Alternate bill addresses critics#8217; concerns

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Politics is the art of compromise. Rarely, does a bill make its way through the legislative process without being amended in some fashion, often the result of hours of negotiations between proponents, opponents and other interested parties.

It is how budgets get passed and important laws are made for the state.

In December, I introduced Senate Bill 264, legislation which seeks to put the interests of Ohio’s students first in the sometimes heated back and forth between school boards and educators during labor negotiations. The bill, which has already had several hearings in the Senate Education Committee, would elevate teachers to the level of the state’s police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel under Ohio’s collective bargaining law, requiring educators and school boards to enter into bidding arbitration if there is a contract disagreement.

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SB 264 has received strong support from many students, teachers, parents, school board members, administrators and taxpayers, all of whom are familiar with the dangers and, potentially, devastating consequences of teacher strikes.

In fact, even some opponents of the bill have acknowledged that strikes are bad for schools and communities. However, while they admit the negative consequences of teacher strikes, these opponents have also voiced concerns with the bill that could influence its success moving forward. So, over the last several weeks, I have spent hours discussing the proposal with interested parties, in an effort to iron-out a compromise that preserves the original goal of creating a safe, healthy, productive environment for both students and educators.

This past week, after taking into account committee testimony by interested partners, I presented a substitute version of SB 264 before the Senate Education Committee. The substitute bill addresses concerns from the opposition regarding binding arbitration, while working to ensure the safety of students and keep our communities informed when a teacher strike takes place.

Like the original draft of the bill, the substitute version of SB 264 maintains the collective bargaining process until an impasse is reached between teachers and the school board. At this point, under the original proposal, both parties would have been required to enter binding arbitration to settle any contract dispute. Opponents raised concerns that this provision would take away teachers’ ability to negotiate for higher pay or better benefits, of which, the power to strike is an important tool. While the intent was not to eliminate educators’ right to bargain but simply move negotiations to the binding arbitration arena, in the substitute version of SB 264, we compromised on language that says teachers and the school board must participate in mandatory (non-binding) arbitration.

In other words, both sides must discuss their differences in front of an arbiter; however, neither party is required to follow the arbiter’s decision.

Once arbitration is complete, if an agreement is not reached, the arbiter’s report becomes public, and the teacher’s union may give notice that they have decided to strike. However, mediation would begin almost immediately after that decision and a public weekly progress report would be given to the Governor and the state school superintendant.

Also, if classrooms remain open, parents will not be required to send their students to school during a teacher strike and cannot be penalized for refusing to do so.

The compromise language in the substitute version of SB 264 works to address the concerns of opponents, while putting protections in place to prevent students from having to cross picket lines to go to school. As the bill works its way through the legislative process, I hope to continue to collect feedback from folks on all sides of the issue, so that we may pass a bill with bipartisan support that puts the safety and education of Ohio’s children first.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District.