In the thick of Ohio's collective bargaining debate

Yesterday Nick and I attended the Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee hearing on SB 5, which would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees and greatly scale back union rights for local public sector employees.?

We arrived over at the Statehouse around noon, two and a half hours before the hearing was scheduled to start as we anticipated, rightly so, a packed house. We stationed ourselves in the hallway corner outside the hearing room (the doors were locked) with the plan of getting some work done on our laptops while we waited to go in. However, this plan soon changed when hundreds of union members and supporters converged on the Statehouse. After waiting for two and half hours, being physically pushed around and asked if I was a journalist ? or a member of the Tea Party (which is staging a demonstration in support of the bill tomorrow), trying to ignore supporters of the bill who were behaving like petulant five year olds, and seeing bomb sniffing dogs and not so happy State Highway Patrol officers roam about, we made it into the Senate hearing room.?

Needless to say SB 5 is controversial and contentious. Yesterday's testimony was for proponents of the bill (opponents of the bill will have a chance to testify tomorrow). This bill would impact all public employees, but most of yesterday's testimony came from the K-12 education sector.

District superintendents, local school board members, and representatives of the Ohio School Board Association and Ohio Association of School Business Officials shared anecdotes and data about why district administrators and school leaders need more flexibility in how they manage their employees and staff their schools. They called for changes to laws that mandate last-hired, first-fired teacher dismissal policies and mandatory automatic pay increases for public employees.?

Worthington City Board of Education President Marc Schare shared a story about his district's teacher of the year, to whom he would have loved to give a raise, but can't because of current law.? Schare told the committee, ?Teachers are white-collar professionals with a blue-collar contract. Great teachers are highly trained, highly skilled individuals ... yet we treat teachers like interchangeable factory workers, where one is as good as the next."

Senator Schiavoni asked Mr. Schare, "If you strip all these collective-bargaining rights from teachers, isn't it possible that other superintendents ... are going to hammer teachers in every way and create terrible public schools?"? Mr. Schare responded, "With all due respect [...] Why would anyone do that?"

Senators are clearly concerned about revoking teachers' rights. Senator Brown asked Kalida Local Schools Superintendent Don Horstman, ?Can you name one new right this bill gives teachers?? Superintendent Horstman replied, "It gives us the right to continue to employ people?who would otherwise be out of jobs."

Fordham's Terry Ryan also testified, providing a preview of our forthcoming survey of Ohio superintendents, and his testimony nicely sums up their concerns and suggestions for changes to state law.

When it was all said and done we left feeling exhausted yet inspired by the demonstration of democracy that took place. Also inspiring was the underlying message that came through despite the controversy and the crowds:? as one superintendent said in response to a criticism that undoing Ohio's collective bargaining law would harm the ?working man,? his job is to educate kids and do what's best for them.

- Bianca Speranza

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