Dismissal goes smoothly at school in Austintown

Teachers want a say over their planning time during the school day.



AUSTINTOWN — A line of cars snaked from the Frank Ohl Intermediate School parking lot onto Idaho Road Monday afternoon.

Buses were lining up in front of the school, and in the blustery cold, parents were waiting for their children to be dismissed.

It was the first day of the district teachers’ vow to work no longer than their contract specifies, arriving at work on the dot of their start times and leaving exactly when they are supposed to leave.

At Frank Ohl, that meant they would be leaving at 4:05 p.m.

Were parents afraid their prompt departure would interfere with a smooth dismissal at the school? Is that why so many parents clogged the parking lot to the point where many of them were left hanging out onto Idaho Road?

Not really, because it’s usually jammed up that way, said one man who was waiting on the sidewalk, though he speculated that Monday’s nasty weather made it worse as even more parents turned out to pick up their kids.

He had not heard of the teachers’ “work-to-rule” day, he said. Neither had a woman waiting nearby.

George Kendall, who was waiting to pick up his fourth-grader, Gabrielle, said he had heard about the work-to-rule, which is intended to show the board of education that teachers do way more than their contract calls for in a 7.5-hour work day. He and a friend, also picking up her child, said they hoped teachers would stay, on an individual basis, to help kids. They are also hoping something happens with contract negotiations — they don’t want a strike.

So far, there’s been no talk of one. Teachers are following work-to-rule on a day-by-day basis as negotiations with the school board bog down over how much time teachers will be allowed during the day for planning, and who gets a say over that.

Teachers have had that say, but now a tentative agreement, shot down twice by the Austintown Education Association membership in the last three weeks, might take it away. Teachers want the right to decide how much planning time they need.

The last buses to leave Frank Ohl did so at 4:07. Dismissal went smoothly, confirmed Principal Dennis Rice, who was overseeing it.

Behind Frank Ohl, another chapter in the teachers’ saga of contract talks was just beginning at Fitch High.

The AEA membership met for two hours with schools Superintendent Doug Heuer as he answered questions about the tentative agreement and tried to quash rumors that it threatens art, music and physical education at the elementary schools.

He said he also tried to clarify questions about the contract language on scheduling.

Alf Nelson, the AEA’s Ohio Education Association bargaining representative, has said teachers’ preparation time is important. Planning time is also critical, he said, because much of it is spent with kids who need extra help.

Michael Creatore, school board president, has said building administrators should decide the schedule, not the staff.

Heuer said he pointed out to teachers Monday that despite the disagreement, there’s been “a tremendous lot of agreement” over the tentative contract — teachers, who make from $29,151 to $66,493, agreed to a 1 percent raise in the first year of the contract and no raise in the second. They also agreed to an 8.5 percent health-insurance premium pickup.

But Creatore has asserted that teachers teach only 4.2 hours out of the day, and that is a waste of money. That’s making the AEA angry.

Creatore points to a state district performance audit to back up his position that a second planning period at Fitch is a waste, and he also points out that the state recommends 5.5 hours a day of teaching.

But teachers who spoke to The Vindicator on Monday aren’t impressed by that argument.

“We don’t want to be a state-minimum school,” said one math teacher Monday. She did not want her name to be used.

“We do not teach any less than any other district,” said another math teacher standing near her in the hallway outside the meeting room. “Every second of my day is spent with a child.”

Heuer and Nelson both said they believe the meeting was productive. The last bargaining session was Nov. 17, with both sides now feeling their way to the next step. Nelson said the AEA intends to ask the district today if it will go back to the bargaining table.

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