Dayton schools, teachers down to the wire; will deal come this week?

Dayton Education Association leaders said more than 98 percent of its members voted in favor of striking before classes resume Aug. 15, if no agreement is reached. Teachers held signs outside the IBEW union hall on Poe Avenue following their vote on Aug. 1, 2017. NATHAN DAVIS/STAFF

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Dayton Education Association leaders said more than 98 percent of its members voted in favor of striking before classes resume Aug. 15, if no agreement is reached. Teachers held signs outside the IBEW union hall on Poe Avenue following their vote on Aug. 1, 2017. NATHAN DAVIS/STAFF

After 19 negotiation sessions, 11 federal mediation days and a two-month hiatus to get their plans in order, Dayton Public Schools and its teachers union are down to their last two planned meetings to avoid a strike.

The parties scheduled mediation for Monday and Wednesday, and teachers union President David Romick said that could be enough to get a deal done.

“Depending on the length of the sessions and the commitment to the sessions, something could be resolved Monday or Wednesday,” Romick said Friday.

ARCHIVES: Read the timeline, details, celebration from end of 1993 DPS strike

Pressed on how likely a settlement was, he indicated that talks were likely to go close to the deadline either way.

The union says they will go on strike Friday if no tentative deal is in place, and the district says schools will open for the first day of classes four days later, on Aug. 15, even if teachers walk out.

For Dayton students and parents, that means not knowing whether the often bumpy back-to-school process will have smiles and familiar faces, or some kids staying home to avoid picket lines, substitutes and tight security.

RELATED: School strikes rare; Dayton only Ohio district on the verge

For the teachers of the Dayton Education Association, it means the possibility of taking out loans and COBRA insurance while not being paid, or a sudden sprint to prepare their classrooms if a last-minute deal is done.

And for the school district, it means that after escaping the threat of state takeover just 11 months ago, the turmoil just won’t stop, on the heels of a layoff controversy in the fall, busing woes in the winter and an unprecedented athletic probation in the spring.

“We will be working to avert a strike in all ways that we can. The board is unanimous on that,” school board President Robert Walker said. “I have full confidence that my grandchildren will continue to get a quality education as long as they’re in the classroom.”

Issues on the table

Romick said this negotiation has dragged on in part because DPS began the process Jan. 6 with 241 proposed changes to the contract. Most of those have been resolved, but some remain on the table. The union points to a 15-minute increase in teachers’ on-site work day, a reduction in planning time and less protection against transfer from school to school.

Dayton Superintendent Rhonda Corr has repeatedly declined to go into specifics about contract proposals, just acknowledging that pay and benefits are key issues, and saying the school board hasn’t “drawn a line in the sand” on any particular proposals.

“There’s no ego involved. It’s about doing what’s right for teachers and getting this resolved,” Corr said this week. “I feel very positive and my team does as well. I really think we can get there. But with any negotiation, it’s a give and take. We’re talking about … what’s best for kids.”

RELATED: Dayton teachers’ document spells out contested issues

Two key issues are salary and staffing. Dayton teachers make just over the area’s median in their first year, but as their careers go on, they make thousands less than most surrounding districts. Romick said that’s a key factor in Dayton’s huge teacher turnover, with 15 to 20 percent of the staff leaving each year for other districts.

“There has been some movement in negotiation on both sides (concerning pay),” Romick said. “We’re just trying to find that middle ground where we think we can stop this flow of teachers out the district.”

On staffing, the teachers are asking for more English as a Second Language teachers to deal with an influx of immigrant students, and more school counselors and librarians, as Dayton currently has none at its elementary and middle schools.

Opinions about money

If teacher pay increases and more staff is hired, the money has to come from somewhere. Among 25 large and medium-sized districts in the Miami Valley, Dayton was second from the bottom in cash balance this spring, with only 13 percent of a year’s expenses in reserve. That’s partially because they’re a “capped district,” meaning the state sends Dayton millions of dollars less than the school funding formula actually calls for.

Asked whether raises and more staff would require a new tax levy, Corr said she doesn’t know. Romick said it’s possible, adding he thinks Dayton schools should have pursued a levy years ago.

RELATED: Students frustrated by potential Dayton schools strike

As a low-income district, Dayton gets more money from the state than from local taxpayers. Since 2000, DPS voters have approved the 2002 bond issue to construct new schools and a 4.9-mill levy in 2008. In that same span, Kettering and Oakwood schools, which get less from the state, have each passed seven new levies.

Janine Jenista, a former teacher and current parent of students at Horace Mann school in Dayton, said teachers deserve more respect, and she would pay more if needed.

Dayton resident Steven Solomon said he doesn’t have children in school anymore, but he understands the value of good teachers, and said students would lose out in a strike. He said he’d be willing to pay a little more, but within reason, given existing school, city, library and county taxes.

“Dayton’s residents don’t have deep pockets,” he said. “So it’s important that the cost of educating our children be watched very closely.”

Lessons from the past

Teacher strikes are rare, with only three occurring in Ohio the past eight years. The last one in the Dayton area was a Huber Heights strike in 2006. Dayton’s teachers chose not to strike in 2013, agreeing to keep working under the terms of the expired contract for months until a new deal was reached.

The last time Dayton teachers went on strike was a 16-day walkout in March of 1993, over issues of pay, health insurance, teacher assignments and training.

According to Dayton Daily News coverage at the time, only about one-third of DPS students showed up for class throughout the walkout, and the first day was marred by fights, false fire alarms and “chaos” in schools without enough substitute teachers.

RELATED: Strike or not, Dayton schools will open Aug. 15

Corr promised that the 600 substitutes DPS will have in schools in case of a strike will be enough, even though the union has 1,080 members. Both Corr and Romick have said some families likely will not send their children to school in the event of a strike. Corr said there will also be increased security if there is a strike.

“If a strike occurs, there will be tension as people cross the picket line,” she said. “So we want to make sure there will be safety for all of the adults and all of the children.”

So what’s next?

Dayton’s team of administrators will go back to mediation Monday with a union team of teachers and their regional union rep. Corr saying they’ve been told to expect a long day.

Tuesday night’s school board meeting could be lively, then Wednesday morning it’s back to mediation. On a side note, Wednesday afternoon is also the deadline for candidates to file with the board of elections to run for school board in November. Four of the seven seats are up for election.

The union says they’ll go on strike if there’s not a tentative deal in place at 12:01 a.m. Friday. According to Romick, any teachers union members who also coach fall sports would stop those duties as well.

RELATED: Dayton hiring teachers, but will they land on picket line?

Dunbar senior Ragina Drake said a strike would be “ridiculous,” with little learning going on in schools, and teams disrupted by coaches leaving.

“We want to get kids to come to DPS, and with this going on … it’s going to make kids leave, make parents want to take their children out,” she said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley – who has focused heavily on education with her City of Learners program and Preschool Promise funding — echoed Drake’s sentiment, pointing out that unlike Dayton’s last school strike 24 years ago, families now have charter school options to switch to.

The 1993 Dayton strike was finally resolved after local ministers and labor leaders joined the process to urge the parties toward a settlement. Romick said community leaders, including Whaley, have already reached out, adding that “we’re getting close to that point where some intervention may help.”

RELATED: Sides are in separate rooms for DPS talks

“I worry that if they lose that population, it won’t come back, and that’s a very big concern for the school district,” Whaley said. “The stakes are very high for the future of Dayton. … I think we’re just asking for everyone to display leadership and make sure we get this solved at the bargaining table, and we definitely want their full-time teachers to be there at the start.”

Continuing Coverage

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