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Teacher salaries, district's definition of assault are sticking points in Akron contract talks

 Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Public Schools' headquarters in Downtown Akron.

Akron Public Schools and its teachers union aren’t seeing eye to eye on issues like teacher pay and how the district defines student assaults, according to a copy of a fact finder’s report recently released by the school district amid ongoing negotiations.

The report was an attempt by a third party to find solutions to ongoing issues in negotiations between the administration and the Akron Education Association. Last week, the school board adopted the report and the union rejected it.

On the topic of salaries, the district administration called for a little less than 2% raises each year over the next three years, while the union asked for 5% each year.

The fact finder suggested teachers should get increases of 2.5% per year on top of a $1,000 bonus next year, saying that’s more in line with other raises across the state.

“Akron spends a greater percentage of its operating revenue on salary and fringe benefits than any other comparable urban district,” the report reads, citing information provided by the administration. “Almost 88% of the District’s operating expenses goes toward employee wages and benefits, leaving only 12% to run the District.”

However, the union countered that comparable districts have seen far smaller increases in administrative salaries over the last four years, about 1.18%, compared to 33.38% at Akron Public Schools during the same time period. Meanwhile, teacher salaries increased by 8.07% during that time, compared with 12.64% at comparable schools elsewhere.

The fact finder also said that even with modest salary increases, expenses are outpacing revenue each year, meaning the district will need to seek a levy in the coming years. However, he noted that it’s often proven difficult for the district to get levies approved; of 13 placed on the ballot since 1985, only six were approved by voters and only two passed on the first attempt.

The union also rejected language suggested by the district that would change how it defines assault. Currently, physical assault is defined as "purposely causing or attempting to cause physical contact with a staff member with the intent or potential to harm the staff member or interfere with the staff member’s performance of duties."

The district suggested changing the “cause physical contact” language to “cause physical injury” and would remove the “potential harm” provision, along with the “or interfere with the staff member’s duties” language.

Pat Shipe, president of the Akron Education Association, had said last week that teacher safety was one of the main sticking points in negotiations. She had alleged teachers were being assaulted once every day and a half in Akron Public Schools, and that’s only including the reported assaults.

“With a vote of 99% of our members rejecting the factfinder’s recommendations, teachers made it very clear that they overwhelmingly believe safety and security in our buildings is the number one issue,” Shipe said.

Akron Public Schools’ Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack penned a letter to the district last week rebuffing those concerns, arguing that the district has made significant improvements in recent years to keep students and staff safe.

Meanwhile, the district argued that the change in the definition of assault would align with Ohio’s statutory definition of assault, which requires a person to knowingly cause or attempt to cause “physical harm.” The fact finder agreed with the district’s position, saying the current “cause physical contact” language is a subjective term, with stakes being “very high” for students charged with assault since a recommendation for expulsion is made in that case.

“Other Ohio urban districts, (Columbus City Schools, Toledo City Schools, Dayton City Schools, Canton City Schools, and Cleveland Metropolitan Schools) require some type of injury to be considered physical assault,” the fact finder reported.

In terms of other positions of disagreement between the school district and the Akron Education Association, the district said it would like to add two administrative members to a committee on the school district’s calendar, and investigate what a year-round-like school model could look like.

“The Employer would like to investigate a different type of calendar that reduces the amount of time students and teachers spend out of the classroom in the summer,” the report reads.

The union submitted an exhibit showing little improvement in student achievement at several comparably sized school districts that went to a non-traditional school year.

The fact finder recommended the addition of the administrative members to the committee, but told the district it “needs to do its due diligence in studying the feasibility of such a plan.”

The next step now, with the fact finder's report rejected, is for a federal mediator to be appointed to aid negotiations between the school district and the Akron Education Association.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.