The Columbus Education Association developed from two organizations: The Women’s Teachers’ Association and the Columbus Men’s Teachers’ Alliance, both formed in the late 1800s. The women’s goals were “enlightening society and building the profession.” At that time, teachers were paid around $375.00 a year.
In April of 1925, the organizations merged and became the Columbus Teacher Federation, expanding the mission to include “advancing the educational and common interests of the community; raising the standard of the teaching profession; cultivating a spirit of uniformity and good will among its members; promoting the mutual professional and material interests of the teachers; forming a representative body that can speak with authority for teachers; and, creating in the community at large a sharper sense of the goals of the teachers profession and of the importance of the interests which it represents.”
We became the Columbus Education Association in June of 1951 under our first president, Wesley Gongwer. The organization’s name deliberately reflected its close association with OEA and NEA. In the 1960s, CEA focused more sharply on teaching conditions. Thomas Giles was CEA president at the time of first written master agreement, approved in 1968-69. CEA’s agreement was one of the first in Ohio. The first salary schedule began at $6,600 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, and topped out at $12,728 for a teacher with a master’s degree.
CEA grew quickly in the next few years under the leadership of Presidents Jack Baker and Don Pierce. Negotiations and services grew under the able staff leadership provided by Jack Burgess. In 1974, CEA formally unified the previous loose affiliation (since 1921) with NEA. More than three-fourths of the members favored the unification that made everyone a member of CEA/COTA/OEA/NEA. It assured a stronger state and national voice for teachers.
The late 1970s were tumultuous and groundbreaking. A five-day strike in 1975 solidified teachers’ commitment to fair treatment and administrative respect. CEA President Ted Thomas served from 1974-1978, and CEA’s power grew.
John Grossman became president in 1978. In the years following his election, CEA faced desegregation, reductions in force and serious financial crises; but it continued to move forward. The Association has helped create a number of innovative programs that have received national attention, including PAR.
Rhonda Johnson, CEA’s sixth President, embraced every aspect of the job, and increased her community profile. She served on boards of the United Way Board of Franklin County, State of Ohio Consumer Council, and as Associate General Chair of the United Way Campaign in 2004. Rhonda serves on numerous advisory committees for the NEA and represents our teachers as an associate and chief member of TURN (Teacher Union Reform Network), which has shared CEA’s innovative ideas with the Ohio Legislature, Congress and universities. She was a key member of Mayor Michael Coleman’s Columbus Education Commission, convened in 2012. Under Rhonda’s leadership, CEA achieved a series of major educational reform projects and remained in a competitive negotiating position.
CEA’s seventh leader, Tracey D. Johnson, continues to increase the Association’s efforts to improve teaching conditions and those of the surrounding community. She is a board member of United Way of Central Ohio and the Central Ohio Labor and Employee Relations Association. She has rallied community members to find ways to better meet the needs of students and their families. CEA remains committed to the goals of its founders as it looks toward the future of public education.