Friday, August 25, 2000

Teachers might strike in large cities

Issues remain in Cleveland, Columbus

By Kate Roberts
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Teachers in Cleveland and Columbus, the state's largest districts, could go on strike as the school year begins, affecting about 140,000 students.

        Cleveland teachers are ready to walk out after their contract expires Aug. 31, and the Columbus Education Association is to vote Monday on whether to authorize a strike.

  Ohio school districts returning to school without contracts or in negotiations:
 • Ada
 • Cleveland
 • Cleveland Heights
 • Columbus
 • Cuyahoga Falls
 • Fairborn
 • Niles
 • Revere
 • Springfield
 • Wayne County Joint Vocational Schools
 • Woodridge
 Source: Ohio Education Association and Ohio Federation of Teachers

        “You bet they're ready,” Ohio Federation of Teachers President Tom Mooney said of the Cleveland teachers. “They have signs printed, they have the strike authorization and they have a history of strong discipline during strikes.”

        The main issues for Cleveland teachers are salary and length of the school day, while Columbus teachers are worried about proposed “performance bonuses” that would be linked to student achievement.

        “We're 30th in the county — out of 31 — in pay scale,” said Joanne DeMarco, chief negotiator for the Cleveland Teachers Union. “Once we get people interested in teaching here, they go to Lakewood or Shaker (Heights) because we can't compete with pay and working conditions.”

        Cleveland is offering teachers annual raises of just over 3 percent for the next three years. Union negotiators have asked for 6 percent.

        “To the general public, 3 percent a year sounds good, but you have to look at the history,” Ms. DeMarco said Thursday.

        “In 1996, we were $150 million in debt. We held our noses and talked them into a contract that meant no raises for the first two years and 3 percent the third. Four years later, they've increased revenue and all we want is to make up for the years we got nothing.”

        Messages seeking comment were left for Cleveland school officials. The district has said students will be told to stay home if teachers go on strike.

        School started Thursday in Cleveland, the state's largest district with 77,000 students. Classes are to begin Aug. 31 in Columbus, which ranks next at 65,000 students.

        Negotiators for the Columbus City Schools and the Columbus Education Association met for 14 hours Wednesday but made little progress toward a compromise, said CEA President John Grossman.

        Mr. Grossman said the teachers don't feel respected or supported by the district and that salaries for experienced teachers are low.

        Greg Scott, a Columbus attorney who is the chief negotiator for the district, said the biggest stumbling block is the proposed system of giving bonuses to teachers whose students improve academically during the school year.

        The improvements would not be based on state proficiency tests, he said, but could be determined by a panel of teachers and administrators. However, he said the details would not be worked out until after a contract is signed.


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