When I heard about Strongsville, I thought I was reading a children’s storybook about a wonderful, all-American city, a city where all the families are happy and have nice houses, and the children play in well-equipped playgrounds, and go to wonderful schools.
Think of it: Strongsville. It evokes Wheaties and Jack Armstrong, the all-American boy, the town where everything is just fine.
But then I got this letter from a teacher:
My name is Christina Potter and I have taught in the Strongsville City Schools in Strongsville, Ohio for the last eight years.
When I was hired in Strongsville, a great community with excellent schools, many other teachers said I was lucky, and they were jealous of my new job, and during the first two years, they were right; things were great with all sides working together,and we earned Ohio’s highest ranking, Excellent with Distinction.
As time went on a division started to occur between the administration and the teachers. During our 2010 contract negotiations the school stated that times were difficult and they needed the teachers to make concessions. In good faith, and promise of a levy, we agreed to an additional two year pay freeze on top of the three years we had already taken. We also increased our medical expenses, took on an additional duty period, and agreed to work two days unpaid. Times were tough, but everyone was striving to make Strongsville great.
Then, everything went haywire. With the ink still drying on our contract, the Board tried to take the levy off the ballot but failed, so instead, they informed the community to vote the levy down. Then we learned that while the district cried broke in 2010, it spent $500,000 to hire an attorney who publicizes himself as a union breaker. Every school district in this area that has hired him has either gone on strike or threatened to. Needless to say, the teachers, who negotiated in good faith, were outraged.
When our contract ended in June 2012, the district asked for extra time before negotiating to get its finances in order, so on July 19th, the first negotiation session took place. Upon walking in, their attorney put a contract down on the table and told us it was a take it or leave it offer and refused to negotiate one item at a time. After months of failing to negotiate a contract, our Education Association declared an impasse, and a Federal Mediator came in to oversee negotiations. Here is the timeline of recent events:
1. On February 15th, 2013 the teachers of the Strongsville Education Association (SEA) overwhelmingly passed a strike authorization.
2. On February 22nd, SEA submitted a 10-day notice of our intent to strike.
3. On March 1st, I had to hand in my I.D. badge and keys and have all of my personal belongings out of the building by 3:15 p.m. After 3:15, the doors would be locked, and anyone still on school property would be arrested even though we had not taken a final strike vote; we also had another negotiation session scheduled for Saturday morning. For all intense purposes we were not on strike yet but we were being locked out of the buildings, our email accounts and our grade books.
4. On March 2nd, both negotiating teams and the School Board members met with the federal negotiator. At that time the school gave its final offer which was only slightly different than their original.
And that takes us to where we are today, on strike. Many of my fellow teachers are also Strongsville residents, who have children in the system. They fear we are destroying our great public schools by trashing the teaching profession within them, instead of working toward a settlement. They feel the Board has chosen to waste tax payer money and painted teachers as greedy; meanwhile, it has forked over another $500,000, for a total of $1 million, to an attorney instead of using the money for books and technology.
Why are we striking in the cold, wind, and snow from 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. We, the Strongsville teachers, feel we are not just standing for the SEA, but for all of our fellow public school teachers in the Ohio and across the nation during this statewide/national epidemic of privatizing our public schools. If this contract goes through other school districts may soon go after their teachers, and we cannot in good conscience allow that to happen. As a teacher and a parent of two, I believe in public education and its hard working teachers, who too often are the brunt of undeserved bashing.
The teachers of Strongsville will hold a rally this afternoon at 4 pm in the center of Strongsville, at the gazebo, at the corners of Pearl Rd. and Rt 82.