April 17, 2014

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Were Lorain teachers ‘bamboozled?’

Teachers union says district could have prevented overstaffing, wasn’t hampered by contract; superintendent says otherwise

Adam Wright and Joe Medici
The Chronicle-Telegram
LORAIN — The school district, not the teachers, are to blame for the overstaffing that led Lorain schools to fire more than a third of its teaching staff this week, according to the union’s vice president.
A contract between the district and the union was not at fault for keeping the district overstaffed, Rae Bastock said.
Superintendent Dee Morgan said Thursday that the district has been forced to hold onto unneeded teachers because a previous contract with the Lorain Education Association put a cap on the number of teaching positions that could be eliminated.
But Bastock said the contract actually allowed the district to cut as many people as it needed for financial reasons. The only cap in the previous contract, she said, focused on the number of teachers who could be laid off if the student-to teacher ratio ever became problematic.
“This is terrible that she’s putting this on us,” Bastock said. “They have always had the ability to cut. I don’t know why they didn’t.”
Morgan announced Thursday that 246 of its teachers would be eliminated to deal with an unexpected budget shortfall of $4.75 million that could grow to $15 million next year if not addressed.
Morgan said the district’s student-to-teacher ratio of about 27-to-1 will remain the same, however, because the district has been overstaffed thanks to the contract that capped the number of teachers who could be eliminated at 40. A new contract approved by the association on Wednesday gave the district a two-month window this summer to eliminate as many positions as needed, she said.
Bastock said the only cap associated with teacher layoffs in the contract would limit the number of teachers who could be laid off to 40 if the student-to-teacher ratio ever became more than 13-to-1.
She said the union knew cuts would have to be made because of the budget shortfall, so during negotiations they requested that the cuts be made only during a two-month period in the summer so teachers wouldn’t have to fear losing their jobs later in the year. The district accepted the cap, even though it didn’t have to, she said.
“We wanted to help the district get financially back on its feet,” she said. “That was the only purpose for this. We know there are problems. We know there’s a financial crisis, and we wanted to stand up and help.”
She said the district also told the union that a maximum of 150 teaching positions, or enough to save $5 million, would be eliminated. Instead, 246 teachers were cut, which, along with 26 retiring teachers, will save $12.5 million, prompting Lorain Education Association President Christine Miller to accuse the district of deceiving the teachers about the number of teaching jobs that would be abolished.
“The teachers of Lorain have been bamboozled,” she said in a written statement. “… The district has been saying that we would have deep cuts, but now they have just gouged the teachers.”
Bastock said she questions why cuts weren’t made all along and said the school board has been mishandling money by keeping staff members on when it couldn’t afford them.
The academic coaches program paid for by grant money, for instance, was continued even though the grant had expired, Bastock said.
“(The board) didn’t do their homework to see what was going on in the general fund,” she said. “They kept people on when probably they should have let them go because there wasn’t any more money.”
Morgan issued her own written statement after speaking with the attorney who helped broker the new union agreement. Morgan did not respond to Miller’s comments, and wrote only that the union’s leadership had been apprised of the financial situation in the district.
“We had two choices — deep cuts across the board for all employee groups or a state takeover,” Morgan wrote in her response. “The administration has provided full disclosure to the union negotiations team at all stages of the process.”
Before the release was sent out, Lorain Schools spokesman Dean Schnurr said any further communication would likely be made in writing and not verbally. Neither Morgan nor Schnurr returned several calls seeking further comment Friday.
The district still plans to make additional cuts to its administrative and support staff.
Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com.
Contact Joe Medici at 329-7152 or jmedici@chroniclet.com.