Kent Patch recently interviewed Mike Walton, president of the Kent Education Association, to get an idea of .
The bill, which passed narrowly in the senate, if signed into law will limit the collective bargaining power of unions representing thousands of teachers, police and firefighters across the state.
The Ohio House is holding hearings on the bill this week. It's unclear when the bill will be voted on by the house and, if passed, go to Gov. John Kasich for his signature to make it law.
Walton expects the issue will eventually go to the ballot via a referendum for voters to decide. In this Q&A, Walton shared some insight on how teachers are looking at some of the larger issues in the bill.
We start with Walton's overall opinion of SB5; that collective bargaining works and, when financial issues are left to teachers and administrators, the district can keep its finances in check without the state having to limit collective bargaining power.
Kent Patch: It sounds somewhat optimistic to leave the issue of a budget crunch to teachers unions and school administrators to work out without that situation leading to teacher strikes or levy pitches.
Mike Walton: "It’s real tough to pass a school levy right now. As an association, we would do whatever we could to keep a school levy off the ballot for as long as we could. Maybe three, four years down the road it’s a different ball game. But right now, I think it’s important to do that.”
Kent Patch: SB5 proposes eliminating tenure for school teachers. How would that affect teachers here in Kent?
Walton: "All of the power in a tenure situation rests with the administration. There is a bit of a misconception that once you have tenure you can’t be fired. That’s not true. It just entitles you to due process. So all tenure does … if you’re going to fire a teacher, you have to go through due process.”
Kent Patch: How does sick leave and vacation time factor into this discussion of SB5?
Walton: “I don’t even think the people who voted on the bill know how it’s going to factor in. Because that bill is hundreds of pages in length. And they talk about, you can only accrue 10 sick days per year. We’re unsure about ... how much you can accumulate" under the bill.
"First of all, what happens if you have a woman who would like to go out on a pregnancy leave? Currently they get eight weeks. How are you going to accumulate time for that? Suppose you have a serious illness. We have a staff member who’s going through a very serious illness right now. If you can’t accumulate any more than 10 (sick days), I don’t know how you’re going to be able to deal with those types of situations.”
Kent Patch: As passed in the Ohio Senate, SB5 would require teachers to contribute 20 percent of their healthcare premiums. How much do Kent teachers pay now?
Walton: "We currently pay" about 19.69 percent of health care premiums. Teachers pay $199 for family coverage per year and about $80 per year for single health care coverage with the district. "That equals out to about 20 percent."
Kent Patch: What's your opinion on the bill's proposal to eliminate seniority as a primary factor in teacher layoffs?
Walton: “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Because then you end up starting to play politics. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to just let go the person who is least effective. There could be a whole wide range of political reasons. I think the fairest way is ... seniority. We’ve never really had that issue in Kent."
Kent Patch: The bill, if signed into law, would remove class size from the collective bargaining process. Is that really negotiated now?
Walton: “Yes and no. It’s in the contract, but we try to keep it at 25. In Kent I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping class sizes down. As a union, we have no means for filing a grievance in that situation."