Members of the teachers union in Reynoldsburg have authorized a ten day strike notice after contract talks concluded last week without an agreement.
The talks have attracted widespread interest because of two controversial proposals by Reynoldsburg City Schools that, if implemented, would fundamentally change how teachers in the district are compensated.
One would have eliminated altogether the traditional salary schedule that gives teachers automatic pay raises – known as step raises – each year, and replace it with a merit pay system that would award raises based on teachers’ ratings on their annual evaluations. A bonus schedule that’s been in place for about a decade would continue, and teachers could apply a “fellowship” award of up to 30,000 dollars for taking on extra duties or otherwise providing extra value to the district.
Another provision would have eliminated group health insurance, and instead giving teachers a stipend that they could use to buy insurance on their own, or just pocket. The district has backed off of that idea, agreeing to preserve group insurance coverage, but with a change in the way employees’ share of the cost is calculated.
That was then…
During last week’s two-day negotiating session with a federal mediator, district administrators scaled back their goal for teacher compensation reform – at least for now.
Their latest salary proposal, as described on the district’s website, appears to be a hybrid of the current structure and what was originally proposed. It preserves the current salary schedule but provides smaller step raises, with additional increases based on performance starting in year two. It doubles bonuses based on school performance, but scales back the maximum fellowship award to just $4,000.
It also calls for re-opening negotiations on salary only prior to year three of the contract, “allowing more time to develop a feasible and attractive plan for moving forward.”
The Reynoldsburg Education Association, the teachers’ bargaining unit, has rejected this latest proposal.
“The REA supports a cap on class size and a fair compensation package that will help Reynoldsburg attract and retain excellent teachers,” the union said in a press release issued Friday night.
Kathy Evans, spokesperson for the REA, said in a phone interview Monday that the union does not believe a merit pay system will serve to attract and retain good teachers, as the district claims it would.
She says in addition to the pay issue, teachers are concerned that class sizes in recent years have grown excessively large.
Reynoldsburg City Schools has not returned phone calls or emails seeking comment. It says on its web site that it is preparing in the event that teachers strike.
Merit Pay Still Faces Stiff Opposition
For years Ohio teachers unions and their supporters have been largely successful at holding off merit pay based on evaluation ratings.
Senate Bill 5, passed by Ohio’s republican legislature and signed by Governor Kasich in 2011, mandated merit pay for teachers statewide as part of a broader attempt to reform teacher compensation and limit collective bargaining rights of all public employees. Senate Bill 5 was later overturned by voter referendum.
In Ohio, only the Cleveland Metropolitan School District has implemented a compensation system centered around performance. Instead of dispensing with the salary schedule as Reynoldsburg originally proposed, the Cleveland plan – codified in state law – allows teachers to move up the salary scale by earning “achievement credits” that accumulate year by year. It takes 15 credits to get a bump to the next salary level. Thus far, credits can only be earned through evaluation ratings, but the plan calls for introducing other professional markers that will also award credits, such as additional education or professional development – as long as it directly pertains to the teacher’s performance of his job.
The Cleveland plan also provides for bonuses to be determined each year, much like Reynoldsburg and several other districts currently provide.