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'They did not even come prepared': Akron teachers express continued frustrations with school district as potential strike looms

If the strike takes place, it will be the district's first in over 30 years. The school board approved hiring a third-party company help with staffing and security.

AKRON, Ohio — Uncertainty still looms in Akron as federal mediation between Akron Public Schools and the Akron Education Association continues.

The union announced Thursday if the two parties cannot come to an agreement, they will strike starting next Monday. Teachers say they want more safety and security in classrooms and won't sign a new contract with the district until new terms are agreed upon.

The new year brings the same issues, "and then sometimes some of the issues we've increased our concern," AEA President Pat Shipe told 3News. The biggest concern remains safety following months of violent incidents in school buildings.

"The community overwhelmingly has said they are concerned with safety in our school buildings, in our classrooms," Shipe said.

The previous contract between APS and the union expired in June of 2021. After months of negotiations with no avail, federal mediation is underway.

The association said Monday it's frustrated with the effort — or what it describes as a lack thereof — from the district.

"They did not even come prepared with the right people in the room," Shipe claimed. "They had no decision makers in the room. They said they could not, did not have permission to make decisions, and so they walked away from the table."

The school board approved more than $3 million in security upgrades in December, but the AEA says it's a small fix for a larger problem. As the negotiation progress stands still, the union decided to give notice of a strike.

"Time is running out, the ball is in the Akron public administration's court," association counsel Don Malarcik said. "They have the ability to resolve this this week immediately without a strike. There's been a real lack of leadership from the administration and the school board and the superintendent. The superintendent has not attended one single negotiating session. Not one."

Akron Public Schools denied our request for an on-camera interview Monday, a holiday for the district, but told 3News in a statement: 

"The superintendent has been engaged in the process and meets frequently with the APS negotiating team members. While she is not a part of the district's team in the sessions with AEA, she is involved and consulted throughout. The union president was made aware of this format prior to negotiations beginning."

Besides the issues with violence, frustrations mount once more with pending open records requests about finances, Shipe told WKYC. This includes information about alleged lodging for APS Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack at a hotel blocks away from district headquarters.

"She has taken a suite at the Blue Boutique Hotel in Akron," Shipe asserted. "We have put it through a public records request to ask why has she not moved to Akron. They have refused to answer that question, so we're waiting for a response."

A district spokesperson told 3News Fowler-Mack has never stayed in any hotel on the district's behalf.

The next two mediation dates are set for Thursday and Saturday. The 10-day notice for strike will expire Monday.

The district confirmed to 3News the school board authorized the hiring of a third-party strike services agency, HuffMaster, at a special meeting Thursday for staffing and security should the strike take place.

If the union follows through with the notice, it will be the first Akron teachers strike in more than 30 years. The last was in 1989 and also came because of school safety, according to the union.

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