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Akron board of ed votes to rescind tutoring contract, after pushback from teachers union

Members of the Akron Board of Education get settled before a meeting on Feb. 1, 2024, before adjourning into executive session.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
Members of the Akron Board of Education, before adjourning into executive session at its meeting, Feb. 1, 2024, for a discussion about a contract for a tutoring service with a private company.

Akron Public Schools will lose out on a $156,000 grant from the state of Ohio, which would have funded a contract with a private company to provide after-school tutoring.

The news comes after serious pushback from the Akron Education Association which represents the district's teachers. The union had filed a grievance with the school district, a lawsuit in Summit County Common Pleas Court, and an unfair labor practices claim with the state employment relations board. The Akron Public Schools Board of Education voted during a special meeting Thursday to rescind the contract with Varsity Tutors, a private company contracted by the state of Ohio that would have provided online tutoring to students who are struggling to learn to read.

Superintendent Michael Robinson said during the meeting that he was only "reluctantly" asking the board to rescind the contract. The district was "informed" by Varsity Tutors that if the district could not move forward with the contract by Feb. 1, the tutoring seats would need to be reallocated to another district by the Ohio Department of Education.

Robinson said the tutoring - which would have provided about 2,400 one-on-one sessions with students - would have been an "incredible opportunity" for the district to help students recover from pandemic-related learning losses. He also said the school district was willing to give "first choice" to Akron schools teachers to apply to be tutors.

"I hope that we can move past the disputes that have arisen from this program and refocus all of our time and energy to advancing the needs of our scholars," he said.

The move highlights a growing divide between the Akron Education Association, led by Pat Shipe, and the school district's administration. The union will continue to pursue its grievance, lawsuit, and unfair labor practices claim, Shipe said after the board meeting.

"Hiring out-of-state, unqualified and remote strangers to instruct our students should never have happened in the first place," Shipe said in a release, issued after the meeting. "The recommendation by the Superintendent and his refusal to have any meaningful dialogue with the Association prior to making his decision, we believe, indicated no desire on his part to be collaborative or transparent when making decisions which so greatly impact our already marginalized students."

It's not clear if the state will be able to offer the same grant again to the school district after the missed opportunity.

Pastor Gregory Harrison, who was a vocal proponent of Akron Public Schools moving forward with the grant, said the school district has too many students who are struggling to read and questioned how much teachers are to blame for the district's low test scores.

"Unions are good. But are we protecting teachers more so than students?" he said. "And I think the union hurt itself today. Kids reading better reduces the discipline in schools, improves attendance in schools."

Shipe said teachers are working hard to improve students' outcomes, and balked at the idea that "remote strangers" through the online tutoring program could help students achieve.

"Our qualified, involved teachers in Akron Public Schools just this year moved five of the lowest performing buildings in the state of Ohio off academic emergency," she said.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.