Ohio district leaders should force more concessions in hurried-up contracts

Ohioans are waiting to see if Senate Bill 5, which would greatly reduce public sector collective bargaining in Ohio, can be repealed at the ballot box in November. Meanwhile, teachers unions and local school districts are working fast to avoid the legislation's consequences, at least anytime soon.

Changes to state law cannot trump existing collective bargaining agreements. So until a teacher union contract expires, teachers and districts won't have to comply with the bill's provisions. Those include (among other things): prohibiting strikes; removing decisions about leave policies, class sizes, and employee assignment from the scope of collective bargaining; prohibiting salaries from increasing solely due to time on the job; removing seniority as the prime determinant of layoffs; allowing districts to pay no more than 85 percent of employees' health care premiums; and prohibiting districts from paying any portion of employees' pension contribution.

We've seen a rash of one- or two-year contracts agreed to recently as a result of SB 5, including in Columbus, the state's largest district. A few locals have negotiated longer agreements, like Bexley, outside Columbus, where teachers and the district agreed to a four-year contract in quick fashion (a single day!). That agreement ends in July 2015, by which time Ohioans may well have ousted the current governor and Republican House majority and replaced them with Democrats who will have overturned the work of the previous administration.

What's missing from many of these agreements are attempts to deal with the fiscal cliff the state and local governments are driving off that would require dramatically different budget cutting than what's been done in the past. But the public might not know that. Today's Columbus Dispatch offered up the headline, ???No Raises for City Teachers??? ??? but the accompanying article revealed:

The Columbus contract will keep the average salary for a district teacher at about $57,000 a year, Johnson [president of the teacher union] said. And for the two-thirds of educators eligible for "step" increases based on their years of experience, the bump will be half its typical size.

A teacher with a bachelor's degree and eight years of experience makes $53,562 this school year. Under the old contract, a teacher on the next rung - with nine years of experience - would earn $55,675. The new contract spreads that $2,113 raise over two years.

Meanwhile, the district is maintaining its maximum class-size requirements and also has EdJobs money in the bank to soften the blow. I understand that unions are eager to rush contracts to avoid the effects of SB 5 on their members. But shouldn't district leaders, in exchange, be demanding at least a few changes that will actually put them in a position to deal with the ???new normal??? they will soon face?

- Emmy Partin

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