YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A hearing is scheduled in Columbus Friday to determine if a strike by teachers with the Youngstown Education Association is legal.
Youngstown Schools Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor filed a complaint this week with the Ohio Employment Relations Board (SERB) saying that the strike is illegal.
SERB has agreed to hear the case at 10 a.m. Friday and will make a decision by the end of the day, according to Michael Allen, general counsel for SERB. The meeting is open to the public.
YEA spokesperson Jim Courim said if SERB rules against them, teachers will be back in class on Monday.
“We have to see what is asked of us. If we are asked to go back to work on Monday, we will be in the classroom on Monday,” Courim said.
In the complaint, Batchelor says that the union prematurely declared an impasse and that the board offered teachers a 60-day extension of the contract to further negotiations with bonus pay.
“This is a problem the YEA chose to create. YEA chose not to request an inquiry or a hearing through SERB to resolve known disputes concerning the applicability of the statutory fact-finding procedures even after multiple discussions about fact-finding throughout the bargaining process,” the filing stated.
Batchelor said the school board is requesting a fact-finding panel to be appointed, but that request is still pending.
The complaint was signed by the district’s attorney Daniel J. Guttman.
Youngstown City School teachers have been on the picket line since Wednesday.
The school board met Tuesday and teachers showed up, but there were no new negotiations. The meeting began with the Youngstown School Board adjourning into executive session, though it did not meet with the approval of the 250 teachers in attendance.
The board members left the room by way of a familiar union chant: “Shame on you.”
Teachers union spokesman Jim Courim spoke at the gathering.
“You have the power, you have the authority and you have the obligation to eliminate the language in the contract,” Courim said.
But district Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor gave an example of language that has been offered when it comes to placement, promotion and transfer.
“We’ve even offered language that is consistent with some of our neighboring districts that are higher performing than us,” Batchelor said.
Three school board members also spoke.
“I may be alone, but I feel like that this board needs to come together and get this strike settled right away,” said board member Brenda Kimble.
“Come on. We’ve got to work this out. This is crazy. This is silly,” said board member Joseph Meranto.
“Just know that this board is pro-teacher, we are pro-district,” said board member Kenneth Donaldson.
Batchelor had said there would be no negotiations on Tuesday, despite a request by representatives of the teachers union to continue negotiating a contract.
In a news release concerning the ongoing negotiations, Courim stated: “YEA brought only two issues to the table from the beginning…we know that we’ve needed little more than an hour or two total to negotiate this contract.”
The Youngstown Education Association (YEA) has said they are willing to negotiate at any time.
Courim says the issue is contract language, that teachers want a say in how students are taught and in making important decisions about students and a district-wide focus, free of outside distractions.
“That’s really our main sticking point. I know that the district has said wages, but that’s not it for us this time,” Courim said.
But Batchelor says wages are an issue.
“We have authorized a 2%, which is our fully budgeted amount based on our budget and our forecast from our treasurer. They’re down to 4.89%, which is more than twice what we offered,” Batchelor said.
As far as contract language, Batchelor says Youngstown Schools remain under the Academic Distress Commission and some language can’t be changed.
As striking teachers set up picket lines Wednesday outside their buildings, such as Chaney Middle School, parents drove up Wednesday to collect free breakfasts and lunches for their children.
This was to have been the first day of classes in Youngstown, but instead, teachers did what they could to discourage families from accepting the free computers being passed out so students could learn remotely.
Parents we spoke with refused the laptops, still remembering problems kids had with them in the past.
“They struggled during the pandemic. They struggled with getting on those tablets,” said Cherelle Conner. “The Board of Education — it needs to be fixed because our kids are suffering.”
Others refused to take the devices on principle.
“Why am I going to make them get on a Chromebook when it’s not even going to be used possibly as credit towards their classes? And they’re gonna have to make up the days possibly at the end of the year anyway,” said Denise Tarr.
Parents say they want the situation to end and their children back in class.
“It’s gonna hinder my son. His education means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to him,” said Eric Meux.
One Youngstown dad says the teachers strike is hurting single parents the most, forcing them to choose between watching over their kids at home and working to support their families.
Miguel Rojas says he was frustrated to learn classes had been canceled Wednesday and Thursday and says administrators are not offering any help.
“How are you going to handle this? How are you going to help us manage this? All they say is the kids are going to have the Chromebook — it’s your responsibility to make sure the kids get the Chromebook and do their job,” Rojas said.
Rojas says even if other family members can watch over his children, the relatives don’t speak English so they can’t help the kids with their schoolwork.
At this point, the schools are expected to continue distributing free meals and laptops to those who need them, and remote classes are to begin Friday.