AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Akron Public School teachers have said they intend to go on strike early next year, citing a failed federal mediation attempt.
Members of the Akron Education Association teachers union plan to start pickets on Monday, January 9, 2023, according to a Thursday news release. Students are set to return to class from winter break on Friday, January 6, according to the district calendar.
Contract negotiations began in April and the group declared an impasse in May, according to state employment relationship documentation provided to FOX 8 News. Subsequent fact-finding was rejected by the association, leading to a federal mediation process.
“The outpouring of concern by the people of Akron regarding school safety and security is being ignored by Akron Public Schools,” association president Patricia Shipe was quoted in the release.
“Weeks of unparalleled fighting are now occurring every day inside Akron school buildings, but inspectors and boards continue to want to simplify the definition of assault and force students, teachers, parents and families to endure more violence, chaos and disruption to education. . the majority of Akron’s students.”
Earlier this month, two of the district’s students were found in possession of weapons. And, in late November, a student was stabbed at the John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center, according to police. Police reported another stabbing of a student at the Firestone Community Learning Center earlier in November.
The violence has caused teachers to resign at a “record-breaking rate,” according to the association. Now more than a fifth of teaching positions in the district are either unfilled or filled with staff the association says are unqualified.
District administrators earlier this month announced they would spend about $3.5 million to upgrade school safety equipment, despite opportunities to tap into nearly $58 million in state grants available through Governor Mike DeWine’s school safety program, the association said. More than 700 schools in Ohio’s 57 boroughs received some of the funding, but the Akron school was not included, according to the release.
“AEA is furious that Akron Public Schools is spending $3.5 million that could be used to attract and retain high quality teachers when Governor DeWine’s safe schools grant will cover 100% of the $3.5 million currently being spent by Akron Public Schools,” read release.
The association also raised other concerns over fiscal transparency, questioning the use of American Rescue Plan education grants for “luxury” travel and housing expenses and asking “who pays the bills?” for Inspector Christine Fowler-Mack’s continued accommodation at the BLU-tique Akron Hotel near her office, although retaining residency in the district.
Fowler-Mack was previously chief portfolio officer for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and was hired to lead the Akron district in August 2021.
“These concerns and more remain unanswered, even as the board negotiating team unanimously confirmed during mediation that Akron Public Schools have never been in a better financial position than they are currently,” reads the release. “They have instead chosen to advance a false narrative that any fair settlement is unsustainable, even as AEA uses its own board number to unequivocally refute that position.”
School district spokesman Mark Williamson issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
“Akron Public Schools respects and values its teachers and the work they do for children every day. We know that if we continue to negotiate, we can reach an agreement that is in the best interests of educators, students, parents, and the Akron community. APS is ready to stay at the table every day to resolve this situation and keep children learning. We hope the Akron Education Association shares this commitment with us.”
Mark Williamson, communications director, Akron Public Schools