AFL-CIO Warns Against “Corporate Takeover” of Columbus City Schools

The Ohio AFL-CIO is running advertisements in local media warning of a pending “corporate takeover” of the Columbus City School district, expressing opposition to education reforms like those enacted in Cleveland in 2012. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), two of the nation’s largest public employee unions, are both AFL-CIO affiliates.

The union has purchased full-page advertisements in Columbus newspapers stating, “We oppose a corporate takeover of Columbus City Schools.” The ads claim that Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s Columbus Education Commission and legislative allies in the Ohio Statehouse “are working toward a goal of dismantling the Board of Education we elected in order to replace it with appointed members who would not be directly accountable to the voters.”

In a February 1 resolution adopted by Ohio AFL-CIO, the union resolved that “any attempt by politicians and corporations to take over our public schools should be viewed as a power grab motivated by greed,” and that “any attempt to takeover Columbus City Schools has at its core a mission to  demonize both certified and classified workers, with an ultimate goal of slashing their wages and benefits and stripping them of their rights.”

Despite heated warnings from the state AFL-CIO, which is an umbrella of labor unions, Mayor Coleman’s office insists that not even increased mayoral control is in the works.

Asked about bringing the “Cleveland Plan” of modest public school reforms to the state capital, Dan Williamson, Coleman’s press secretary, assured Media Trackers that “the mayor is not interested in taking over the school district as happened in Cleveland.”

Instead, Williamson characterized a November 2012 school reform meeting between Coleman and Governor John Kasich as Coleman simply “telling [the governor] that we may be asking the state to help us with potential state law changes we might need to improve education in Columbus.”

Last year Kasich, a Republican, worked with Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat, to develop a package of reforms giving Cleveland Metropolitan School District administrators the ability to consider teacher performance when giving raises or making layoffs, among other changes. The Ohio AFL-CIO described the Cleveland Plan as a move to “eliminate collective bargaining rights.”

The Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU), the district’s teachers union, opposed the Cleveland Plan before changing its tune when Jackson and Kasich tied the reforms to support for a massive local tax levy. CTU is a local of the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT), which created an online form to generate letters of opposition to the plan it claimed centered “on eliminating teachers’ collective bargaining rights.”

Roughly a year after Mayor Jackson’s campaign for expanded managerial control over the Cleveland Metropolitan School District began, there has been widespread speculation Columbus could be in line for similar reforms. As a statewide investigation into public school manipulation of attendance data winds down, the 25-member Columbus Education Commission created in late 2012 by Mayor Coleman and City Council President Andrew Ginther has begun to draw fire from public union bosses.

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