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Columbus teachers reach ‘conceptual agreement’ with school board, halt strike

Maddie McGarvey/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- The Columbus teachers union has reached a "conceptual agreement" with its school board after three days of picketing.

The Columbus Board of Education and the Columbus Education Association did not disclose terms of the deal.

The CEA began its strike after a vote on Sunday, just days away from the district's first day of school on Wednesday.

Teachers began picketing outside over a dozen of the district's schools on Monday morning. The union said it would gather outside schools from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day until a deal is reached.

"This deal would not have been possible without the unwavering support of parents, community members, organized labor, and local businesses in Columbus," the union said in a statement on Thursday morning.

"While the details cannot yet be disclosed, the contract recognizes the board’s commitment to improving our student outcomes, the essential work of the CEA members, and strengthening our learning environments,” Board President Jennifer Adair said in a statement Thursday.

Over 4,000 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists and other education professionals will meet to vote on the new contract over the weekend. Following the union's ratification, the school board is scheduled to vote on the agreement and in-school classes would resume on Monday, both the board and CEA said on Thursday.

The Columbus Education Association, with 4,000 members, reached a 94% majority on the vote to strike on Sunday.

"It is with a full understanding of the sacrifices that students, parents, and teachers will make together to win the schools Columbus Students Deserve that CEA members overwhelmingly rejected the Board's last, best and final offer tonight and voted to strike," Columbus Education Association spokesperson Regina Fuentes said in a statement on Sunday.

The Columbus Board of Education called the decision to strike "incredibly disappointing."

Fuentes said Sunday the board has "tried desperately" to make the compromise about teacher salary, teacher professional development and teacher leaves.

"Let me be clear," Fuentes said. "This strike is about our students who deserve 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."

Jennifer Adair, Columbus Board of Education President, said in a statement on Sunday the board's offer "put children first and prioritized their education and their growth."

Adair said the board offered a generous compensation package for teachers and responded to the concerns raised by the teacher's union during the negotiations process.

The union and board last met in a mediated discussion on Aug. 18, where the board offered guaranteed raises of 3% annually for three years and $2,000 per CEA member in retention and recruitment bonuses.

According to the board, by the end of the contract, a teacher with a current average salary of $74,000 will earn more than $91,000.

The board's last offer also stated that it committed funds to install air conditioning in every school, with the exception of one that already has central air in about 50% of the building and is slated to be replaced by a new school in a proposed facilities master plan, the board said.

The 2022-2023 school year began Wednesday with the teachers on strike and students back to school virtually with substitute teachers.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement Sunday it was important to get students back in the classroom.

Ginther said the past few years have "underscored the value of our teachers, the resiliency of our kids and the need for Columbus City Schools to position itself for the future."

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