LORAIN — Seniority protections for Lorain Schools administrators during layoffs, known as “bumping rights,” have been eliminated by the district’s Academic Distress Commission.
A July 1 commission resolution said the state academic takeover law allows for elimination to ensure “high quality staff in the most effective positions.” The three-year contract for the Lorain Administrators Association, which expires July 31, allowed for bumping.
The resolution noted the law allows the commission to void parts of union contracts. It said bumping rights are “inconsistent with, and contrary to, the district’s needs” identified in the commission’s academic recovery plan approved by the Ohio Department of Education in September.
Bill Zelei, commission chairman, said the commission was OK with administrators bumping laterally or downward, but not upward. He said contract language had allowed the lowest-level administrators to be bumped into the highest positions based upon seniority rather than qualifications.
For example, an elementary school assistant principal could be bumped to a high school principal. “That could potentially put children at risk,” Zelei said.
Zelei said commission members respect union rights and were reluctant to act, but after three months of negotiations, the matter hadn’t been resolved. “It just makes no sense other than to place adult issues over that of students,” he said.
The resolution instructs the Board of Education to not renew bumping rights in the new contract. Tim Williams, board president, said he wouldn’t comment because contract negotiations are ongoing.
Board member Jim Smith also wouldn’t comment on negotiations, but said he resented the unelected, state-appointed commission dictating to the board. Smith said there is little legal precedent for it.
Lorain, taken over in 2013 due to low test scores, and Youngstown, taken over in 2010, are the only Ohio school districts academically controlled by the state. The takeover law has never been challenged in court.
“If we approve something they don’t like, they have to the power to ignore it, but I don’t know if that would hold up in court,” Smith said. “How can an appointed body have power over a body elected by the citizens of the school district?”
Tim Jama, president of the 35-member association — comprised of school principals, assistant principals and school psychologists — said the union is considering suing. Jama, a Lorain High School assistant principal hired by the district in 1992, said longtime administrators deserve job protections.
He said seniority is earned by good performance evaluations. “If you have a good evaluation and you’re a good employee, there should be some guarantees,” Jama said.
Jay Pickering, head of the 470-teacher Lorain Education Association, said the takeover law doesn’t include language regarding hiring, firing or reassigning teachers, but he was concerned by the resolution. Pickering said eliminating bumping rights for teachers would be “devastating” for longtime teachers.
Zelei said the commission has no plans to eliminate teacher bumping rights.
Superintendent Tom Tucker, a member of the association when he was an administrator, wouldn’t comment on whether the elimination is a good idea, but said it did give the district more flexibility with layoffs. However, Tucker said the district plans to eliminate a $2.85 million deficit through attrition rather than layoffs. About 28 teachers and three assistant principals who retired in June won’t be replaced due to declining enrollment in the 6,600-student school district, which has lost about 3,500 students in the last decade.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129cor firstname.lastname@example.org.