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Conditions inside CCS schools remain key focus of fight between teachers’ union and state’s largest district

Talks on a new agreement broke down Thursday night and the union appears poised to vote to strike on Sunday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One TikTok video features a montage of images showing poor or deteriorating conditions inside Columbus City Schools. The music of Twisted Sister’s “We’re not gonna take it” plays underneath.

Another TikTok video, which has been viewed more than 145,000 times, criticizes CCS superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon and purports to have an audio recording of her talking about the challenges of spending nearly $400 million in ESSER funds – federal stimulus dollars approved to help schools amid the pandemic.

The district points to two graphics on its website as evidence that the district is attempting to spend down the money during the given the time periods. The district has already committed millions of dollars to install air conditioning units in 16 district schools that didn’t previously have them.

A spokeswoman says supply chain issues and increased prices have caused the district to adjust its plans. CCS is also lobbying lawmakers to extend the spending timelines, a spokeswoman said in an email.

Click here to follow the ESSER fund spending at CCS.

But the conditions inside Columbus City Schools – which 10 Investigates has reported on over the past month – remain a focal point of the ongoing public fight between Columbus City Schools and the Columbus Education Association – the union that represents the district’s teachers. 

Talks on a new agreement broke down Thursday night and the union appears poised to vote to strike on Sunday. If they do, it would mark the first time since the 1970s.

As part of our reporting earlier this month, 10 Investigates exposed how the district took seven weeks to repair lead paint that was chipping and peeling at Devonshire Elementary despite a recommendation from the Columbus Public Health inspectors that it be addressed as soon as possible.

We also pointed out how inspectors recommended that an exterior brick wall be repaired back in March.

During our reports earlier this month, 10 Investigates showed how the loose bricks and wall were still in disrepair months later. A teacher told a health inspector that sometimes the children would throw the bricks.

But when 10 Investigates’ Chief Investigative Reporter Bennett Haeberle stopped by the school on Friday, the brick wall was gone. A parent who lives across the street, Michelle Watkins, told 10 Investigates crews removed the wall two days earlier.

“The wall, to me, is important to the school. It’s part of the school, they just need to update the school,” said Devonshire parent Michelle Watkins. “Fix the schools. Where is the money going to? Where is it at? The public – we – should know accountability for our schools.”

Through a public records request, 10 Investigates sought a copy of the work orders at the school dating back to July 15. There is no reference to the brick wall being torn down.

It’s not clear what prompted the decision. A district spokeswoman said in an email late Friday that it was part of the summer work flow.

“The teachers have been saying this for years and it takes people outside the district to get questions raised and so I do believe you all investigating helped in that process,” said Kiara Yakita, a self-described activist who created one of the TikTok videos.

Yakita is not a district teacher or parent and says she was not approached by the union. But Yakita did tell 10 Investigates she has been in communication from teachers, who’ve expressed concern.

Among the issues that stand between the district and the teachers’ union are disputes over wages, class sizes and conditions inside CCS schools. The district has said its final offer addresses wage increases and that it has a plan in place to address schools – including a master plan and dedicated ESSER funds aimed at addressing infrastructure issues and beyond.

The union plans to meet Sunday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss its next move.

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