Students, teachers, and supportstaff in Ohio's largest school district returned to the classroom on Monday after the Columbus Education Association won a new contract and ended its weeklong strike.
"Students... are the most important investment in this entire nation."
Gathered at the local minor league ballpark on Sunday, CEA members voted 71% to 29% to approve a three-year contract with Columbus City Schools that satisfies most of the union'sdemands, which revolved around improving students' learning environments and opportunities.
"We are so excited to get back to where we belong—our classrooms—doing what we do best: educating our students and shaping the future of our great city," CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentessaidat a press conference.
AsThe Columbus Dispatchreported, the agreement includes:
A contractual guarantee that all student learning areas will be climate controlled no later than the start of the 2025-2026 school year, including installation of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in buildings currently without HVAC, and in buildings that currently only have partial HVAC;
Reductions in class size caps in all grade bands, lowering the number of students in every classroom by two over the course of the contract; and
The first-ever limitations on the numbers of buildings assigned to each elementary art, music, and physical education teachers, with scheduling intended for one specialist per subject area per building.
"It is important to remember that just ten short days ago, at our last bargaining session before the strike, CEA was told 'no' on guaranteed air conditioning and heat in every building, 'no' on class size reductions in middle and high schools, and 'no' on improved access to art, music, and P.E. at the elementary level," said Fuentes.
"More than 4,000 of our members stood strong on the picket line, our community joined the fight, and we won victories on all three of these issues," she noted.
In addition to much-needed improvements to learning and working conditions, the roughly 4,500-member union—representing teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, and other education professionals—was able to secure better pay and benefits.
According toThe Columbus Dispatch, the new contract includes:
A 4% raise each year of the three-year agreement;
The first-ever contractual limitation on the number of CEA positions that can be outsourced to out-of-town corporations, "thereby ensuring that our students are educated by experienced professionals from our local community"; and
A paid parental leave program for teachers.
The new pact is the result of CEA's first strike since 1975. A whopping 94% of members voted to authorize a work stoppage last Sunday after monthslong negotiations with Columbus City Schools, which the union accused of "walk[ing] away from the bargaining table," collapsed just ahead of the start of the fall semester.
The district's 47,000-plus students spent the first three days of the academic year online. The school board held a special meeting to ratify the contract at 8:00 a.m. CT on Monday, about 30 minutes after students at some schools began in-person instruction.
On Sunday, Fuentesstressedthat teachers and support staff nationwide are "tired of settling for the status quo." She expressed hope that CEA's victory will motivate other workers and communities to take action to defend public education from thelongstandingandintensifyingattacks that have led to increasinglyunderstaffedand ill-equipped classrooms.
"They need to put more of an investment in our students because they are the most important investment in this entire nation," said Fuentes. "It starts here but we want to keep it going."