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Columbus Education Association approves contract with 4% raises, HVAC guarantees, and job protections

Alison Holm
School buses are ready to roll after union and district reach contract agreement.

In an open air meeting at Huntington Park Sunday evening, members of the Columbus Education Association approved last week's conceptual agreement on a new contract, officially ending the union's three day strike. The Columbus City Schools board is ratifying the agreement Monday morning, and both sides says they're pleased with the agreement.

After union and district negotiators hammered out a conceptual agreement on a new teacher contract early Thursday morning, the CEA scrambled to find a venue large enough to hold the nearly 4,500 members to vote on it. Spokesperson Regina Fuentes said the city's minor league baseball stadium was a fitting site, calling the new three-year contract a "home run". Voting members approved the contract 71% to 29%

Under the deal to be ratified by the board, union members will get a 4% raise in each of the next three years; up from the 2.5% raises proposed by the board back in March, but half the 8% increases the union had proposed. Fuentes says there were other key concessions.

"A contractual guarantee that all student learning areas will be climate controlled no later than the start of the 2025-2026 school year. Reductions in class size caps in all grade bans, lowering the number of students in every classroom by 2 over the course of the contract. The first ever limitations on the number of buildings assigned to each elementary art, music and PE teachers, with scheduling intended for one specialist per subject area, per building."

Fuentes says the contract also puts a limit on outsourcing positions held by union members. In June, the union filed a complaint with the State Employees Relations Board, alleging the district created new, non-CEA positions for the educators working with the homeless student advocate program without consulting the union.

Some new provisions remain, including paid leave for new parents, a retention bonus, and incentives for teachers get training and licenses in high need areas. And some areas - like additional health benefits - were not addressed.

Board president Jennifer Adair thanked the CEA and it's members Sunday night, and says with the new contract secured, the next challenge for the district is to enlist the public's help to pay for continued improvements in the district.

"The teachers are not wrong, in what they are speaking about. the Board of Education is working on those things. We have been implementing plans since 2019 and now it's time for the community to step up. You know, everyone's tired in this education space, and out children are the ones that suffer. And we don't want that, none of us want that. And I think it's a wake up call."

An operating levy will be needed by November 2024 cover increased district salaries. Earlier this month the board voted to pull a permanent improvement levy and bond issue to pay for infrastructure upgrades, improvements and repairs from the November 2022 ballot, saying timing would be a challenge.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.