Since Dr. Dixon was hired in 2019 the district has added nearly 100 new administrators
Dixon and people protesting and a chart

More educators, reducing class sizes, and air conditioning are on the bargaining table between Columbus City School teachers and the Columbus Board of Education (the Board). But teachers are telling the Free Press that Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon, the Board itself, and the way the district has been run since Dixon took over are also under scrutiny and one reason why they may strike.

Dr. Dixon was hired by the Board early in 2019 and she led the district with its 50,000 students through the pandemic. She also lost her father at the beginning of the lockdown.

Her first three years were eventful to say the least. But during this time the district’s 4,100 teachers noticed more administrators were being hired. A lot more, actually.

Indeed, nearly 100 administrators, who are not members of the teachers’ union, were hired (see above chart provided by Columbus City School teachers). Many of these of positions pay over $100,000, and many are “central office” admins, meaning they do not work in the schools.

“None of these positions existed prior to Dr. Dixon,” said one Columbus City School’s teacher to the Free Press. “Nor do they work for the students.”

The Free Press spoke to roughly a dozen teachers over the summer, and is quoting them anonymously.

“Most of these jobs pay well over $100,000, plus benefits,” said another teacher. “That’s millions that could be going to staffing our schools to help our teachers and students.”

What’s more, in August of 2020, the Board of Education began paying the full amount of administrators’ contributions to the state-mandated retirement system, essentially giving them a 14 percent raise. Teachers say this has cost $5 to $6 million annually, which could have been spent hiring 100 educators who would have directly helped students.

Hiring a heavy layer of administrators in an educational institution is nothing new, and to be clear, they do not teach. The Free Press witnessed such a work structure form at Ohio State over the previous two decades. For example, there are several “Vice Presidents to the Vice President” in the Office of Student Life.

There’s no definitive answer as to why educational institutions decided to add layer upon layer of extra bureaucracy. One possible answer – to micromanage teachers.

The Free Press asked the district about this, but spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant did not offer a statement and instead sent a link to this past week’s Board meeting.

Nonetheless, what matters is these extra admins have negatively impacted some Columbus City School teachers.

“It’s killing teacher morale,” said another teacher.

The teachers’ union, the Columbus Education Association (CEA), says they’ve negotiated with the district for 150 hours since March, but negotiations abruptly ended last week.

The CEA is saying the district abandoned the bargaining table after the union rejected its final offer. But following this, School Board President Jennifer Adair told a reporter this wasn’t their “final, final offer.”

“We have a fundamental difference on how the district should run,” says CEA President John Coneglio. “The Superintendent and her team believe they should rule by decree and not work with teachers on how to implement things.”

Coneglio believes the Board of Education also adheres to this thinking.

“In other words, they don’t respect the teacher’s voice. They just want to tell us what to do. And implement bad policy after bad policy, and not having any push back. Because that’s what they do, and they’ve never set foot in a classroom,” he said. 

District administrators will put in place what they feel is a “great idea” for the district without any teacher input, says Coneglio. Teachers then suffer the consequences when the idea fails, he says.

For instance, the Board this year demoted district employees working in the “Project Connect” program, which helps Columbus City School homeless students. Their pay was cut by 30 percent and their union membership was canceled.

“For the district, the only way to fix every single problem is to make it a teacher problem,” says Coneglio. “They can’t find bus drivers, they can’t find subs – that’s BS. They say there’s a ‘shortage of workers’. It’s because they don’t pay people enough.”

Teachers are already overwhelmed and overloaded, he says. “They just want to dump more and more on us.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Dixon was awarded a new three-year contract with an annual salary of $262,000 (an eight percent raise), and a monthly transportation and tech stipend of $900, along with 35 vacation days.

If the Board’s negotiating team does not return to the bargaining table with a better offer, CEA membership will vote to authorize a 10-day strike notice.

Coneglio says the ball is in the district’s court. The first day of school for 50,000 kids is August 24.

“The district holds the cards on how this plays out,” he says. “We are willing to bargain in good faith with the district. We owe it to the community, to our students, to our teachers, to have a fair contract before school starts. As soon as possible actually. However, the teachers of Columbus are not going to take an unfair contract.”