By Dakota Miller
Across Ohio, many public workers are outraged at the passing of Senate Bill 5, which would eliminate many of their collective bargaining rights. In response to SB5, many unions, such as the Kettering Education Association, are working quickly to get a referendum on the November ballot in an attempt to repeal the law.
While these unions begin down the road to the referendum, many Kettering Fairmont students and teachers have much to say over Ohio’s new legislation.
What is SB5?
Senate Bill 5 is a piece of legislation recently signed into law by Gov. John Kasich. It will affect public workers such as firefighters, teachers and police officers. In addition to limiting collective bargaining rights, SB5 also removes the right to strike, stating that employees who strike are to be fined twice their daily pay for every day they have gone on strike.
Opposition to SB5
Many educators such as Fairmont English Department Chair Penni Meyer are concerned over SB5. “I fear that many talented college students will avoid going into education and promising young teachers will leave the field,” Meyer said.
KEA President-Elect and Fairmont English teacher Rebecca Templeton-Owens is strongly in opposition to the bill. “This bill can only hurt education in Kettering and around the state. Teacher morale is so important to the success of our students,” she said, “and it is hard to be a positive, high-energy teacher if one is worried about job security. I work very hard at a job I love, and I’m compensated pretty well for what I do – even though research shows that comparably educated professionals in the private sector make much more than teachers do, even with benefits included.
“With the passage of the bill, morale will be quite low; it already is,” Templeton-Owens continued. “Many of us are already scared and shocked at the viciousness of the attacks against our profession.”
Furthermore, Templeton-Owens fears that the bill could cause division among Ohioans. “With the referendum coming up in November, the anti-public education, anti-union rhetoric is going to get quite vicious,” she said. “Respect for public servants might decrease as a result. I fear that this issue might polarize our state.”
SB5 and merit pay
Fairmont Principal Dan Von Handorf is also concerned about some of the ramifications of the bill. “There are a lot of challenges administrators will face,” he said. “There’s language in Senate Bill 5 that talks about merit pay for teachers, and so that would tie their pay to how their students do in class. That would be a major shift for our teachers.”
In addition, Von Handorf sees difficulty in how student progress is measured. “To see the problem with this, consider an elective like Art Photo. It’s difficult to measure a year’s worth of growth for some elective classes, unlike core classes,” he said. “All kids take End of Course exams for core classes, but it’s much more difficult in our electives, because our students aren’t taking things in a curricular line, so measuring that for those classes would be very difficult.”
Templeton-Owens fears the effects of merit pay on top of the bill’s other provisions. “With Senate Bill 5 passing and the prospect of merit pay, teachers might become competitive against one another and not have the collaborative spirit that allows us to share ideas and work together.”
Templeton-Owens also worries that with the bill’s provisions, test dependence won’t be on the forefront of teachers’ minds. “Living in fear of drastic cuts to our salaries, benefits and working conditions takes the focus off the kids and puts it on our personal job security,” she said. “If I’m worried about losing my house, my focus won’t be on the OGT.”
Von Handorf also worries about the issue of test score dependence. “I worry that our schools will become more dependent on test scores than they already are,” he said. “After the inception of OGTs, we’ve lived and breathed these tests. I worry that pushing schools to worry more about standardized tests will take away from some of the other stuff we do around here, such as Spirit Chain, Seniors Helping Seniors – things we do in our community that help our students learn what it means to be a good citizen.”
Von Handorf also mentioned the issue of teachers’ tenure. “The process for teachers to get tenure may be changed significantly. That would also be a shift for our teachers.”
There are still other concerns for educators outside of the actual text of the bill.
Meyer worries about how SB5 was pushed through Congress. “I think it was pushed through much too quickly by politicians who haven’t done adequate research and have little knowledge of educational issues. I don’t see anything positive about this bill,” she said.
Fairmont sophomore Anthony Ellis is also against the bill. “I don’t like it,” he said, “because the bill seems to make it so that those who do the most work will end up getting paid less,” he said, citing how many pay benefits will be eliminated with SB5’s passing.
Fairmont sophomore Tiffany Van Winkle agrees with Ellis’ view. “It’s a ridiculous bill,” she said. “It’s attacking the wrong people.”
Sophomore Kerrianne Ryan disagrees with how pay is regulated in SB5. “While I do think some teachers do get overpaid,” she said, “SB5 over-regulates pay. It doesn’t need that much regulation.”
However, Von Handorf does find a positive in SB5. “Our legislators are charged with making Ohio an attractive place for employers,” he said. “They’re trying to make Ohio look good and get business in, so we can have low unemployment and have people working. It’s hard to do that, lower taxes, and not crush those who are already working. It’s a significant challenge, and there are good and bad parts.”
Support for SB5
While many educators are against the new legislation, some members of the community are in full support of the bill. Dayton’s Tea Party founder and President Rob Scott, a Fairmont graduate, is one of those who offer a positive view of Senate Bill 5.
“Both Dayton and Kettering will benefit greatly from SB5,” he said. “The passage of the bill will help Ohio and local governments control their costs and begin to put Ohio’s fiscal house in order.”
Scott cites many parts of Senate Bill 5 that he believes will help Ohio’s work force. “SB5 restricts collective bargaining to wage issues. Under 1983 law, public workers could bargain for wages, health care, pensions, and specific workplace conditions,” he said. “Under the new law, most public workers will be able to only bargain on their salaries. However, SB5 allows police and fire officials to negotiate for safety equipment.”
Scott also cites SB5 provisions regarding merit-based pay for teachers, one of the most hotly contended provisions among teachers’ unions, as one of the law’s biggest benefits. “Ohio’s school teachers will be evaluated based on their students’ performance on standardized testing, the teachers’ licensure level, whether they have achieved highly qualified teaching status, and other criteria selected by local school boards,” he said.
Fairmont sophomore Connor Hodgens is in support of the bill. “Unions hold too much power,” he said. “SB5 may be overstepping some boundaries, but the positives outweigh the negatives.”
While many also worry about the next generation of public workers, Scott is unfazed. “SB5 protects job security in both the state and local government,” he said. “If costs are not contained in the long term, the job markets would in return shrink in size. Additionally, the modest concessions that SB5 requests from public workers brings them more in line with their private sector counterparts.”
At the end of the day, Von Handorf is trying to remain optimistic about the situation. “Depending on the outcome of the SB5 issue, it may be a significant change for everyone – and that means a lot of work to make this place a great place for students,” he said. “Whatever comes out of SB5, we are going to make Fairmont High School a great place for students.”
To read SB5 in its entirety click HERE.
Up for a debate? Click HERE for Paqui Toscano’s commentary and analysis on SB5.