AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Akron Public Schools teachers said they intend to strike at the start of next year, citing a failed attempt at federal mediation.
Members of the Akron Education Association teachers union plan to start picketing on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, according to Thursday news release. Students are set to return to the classroom from winter break on Friday, Jan. 6, according to the district’s calendar.
Contract negotiations began in April and the groups declared an impasse in May, according to state employment relations documentation provided to FOX 8 News. Subsequent fact-finding was rejected by the association, leading to the federal mediation process.
“The Akron community’s outpouring of concerns regarding school safety and security are being ignored by Akron Public Schools,” association President Patricia Shipe is quoted in the release.
“Weeks of unparalleled fighting are now daily occurrence within Akron school buildings, yet the superintendent and the board continue to want to water down the definition of assault and force students, teachers, parents and families to endure more violence, disorder and disruption to the education of the majority of Akron students.”
Earlier this month, two district students were found to have guns. And, in late November, a student was stabbed at John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center, according to police. Police reported another stabbing of a student at Firestone Community Learning Center earlier in November.
The violence has caused teachers to resign at a “record-setting pace,” according to the association. Now more than one-fifth of the district’s teaching positions are unfilled or filled with staff whom the association claims are unqualified.
District administrators earlier this month announced they would spend about $3.5 million to upgrade school safety equipment, despite an opportunity for nearly $58 million in state grants that was available through Gov. Mike DeWine’s school safety program, the association said. More than 700 schools in 57 Ohio counties received some of that funding, but Akron schools weren’t among them, according to the release.
“AEA is outraged that Akron Public Schools is spending $3.5 million which could have been used to attract and retain high-quality teachers when Governor DeWine’s safe schools grant would have covered 100% of the $3.5 million which Akron Public Schools is now spending,” reads the release.
The association also raised other concerns over fiscal transparency, questioning the district’s use of American Rescue Plan education relief funds for “extravagant” travel and housing costs and asking “who’s footing the bill?” for Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack’s ongoing accommodations at Akron’s BLU-tique Hotel near her office, in spite of maintaining residence in the district.
Fowler-Mack was formerly the chief portfolio officer for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and was hired to lead the Akron district in August 2021.
“These and more concerns remain unanswered, even as the board’s negotiating team unanimously confirmed during mediation that Akron Public Schools has never been in a better financial position than they are currently experiencing,” reads the release. “They are instead choosing to advance the false narrative that any fair settlement would be unsustainable, even as the AEA uses the board’s own numbers to clearly refute that position.”
School district spokesperson Mark Williamson issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
“Akron Public Schools respects and values its teachers and the work they do for children every day. We know that if we keep negotiating, we can reach an agreement in the best interests of Akron educators, students, parents, and our community. APS is prepared to stay at the table day in and day out to resolve this situation and keep children learning. We hope the Akron Education Association shares this commitment with us.”Mark Williamson, director of communications, Akron Public Schools