Striking Reynoldsburg teachers want the public to know one thing: they’re on the picket line because they care about students first.

The strike is more about what the Reynoldsburg school district is forcing on the students and teachers than winning a compensation package that’s on par with neighboring districts, said the Reynoldsburg Education Association (REA), the teachers’ union.

The Reynoldsburg school district, led by Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning, called an “education ally” of Gov. John Kasich by the REA, has been pushing hard for teachers to accept a merit-based pay system.

Conservatives and Capitalists have long been among supporters of merit-based pay claiming it will help to close “the achievement gap.”

Critics of merit-based pay say it is a veiled effort to privatize education by replacing teachers with technology, increasing class sizes, increasing the number of standardized tests and growing the number of for-profit charter schools.

Merit-based pay for teachers results in a failure to measure how much a student has grown educationally over the entire school year, says Kathy Evans, spokesperson for the REA teachers’ union.

Instead, it bases a student’s academic development on a handful of state tests they take once a year (the Ohio Graduation Tests or OGTs).
Ask any high-school teacher in Central Ohio about the OGTs, and they’ll tell you that thousands upon thousands of hard-working, good kids have had their lives take a turn for the worst because they couldn’t pass the state’s standardized testing.

“We feel like this puts undue stress on our students,” says Evans. “So not [only] are they already stressed out because of the tests, [but] now they feel like our bonuses or our salary are based on how they do on these tests. ‘Gosh my teacher is going to lose her job if I don’t well on this test’. This is a crazy position to put our kids in.”

The REA went on strike at the beginning of this school year after negations failed with the Reynoldsburg school district. Also at issue, says the REA, are class sizes and teacher morale. The two parties returned to the bargaining table with a federal mediator this past Sunday, but the bargaining teams could not end the strike.

The school district wants to eliminate the traditional salary scale for annual raises and replace it with a merit-based scale heavily dependent on teacher evaluations. The district has since scaled back this demand.

Superintendent Thomas-Manning was working for the Ohio Department of Education when she was tapped to the lead the district last year.

“She’s highly tied to Kasich, and so was the superintendent she replaced, Steve Dackin, and the superintendent before him, Richard Ross,” says Evans. “They’re anti-union and highly believe in this high-stakes testing environment that has just overtaken not only Reynoldsburg, but schools throughout the state.”

The district hired Huffmaster Crisis Response, LLC, out of Michigan, to assist in running the district. Huffmaster employs nearly 200 substitute teachers every day at a rate of $175 per day plus stipend. The daily pay of Huffmaster leadership that has apparently invaded the district is also eye-opening.

The local news site Plunderbund.com posted an article detailing the contract agreement between the district and Huffmaster. According to the site, Woodie Goodnight, a Huffmaster “contingency planner,” earns $800 a day plus expenses. Security personnel paid over $500 a day, according to the contract.

“It’s outrageous,” says Evans. “It makes me worry about the students. But it makes me more upset with our Board of Education because we know you are not able to replace us. We know our students best. I don’t think we should be paying $175 of our tax payer’s money to do a poor job and not help the students in anyway.”

“We are not their enemy in this,” she says, “we really care about the students and what’s best for them. We are in those class rooms everyday and they need to start listening to use. They need to pay attention to what we’re saying. It’s not a political thing for us.”