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'It's pretty realistic': Columbus teachers threaten strike over pay, other issues

The teacher's union and the district have been in talks since March.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Children in Columbus City Schools are expected to return to school August 25, but that may not happen if teachers go on strike.

The teacher's union and the district have failed to reach a compromise on a new contract.

Issues over pay, better health insurance, hiring more teachers, reducing class sizes, commitments to putting air conditioning in all school buildings, as well as adding nurses and guidance counselors in every school are among the issues at the bargaining table.

District spokesperson Scott Wortman said conversations with the district's teachers are ongoing and they are hoping to find a compromise.

"We greatly respect our teachers and know they are critical to the success of our students. We have upcoming full-day meetings, which were previously scheduled nearly two months ago. We have and will continue to negotiate in good faith," Wortman said.

Both sides are scheduled to meet two more times this month. The teacher's union says there are no meetings scheduled for August.

The union said if there is no compromise by the end of July it will call a "mass meeting" to vote on whether to accept or reject the district's offer. If the union votes to reject the offer, it will then vote to decide whether to strike. 

A vote to strike requires it gives the district a 10-day notice.

Regina Fuentes, a high school English teacher of 23 years, said walking out of her classroom to fight for her students is something she's ready to do

"We are not trying to hurt students. We are trying to do what's best for our students. Columbus City School teachers don't want to strike, it is just another tool in our toolbox to move these negotiations along what we want is what's best for our students," Fuentes said.

The union said it wants the district to commit to hiring teachers to reduce class sizes.

"This idea that teachers are like machines that if your colleague doesn't show up for work, for all the good reasons, you can take on an elementary teacher, you can take on their load of extra 14 children on top of your 32 that you already have in your class and still have a productive lesson that day. That is an impossible task, " said Fuentes who is also a spokesperson for the Columbus Education Association.

The most recent threat to strike happened in July 2019 over similar issues.

Back then, like today, teachers remain upset about how city tax abatements, used to lure development, are taking away money from schools.

This year, teachers are ready to walk.

"It's pretty realistic," Fuentes said.

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