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Akron teachers and school district reach tentative agreement, avoiding strike

 Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.

Akron Public Schools and the Akron Education Association have reached a tentative agreement after months of struggling to see eye-to-eye, narrowly averting a strike that could have started Monday.

Negotiating teams for both sides met all day Saturday and much of Sunday in Akron behind closed doors, trying to build a consensus despite things becoming acrimonious in recent weeks. The union has been without a contract for roughly six months.

The agreement at this point is “tentative,” meaning the district and union must hash out details further before coming to an agreement on a contract that must be ratified by both sides. Akron Education Association President Pat Shipe confirmed the two sides had reached the tentative agreement Sunday just before 8 p.m.

"I will say that it is a fair contract for all involved," Shipe said.

Akron Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack welcomed the news Sunday night in a provided statement.

"I am pleased to report that we have reached a tentative agreement with leaders of the Akron Education Association (AEA), so our students can report to school Monday in person, as usual. Because of the hard work and commitment of both sides, our students will experience no interruption in their classroom experience," she said. "To our families, community, staff, and administrators who have supported our joint efforts toward this resolution, we appreciate you."

Board President N.J. Akbar similarly was glad to reach the agreement in another provided statement.

"While I cannot share details yet, we want everyone in Akron Public Schools and the Akron community to know that we have reached this agreement in the best interest of our students and in honor and recognition of the dedication our teachers share in achieving increased student outcomes," Akbar said. "There was never a question from this board that our teachers deserved more – we hold that same value."

The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the board moved to appease the union on salaries, meeting them with raises of 4%, 3% and 3.5% over the next three years instead of roughly 2% per year, as the administration had requested in November, or 5% per year as the union had requested at that time.

And the district agreed to drop proposed language that would change the definition of assault.

The teachers union has said safety has been its biggest concern, with teachers reporting being assaulted amid other severe issues with student misbehavior. In contract negotiations, the school district had sought to tighten its definition of assault to be more in line with other Ohio public schools.

Parents and teachers have raised concerns in recent months about school safety, especially after two students were arrested for bringing loaded guns to school, and police have had to step in to stop fights in several school buildings.

Even with modest salary increases the district will likely need to seek a levy in the coming years, the fact-finder reported. The teachers, meanwhile, had countered that the district is flush with cash from federal pandemic relief bills and that schools nationwide are facing teacher shortages due to challenging work environments and low pay.

Updated: January 8, 2023 at 9:29 PM EST
This story has been updated to include comments from the president of the board of education.
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Conor Morris covers education in Northeast Ohio.