“I think the future of public education right now is in a crisis. Unless we move the needle, which means more equity, more access for all children, putting children first, putting teachers first, we’re going to have a disaster in this country….”
So says Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, board of governors distinguished service professor in the department of public policy and administration and director of the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers University–Camden. She is also the founder and board chair of the LEAP Academy University Charter School.
Her statement comes in the wake of the teacher strikes that have taken place over the last week in Columbus, Ohio, which she believes reflect the state of education across the country.
Students at Columbus City Schools in Ohio returned to in-person learning on Monday after the Columbus Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union, agreed with the school board to make specific changes that will improve employee satisfaction and student learning.
After nearly 14 hours of bargaining, the union finally accepted an offer from the Columbus City Schools Board of Education at 2:38 a.m. on Thursday, August 25. “We recognize the sacrifices students, parents, and teachers alike have made during the three-day strike as we fought for the schools Columbus students deserve,” wrote the CEA in a statement. “Let the history books reflect that this strike was about students who deserved a commitment to modern schools with heating and air conditioning, smaller class sizes, and a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music and P.E.”
CEA also originally asked for an 8% increase in their annual pay.
The union continued to strike after rejecting what the school board indicated was their “best and final offer” last Friday. “It is a strong offer,” the board writes in a statement. “It’s responsive to the concerns that have been raised. The offer is respectful and reflects how important our teachers are to our district.”
But it wasn’t enough. And thanks to their commitment and dedication to their students, the Columbus Board of Education is committing to a three-year contract that includes:
- Planning for building improvements to ensure that spaces where children learn and teachers teach are climate controlled.
- Incentivizing teachers to complete licensure and certification in areas of high need.
- Reducing class sizes from elementary through high school.
- Allowing flexibility with the time and structure of the school day.
- Improving two-way communication between families and their child’s teacher.
- Innovative paid leave benefits.
- Recruiting and retaining talented educators with highly competitive compensation increases.
“Months ago, the Columbus City Schools Board of Education entered contract negotiations with the Columbus Education Associations with one overriding goal: Put children first,” said Board of Education President Jennifer Adair in a statement. “I am pleased to say that this new agreement does just that. This is a contract that keeps students at the center of all we do and supports our board’s educational mission for Columbus City Schools.”
Although this is a momentous victory for CEA, not everyone wanted to take the board’s offer: 71% of its members accepted the decision to ratify the conceptual agreement, while the other 29% rejected it.
“I can’t predict what teachers who rejected it are feeling and how they’re going to feel in the future,” Adair said in a Facebook video. “We got our members to a level of emotion and creation with this movement and I think that some people are just maybe not ready to give up that fight. But I want them to understand that they’re not giving up their fight by accepting this agreement. What they are actually doing is starting the first step.”
“We’re not stopping here,” she adds. “We’re continuing to move forward. We will continue to work together as a unit. And we will continue to listen to the voice of our students, which is what we started this fight for in the first place.”
Dr. Bonilla-Santiago says schools can take steps to prevent teacher strikes and keep their employees happy.
“I think policymakers need to start paying attention to the issue of the teacher crisis and the crisis in urban education to ensure teachers get treated as professionals and teachers get treated as people who are part of any quality system,” she says.
She also hopes to see “transformational” change in schools that measure up to modern advancements in technology.
“We need to begin to talk about a transformation system of public schools in America,” she says. “I’m talking about looking at the way we design and build schools. The conditions have changed. You’ve got schools that don’t have air conditioning, you’ve got schools with mold, you’ve got systems that don’t work, and nobody has looked at the infrastructure of those buildings that have deteriorated.”
Further details about the contract will become available once the conceptual agreement has been reviewed and ratified.