YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The picket line for striking teachers is still up outside Youngstown East High School as negotiations were going on inside Friday.
The talks began at 11 a.m. The Youngstown Education Association presented a proposal to the school board, and the board asked for time to look it over.
The two sides were scheduled to get back together around 3:30 p.m. to have negotiations continue. They concluded around 12:30 a.m. Saturday.
Negotiations that were scheduled for Thursday were canceled. YCSD spokesperson Stacy Quinones said she was informed that YEA canceled the negotiations set for 12:30 p.m.
“Our team was at East and ready and more than willing to negotiate. At this point, we would welcome a trained mediator to help us through this process, which has to be mutually agreed upon by both parties,” she said in a statement Thursday.
YEA spokesperson Jim Courim said the union has expressed interest in Sebring Judge Joe Schiavoni mediating an end to the teachers strike, which has stretched into three weeks.
YEA late Thursday morning proposed using mediation to put an end to the teachers strike, suggesting the mediator be former state senator and current Sebring Judge Joe Schiavoni.
Schiavoni has agreed to it, saying he will do it for free, but negotiators for the school board — who have asked for mediation all along — have not yet agreed on Schiavoni as the selection.
Schiavoni said he’s worked with the teachers union and the school board in the past.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to get the kids back in school — so I’m a lawyer, a part-time judge, I have time to do this,” Schiavoni said. “It’s not a job I have as a mediator, and it doesn’t have to be official. All you really need in order to have an effective mediation is to bring both sides to the table and finish the deal.”
Youngstown Schools Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor said he was “not opposed” to the selection of Schiavoni as mediator, but would need to discuss it with the school board before making a final decision. There’s no word yet on whether the district would accept such a proposal.
Though school board President Tiffany Patterson said she welcomes mediation, she prefers the select person come from a list of qualified mediators.
YEA President Eric Teutsch said getting someone who is qualified could take two weeks — and there’s “no time” for that.
On Thursday, leaders with YEA briefed parents outside East High School on their version of the ongoing negotiations — starting with claims from the school board that language concerning the Academic Distress Commission has been eliminated.
“As a part of our agreement, we offered to remove everything related to the ADC and House Bill 70 from the contract,” Patterson said.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Patterson announced that the board’s negotiating team would have a settlement offer Wednesday afternoon.
“Our negotiating team told us that they absolutely offered a settlement, and it was rejected,” said Patterson.
“There was no settlement agreement presented at 12:30 to the YEA,” said Sharon King, a teacher who works with students with disabilities.
King told the parents the YEA negotiating team spent eight hours on Wednesday waiting in the East High cafeteria.
“The board’s negotiating team met with YEA for a total of 21 minutes,” King said.
Patterson said the school board has offered to pay the teachers for the time they were on strike — and has offered a 1-year contract.
“We agreed to a 1-year contract — for some reason, they’re not accepting it,” Patterson said.
One issue both sides agree where disagreements remain regards seniority. The teachers union pointed to a math teacher who was reassigned to teach social studies.
“This is not in the best interest of our students,” King said.
“We need teachers to show their record, or what they’ve done to be considered,” Patterson said. “Management should absolutely have some rights. That’s why they’re managers.”
Lee Keys, one parent at the rally, said he supports the teachers and was happy to show up to support them.
“Anytime there’s something, I’ll be there supporting the teachers. Like I said, they’re like family to you and to me. It’s frustrating,” Keys said.
The teachers union asked for continued support as the strike continues.
Negotiations between the Youngstown School Board and YEA picked back up at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday but concluded around 8 p.m. with no deal.
Tuesday night, School Board President Tiffany Patterson said the school board was ready to present a settlement offer to the YEA.
When the negotiations began Wednesday, Batchelor said, “We gave them a proposal in response to their last proposal. We have not indicated that it is final. We remain committed to continuing to negotiate fairly.”
However, YEA spokesperson Courim said school board negotiators did not present what the union would describe as a settlement offer.
“So last night, the school gave the directive to their team to issue a settlement agreement at 12:30 p.m. today. We did not receive that settlement agreement. Instead, we offered up another proposal to the school board, and that’s as far as I know at this point,” Courim said around 6 p.m. Wednesday.
After the negotiations ended for the day, Courim said “very little, if any, progress” was made, however, Batchelor said proposals continue to be made by both sides but there’s still no mutual agreement on all the terms.
A two-and-a-half-hour Youngstown School Board meeting Tuesday night did not end the teachers strike.
The meeting was taken up mostly by speeches from parents and students. It wasn’t until afterward — during an interview with Batchelor — that WKBN learned where negotiations stand, at least, from the school board’s perspective.
The striking Youngstown teachers started by picketing outside, waiting until 10 minutes before the meeting to enter Choffin Career and Technical Center to applause.
