Toledo Board Backs Teacher Contract Amid Charges of Bias
After twice delaying the vote, the Toledo, Ohio, school board last week ratified a new contract with the Toledo Federation of Teachers, despite black leaders' charges that the agreement includes a clause that discriminates against minorities.
The 3-to-2 vote was a victory for the union, which had refused to remove contract language that requires the district to hire new teachers from a list of long-term substitutes when an opening occurs.
"We settled this issue once [in contract negotiations], and we weren't going to start all over again,'' said Dal Lawrence, the president of the teachers' union.
"Article 9,'' as the hiring provision is known, applies in practice only to such subjects as English, social studies, and health and physical education, in which there are no shortages of licensed teachers. In shortage areas, such as mathematics and special education, the district is free to hire any teacher because there are no waiting lists of certified substitutes.
The Toledo branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led the opposition to Article 9, arguing that the provision discriminates against black and other minority teacher candidates who are less able to afford to work as substitutes until a job vacancy occurs.
"It's not an issue just of minorities,'' said George Davis Jr., the president of the Toledo N.A.A.C.P. "We want the best teachers for our kids, but we do want some minorities so our kids can have some role models. That [clause] prevents the administration from hiring the best teachers.''
But Mr. Lawrence has maintained that the substitute-teacher clause is the fairest way to fill vacancies.
Opponents of the policy, he asserted last week, "want the board of education to establish a hiring procedure that would create a feeding frenzy. All equity and fairness would be stripped away so they could hire their friends and relatives.''
Although the teachers' contract has included the hiring clause since 1981, it did not come under fire until about two years ago. Last November, as part of contract negotiations that ultimately dragged on for 19 months, the school board and the union signed a memorandum of agreement allowing the district more flexibility in hiring.
Since the memorandum was signed, the Toledo schools have hired 6 new minority teachers, and 18 more have been offered contracts to begin teaching in the fall, said Suzanne Yeager, the district's director of communications.
But the memorandum did not dispel the N.A.A.C.P.'s concerns. The group had threatened to work against any future school levies unless the hiring clause was changed. A levy was narrowly approved last year with strong black support.
Harry Kessler, a school-board member and a former Mayor of Toledo, provided the swing vote in favor of the contract, even though he voiced sympathy for the N.A.A.C.P.'s position and unhappiness with Mr. Lawrence.
Mr. Kessler said he was especially incensed by union threats last week to "work to the rule'' if the contract was not ratified.
One board member who voted against ratification, Thomas Lopez, a University of Toledo education professor, focused his opposition more on a collateral agreement to the contract that authorizes experiments with site-based management.
Mr. Lopez said he wanted to reopen the negotiations in order to discuss the issue in more detail.
The school board had scheduled a vote on the contract for its regular March 24 meeting, but the vote was put off twice. After the second delay, the board instructed its president and the district's superintendent to try to work out a compromise between the union and the N.A.A.C.P. But the two sides were unable even to agree to a meeting.
"There were two irreconcilable positions, and it was a question of moving ahead,'' Mr. Lawrence said.
Under the contract, Toledo teachers will receive an 8 percent pay raise over the first two years of the contract, with a provision to reopen wage discussions in the third year.
The agreement also establishes a district "think tank,'' to be
staffed by three full-time teachers, that will promote changes in
curriculum and school organization.