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Teachers in Youngstown, Ravenna struggle to see eye-to-eye with administrators

Teachers at Southeast Local Schools pass out ice cream and signs showing support for teachers to community members yesterday, Aug. 9.
Kelli Simmons
Teachers at Southeast Local Schools pass out ice cream and signs showing support for teachers to community members yesterday, Aug. 9.

The teachers union in the Youngstown City School District has issued a 10-day strike notice, meaning they could go on strike on August 23, the first day of classes, if a new contract is not reached soon with the school administration.

Meanwhile, the union in Southeast Local Schools in Ravenna is also struggling to come to terms on a new contract before the start of the school year.

Monica Kiskadden, a spokesperson for Southeast Local Schools' teachers union and a high school teacher, said the union is prepared to issue a 10-day strike notice against the Portage County school district if negotiations don’t go well next week.

"For incoming teachers, we are the lowest paid in the county," Kiskadden said, calling that a sticking point between the two sides. "And then for veteran teachers we are the third lowest."

Jim Courim, a spokesperson for the Youngstown Education Association, said pay is a secondary concern with their negotiations; he said a lack of respect and support from the administration is one of their main problems, as they try to help catch up struggling students who were set back significantly by the pandemic.

"We want a deal done that that is good for our community, our students and our staff," he said.

He said Youngstown's administration and board of education have cancelled multiple negotiation dates and refused to conduct a search for a new superintendent after former superintendent Justin Jennings stepped down from that job earlier this year following reports that he spent $5 million on Internet equipment the district could not use.

“A strike is absolutely a last resort and YEA members are heartbroken that it may come to this because of the administration’s dysfunction and unwillingness to come to the table to work with the district’s dedicated educators to create the learning conditions our students deserve under local control,” Courim said in a news release.

Youngstown Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor - the former deputy superintendent - was appointed by the board of education to that position last month. He said the union negotiating team declined to continue negotiations with the help of a federal mediator, instead choosing to declare an impasse.

He also said that the district offered an across-the-board 2% raise, but is willing to negotiate to get common ground, alleging the union is seeking a 5.5% raise. Still, he said the district remains committed to negotiating a fair contract.

In Ravenna, Kiskadden said the new minimum salary for starting teachers was increased statewide to $34,600 under Ohio's latest state budget, up from roughly $28,000 previously, but she said that's still too low and makes the district a "stepping stone" for teachers to leave for jobs with better compensation elsewhere.

She said teachers at Southeast Local Schools also are hoping to have stronger support from the administration as they deal with students with behavioral issues and academic struggles.

Superintendent Robert Dunn said his administration believes an equitable agreement can be reached before school starts.

"We met yesterday and we felt that positive strides were made toward reaching a fair contract for both sides," he said. "We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the goal of reaching an agreement in the near future and having our amazing students back on campus at the end of the month. We are looking forward to our next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 16."

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.