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Garfield Heights teachers prepare to strike if agreement can't be reached

Garfield Heights Teachers' Association members preparing to walk into the June board meeting of the Garfield Heights Board of Education.
Dawn Majors
Garfield Heights Teachers' Association members preparing to walk into the June board meeting of the Garfield Heights Board of Education.

A group of 275 teachers at Garfield Heights City Schools are prepared to go on strike if they cannot come to an agreement with school administration.

Garfield Heights Teachers' Association President Terese LePelley said in a release Tuesday the teachers are the lowest paid of any school district in the county, and are being physically assaulted by students with little repercussion or consistency in terms of the response from the administration. She said over 200 teachers have left the school district over the last 11 years.

“Today there are many teachers, including those with over 20 years experience in our district, who are actively trying to figure out if they can feed their families if they quit this job right now,” she said.

Meanwhile, significant turnover of teaching staff means teachers are being asked to give up planning periods and deal with larger classroom sizes. Spokesperson Susan Hart said in some cases, teachers are dealing with class sizes of 30-plus students.

“It becomes an untenable situation,” Terese LePelley said. “The students suffer and so do the teachers. At the end of the last year 45 teachers showed us that [by quitting].”

The Teachers' Association voted unanimously, with 200 members present, on Friday last week to give the bargaining team authority to issue a 10-day notice for a strike if they deem it necessary. Under Ohio law, a public employees union is required to provide 10 days of advance notice of its intent to strike.

The school district’s administration said in a statement that it is “disappointed” in the “surprising maneuver" from the teacher's union. The administration said it has been willing to compromise on a variety of issues, and is dedicated to finding a “fair contract with all parties, while operating within the financial realities” of the district.

“Some of these issues include language around teacher evaluations, employee discipline, and student discipline,” the statement reads. “Additionally, the Board’s negotiating team has compromised on several important issues, such as increasing the financial package, recognizing staff committed to long-term employment with the district, and adjusting the pay associated with period substitutions, indicating a willingness to continue discussions.”

Union spokesperson Susan Hart said the Teachers' Association waited about two weeks to hear back from the administration on a time that works for it to meet the union for mediation with a federal mediator; that date has now been set for Oct. 11.

"GHTA is grateful to have a date set and wants to be able to resolve negotiations with a Tentative Agreement that will help the growth of the safety, stability and success of Garfield Heights City School District," Hart said.

She said one of the sticking points with the administration is around professional development time, with teachers being asked to attend training outside of work hours, instead of doing that while on the clock.

“Teachers become teachers because they want to work with students,” Hart said. “They want to help. They want to teach. They want to share knowledge. But they also want to have their own time, their own families.”

Union president Terese LePelley said starting teachers took home about $31,500 in pay after taxes and contributing to health care in 2007; some small raises have been granted since then but have not kept up with rising costs, reducing starting teachers’ net take-home pay to around $29,800.

The administration in its statement said Garfield Heights’ Board of Education’s negotiating team recently reached a contract with the district’s classified union members, calling the move to authorize a potential strike a “distraction.”

“The Garfield Heights City Schools is dedicated to the negotiating process and re-asserts its willingness to reach a fair contract with all parties," the statement noted.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.