Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Strongsville Realtalk: This is Why Strikes are Dangerous

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 4:28 PM

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Just what the hell is happening in Strongsville?

On Tuesday morning, the second day of a teachers' strike in Cleveland's southern-suburb-with-a-big-mall-that's-not-Parma, an angry parent drove through a picket line at Kinser Elementary School in a 'graze'-and-run. No one was injured.

On Monday, frazzled residents called Strongsville High School a war zone. Students likened it to Auschwitz...the concentration camp. You'd think that these teenagers, herded into consolidated classes and forced to watch Netflix and play cards all day at the hands of desperate substitutes, were refugees.

Sheesh.

If you haven't been following the news, here's a quick review: Saturday, the Strongsville Education Association failed to reach terms with their board of education and announced a strike. Teachers maintain that their contracts' new terms demand more work for less pay. The school board counters that it already offers teachers a competitive compensation package, and the new terms reflect the realities of a harsh economy.

"Frankly, it is hard to comprehend why a strike notice was issued when we are still in negotiations," the board wrote in an official statement.

The teachers' primary contention was over higher monthly fees for medical coverage and the potential loss of step and column raises (salary increases based on education level and years of service). They also didn't want to lose the 9.3 percent of their retirement share that the district currently picks up.

The school board proposed to add that retirement chunk to a teacher's base salary, bringing the starting pay of a teacher with a Bachelor's degree to $38, 013. The average teacher salary in the Strongsville district is $68,000. In 2011, according to the state Treasurer's office, more than 100 teachers made more than $75,000.

Anyway, now they're striking.

Monday morning, school was a tad closer to Total Clusterfuck than administrators might have preferred, but reports — though varied — indicate that things are cooling down. "The teachers are teaching" seems to be a benchmark for success at this point, to give you an idea.

There's also been a bizarre, reactionary Twitter campaign by Strongsville students to alert the world of their woes: "It's hell," reported one dramatic junior. "Just hell." Students have been asserting their rights of free speech in response to what they're calling a social media "ban" by school administration. They're citing examples of historical censorship rhetoric as predecessors.

To a certain extent, hyperbolic teenagers will be hyperbolic teenagers, but Senior Anthony Kowalski said the "ban" talk is definitely overblown.

"There was no restriction on social media," Kowalski wrote (via Twitter message, oddly enough) "It was more of a reminder to keep it sophisticated."

Kowalski also noted that Tuesday was a huge improvement from Monday, that the roaming packs of students had been rounded up or tranquilized and classes were more officially in session, now that the subs had sort of gotten the hang of things.

Strongsville Patch reported that the fire department would be visisting on Tuesday to assess whether or not overstuffed classrooms represented a fire hzard, per Strongsville City Council request.

School Board President David Frazee "heard" that nearly 90 percent of students showed up for school on Monday and was impressed. Principal William Steffen, however, after school on Monday, guessed that total attendance was somewhere between 1500-1800 of 2400 total students. Still not bad, though almost the entire senior class bolted by 10:30 a.m., according to students.

"Each day is going to get better," Steffen said, remaining astonishingly upbeat.

The school district continues to hire substitutes to fill the vacancies and ease the load, but students are the ultimate losers when teachers strike.

Strongsville Mayor Thomas Perciak has injected some common sense into the mix, urging both striking teachers and the school board to return to negotiations. Typically, after contract talks fail, there's at least a weeklong reprieve for parties to cool their respective jets. In this case, though, the delay is wreaking havoc on students and facilities.

"Our sports programs, our extracurricular activities and numerous community events held in our school buildings are also being interrupted," explained Perciak.

The mayor has asked repeatedly to be involved. He's reached out to leaders on both sides and requested that talks resume with 24-48 hours. "The only way we're going to get this done is by sitting down, continuing the dialogue, and hammering out an agreement."


[UPDATE: Re: the "graze-and-run" reference above — The teacher reported that the vehicle grazed her as it passed through the picket line. The driver was a parent. In her report to police, she said she inched up to a picket line which was blocking the driveway and that the teacher slapped the hood of her car.

Re: Twitter campaign — Both Occupy Wall Street and the hacker group Anonymous got behind the students in their anti-censorship tweeting theatrics. After Scene spearheaded an inquiry to verify that there was no official ban, Anonymous qualified their endorsements and tweeted the facts.]

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