Teachers strike looms in Ohio

Haley Swenson reports on teachers' struggle for a fair contract--and against the corporate school "reform" agenda--in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

Reynoldsburg teachers rally with support from students (REA)Reynoldsburg teachers rally with support from students (REA)

TEACHERS IN the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Reynoldsburg are taking a stand against corporate education "reform" at our public schools. Last week, they issued a 10-day notice to strike that expires on Friday, September 19.

The 364 members of the Reynoldsburg Education Association (REA) are appealing for public support in their struggle for a contract that is better for teachers and students and that rejects corporate reform models of education. The union has been in protracted negotiations with the Reynoldsburg Board of Education since the previous contract expired at the end of July.

According to the REA, the board's proposed contract includes "the end of a traditional salary schedule to be replaced by merit pay without defined criteria for obtaining it, the end of traditional employer health insurance by shifting all employees to the Affordable Care Act, no language on class size, and planning time to be spent in meetings rather than teacher self-directed planning time."

In addition to the attacks on teachers' pay and benefits in the contract, these policy changes are clear blows to the school's ability to attract and retain the most talented and passionate teachers--a serious problem for the quality of education in Reynoldsburg. The union notes that after the last school year, the district already had a 20 percent turnover rate for teachers--and that number will only climb higher if the proposed changes to compensation go through.

Union members say the contract proposed by the board is also a deliberate attack on public education and an attempt to pick a fight over school reform. The board issued its proposals publicly rather than directly to the union--a sign of the board's intention to politicize the contract struggle--as well as its general contempt for the bargaining process.

What you can do

You can sign a petition in solidarity with the Reynoldsburg teachers at change.org.

If you belong to a union or to any organization that would like to show its solidarity with the REA, or if you would like to do so as an individual, send letters of solidarity and donations to: REA, c/o Natalie Moore, REA Treasurer, P.O. Box 884, Reynoldsburg, OH 43068.

For updates on the strike and future solidarity efforts, visit the Reynoldsburg Education Association Facebook page.

The board's contract proposal would create significant changes in a district that, as the board itself boasts on its website, received an "Excellent with Distinction" rating from the state and has met 26 out of 26 performance standards.

Why then, if Reynoldsburg schools are doing so well, would the board propose such a massive upheaval in how teachers are compensated and how students are educated? The truth is that board's proposals have much more to do with lowering teachers' living standards and opening the district to further corporatization than with any concern for students in Reynoldsburg.

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THE SCHOOL board's proposed contract aligns closely with corporate education reform models in other districts around the country. As the policy blog Plunderbund says, the Reynoldsburg board proposals come "direct from Michelle Rhee." For example, the board cites a study from Rhee's organization, the New Teacher Project, on its website to justify basing raises based on teacher performance, called "merit pay."

All in all, the justifications have bordered on the absurd--for example, this argument for cutting teachers' current health care benefits:

There are two kinds of inequities involved in our current health insurance rules. First, imagine Faith and Hope, two great teachers, both single. Faith gets married and takes a family plan from the district. Immediately, taxpayers are investing about $10,000 more a year on Faith than on Hope, despite the fact that they are both equally good at their jobs. For Hope, this amounts to a penalty for her making the lifestyle choice of staying single. That's seriously unfair.

Reynoldsburg teachers, however, fail to see the lack of "fairness" in teachers with families needing more health care coverage than teachers without families. REA members rejected the board's proposal by 97 percent margin.

The REA is mobilizing the support of the community in and around Reynoldsburg, whose kids will also be affected by the changes the board wants to push through. A solidarity rally is set for Saturday, September 20, and the union has invited community members and other labor allies to stand with Reynoldsburg teachers before picket lines go up Monday.

The community is already showing its support. Hundreds of parents and other supporters, wearing T-shirts and holding signs to show they side with the union, have joined teachers to pack school board meetings. The union gave away more than 2,000 "We Stand with the REA" yard signs in less than 48 hours.

Support for the REA is reminiscent of the widespread community backing for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) during its strike against corporate education reform in 2012. Like the CTU, the REA has made it clear that teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. As union members say in a press release, "We are fighting for the schools Reynoldsburg students deserve."