Senate Bill 5 proposes to stabilize Ohio’s economy at the expense of public workers’ collective bargaining rights, UA teachers rally against bill

By Victoria Slater, ’12

Amidst a swirling snowstorm on Feb. 22, a crowd of protestors—including a number of UA teachers—swarmed the entrance of the Ohio Statehouse, donning banners and bellowing one message: Kill Senate Bill 5.

According to Jim’s Siegel’s Feb. 18 Columbus Dispatch article “Anger on both sides in collective-bargaining battle,” Senate Bill 5 was proposed by Ohio Sen. Shannon Jones to level the state budget deficit by eliminating public workers’ ability to collectively bargain.

To public school teachers, this bill inhibits their rights to collectively negotiate with their employers for aspects such as wages and benefits. This implication of the bill also applies to firefighters and police officers, whose binding arbitration, the right to settle disputes through a third party, will also be eliminated.

The bill additionally proposes that public workers’ salaries should be determined by merit rather than seniority and education. This means that teachers will no longer receive pay raises based on their years of experience and their level of education. Rather, salaries will either increase or decrease with the performance of students.

In his article, Siegel quotes Sen. Shannon Jones, who stresses that organizations such as teachers’ unions can only exist if they are assisted financially. Since Ohio has undergone an economic downturn, the government must determine if there is enough money to support such coalitions.

“We have to accept the fact that we’re out of money, and so we’ve got to have flexibility to continue to provide these services,” Jones said

Since the bill targets teachers, opposers of the bill believe that education may be affected negatively as well. According to science teacher Warren Orloff, who co-chairs the Upper Arlington Education Association­—the local branch of the Ohio Teachers Union­—Senate Bill 5’s one-year limitation of teacher contracts may generate the most complications in school districts. This suggestion calls for students to complete entry and exit tests during each school year to monitor their progress, so that teachers can then be evaluated on that progress.

“These tests will rob schools of valuable instructional time,” Orloff said. “This specific implication of the bill is not setting up conditions for quality teaching.”

Orloff also said that Senate Bill 5 is an ill-considered administrative suggestion, as it restricts public workers’ abilities to discuss with their administrators how to improve conditions within their work place. Without this crucial communication, the government may rush into potentially damaging decisions without considering the welfare of the public workers.

“The bill limits communication between teachers and administrators,” Orloff said. “For this reason, there is not any evidence if the bill will help. It is a poorly-thought-out government initiative.”

While Orloff is passionate in his opposition to the bill, principal Kip Greenhill said he believes that UA schools may not be greatly affected by it. Although he acknowledges the concerning aspects of the bill, Greenhill said he is unsure if it will have any substantial effect on UA teachers.

“Right now [teachers] are feeling devalued, but it is hard to say how they will be affected,” he said. “It’s all speculation, and I don’t think it is going to have much of an impact at all.”

While UA teachers, such as Orloff, are asserting their positions against the bill through unions, Greenhill stressed that faculty members should not express their opinions to their classes, as political impartiality is crucial in all school systems.

“I asked teachers not to discuss [the bill] within their classes unless it ties into the curriculum,” he said. “This is not a time for teachers to bring forward their agendas as this is almost like a presidential election.”

To the government, this may seem like a simple way to raise state funds; however, UA community member Lisa Loughlin disagrees. Loughlin, who runs the Stop SB 5 movement on Facebook, recommends that officials look at themselves to find a solution to the budget deficit.

“Sen. Jones needs to understand money can be saved at a higher level of government, like travel and leisure costs and the salaries of government workers,” she said. “Their salaries are much higher than that of teachers, fire and police, and so are their benefit packages.”

Although Gov. John Kasich expects a decision by the end of March, at press time, the fate of Senate Bill 5 lingered undecided in the House of Representatives. For now, supporters and critics must wait to discover the outcome of this powerful government proposal. •