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New Cleveland schools teachers contract includes cellphone ban, raises and parental leave

Cleveland Metropolitan School District headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Metropolitan School District's headquarters are located in Downtown Cleveland.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District buildings will soon be cellphone-free zones for most students, after the CMSD Board of Education voted Tuesday night to approve a new contract with the Cleveland Teachers Union.

The new contract also incorporates several other notable updates, including 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents, mirroring a city of Cleveland policy implemented last year, and raises for all teachers union members: 4% this year, 2% the year after and potentially another 3% in the following year if the contract is extended.

The cellphone storage policy approved by the board means all schools will need to create a way by which students' cellphones are stored for the duration of the school day.

Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski said cellphones have proven to be a significant distraction in the classroom.

"This agreement also includes a cellphone policy that will make our schools safer, reduce bullying and student anxiety, improve student mental health and also increase student learning," she told the board during the meeting. "This important policy change has the potential to have the largest impact on student learning since cellphones became a constant in our students' lives."

She also said the paid leave for parents "ends decades of discrimination for women by no longer requiring them to use their sick leave in order to have a family."

The board also approved a contract with the same salary increases and paid leave measures with the Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents secretaries and other professionals in the district.

In other news, the board received an update on the district's finances and approved a five-year forecast, which reflects significant cuts the district has put in place over the last three months since a budget reduction plan was submitted to the state.

Specifically, 62 positions at the district's central office level have been cut, including 23 active staff and 39 vacant positions, said Chief Financial Officer Kevin Stockdale. Staff were recently notified of the layoffs. That's about 12.6% of the district's total administrative staff, more than the 10% that the district had initially proposed cutting, CMSD CEO Warren Morgan said.

"We said we were going to make some really tough decisions around cuts," Morgan said. "We did, and it improved our financial position."

Still, Morgan said there's "more to come" on measures to keep the district's finances in the black, including reductions, "efficiencies" and finding more revenue.

The district has said it's mulling putting a levy on the ballot this fall.

The rest of this story, from Monday afternoon before the board's approval of the contract, is below.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District could move to take away students’ cellphones during the school day as soon as next school year under a new contract with the Cleveland Teachers Union set to be considered by the board of education Tuesday night.

The contract contains a proposed new cellphone policy for the 2024-2025 year that requires each individual school’s administration to figure out a plan for how to collect students’ devices at the beginning of the day and return them at the end.

"To maintain a secure and orderly learning environment, students who choose to bring a personal cellphone or electronic device to school will have their phone/device subject to collection and/or storage during the student school day," the policy reads.

The policy was created after a "memorandum of understanding" was reached between the union and district administration, which states that administrators will be in charge of locking up and returning the students’ cellphones, although those administrators can ask teachers to volunteer to help out. Teachers will be paid extra for that work.

The news comes as districts across Ohio have implemented, or are considering, bans on cellphone use during school time, including the Akron Public Schools and Parma City School District; Ohio lawmakers are considering a similar measure for all schools statewide. Akron Public Schools places student phones in magnetically sealed Yondr-brand pouches, for example.

The policy does include several caveats, including that some students can have access to their phones if their individualized education plan requires it. If a school finds the policy to be too impractical or difficult to enforce, the teachers union and district administration will come up with an alternative, the policy adds.

Meanwhile, the contract also includes raises for Cleveland Teachers Union members across the board: 4% as of July this year, 2% in 2025 and 3% for 2026 if the contract is extended.

The contract also includes pay increases for teachers’ aides, who have turned out to comment publicly at board meetings over the last year to demand better pay; Ideastream Public Media reported last year that the starting salary for paraprofessionals was $28,000 per year.

On top of the salary increases listed above, there will be a $2,000 pay increase for all aides starting in July, followed by an additional $1,000 each year in the next two years.

School nurses also will receive an across-the-board increase of $1,000 on top of the general increases and an additional $500 increase each year for the next two years.

The school district is currently contending with a significant budget deficit that is looming in the next fiscal year. The board approved a plan to submit to the state in February that included tens of millions in proposed cuts, including positions at administrative offices and to non-district-run after-school and summer learning programs.

Updated: May 14, 2024 at 9:31 PM EDT
This story has been updated with additional information after the board approved the contract with the Cleveland Teachers Union.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.