State fact-finder Mitchell Goldberg has given the Cincinnati Board of Education and the teachers union a graceful way out of a contract-dispute corner they've been trapped in since March. A "tentative agreement" collapsed after the board and Superintendent Alton Frailey rejected the three-year contract that Frailey's bargainers helped negotiate. Wednesday, Goldberg patched the deal back together again, and now the board and union must vote it up or down within seven days.
Both sides should ratify the fact-finder's recommendations, bury the bitter feelings and join in getting CPS' act together. The district faces daunting decisions on whether to go to voters with a $65.5 million renewal levy in November, adopt a pay-for-performance plan for teachers, and cut back on some new school construction and teacher levels because student enrollment has shrunk to 38,800. CPS faces enough moving targets as it is, without teachers and the administration in opposing camps.
The fact-finder's contract proposal takes effect unless a "supermajority" of 60 percent on either side rejects it. The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers' executive committee is recommending that teachers ratify it. "We cannot allow this contract dispute to fester into the fall," union president Sue Taylor said. "We will go into this with full good faith."
Both sides won a little, lost a little. During the May 6 hearing, they resolved the pay-for-performance impasse outside the collective bargaining agreement: They agreed to form a joint committee to research model plans, including the one Denver teachers adopted in March by a 59 percent majority.
Several of the most stubborn contract sticking points involved CPS' failure to reduce its teacher ranks as student enrollment dropped 13 percent since 1999. CPS lost more than 1,500 students last year. Goldberg threw out a generous teacher severance package designed to induce some to retire, but he endorsed a 5.8 percent pay increase in teachers' 27th year to help retain them. Although individual schools cut a total of about 400 teachers and staff to fit next year's budgets, somehow the central office missed the April 30 deadline to make "reductions in force," and now the district needs to figure out if it can legally lay them off.
CPS officials still seem too often to be out of sync, but at least Frailey is predicting the district will emerge from Ohio's "academic emergency" ranking this year. Cincinnati Public needs to put this contract clash behind it and get on with right-sizing, and upgrading student achievement.
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