Dayton Public Schools will begin the new year at an uneasy peace, with a potentially crippling strike averted, but with tension between teachers and district leadership a central worry in efforts to move forward.
One day after the Dayton Education Association issued a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Rhonda Corr and the school board, DEA President David Romick ran through a litany of events that led the union to feel that way.
He cited the school board’s initial contract proposal, seeking 241 changes, as “outrageous.” He said Corr and the board were distant early in the process, adding that DPS made multiple changes to its bargaining team, giving the negotiation process no consistency.
And he said Tuesday’s DPS “information session” with the community, airing specific details of both sides contract proposals, violated the negotiating ground rules the parties set in January.
“Those things just made the process so much more difficult, cumbersome, and in the end, longer,” Romick said, “and therefore made the start of the school year more difficult than it needed to be.”
Despite that, Romick said he personally hadn’t expected the vote of no confidence. He said he was in the middle of his opening statement to the union before Thursday’s contract vote when a member interrupted him by putting that motion on the floor.
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Corr said the vote surprised her too, and she issued a statement Friday saying the vote ignores “work the Board, my team, the teachers and I have done to resolve long-standing challenges that occurred before my arrival to DPS.”
She cited efforts including expanded computer access, the Males of Color Initiative; a new bus fleet; new textbooks and expanded music offerings. And she cited her efforts in helping arrive at a contract with the teachers.
“My decision to step into a mediation process that had been going on for almost six months and in nine (mediation) days leading us to an accepted contract is something I’m gratified to have accomplished for the district,” Corr said.
Corr touted some of the perks that contract gave teachers, including an increase in personal days, with a new ability to cash out two unused days.
A Dayton Daily News analysis of 15 teacher contracts that were approved this year by local school districts shows Dayton’s back-to-back 3 percent base pay raises are on the high end, but a decision on step raises offset that.
Only Centerville gave teachers higher base pay raises, at 3.5 percent, but almost all districts fell in a narrow range between 2 and 3 percent.
But where Piqua, Troy, Valley View and Eaton schools all agreed to pay teachers retroactively for “step raises” that had been frozen in recent years, Dayton’s contract does not give teachers that pay.
According to a document given to union members, the “regular classroom day” for Dayton teachers remains at 7 hours and 15 minutes, including a 30-minute lunch and 45 minutes of planning time. A review of 10 other districts showed nearly all of them had teacher work days of 7 hours, 30 minutes.
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Prosper Niyongabo, a senior and National Honor Society president at Thurgood Marshall High School, said he is glad to see the strike averted.
“It’s a relief because those teachers not only teach you, they’re there for us when we need them,” he said. “They believe in us sometimes more than people outside the school do. I’ve got some rough classes coming up, so I am happy to have my teachers.
All parties in the contract dispute say they want to keep the focus on helping students. They just don’t always agree on the right path to do so.
Corr is excited about the extra phonics teachers the district has hired, saying they’ll give DPS’ youngest students a boost in reading. The teachers union was pushing for more counselors, librarians and English as a Second Language teachers, arguing that would provide strategic help.
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“As the adversarial climate hopefully fades, my belief is that our professional educators will come to understand district leadership’s approach to enhancing students’ intellectual development and preparing them to achieve their aspirations,” Corr said, adding the importance of collaboration.
Romick said teachers’ relationship with Corr could have been better in her first year as superintendent, but he hopes to improve it.
“I have the capacity to do it on behalf of the Dayton Education Association, because I know it’s in the district’s, the city’s and the community’s best interests,” he said. “But it’s going to take time.”
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