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Akron teachers avoid strike; board of education votes to approve contract

Akron Public Schools
Posted at 7:56 PM, Jan 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 23:09:09-05

AKRON, Ohio — The Akron Board of Education unanimously voted Monday night to approve the Akron Education Association's teachers' contract, preventing a strike. The union will hold a meeting Tuesday to go over contract ratification.

A tentative agreement was reached over the weekend, preventing the strike on Monday.

AEA sent out the following message to members:

We are pleased to announce that we have a TENTATIVE AGREEMENT after a long weekend at 10 N. Main. Please report to your school on Monday! Remember, we still need to support our community members at the Safe School Rally before the BOE meeting tomorrow at 5:30 PM and are requesting you arrive by 4:30. Please plan accordingly: wear blue, arrive early, and carpool when you can. We understand it is going to be a large crowd. We will be sharing all of the details of the agreement at our ratification meeting, the date to be announced.
Akron Education Association

APS Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack released this statement following the negotiation:

I am pleased to report that we have reached a tentative agreement with leaders of the Akron Education Association (AEA), so our students can report to school Monday in person, as usual. Because of the hard work and commitment of both sides, our students will experience no interruption in their classroom experience. To our families, community, staff, and administrators who have supported our joint efforts toward this resolution, we appreciate you.
Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack

The Akron Board of Education President pro tem Dr. N.J. Akbar also put out a statement after the tentative agreement was made:

I am pleased to report that the Akron Board of Education has reached a tentative agreement with leaders of the Akron Education Association (AEA), so our students can report to school tomorrow.

While I cannot share details yet, we want everyone in Akron Public Schools and the Akron community to know that we have reached this agreement in the best interest of our students and in honor and recognition of the dedication our teachers share in achieving increased student outcomes. There was never a question from this board that our teachers deserved more – we hold that same value.

We believe this agreement is best for our district at this time and will require us to focus on the future, together. We are all APS and together, we can and will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of our young scholars.

I'd like to personally thank all of our families, the Akron community, APS staff, and administrators who have supported our collective efforts to enable our students to continue in-person education. We appreciate your understanding, patience, and continued support of our district.
N.J. Akbar, Ph.D. board president

Akbar and AEA president Pat Shipe declined to elaborate on the details of the agreement, but told News 5 compromises were made by both parties on sticking points, like wages and health insurance costs.

“We, in the last couple of days, have been revisiting the definition of compromise, and have reminded ourselves that that doesn’t mean one side gets everything they want,” Shipe said, explaining more work is ahead for both parties.

Akbar added, “Our students deserve not looking out just for today, but also for the future.”

News 5 partner, The Akron Beacon Journal, reported the administration agreed to annual raises of 4%, 3% and 3.5% over the three-year contract. The paper also learned that the district agreed to freeze the employee cost of premiums for insurance for three years.

"We're always happy to know that we're going to get a little bit more for what we do because we don't get much," said Deborah Holliday, an intervention specialist at Sam Salem CLC.

Another point of discussion throughout negotiations had been safety and discipline. Teachers and families recently raised concerns after several incidents involving weapons in schools and fights that injured students and staff.

“It’s scary when I hear about all of these things going on," said Ann Wintrow, the mother of an APS teacher and grandmother of an APS student. "Can something like that happen at my daughter’s school? Can something like that happen at my granddaughter’s school?”

Wintrow was among several hundred people rallying outside of the APS administration building Monday evening. The group included teachers, school board members, families and community members calling for improvements to the district's safety and discipline protocol.

"Learning is still taking place at Akron Public Schools, but kids need to feel safe at school. They may not feel safe at home, but they feel safe at school," said Dr. Morgan Greene, a middle school science teacher in the district.

Greene said she personally does not feel unsafe, but was recently injured while breaking up a fight between students.

The union and the school board agreed the issues require community-based solutions and the district pledged to keep safety a top priority.

“Arriving at an agreement does not lessen our urgency to address the behavior and the needs of our students, and to make sure our staff members feel safe each and every day,” said APS Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack.

During negotiations, the board withdrew a proposal to make "injury" and not just "contact" a requirement when defining assaults committed by students. That means language related to student assaults in the current contract remains. Union leaders said they were not willing to budge on that issue.

"We still have many issues and solutions to look for regarding violence inside our schools," Shipe said.

Both parties called Sunday's tentative agreement a "fair deal." They said the major driving force for resolving contract negotiations and avoiding a strike was the district's students.

“Ultimately we have a duty to them and to the families in the Akron community to do what we just did. We sat down, we stayed at the table, even when it got very intense,” Shipe said.

“This isn’t a top-down approach," said Akbar. "We’re not going to get to a reasonable, sustainable solution doing it that way.”

Details of the agreement will be shared with union members at a closed ratification meeting, which will happen at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Firestone High School.

Janelle Brown, a fifth-grade teacher at Sam Salem CLC, was part of the negotiating team and said school safety remains the top priority.

"We still want the board to understand that it's still about safe schools: safe schools for students, safe schools for teachers, safe schools for the administration, just safe schools for all," Brown said.

The administration voted unanimously to approve the tentative contract during Monday night's school board meeting.

PREVIOUS REPORTING:

Akron Public School students finished up games, school Friday not knowing future