Teachers, Dayton school leaders prepare for strike

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dayton teachers file strike notice

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dayton Public Schools’ showdown with its teachers union took on new urgency Tuesday, with teachers calling out the district for a “lack of respect” and Superintendent Rhonda Corr likening the dispute to preparing for a hurricane.

The teachers union approved a strike vote, with 98 percent voting in favor, according to Dayton Education Association President David Romick. That means if the two sides don’t reach at least a tentative contract agreement by 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 11, the union will go on strike.

RELATED: Dayton schools will open, strike or no strike

There are crucial mediation sessions scheduled for Thursday, Monday and Aug. 9. The first day of school is Aug. 15, and Romick said DPS is in crisis.

“The board has failed to compromise with Dayton teachers repeatedly,” Romick said of negotiations, which started on Jan. 6. “As educators, we are seriously concerned about student learning conditions, and are fearful that the continued lack of leadership at Dayton Public Schools (is) placing an on-time return to school in jeopardy.”

Corr repeatedly struck an optimistic tone Tuesday, saying she’s still a teacher at heart, thinks the two sides are fairly close and that DPS “wants to do everything that we can for our teachers.”

But she hit pragmatic points as well, saying the district has to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money, and saying decisively that the district will be open for students on Aug. 15 even if there is a strike, with a licensed substitute teacher in every single spot if needed.

“If there’s a hurricane coming, you batten down the hatches and get your water supply and get ready. … But you hope that it blows over. That’s where we are,” Corr said. “We are in the business of educating children, so schools will be open on Day 1. I hope that it’s with our DPS teachers, however, we have a backup plan in place.”

RELATED: Schools offer raises, perks to compete for teachers

The school board paid for the first steps of that plan Tuesday night, approving a contract for $148,525 with Huffmaster Crisis Response LLC, the staffing company that will provide substitute teachers if there is a strike. District attorney Jyllian Bradshaw said that amount is only for Huffmaster’s preparation work through Aug. 14. If the strike actually occurs, there will be additional costs to pay the substitute teachers.

And Corr altered her position slightly Tuesday night, saying she expected Huffmaster to provide about 600 substitutes (the teachers union has about 1,080 members). She said attendance is usually lower than normal in the case of a strike, so there may be fewer students to serve.

Many parents were coming to DPS headquarters downtown Tuesday to register children for school or handle other paperwork. Jackie Sallee said her two children had a good experience last year at Rosa Parks Early Learning Center, other than busing problems that have plagued DPS. But she’s anxious about the potential strike.

“If they go on strike, it’s going to be kinda crazy for the parents because we won’t get to meet their teachers, and the kids won’t meet their teachers,” Sallee said. “I just think it’s going to cause a really big issue.”

Less than one year ago, Dayton Public Schools was under threat of state takeover because of poor academic performance. Then strong student growth on 2016 spring tests freed them from that threat, and Corr came in hoping to build on that momentum.

RELATED: Dayton test scores rise, preliminary data says

Leaders on both sides of the dispute displayed the gravity of the potential strike Tuesday. Romick’s hands shook as he spoke passionately to the media about the strike vote. Corr choked up during a long pause at the end of her press conference before saying she truly believed in both the school district and the teachers union.

Romick said he’s hopeful of a deal, but would not echo Corr’s claim that the sides are close to an agreement. He said issues still on the table include health insurance, the structure of the school day, teacher planning time, and, of course, pay.

“We have a large amount of turnover in Dayton Public Schools because our salaries and packages are not competitive,” Romick said. “We are attempting to make them more competitive and to stem that turnover, which is not good for children. … I can characterize all of the issues remaining on the table as issues of respect for Dayton teachers.”

There seems to be some common ground between the parties on one issue that upset the union. Romick called it disrespectful that the district planned to require teachers to “clock in” via thumbprint time clocks, and actually installed the devices in schools while negotiations were ongoing.

Corr said she understands the union’s position about that plan, which was in the works before she arrived, and plans to talk to the school board about it. She called the teachers “absolute professionals” and said if teachers were eventually required to clock in, she would require her central office staff to clock in, too, and would do so herself.

“I believe in Dayton. I believe in Dayton Public Schools. I believe in the Dayton Education Association,” Corr said. “I think that together we have a tremendous opportunity to come together and make this right, and do what’s right for our kids, our teachers and our community.”

Anger at board meeting

Dayton school board member Joe Lacey had an argument with members of the audience, including a Dayton school principal, after Tuesday’s board meeting.

During the meeting, school board members discussed the retirement of Dayton Boys Prep principal Horace Lovelace. Lacey said he was not a fan of single-sex schools, then went further.

“Mr. Lovelace was doing a very hard task when you take a school and you concentrate our most difficult — not just our most difficult demographic, but the nation’s most difficult demographic – and put that concentration within one building,” Lacey said.

Dayton Boys Prep is, obviously, a boys school, and about 95 percent of the students are black. Lacey said he was referring to an academic performance gap, where black males have historically had lower test scores than other demographics.

But multiple audience members, including veteran Kiser PK-6 School Principal James Fowler, took Lacey to task for his comment, saying it sounded like Lacey was calling black males difficult students in general.

Lacey apologized, saying he probably didn’t word his comment well, but also pushed back, saying the achievement gap for black males is a serious problem and he hopes the district revisits whether to set up Boys Prep that way.

Fowler started to talk about the reason DPS went to that model and what reasons might account for the performance gap. Lacey interrupted Fowler multiple times, and Fowler said sternly, “You don’t listen, Joe. What came out of your mouth was insulting to me as a black man.”

As DPS security personnel and others walked over, the group went their separate ways.