Rows and rows of people marching outside all with red shirts on and holding signs about Schools

Columbus teachers picketed outside of Columbus City Hall to demand an end to tax abatements to corporations on Monday, July 29. They are bargaining for a new union contract to end the school to prison pipeline, reduce class sizes, end handouts to companies, hire counselors, social workers, nurses, and librarians, design schools that support physical education, music and the arts, and to compensate educators like the professionals they are.

At 4 p.m., community members, school children, future school kids, teachers, activists and union members from the Columbus Education Association (CEA), the Ohio Education Association and the National Education Association gathered in front of the Columbus Firefighters Union. CEA Vice President Phil Hayes, emcee for the event, informed the picketers to gear up for the march from 379 West Broad Street to 90 West Broad Street across the river after a few union members and teachers made statements.

Hayes estimated that a crowd of nearly a thousand people showed up to support the teachers’ movement. He said that since 2012, about one-third of Columbus City School teachers had left the district because of poor teaching conditions and lack of funding. He said there must be accountability for these prevalent problems in the system.

“Collective bargaining is one of the ways to do it,” said Hayes. “It’s a shame we have to bargain for this.”

CEA President John Coneglio was the first to speak outside of the Firefighters’ Union Hall. He said that public education would be a priority if politicians made it a priority. He said Columbus City Council approved 20 tax abatements at their last meeting, a move that hurts public schools.

“The reverse Robin Hood policy must go,” said Coneglio. “We are here to fight for schools Columbus students deserve.”

Merele Wilder teaches fifth grade at Cedarwood Elementary. She has been a teacher and union member for 28 years. Her three children attended and graduated from Columbus City Schools. She said kids can be successful if tax abatement funds are shifted to support the mental health of the families and for school buildings. She said that Shannon G. Hardin, Columbus City Council President, is her former student.

“Please, Shannon, please. Let’s reconsider these tax abatements,” said Wilder. “Between the year 2000 and 2016, Columbus City Schools lost $148 million to tax abatements.”

Diana Turner teaches 9th and 11th grades at Northland High School. She said that she teaches in school temperatures that go as high as 100 degrees and she has sweat dripping off her back and fingertips. She said that the lack of funding causes mold treatment at school buildings to consist of just spraying a new layer of paint on the walls.

“Our building is dirty because they give us one custodian for a thousand kids,” said Turner. “We used to have more than one, and they made cuts. And now they are like, we can’t do it. We ask for more, and they say no.”

Coneglio said that there is only one librarian for every 11 schools. Wilder said that they do not have full day, all day and every day counselors, nurses, social workers and librarians. The teachers chanted about how wealthy corporations get handouts but kids get sold out.

“Pay for librarians and nurses, not scabs,” chanted Columbus teachers.

Daryl Curry is an art teacher at Indianola Informal K-8 School. She held up a sign with a 3D faucet that said to stop the water works and had a list of companies draining school funding with the tax breaks. Some of the companies granted 100 percent tax breaks are: Cover My Meds, Hamilton Crossing LLC, Loyalty Place Owner, Easton Ally Prop. LLC and E. W. High Street LLC. Shifting corporate tax break funds into the Columbus school system would allow students to have the proper education they need to become successful.

Teachers picketed Columbus City Council so that their students can get the education they deserve. Turner repeated that some teachers leave Columbus City Schools because they can’t deal with the poor teaching conditions anymore.

“Our kids cannot leave the inadequacies,” said Turner. “How are my students supposed to learn in this?”

The teachers marched around City Hall chanting continuously. It was a never ending circle of red picketers. Most of the attendees wore red shirts to show solidarity with educators strikers in 2018 and to demonstrate their unity. The signs read, “I don’t want to strike but I will.”

The picket demonstrates the level of community support that a potential teachers’ strike in Columbus would attract. If Columbus City Council continues to ignore the contract and the union’s demands, it is clear the teachers are well prepared to fight for the future of their students.

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