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Lorain teachers union leader concerned about policy change

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LORAIN — The Lorain Education Association president has raised concerns about a policy update regarding limited-contract teachers.

On April 10, CEO David Hardy sent letters to limited-contract teachers he was not looking to renew for next year. Teachers union president Jay Pickering said “several” teachers throughout the district received this letter. All of them were special education teachers.

“All of them are fairly new to the district, all of them are special education (teachers); and that being said, a couple of them showed me that their special education supervisors were not even aware of this happening — they were surprised,” he said. “None of them were given a reason.”

Pickering said the teachers had no idea they would not be renewed until they received the letter, and the union only learned of the change in policy because it was sent with the letters.

“There were families that have been spending this last week mulling this over,” Pickering said. “I had to talk to these people, and they were distraught.”

The problem, Pickering said, is the district’s compliance with the teacher evaluation process.

“If it’s the contract, we’re fine,” Pickering said. “But we have had trouble with him especially following the contract in regards to evaluations this year.”

The union has filed a grievance regarding the evaluation process.

“There are timelines in our contract that are easy to look at and (we) say have not been followed,” he said. “We have a disagreement over what is called student-growth measures, and that is going to arbitration. We have not been consulted all year on any changes that have been made. We have a committee that is supposed to be in charge of considering and making recommendations for changes in evaluation … and generally speaking, teachers have complained they have been somewhat unfair and always on the low side.”

The process for nonrenewal of limited-contract teachers is something that has been part of the school board’s policy and teachers’ contract since the early 2000s, Pickering said, and also is outlined in Ohio Revised Code. Under ORC, a school’s administration must notify a teacher of its intent to not renew him or her by June 1. Pickering said this statute is normally used when a new hire is not working out even after support is given to help him or her improve.

The policy Hardy unilaterally implemented April 10 is similar to the previous one by the school board and ORC.

In a statement regarding the shift, the district said: “The purpose of the letters delivered on April 10 was to provide three teachers on limited contracts, who have been employed in the District for two years or less, with as much notice as possible that the District may opt to not renew their limited contracts. The current LEA contract already addresses such circumstances. The letters further indicate that a recommendation of a potential non-renewal has been made to the CEO, which he may take under advisement when making a final determination. The non-renewal process is a longstanding statutory framework that is afforded to all public school districts. Union leadership was informed of the potential non-renewals prior to April 10.”

Pickering confirmed the CEO indicated they were “thinking about not renewing some teachers” but did not give him further details.

Ohio Revised Code and Hardy’s policy give similar timelines for teachers to navigate the nonrenewal process. Within 10 days of receiving the notice, a teacher can file with Treasurer Josh Hill or the CEO a demand for a written explanation of why they are not being renewed; the CEO or his designee will provide a statement within another 10 days. From there, a teacher has five days to demand a hearing, for which the CEO has 10 days to set a time, data and location. The hearing must be conducted within 40 days of the district receiving the teacher’s demand for it and after the hearing the CEO has 10 days to give a written decision of whether the staff member will be renewed.

The teacher cannot appeal the CEO’s decision except under a section of ORC allowing the teacher to go to the Court of Common Pleas on the grounds that the board — or in this case CEO — has not complied with the nonrenewal or evaluation process.

He also noted at this point evaluations are not over. They must be finished by May 1. Evaluation cycles include a multiple observations and conferences.

The state does not determine what happens if a teacher receives a low score on his or her evaluation — that is outlined in local contracts.

“Our contract outlines a series of steps and gives teachers an opportunity to improve. If this was a normal year, if a teacher gets a really bad evaluation, they have another year to improve … this year’s evaluation would not get you fired at the end of the year, let’s just put it that way.”

Pickering said in a normal year, he would be aware of teachers having trouble — limited-contract or not — and may be able to help them prior to the district not renewing their contract in this manner, but in this case “it was just out of the blue.”

“If you’re a teacher from somewhere else thinking about maybe coming to Lorain or a young teacher and then the words out that ‘hey, they won’t tell you but they’ll let you go’ — it can’t be too good for recruitment, is my point,” Pickering said.

The Lorain Education Association’s current contract with the district expires July 31. Pickering said negotiations should start soon with the CEO to create the new agreement, which would run from Aug. 1 to July 31, 2021.

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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