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Cincinnati teachers union takes vote of no confidence in superintendent amid budget cuts

Superintendent Wright tours a classroom at Hughes STEM High School on the first day of the 2023-2024 school year.
Zack Carreon
Superintendent Wright tours a classroom at Hughes STEM High School on the first day of the 2023-2024 school year.

Members of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT) voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Iranetta Wright. The vote does not require the superintendent to step down or force the school board to act.

CFT announced Monday it would take the vote, citing issues with communication, culture, and the district's budget.

In a letter shared with WVXU, the teachers union claims Wright has been mishandling the district's ongoing budget process and been dismissive of union negotiations.

In March 2023, union leaders from the Cincinnati Association of Administrators and Supervisors (CAS) sent a letter to the school board stating that Wright would not collaborate with workers in the district, creating a culture of fear and intimidation among employees.

More than a year later, CFT says the request to change the work environment and have the superintendent collaborate with union members was ignored, further worsening the situation.

RELATED: 'It doesn't make sense': CPS staff say superintendent's proposed budget focuses on the wrong areas

CFT says the dysfunction under the superintendent has been highlighted during the current budget process. The administration and board have been working to reach a balanced budget for several months as it the district expects to lose millions in federal pandemic relief funding this fall.

Between January and March, the board had approved nearly $60 million in cuts to its 2024-25 fiscal year budget, electing to eliminate unfilled positions, cut summer programs, and reduce the number of personal devices like laptops and tablets for students.

Since then, the board has approved several smaller cuts to trim the budget gap to around $6 million before its most recent meeting. At first, it appeared the board was close to reaching a balanced budget, but during Monday night's school board meeting, it was revealed that due to a double-counting error, the actual budget gap currently sits at around $13 million, causing frustration among some board members.

"I'm now just understanding that on the 6th of May that there was a mistake. I'm a little frustrated because I didn't hear about it earlier and was thinking we just had six to go; now to know we have 13, but I don't understand how our district community feels comfortable when we keep having to move this, move that," Board member Kareem Moffett said. I don't understand it. As a board member I'm very frustrated. I want to apologize to the community because I'm sure staff is frustrated."

In recent weeks, the board had failed to approve several suggested cuts that the administration says would close the budget gap. Newer suggestions from the administration have yet to be presented.

RELATED: Cincinnati Public gets closer to closing budget gap without merging schools

During public comment, CFT President Julie Sellers addressed the board about ongoing issues union leaders have had with the superintendent related to the budget. Sellers claims the union members have come to the administration with budget recommendations, but says Wright has been unwilling to take those suggestions seriously.

"We met with the superintendent and the team and we made 26 suggested cuts to reduce the budget gap," Sellers said. "These recommendations were mostly ignored and never costed-out for us."

CFT says Wright has delayed the process and "only presented cuts she wanted to make" instead of listening to the school community.

Though Wright didn't address the vote of no confidence directly during Monday's meeting, in an email sent to CPS staff that day, Wright told employees she's met with the district unions and has considered their input.

"I intend to continue collaborating with our union leaders, Board, and staff, so we can build on our progress of improved student outcomes and see our collective goals realized," Wright wrote. "I have 100% confidence in each of you."

The board's next public meeting is Wednesday, May 15.

Updated: May 9, 2024 at 11:53 AM EDT
This story has been updated to include the results of CFT's vote on Wednesday.
Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.