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Featured Education Matters guests:
- Regina Fuentes, Columbus Education Association member
- Regina R. Fuentes is a 24 year veteran English teacher at Eastmoor Academy High School. She has worked for Columbus City Schools her entire teaching career. Regina is also an alumni of CCS, Northland graduating Class of 1994. For the last six years she has also served in the position of Spokesperson for the Columbus Education Association and was an important voice in the 2022 teacher strike.
- Annelise Taggart, Columbus Education Association member
- Annelise Taggart is in her 7th year teaching Elementary Art in Columbus City Schools. She has taught under at least six different principals, at five different buildings, from four different classrooms, two different carts, and from her laptop. Annelise has served as a Faculty Representative for the Visual Art Unit of the Columbus Education Association for 5 years, previously served as a Member Ambassador for Ohio's New Educators and Chair of Columbus Early Career Educators, and proudly served for the first time this past year as a member of the core bargaining team negotiating the 2022-2025 Master Agreement.
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Video of Columbus Education members on picket line 0:17
"When CEA is under attack, what do we do?" "Stand up, fight back!" "What do we do?" "Stand up, fight back!"
Katie Olmsted 0:25
Those are the voices of just a few of the more than 4,000 Columbus teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists and other education professionals who were walking the picket line last summer during the Columbus Education Association's first strike since 1975. Their three day strike, just as the school year was supposed to be getting underway, ended in monumental victories for Columbus students, educators, and the community. We're talking everything from ensuring students are learning in climate controlled buildings with smaller class sizes to improvements in working conditions that will ensure the district can attract and retain great teachers for years to come. I'm Katie Olmsted, and on this episode of Education Matters, we are taking a look at what has happened in the six months since the Columbus Education Association strike and what work is still ahead. So we asked CEA members Regina Fuentes and Annelise Taggart to share their thoughts. Regina Fuentes is an English teacher at Eastmoor Academy High School who served as CEA spokesperson during the crisis. And Annelise Taggart teaches art at Easthaven Elementary School. She was on the bargaining team for CEA during this latest contract fight. Let's take a listen.
Regina Fuentes, Anneliese Taggart, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us to talk about what happened and what has happened since that CEA strike that changed so much. August 22, 2022 was the first day of the strike. And it had been building to that point for a long time. What can you tell me about what led to that moment?
Regina Fuentes 2:16
This is Regina. And we go back into March of the previous school year to start the negotiation process and start thinking about what it is that we want to ask for of the district in our contract negotiations. So we were ready. I think our members, of course, were nervous. They were, you know, anticipating things to get done. And it just wasn't happening.
Katie Olmsted 2:44
Annelise, you were in the room where it happens. You were part of the bargaining team. In the months between March and August, what was the atmosphere like?
Annelise Taggart 2:55
There was a lot that happened between March and August. On our end, we met as a core team. And we sat at the table with the board's team for hours and hours and hours. Before we got to the point in August, where we were looking at the 10 day notice and the strike vote. We had been at the table - I don't remember exactly how many sessions we had between March and the end of the school year - But we had been at the table multiple sessions; we weren't making progress on a lot of our really big items at that point; and we were looking at a lot of summer dates and met a lot of resistance from the board to schedule those summer dates. So we we knew that we were facing an uphill battle and facing a long road ahead. And then we had, you know, a wonderful Membership Action Team, who was standing behind us the entire time and helping communicate with the general membership what was happening and keeping that that spirit and the energy alive as we went into the summer. That was really critical for us, keeping you know, momentum as we went into June and July, and then August.
Katie Olmsted 4:12
And then August comes and the board gives its "last best final offer," I say ironically, sarcastically, with air quotes around it, because we all know what happened with that one.
Annelise Taggart 4:24
Yeah. Yeah. So August came and we were we felt like we were making some progress on certain things. And the board, you know, kept us hanging one day really, really late. They said, Oh, we're gonna stay here and we're gonna hammer this out. And then they said, Oh, just kidding. Here's our last best and final and you can deal with it, as you know, as that is. So that was really probably the biggest change in momentum. Things really picked up from there where we had mass meetings. We had a lot of action happening really quickly in August after a long time of building that.
