in good faith and make every effort to reach an agreement.

Steve Barrett, district superintendent, said the administrative team also is bargaining in good faith with the association toward a workable agreement for the implementation of the hybrid- and distance-learning models.

“While we have not made as much progress as we hoped at this point, we think we can find middle ground and come to a compromised solution,” he said. “Our firm commitment has always been to do what is best for our students and teachers and to offer a learning model that achieves equity for all and maximizes our curriculum offerings. We believe our students in all learning models deserve to learn from a Gahanna-Jefferson teacher with a Gahanna-Jefferson designed curriculum.”

To meet that goal, Barrett said, the district chose not to use the services of a third-party education provider for distance learners.

“Our approach also gives students the best of what our schools and teachers have to offer while protecting existing schedules, courses and electives chosen by our students,” he said.

Barrett said he understands the teachers’ union’s leadership believes the original model would be difficult for teachers to implement in their classrooms, and the district has a compromise prepared for the next negotiation session.

“We are eager to work swiftly to reach a mutual compromise so that we can continue doing what we collectively do best – caring for and teaching our students,” Barrett said.

Baker said the education association would continue to fight for an educational model that provides every student a dedicated teacher and that allows students and staff to feel safe in the classroom.

“We’re talking about emotional and physical safety in school, whether that is distance or in-person,” she said. “To be clear, right now the association is open to any plan that provides a safe, equitable and successful environment. It’s about students and what we feel is best for students.”

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla