Contract negotiations between the Columbus Education Association (CEA) and the Columbus Board of Education may include some bigger hurdles before both sides approve a new deal this year.
John Coneglio, the new president of CEA, recently took his demands to social media: Recruiting qualified teachers with better pay, reducing class sizes, resisting tax breaks for corporations, creating alternate programs for discipline, and offering dedicated spaces for art and music.
“The things that we’re fighting for and that were laid out on the platform are things that are good for students, and they’re good for teachers, and they’re good for our community,” wrote Coneglio in a Facebook post.
The union represents 4,300 public school teachers and other educators in Columbus, but their current contract ends midnight August 18, the first day of the new school year.
Coneglio says all of the demands are equally important in a new contract. In an interview with WOSU, Coneglio says he disagrees with the Columbus Board of Education approving tax abatements for corporations that he says hurt funding for public schools.
“Using the district’s own numbers from 2000 to 2016, they’ve abated over $148 million,” Coneglio says. “I think that drains the schools of the resources they need. And it also then asks for the burden of the schools to go onto the individual taxpayers.”
Congelio says the school district needs to hire more teachers who want to stay in the education field.
“Nearly one-third of fulltime educators hired by the district since 2012 have since left,” Coneglio says.
The union’s tougher stance on teacher contract talks follows a string of teacher walkouts throughout the country. In February 2018, West Virginia teachers took to the picket lines and received an immediate 5 percent pay hike.
“Our members want something different, and I think that the reason why I was elected, was to present something different, and that remains to be seen after we’ve done negotiating with the district,” Coneglio says.
Columbus' expiring two-year deal gave teachers a 1.5 percent pay increase in the first year and 1 percent in the second.
“Public schools have pretty much been underfunded for the last decade, and whenever lawmakers are choosing to or wanting to increase funding to public education, I think that’s a good thing,” says Coneglio.
In a written statement, Columbus City Schools spokesman Scott Varner mentioned the possibility of a state takeover of the district. Columbus earned an F on its district score card, meaning that it could face state intervention if it doesn't improve by the end of next year.
"As these negotiations get started, we hope everyone involved recognizes the sense of urgency around improving the academic outcomes of our students and removing the looming shadow of an 'Academic Distress' takeover by the State," Varner wrote. "It will be one of the highest priorities of the Board and our new Superintendent."
However, Varner would not respond to any of Coneglio's specific demands for a new contract.
“With negotiations underway, the District will not publicly offer any comments on specific contract issues, respecting the good-faith intentions of the negotiating process,” Varner says.
The CEA and Columbus Board of Education have set up three negotiation meetings, but have not disclosed the dates.