Ohio

Eye on Education

Talks Stalled and Tensions High Over Controversial Contract Proposal

Picketer

Bob Cotter/FLICKR

Negotiations between the Reynoldsburg Teachers Association (REA) and Reynoldsburg City Schools surrounding a proposal that would dramatically change the district’s pay and benefits policies are on hold until August.

The proposal first drew widespread attention in May as a bold move to place greater responsibility on teachers for student performance.

On July 26th, as teachers protested against the proposal outside district headquarters, district officials halted negotiations until a mediator could be brought in.  Talks resumed with a mediator present the following Monday, but no progress was made.

According to the REA, the next scheduled mediated negotiation with the district is August 4th.

Key Provisions

The district’s proposal  would eliminate scheduled pay raises based on length of service and additional education, and eliminate health insurance as a provided benefit, substituting an unspecified cash allotment for teachers to buy insurance on their own in the private market.  It would establish raises of between zero and four percent to individual teachers based on their state evaluations, and group bonuses based on school performance ratings.

Additional bonuses of up to $2000 would be awarded through an application process through which teachers must demonstrate significant impact on students’ learning, and up to $30,000 for those who take on additional work beyond their core teaching duties.

A detailed explanation of contract provisions and the rationale behind them can be found on the district’s FAQ page here.

The FAQ page is the basis of an unfair labor practices complaint the union has filed with the State Employee Relations Board saying the district published too many details of the proposal.

If the proposal is adopted, Reynoldsburg could become the only public school district in Ohio to not directly provide health insurance to teachers, and could set a precedent for other districts that would seek similar agreements.

Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, told the Columbus Dispatch that he hasn’t heard of a district that provides cash payments in lieu of insurance.

The district says the proposal is intended to reward teachers who continually demonstrate excellence, and weed out teachers who don’t prove their worth in terms of student progress.

In its coverage when the proposal first came to light, the Dispatch reported:

The school board detailed its plans in its opening contract proposal last week [week of May 19th] as it started negotiations with the Reynoldsburg Education Association, the teachers union. The current teachers’ pact expires on July 31.

“We will become a community and school district that reveres good teaching by paying our best teachers salaries and bonuses that rank among the highest in our region,” according to the proposal, which The Dispatch received through a public-records request. “For teachers who have not yet attained excellence, our compensation policies will encourage constant and rapid improvement.”

For those who don’t measure up?

“Our compensation policies will encourage them to look elsewhere,” the document says.

Resistance to “Merit Pay”

Teacher unions have long resisted the rollback of scheduled raises and adoption of what is broadly labeled “merit pay” based on students’ performance on state achievement tests.

“There are so many issues why that is wrong,” Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association, told StateImpact Ohio.

“There are so many factors that go into a student’s learning, and it’s not all that just happens in the classroom. Things that happen outside the classroom have a huge impact on a student’s learning,” she said, listing family discord, tragedy, abuse, poverty and hunger among them.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for July 15th, at which REA members are expected to continue to protest the proposal.

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