Katie Olmsted 4:56
And when we're talking about mass meetings, Columbus Education Association is a massive local association. So when you have 4,000 members coming together to demand what their students need, what did that feel like to be in that moment with that group?
Regina Fuentes 5:15
Well, for me - this Regina - having to be the person up front and having to be the person doing the speaking for everyone. It was a, it was an invigorating time. It was powerful. I think it was uniting. I've never felt more connected to my colleagues in other buildings. In my own building. Just, it was so powerful of a moment. And we were making history. And we weren't making history because we wanted to make history; we were we were making history, because we wanted to advocate for our students and do what was right for our students. And it just felt really good to see the power of teachers and see the power of our unified voice, come together and be able to do what we did. And that day when we, you know, collected our vote for to go to strike, and it was a unanimous vote, it was so powerful of a feeling. It was just amazing. I've never seen anything like that before. And it just really felt good that you know, we were all speaking as one voice like that,
Annelise Taggart 6:27
I'm getting chills even again, just thinking about it. Just the electricity of that moment. And being in that space, with all of those people standing in solidarity together and saying, Yeah, we're going to stand up together for our students and for our schools, and for the contract that we deserve.
Katie Olmsted 6:46
And then, as you're out on the lines, the community also stood with you in a way that for me as an outsider looking in, it felt right, but it also felt awesome to see the community that you serve every day, come to stand with you. What did that look like for you?
Regina Fuentes 7:03
This is Regina. For me, it was very rewarding, because Columbus City Schools in this, in central Ohio gets such a bad rap. We get such a bad rap for lack of parental support, we get such a bad rap for being you know, these horrible places for kids to go to school. It is not the case. We have some of the best educators in the entire state working in the Columbus City Schools. And we do amazing things with our students. Parents send us, you know, all that they have. That's the best they got. And they are entrusting in us that we are going to take the best that they have and be able to do something, you know, wonderful with it, because that's their best investment in life. So we take that very seriously, I think as teachers, and it was just wonderful to get that support back from those parents that said, 'you know what, we see how hard you're working. We see what you're trying to do for our children. And we're going to back you on this, we're really going to support you in this.' I didn't think that would happen, at least not to the volume that it did. And so when it did happen, it was an emotional moment for me, like I was just really touched by the power of the community. I was really just impressed that they they stood up and did what they did.
Katie Olmsted 8:24
I think it shows that the community understood what you were fighting for. What were you fighting for, for those students?
Annelise Taggart 8:32
This is Annelise. We were fighting for building conditions, equitable learning environments. A big factor in our strike campaign and something that ended up getting a lot of attention was our building conditions, the lack of air conditioning in many of our buildings in the 21st century; the way that some of our ceilings and our roofs leak. There were community members who were sharing information about how certain funds were being used and things like that. And that got a lot of attention and a lot of support. And that's something that we were able to get some movement on in the contract. We got in writing a commitment to installing functional HVAC systems in all of our buildings during the time of the contract. And fighting for you know, just those equitable conditions for all of our students, not just, you know, students in some of the lottery programs or in different parts of the city, you know, our students deserve the absolute best, and we're still fighting for that. Rome was not built in a day. But that was one of the really main things that on the picket lines we were talking about we were fighting for, and that the community was rallying behind us for.
Regina Fuentes 9:45
And one of the things I want to add to that - and Annelise was really important in this - the fact that we were asking for unified arts to be put back into our elementary schools. Why that was pulled in for artsplace was just ridiculous. And to have a full time unified arts, music, PE
Annelise Taggart 10:07
Yeah. And adaptive physical education we have a lot of, of our APE teachers that adaptive physical education who work with our students with various physical needs. We have a lot of those teachers who are dealing with completely obscene case loads. So things like that. The unified arts that we are trying to bolster and support and we got language also, in this contract that will eventually blossom into hiring more unified arts teachers with the end goal, eventually being, you know, one dedicated teacher per building so that we can grow those programs, we can have teachers that build those communities within those buildings, and within those neighborhoods. So having, you know, a dedicated teacher for all of those subject areas at each building was something that we were fighting for, as well.
