Southeast teachers authorized a strike if contract negotiations stall

Photo by Jon Ridinger

Teachers in the Southeast Local School District have authorized their union leadership to issue a 10-day strike notice if a bargaining session set for Aug. 9 doesn’t get them closer to their requests for better working conditions.

The teacher’s union, Southeast Local School District Teachers Association, has been trying to reach an agreement with the school board since April 18.

The teachers’ contract expired June 30. Union leadership have been meeting with Southeast’s board of education but haven’t agreed on the length of a workday, increasing insurance costs, salary, and student discipline issues, said Monica Kiskadden, a teacher and spokesperson for the union. 

On Aug. 2, the teachers “voted overwhelmingly” to issue the strike notice “should the bargaining team determine the district is unwilling to find a path to a fair settlement,” Kiskadden stated.

A 10-day strike notice does not mean a strike will happen.

“It authorizes the negotiating team to make that decision, but our hope is that we are able to create a fair and equitable agreement,” Kiskadden said. “Our hope is to see the kids on Aug. 30.”

Southeast Local teachers have the lowest starting salary for new teachers of all Portage County school districts, and the third-lowest in the county for veteran teachers, she said.

That salary structure means teachers look at Southeast as a career stepping stone instead of a career destination, Kiskadden said.

Southeast teachers “do not take this step lightly, but we cannot continue to lose talented educators to surrounding districts, and if those who remain are unsupported by the administration,” she said.

Board of Education President Mary Kaley and Southeast Superintendent Robert Dunn both expressed disappointment that they heard about the strike notice from reporters, not from the teachers’ union.

“The board’s team has negotiated respectfully and in good faith with the union’s team all along, and it will continue to do so,” Kaley said. “We feel there is plenty of room for both sides to find agreement on the outstanding issues and reach a contract that is fair to all involved.”

Recognizing that scheduling conflicts limited bargaining sessions to only two the entire summer, Dunn pledged to continue negotiating in good faith.

“This infrequency has made moving on a few items more difficult,” he said. “We look forward to getting back to work with SELDTA to finalize a deal and welcoming back our outstanding students and staff later this month.”

Students are set to begin the 2023-24 school year on Aug. 30. At this point, teachers will be in the classroom on that date, Kiskadden said.

A special board meeting originally set for Aug. 7 has been rescheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at the high school library. Kaley said the strike notice will not be on the agenda because the teachers’ union has only authorized a strike, not actually committed to one.

Southeast’s school board on July 31 authorized putting a five-year, 1.5-mill additional tax levy to fund general permanent improvements on the November ballot. If approved, the levy will generate almost $2.94 million, and would add $53 for each $100,000 of the county auditor’s appraised value of property.

Funds generated from general permanent improvement levies are used for capital improvement projects, maintenance and repairs of school district property, and certain equipment items that are designed to last at least five years.

The district can use the proceeds to purchase technology, heating and air conditioning systems, roofs, or other facility upgrades. Ohio law prevents the funds from being used on staff salaries or benefits.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.