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Youngstown schools, teachers union finalize agreement to end strike

Six people - some standing, some sitting in folding chairs on a sidewalk - hold signs reading "Teachers on strike."
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
Youngstown teachers have been on strike since the first day of classes in August.

Youngstown's teachers union and school leaders ratified a new one-year contract Monday night, ending a strike that lasted almost a month since the beginning of the school year.

The Youngstown Education Association and the administration had for months failed to come to terms on contract language and pay. Teachers had their first day back in the classroom Monday after a tentative agreement was hammered out over the weekend. The union's membership and the Youngstown Board of Education voted respectively to ratify the new contract Monday evening.

Union spokesperson Jim Courim said teachers scored some wins in receiving a one-year contract, a 3% pay increase this year, and the removal of language in the contract that was a holdover from when a state-appointed CEO had more control over the school district.

"It was tough on a lot of people, you know, physically, mentally draining," Courim said of the strike. "But it was great to see our students' faces today, to see their smiling faces. To see the future of Youngstown and know that there's a lot of greatness there."

The district in a press release said the new contract is "financially responsible," netting wins for students and teachers alike, which builds "increased student interaction time" for kindergarten-through-eighth grade students.

Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor said in a press release that the district also received a key win in retaining management rights over which classrooms teachers are placed into when it comes to key core classes that students need the most intensive support in.

"Although we all would have liked to reach agreement on a new contract and end the strike quickly, our team had to balance the contract demands from the [Youngstown Education Association] against the long-term impact that such changes would have not only on our current scholars, but also on our future scholars, Boards, and Administrators," Batchelor said in the news release. "We could not simply lose all control over the district and management decisions just to end the current strike; nor could we spend more money than we have to end the current strike."

The district in the release noted it met the union "in the middle" regarding its demand to remove additional power granted to the administration over management of teacher duties. That language stems from the time when the school district was more fully controlled by a state academic distress commission, which appointed an all-powerful CEO to run the district. Control of the district has mostly reverted to local leadership since 2021, when control was returned to the board of education and the board was allowed to appoint its own superintendent.

Courim said multiple state legislators plan to introduce a bill in the Ohio Senate and in the Ohio Legislature that ends the practice of placing school districts under state control. The state has not placed any school districts under state control since East Cleveland, five years ago.

When the strike was declared in late August, the district pushed back the start of the school year two days, then switched to remote learning. Staff handed out laptops to students to log on for classes. They also distributed free breakfasts and lunches at school buildings.

The strike was contentious. A striking teacher was allegedly struck by an administrator’s car, and the district filed a complaint with the state arguing the strike was illegal. The State Employee Relations Board subsequently ruled the strike could continue.

Parents turned out at at Youngstown Board of Education meeting last week calling for an end to the strike, upset over students being forced to attend school online for the duration of the strike.

Updated: September 18, 2023 at 8:24 PM EDT
This story has been updated as of Monday evening with information on final approval of the contract.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.