This isn’t the campaign trail anymore.
The four new members of the Akron Public Schools board of education are facing their first major decision this week, just two weeks after they took their oaths of office.
On Monday, the seven-person board may have to vote whether to approve a new contract for 2,400 teachers. Such a contract affects teachers’ salaries, benefits and working conditions, and the resulting impact on the district’s finances.
“We’re diving in the deep end for sure,” newly elected board member Valerie McKitrick said.
With the massive implications of the contract at stake, district leaders and board veterans are working overtime to get the new board members up to speed as quickly as possible to ensure they can make an informed decision.
“It’s really important that we make sure that they feel comfortable and have all of the information and have as much time to process it as they can, and are able to digest it and ask questions,” board President Patrick Bravo said.
The timing of the contract vote so close to the new members’ installation is coincidental — and there’s a chance they won’t have to vote at all.
The Akron Education Association will vote first on Sunday, and if union members reject the terms, the matter won’t go to the school board.
The vote is based on the results of a fact finder’s recommendations after the two sides reached an impasse last summer. Upon the fact finder’s completion of the report, which occurred Tuesday, the two sides each have to vote within a week.
The school board agenda for Monday tentatively includes a vote on the recommendations, which become the teachers’ contract if approved by both sides. If it fails one body or both, negotiations continue with a federal mediator.
It’s publicly unknown what the sticking points were that caused the impasse. The current contract expired in June.
Negotiations started in March — as did regular updates to the board. Only three current board members would have heard those updates, which are provided behind closed doors.
But following the election in November, the three winners were invited to attend those executive sessions to help them get caught up ahead of taking office.
“I don’t feel like we’re coming in quite as blindly,” McKitrick said.
Diana Autry, the last new board member, ran in that election but came in fourth and was appointed to the last open seat two weeks ago following Ginger Baylor’s departure. Still, she was undaunted about the possible decision ahead.
“It’s quick,” Autry said, but added, “I think that’s what we all signed up for.”
Superintendent David James said any time the board gains a new member, there is a process to catch them up — and there’s never a good, quiet time to do that.
“There’s always a lot going on,” he said.
But aside from appointing the superintendent and the treasurer and deciding whether to seek a levy, approving or rejecting the contract for thousands of teachers is easily in the top three biggest decisions a board has to make.
The board held an executive session meeting Friday to review the fact finder’s report. Until that meeting, Bravo noted, no one had seen the report, so it would be new for everyone, and likely everyone would have questions about it.
Overall, he said he is not concerned the new board members won’t be able to make an informed decision.
“Every single one of them is intelligent and enthusiastic and ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work,” he said.
Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.