Katie Olmsted 10:57
I liked that you continue to bring up the word continue and build, because it's important to recognize that this contract, while it is a huge victory, is a starting point for what you can build for your students in the future. Let's talk about all that you've accomplished in the six months through that contract. And the work that still is ahead for you.
Regina Fuentes 11:19
Number one for me - This is Regina - number one for me is just the the way, it's kind of unified the buildings. I know towards the end there, there were people who like you know, they didn't necessarily agree with what we finally negotiated. But 75% or more of our entire member body voted to approve the contract. And that's the highest that it's ever been in any contract negotiation that we've ever gone through. So that in itself, I think was a huge accomplishment, and has helped us push forward and to try and continue to push for the things that we need and the things that we deserve. I think it's also caused a lot of individuals to focus a lot more attention on their contract, and focus a lot more attention on what their rights are and what they're, you know, what people are allowed to do, and not to do to them. Because so many times I feel like teachers will just take it. And that's what got us to this point is that we've just been taking it, taking it, taking it and to the point where we couldn't take it anymore. So this really, I think opened up a lot of eyes to people and showed them you know what, the only way that we're going to be able to force change is to unify and have a voice and, you know, a seat at the table. So that's something that I see moving forward, that has been really beneficial. And I think it's only going to build momentum.
Annelise Taggart 12:56
This is Annelise. I completely agree that you know, one of the huge, amazing things that came out of our strike and our new contract is people know what's in the contract now. They're paying attention to what's in the contract. They've had, you know, more of a relationship with the actual nitty gritty of it than they've ever had before, which is amazing. And you know, there are so many things that we got wins on that are just going to continue to grow. And the more that people know about them, the more they'll be utilized. And that's pretty amazing.
Katie Olmsted 13:29
And it's created this long term momentum. I want to go over a couple of the individual wins from this contract. Among them, of course, are that commitment on paper to have working HVAC in every building - I can't even believe I have to say, hey, you had to fight for that. But here we are. And there is an end date on that one, every building is gonna have working HVAC by the end of your contract, the parental leave, let's talk about the parental leave in this one, too. This is first of its kind in your contract. And other local districts around are using your contract as a model for their local bargaining, what they're fighting for now, too. We're talking 1,000s of members for generations to come are going to benefit from that one win.
Annelise Taggart 14:18
I am so excited. This is Annelise. I'm so excited about the wins on parental leave, because I'm going to be using it within the next week.
Katie Olmsted 14:29
Annelise Taggart 14:30
Thank you. That was something that I knew when I joined the core bargaining team that it was something that I was going to scream and shout and stomp my feet about in the room that that was something I was very passionate about. Because we went from having pretty much nothing where you know you could take FMLA and up to six weeks of it could be paid, for up to eight weeks if you had a C-section. And it was 100% from your own sick leave, so - and that's for maternity leave, and I can't speak so much to paternity leave, but I've taken the maternity leave before, so I can speak to that really well. And that's something that's very difficult for our new educators who don't have a bank of sick time stored up who, you know, can't really afford to extend their leave into an unpaid status or something like that, as well. So we ended up winning the first ever actual paid family leave in our contract that, hopefully, again, is like a seed that we've planted, that we can continue to grow and improve upon. But it's the first 10 days of your leads come from your sick time. And then the remaining 20 days are not from your sick time, they are given to you from the district at 70% of your pay. And you can supplement that and make that 100% of your pay, which was a huge, incredible win.
Katie Olmsted 15:55
And that's a huge win for your students. At the end of the day, having a parental leave policy in place that makes this a district where you can grow as an educator, helps you better serve your students. Having an attractive place to work serves students best, which is why the 4% raises in your contract are also huge for what you're able to achieve for your students. I also saw that moving forward, the treasurer has said that they're going to, quote, "bake in" a 2.5% raise in their projections. And I hope it's because they recognize your power, that you're not going to take it.