After a one-hour executive session, School Board President Tiffany Patterson briefly explained to the 300 people in attendance the status of negotiations with the YEA.
“Tomorrow [Wednesday] our team will be ready to present YEA with a settlement offer. Tomorrow’s session at 12:30 p.m.,” Patterson said.
Then came the parents and students, 15 in all.
“This is my son, Zion Garcia. Do any of you guys know his name? Most of them do,” said parent Samuel Garcia.
Sophomore Abigail Peterson wondered why Academic Distress language can’t be changed.
“What’s so difficult to change? You change the curriculum for classes almost every year, forcing the teachers to change their lessons and strategies,” Peterson said.
Parent Anita Dickey was critical of the online learning.
“But let’s be honest, most, if not all, the kids aren’t doing it. Watching videos and taking quizzes is not what school’s about,” Dickey said.
During the meeting, Batchelor said nothing about the strike, but afterward, he discussed the status of negotiations.
“We’ve been asked to remove 3.011, which is the Academic Distress language. We have in exchange for some flexibility in regards to seniority, vacancies, postings,” Batchelor said.
As far as pay, Batchelor said, “We’ve both come down or try to meet closer together in the middle, but we still haven’t tentatively agreed on that either.”
Courim was pleased that the board has a settlement offer.
“Hopefully, it is fair and equitable to our community, our students and our staff,” Courim said.
“I’ve got direction from the board to come and bring an offer that we believe is digestible, and then hopefully, YEA will do the same,” Batchelor said.
Meanwhile, parents and students in the Youngstown City Schools continue to wait for the first day of school.
Cheryll Smith is a seventh-grade science teacher at Chaney Middle School. Monday afternoon, on the picket line outside East High School, Smith was urging people to honk their horns and then thanking them when they did.
“I don’t have anything. I haven’t heard anything yet but we continue to be optimistic and hopeful that we’ll have a deal done today,” Courim said shortly after 6 p.m. Monday.
On the sidewalk outside East High, some of the 450 striking teachers had set up a picket line in a strike that is now in its 20th day. Courim was optimistic because of what the teachers were giving to negotiators for the school board.
“YEA is offering a settlement agreement to try and come to a resolution in this labor dispute. We’re hoping we can end this as quickly as possible,” Courim said.
Earlier Monday afternoon, Batchelor stated, “We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement… to move our scholars forward academically. We are also anxious for the release of the academic report card later this week. We believe it will show the progress that strategic planning and focused progress monitoring brings to this district.”
WKBN spoke to teachers last week who were on the picket line.
“The kids have already fallen too far behind. We need to make up what they missed,” said Tina Felger, an eighth-grade science teacher.
Educators say the entire strike process has taken a toll on them.
“It’s been stressful and it’s also been a learning experience,” said Kristen Jaros, an eighth-grade social studies teacher.
One small bright spot from this strike — it has brought teachers closer together.
“There’s a lot of people in the building I didn’t know and a lot of people in the union I didn’t know,” Jaros said.
The school district issued a statement last Monday that said the school board remains willing to work under the contract terms that have been in effect for over a decade while negotiating, but the union has rejected this approach.
Last Tuesday, Courim said they’re surprised that the negotiations are still going on.
“You know, this is not where we expected to be at this point. We thought at some point we would have a deal and yet we’re still here, we’re still waiting, and we hope that real soon we can have a deal and be back in the classroom,” Courim said.
Those on the picket line have been carrying signs asking for changes: In contract language — specifically that of which states transfers and promotions be based on seniority — and that all mentions of the Academic Distress Commission be removed from the contract.
Batchelor says the teachers union wants all promotions and transfers based on seniority only, while the school board is saying no.
“While we’re always going to consider seniority, there are some innovative things that we need to do in the district that we need to be able to put the best candidate. We need to be able to have some selection. There needs to be some involvement, there needs to be some collaboration,” Batchelor said.
Courim said every union contract has seniority issues, but he didn’t know the specifics of the negotiations. Courim did say, however, that they want all references to the Academic Distress Commission removed since the provisions of House Bill 70 no longer exist.
“That means the school board has the obligation, the responsibility and the power to eliminate this language that is in dispute. Any reference to the Academic Distress Commission needs to be eliminated,” Courim said.
“That can’t happen. It’s not even just about Jeremy Batchelor and the board of education. We are under the Academic Distress Commission. We’ve got verification from that from the Ohio Department of Education and the state superintendent,” Batchelor said.
As far as seniority, Batchelor says he has suggested modeling the language after Austintown and Warren, but Courim says they’re not Austintown or Warren — they’re Youngstown.
School is still happening for students without their teachers, but it will be remote for the time being.
Samantha Bender, Chelsea Simeon and Gerry Ricciutti contributed to this report.