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Akron teachers union, board approve contract, ending months-long negotiations

 Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.

Akron’s teachers union and the Akron Board of Education have officially approved a three-year contract for teachers after months of negotiations and turmoil at the school district.

Akron Education Association members voted to ratify the contract Tuesday night just before 8 p.m.; the board of education voted to approve the contract the night before. The two sides had come to a tentative agreement over the weekend after months of back-and-forth negotiation, narrowly averting a strike.

Pat Shipe, president of teachers' union, confirmed the vote Tuesday.

"The Akron Education Association is grateful for the groundswell of community, statewide, and national support," she said. "Teachers and parents share the same values and goals, safe and secure schools and high quality educators. We will continue to listen, engage, and speak up so that our voices are heard. Now the hard work continues."

Shipe said the new agreement includes raises for teachers, a freeze on healthcare premiums and the school district dropping an attempt to tighten its definition of assault. That would have changed the language to “causing physical injury” instead of “causing physical contact” as is currently written, which teachers argued could have meant less accountability for student misbehavior.

"By holding the line on the definition of assault, this contract will ensure that teachers, students, and parents will not be forced to tolerate even more violent and disruptive behavior," she said.

New Board President Derrick Hall, who was appointed during the Monday meeting, said the agreement is just one step toward addressing teachers’ concerns about safety in the schools. He says the board and administration will need to work hand-in-hand with the teachers’ union and the community in the coming weeks.

We will continue to work to address the disciplinary and safety issues. We must address the broken windows that are on display in too many of our schools,” Hall said. “Signatures on a contract do not make all of our challenges go away. Rather, our agreement represents a unity in how we proceed forward together.”

Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack echoed Hall’s comments, noting the agreement does not lessen the district’s “urgency” in addressing student behavioral issues and their needs. She said it was never the case that the district didn’t care greatly about those issues.

My team and I will now begin the work with staff to implement the agreement in a manner that builds and unites us as one team in the near future,” she said.

More than 200 teachers rallied outside the board of education meeting Monday to renew calls for an increased focus on safety in schools, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

Nikki Taylor, the mother of four Akron Public Schools’ students, spoke out during the board of education meeting Monday. She said she understands the districts’ focus on fairness and equity is important. But she reiterated a complaint that’s frequently been voiced by parents and teachers in recent months: students aren’t seeing appropriate consequences for bad behavior.

“APS needs to be a leader in school safety in the state of Ohio, not a follower,” she said. “An updated code of student behavior should be given to everyone and be followed consistently throughout the district."

Shipe said the district needs to adhere to its student code of conduct, and possibly reform it as well.

"We don't believe we're doing students any favors when they do not have consequences to their actions, be it small consequences or more severe consequences based on the level of misbehavior or the level of violations to our code," she said. "We are happy to work with the board to revisit all of those and adjust them or calibrate them."

The Akron Board of Education invested roughly $3.5 million in increased external security features like new weapons- and metal-detectors and bag scanners in December, along with some new mental health programming. Hall, the new board of education president, signaled there’s plenty of additional work to be done in the coming weeks.

In the coming weeks, you will see us begin to bring our school administrators before the board to talk about our schools, not bringing them before the board, to criticize, to chastise, to censure, but to have meaningful, honest dialog about what they face in the buildings in our great city as we seek to highlight our schools strengths, their weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” Hall said.

Updated: January 11, 2023 at 11:21 AM EST
This story has been updated with an additional comment from Pat Shipe on student conduct.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.