Regina Fuentes 16:34
Annelise Taggart 16:34
Regina Fuentes 16:36
And just to - this is Regina - just to add on to what Annelise was saying there, you know, when when, when a woman decides to have children, she's usually in her 20s or earlier years. And those years in your teaching career, you don't have any sick days. I mean, I remember I ran through, I had my kids back to back, and you run through those days in no time, and then you're getting - you know, you're off, but you're not getting paid. And it's it is hugely a problem trying to to survive. You know, you're trying to build a family, you're trying to take care of your bills, it's a lot, it's a lot. So I was ecstatic to see that. And to know that our young teachers coming in would have that as something to look forward, to something, some type of asset that they could actually build upon. And, and just grow individually. Like, I mean, you're allowed to have a life and you're allowed to to build a family and have, you know, go buy a house, my God, it's just, you know, these are just nice things. And I'm just, you know, teachers deserve nice things. And I think that's another big thing that came out of all this, too, is like, you know what, we're real people outside of these buildings. We are real people just trying to live our lives and do what we need to do. And yes, your children are at the top of our concern. But you know, we have to take care of self, too. We have to be seen as professionals. And we have to be seen for all that we did to prepare for this. And that's really important to notice. And that's why those things in the contract, I think that just acknowledges that we are human beings outside of the classroom.
Katie Olmsted 18:19
Well, and then inside the classroom, you're also human beings. You are trained professionals, you are very good at what you do, and you're dedicated to your students. But no one can teach effectively when you have too many students in your class. That's just insanity. And the contract, the new contract that you won, that's making strides towards making more manageable class sizes, right?
Regina Fuentes 18:42
Yes. The time before this, we reduced it by two. This time, we reduced it by two. So it keeps going up, you know, every time we're reducing it. Before President Coniglio was in office and we had contract negotiations, that number stayed the same. I remember 11 years or more of my teaching career where the number with at 180 for your total students, and it was at 36 for your class sizes. So, and that's in the high school level. So for it to every time we've done contract negotiations with our current president and vice president for it to have gone down, even if it may seem small, that is huge. Because I know for a fact that the district does not want to budge when it comes to class sizes because they want to step those classes as full as they can because they don't understand the impact that that has on student engagement and the classroom management.
Annelise Taggart 19:45
So this is Annelise, again. Also thinking, you know, we talked about the massive size of our district. Those little things really, really add up to a huge change across the district and also huge change in terms of like budget concerns and all of that nitty gritty sort of thing. So we really keep in mind, you know, we are the largest school district, the largest public school district in the state of Ohio. So these little changes that we're making contract to contract really snowball into a huge impact.
Katie Olmsted 20:16
And I can only imagine the impact that the strike had on future contracts. Everybody knows a strike is the last resort. No one wanted to be there. But I, it feels like the district didn't believe that you meant what you were saying. And when you stood up, when you stood up 4,000 members strong and said, 'We're not going to take it anymore,' it is a seismic shift for the future for every single member and every single student you serve. And moving forward, it will be under a new superintendent. It's probably too soon to tell what the new superintendent is going to mean for you, or - there's lots of changes at the district leadership - but if nothing else, you better believe they believe you mean it, right?
Annelise Taggart 21:05
And that was evident to us in the room. They did not think that we were serious. And they weren't treating it, they weren't treating us like we were serious at that point. And that was that was very clear by them just passing down the last best and final offer after a full day of productive conversations, after a full day of us really giving it fully 100% of our effort on our side. That made it very clear that they didn't think that we were serious. They didn't think that we were going to actually do anything. And they didn't really recognize I think the magnitude of the moment.
Katie Olmsted 21:41
It's magnitude beyond just Columbus. Across the state, people are feeling empowered, across the country, people look to what you did, and what you've been able to accomplish. And they see that power in themselves now. It all started because you were fighting for the schools that Columbus students deserve. Every Columbus student deserves to be in a safe, fully resourced, properly maintained school in every neighborhood. Are we there yet? Are we getting there?
Regina Fuentes 22:10
We're getting there.
Katie Olmsted 22:11
And you're not going to stop fighting until you get there.
Regina Fuentes 22:14
That's all right.
Annelise Taggart 22:15
Katie Olmsted 22:18
If there's a topic you'd like to hear about here on Education Matters, send me an email at EducationMatters@ohea.org. Or, you can connect with OEA anytime on social media. We're @OhioEA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. New episodes of the podcast drop every Thursday. Until next time, stay well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai