Strongsville Education Association, board of education reach tentative deal in strike

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio - The Strongsville Education Association and the board of education reached a tentative agreement in the strike Friday night.

The teachers' union will vote on the proposal on Saturday The location of the meeting has not been determined, but the vote could be a lengthy process as each individual member will receive a copy.

"I started out the strike by saying that we had a great team in Strongsville, made up of students, certainly, parents, support staff, administrators and the community. We were missing an important part of our team: our teachers," superintendent John Krupinski said. "We have the potential at this point in time, with ratification, to have our entire team back together."

David Frazee, BOE president, said no details about the deal will be released until both parties ratify the agreement.

"The past eight weeks have been difficult, but the healing process begins today," Frazee said. "We want to thank the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service regional office in Independence for their efforts.  We also appreciate the work of the negotiation teams."

As the teachers left the parking lot of the federal mediator's office in Independence Friday night, they honked their horns and cheered.

"I'm very glad it's over. I'm anxious to get back into my classroom," said SEA President Tracy Linscott. "I think we're going to be overjoyed. I think the kids will be happy to have us back and it truly will be business as usual."

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The 383-member teachers' union hit the picket lines on March 4 after days of contract negotiations with the Strongsville City School District failed.

The sides met briefly with a federal mediator a couple times during the strike, but no major talks happened until spring break.

On the first day of the strike, students described a chaotic scene with substitute teachers as classes continued, while union members held signs saying "No Contract, No Work" and "Settle Now" outside.

"There didn't really seem to be any sort of semblance of order at all," said Strongsville High School senior Stephen Jakubowski on the first day of the strike. Several teens said compared the high school to day care, using words like "pandemonium" and "anarchy" to describe classrooms and halls.

The school district agreed the first day was difficult with fewer teachers than expected. Background checks were performed on all of the substitute teachers hired, the district said.

"We have heard questions about the high school where we had fewer teachers than we had expected. We want the community to know that the conditions at the high school improved every hour. By the middle of the day, hallways were clear, students were in the classroom, and substitute teachers were teaching," said Strongsville Superintendent John Krupinski.

During the first week of the strike, two teachers were arrested. Center Middle School science teacher Ian Steffen was charged with disorderly conduct as police said he repeatedly blocked the schools driveway. Chris Koval, a gym teacher, drove his car toward a van taking school workers to Kinsner Elementary School, police said.

Another teacher said he was hit by a car in a school parking lot. He was not seriously injured and details of the incident were not released. The North Eastern Ohio Education Association also said someone threw a chunk of asphalt through the doors of its Garfield Heights building when the school board and union were supposed to be in a meeting.

Security guards and Strongsville police officers had been stationed at all the schools throughout the strike. Tensions also continued as teachers began protesting outside the homes of board of education members.

"We have people out here to show their commitment to getting a fair contract," SEA president Tracy Linscott said.

The teachers' strike divided the community as well as the student body, as many showed their displeasure during vigils in the city square. High schoolers briefly walked out of class on Friday. The student organizer said it wasn't about supporting the district or the union, but was a sign of unity.

Strongsville Mayor Thomas Perciak called on both sides during his state of the city address last week. Perciak invited both sides to his office, but the school board declined since it would only meet when the federal mediator calls for talks.

"It is truly disappointing to me and the community that leaders of both sides with settlement authority will not make themselves available for meaningful discussions in a neutral setting at city hall," Perciak said.

The SEA proposed binding arbitration on multiple occasions, but that was also rejected by the school system.

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