Dayton schools hiring teachers, but will they be on picket line?

More than 100 Dayton Public Schools teachers are leaving the district for the upcoming school year, but despite the threat of a looming strike, DPS has already hired dozens of replacements.

Judy Spurlock, DPS executive director of human resources, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting that 93 teachers have resigned this year, compared with 89 last year. She did not have up-to-date numbers on retirements or nonrenewals by the district, but those numbers push the totals over 100.

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Spurlock said the district has already hired 74 teachers to fill those vacancies and hiring is ongoing as summer continues. But there’s some question whether those teachers will be in classrooms or on picket lines Aug. 15 when the school year is scheduled to begin.

“There’s been no change in where we stand on negotiations,” teachers union President David Romick said of stalled contract talks. “Our membership will meet on Aug. 1 (to vote on a 10-day strike notice), and then we’ll be back at the negotiating table on Aug. 3, 7 and 9.”

Romick said despite the uncertainty, he expects Dayton Public Schools to be able to hire enough teachers to start the year with a full staff – something that happened last fall, but not in some previous years.

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“We have a three-prong approach to reaching out to new members — giving them factual information; giving them reassurance that no matter what this is, it will be a temporary situation, and we will have a contract at some point; and then we get on with the business of educating the children,” Romick said.

Both sides remain hopeful for a deal, but they understand the pressure is on, with less than four weeks until the first day of school. The scheduled bargaining dates are arranged via a federal mediator.

“If I had my way, we’d be negotiating tonight,” DPS Superintendent Rhonda Corr said. Asked if she believed a deal could be struck before Aug. 15, she said, “I believe. I do. I believe. We all know that nobody wins in a strike. Nobody wins, especially the kids. I will stay up 36 hours, I will camp in and do whatever I have to do.”

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Romick said Dayton Education Association members — who have been advised by the union not to prepare their classrooms at this point — had recent training on what to do if there is a strike. Romick said that would include picketing at DPS sites, while following rules and police instructions, and not entering any school buildings.

Several teachers and their supporters spoke at Tuesday night’s packed board meeting. Comments ranged from attacks on the school board’s level of engagement, to parent calls for salary increases so teachers don’t leave for suburban districts, to passionate explanations of why they do their jobs.

Heidi Carter, a teacher at Wright Brothers middle school and mother of a DPS student, called on school board members to provide supports that students and teachers need. She fought back tears as she talked about seeing a refugee student make leaps in the English language, an autistic student make a friend, and a struggling student rally to become the first in his family to earn a diploma.

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“When people ask me what I do, and I proudly tell them I’m a Dayton Public Schools teacher, they often make a face and ask why,” Carter said. “I love my job. I love my dedicated colleagues. But most of all I love my students. I choose this job for them. It can be challenging, but it is also immensely rewarding.”

Corr said she’s encouraged by the fact that many new teachers want to join DPS at the moment.

“We’re making a difference and moving in the right direction. Are we where we want to be yet? No. But it doesn’t happen overnight. … I’ve always said (negotiation) is a give and take. I hope both sides come together, definitely coming into it with the right attitude and a positive attitude. I’m going to stay upbeat.”

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