AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Marathon bargaining sessions through the weekend ended with Akron Public Schools teachers in their classrooms Monday morning rather than on picket lines.
After nearly ten months of difficult negotiations between the 28-hundred-member strong Akron Education Association and representatives of the Akron Public School district, the two parties reached a compromise on the most divisive issues at about 7:30 pm Sunday.
“It was very intense and very difficult deliberations and negotiations. Both teams really were vested in what they were hoping to accomplish. We spent hours and hours on Saturday and again on Sunday trying to reach an accord, trying to come to some agreement. There were moments when I thought we would never get there, but we really appreciate the board listening and coming to this agreement,” said Donald Malarcik, the union’s attorney.
Union President Pat Shipe said addressing violence in the schools remained the most important issue going into the negotiations over the weekend.
“We came into this weekend with safety and security in our schools remaining the overwhelming issue…the issue that had to be resolved otherwise we would be on the picket line,” Shipe told Fox 8 News on Monday.
“Previously, the big concern from AEA members is that they were going to water down, the administration was attempting to water down the definition of assault and that would capture less assaultive violent disruptive behavior and we stood firm. We said no. So, we are at a place now where we did everything we could with the contract language to make sure, as you said that very small percentage of troublemakers are dealt with and dealt with consequences,” said Malarcik.
“We believe by retaining our current contract language that’s a start that solved that issue. We are not under any illusion though that just getting the contract language that we need regarding teacher assaults and security in our buildings solves anything,” said Shipe.
“The board has committed to collaboratively sitting down, working on some short-term solutions to get some of these issues resolved short term, but we have to have a conversation with the board, with the community, to come up with some long-term solutions that are sustainable, that will address this problem,” she added.
Another issue both sides had to settle over the weekend was teachers’ wages.
The union would not reveal specific details of the settlement in the tentative contract until after a ratification meeting on Tuesday but tells FOX 8 News that they believe union members will be satisfied with what their bargaining team achieved on their behalf.
“We are confident that we have a fair and equitable contract that now will attract and retain high-quality teachers,” said Malarcik.
“We also spent a great deal of time making sure that we were not at the bottom of the level of pay when we look at other comparable districts in the state and in the county. I think we accomplished our goal of getting to the place where people will want to come and teach in Akron,” he added.
“Compromise means that neither party got everything they wanted. We believe it was a fair compromise. We believe we are in the range where our members will appreciate the hard work that the AEA negotiating team did and we believe it’s fair at this point,” said Shipe.
A compromise was also reached on several other issues including healthcare benefits and scheduling.
The union believes they were helped by a “groundswell” of support from parents and other unions across the state and the nation as well as a letter sent to Akron School’s Superintendent by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. (See the full text of the letter below.)
“I think the board heard not only AEA members, but they heard parents, they heard teachers they heard students and tonight I hope is a celebration of what we were able to accomplish to continue to focus and shine a light on safe schools,” said Malarcik.
The tentative three-year contract would be retroactive to July first when the last contract expired.
Outgoing school board president, Dr. N.J. Akbar, sent a written statement following the conclusion of the negotiations saying, in part:
“We believe this agreement is best for our district at this time and will require us to focus on the future, together. We are all APS and together, we can and will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of our young scholars…”
The school board is expected to accept the new contract when it meets on Monday evening.
Union representatives wanted their membership to see the contract before revealing any more specific details of what it includes.