Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education special session highlights 11-23-2020

NOVEMBER 23, 2020

  • Strike preparation and approvals
  • Update on the pandemic response
  • Treasurer’s report

Board President Jodi Sourini and members Dan Heintz, Malia Lewis, James Posch, and Beverly Wright were present. Ms. Wright participated by telephone because of internet technical issues. The meeting was called to order at approximately 6:45 p.m. The board adjourned immediately to executive session and reconvened in public session at approximately 8 p.m. The meeting was adjourned atapproximately 9:30 p.m.

Strike preparation and approvals

Superintendent Kirby addressed the difficulty of the situation, particularly because the teachers, who she acknowledged are irreplaceable, have done a tremendous job this year under trying circumstances. The fiscal situation is very serious, mainly because of EdChoice deductions. She has emphasized to parents that school attendance is compulsory during a strike and the district must continue to provide instruction. Home schooling is an option for those who are uncomfortable crossing the strike line.

Ms. Sourini apologized to families for the failure of the board and the union to reach agreement and, as a teacher’s child who had experienced a teachers’ strike, empathized with those who might not want to cross the line. However, she stressed the importance of students continuing their education and avoiding the need to make up missed classwork later. She said that she does not want a contract that results in losing newer teachers, requiring larger classroom numbers, or requiring cuts in programming. She noted the number of area businesses closing and residents experiencing not only pay cuts but also furloughs and layoffs. She expressed sorrow that the union has not helped to address the district’s financial situation.

Mr. Posch said that the only way to avoid the strike is to do what the union wants, which he said is to lay off teachers and increase class sizes. The board is between a rock and a hard place because, given the failure of one levy and bare passage of a smaller one, one cannot assume community support for higher taxes. He said that even if the board’s last, best, and final offer (LBFO) is agreed to, cuts will be necessary, but the LBFO would minimize those cuts. Also, the LBFO will bring the district’s fringe benefits in line with other area districts.

Mr. Heinz stated that collective bargaining is difficult, but that it is, and should be maintained as, an essential right. He also said that both parties had negotiated in good faith, and that any claim that either party refused to bargain is false. He said that if he were a member of the union, he would have voted against the contract but not for a strike; striking over fringe benefits makes no sense as the benefits change occurs in January and contract renegotiation commences in April. He criticized the adversarial format of the negotiations, and said that more collaborative models for bargaining are available. Before the vote on the Huffmaster contract [see below], he expressed a generally negative opinion of the company.

Ms. Lewis reminded critics of the board that its members are residents, neighbors and, in many cases, alumni of the schools or parents of students and alumni. The members believe so strongly in the importance of the district that they ran for office, and by electing them, the voters entrusted them to balance the needs of stakeholders. A strike on top of other struggles at this time will be unfortunate, but the teachers have a right to strike.

Ms. Wright concurred with the board members who had already spoken and agreed that the board had done all that it could. She said that this strike is coming at the wrong time and will affect families and children in a terrible way. She hopes that the two parties can come back to the table.

After discussion, the board took several actions relevant to the strike; it:  

  • Authorized the superintendent to develop and implement an action [plan]. 

  • Directed the superintendent to take specific steps to continue student instruction and other operations, as required by Ohio law.

  • Authorized discontinuance of healthcare and other benefits and salaries,effective midnight December 2, of any employee participating in the work stoppage, consistent with state and federal law. State and federal law allow such employees to continue health insurance benefits by paying premiums in accordance with COBRA regulations.

  • Contracted Huffmaster Crisis Response, L.L.C., an outsourcing substitute company to provide substitute teachers and other personnel services: Mr. Heintz, having expressed doubts about the company, abstained.

The text of the superintendent’s recommendations and the foregoing resolutions may be viewed on BoardDocs

Update on the pandemic response

The superintendent reported that the district currently has nine COVID cases (six staff and three students). She also reported on the county’s COVID metrics and reviewed the county’s stay-at-home advisory in effect from Nov. 18 through Dec. 17. She recommended that:

  • The district institute a high-alert plan during the county’s stay-at-home advisory through its expected expiration date of Dec. 17, 2020, unless otherwise determined by the district.

  • In-person instruction for students in MD/AU [multiple disabilities/autism] classes be suspended until December 18.

  • Childcare services provided by Right at School and Open Doors continue.

  • All sports practices and games be suspended until further notice. This decision will be revisited the week of December 7.

  • District buildings and facilities remain open with limited staff.

The superintendent also stated that planning will continue for January reopening.

The board approved her recommendations. Board members also expressed dismay at the lack of unanimity among area school districts regarding sports practices and games in light of the stay-at-home advisory.

Treasurer’s report

Mr. Gainer reviewed changes in the forecasted revenues and expenses compared with the previous forecast. The current forecast shows a positive 2022 year-end balance of $2,931,399 and a negative 2023 year-end balance of minus $2,371,978. The compensation and fringe benefits provisions in the board’s LBFO are included in the forecast as to the teachers’ union but not the other employee unions, as are $2 million in expense cuts yet to be identified. The forecast also assumes passage of the 4.8 mill levy will survive the automatic recount. The state auditor’s office is requiring a statement in the annual audit and in the forecast discussing financial difficulties that all districts are having due to COVID funding cuts and additional expenses. The district is also required to note that it is still in fiscal distress because of the impact of EdChoice deductions. 

Board members noted that under the terms of the LBFO, 28 percent of teachers would receive net compensation increases. For those who would receive net compensation decreases, those decreases are estimated at 2.8 percent of compensation, assuming spending at 100 percent of their insurance deductibles. The losses are highest for the most senior teachers, who are no longer eligible for step increases. 

The board unanimously approved the November five-year forecast as presented.

All meetings are held virtually, streamed directly on the district’s YouTube channel, and recorded for later viewing. They can also be viewed at:

LWV Observer: Kathy Petrey. 

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Volume 14, Issue 1, Posted 10:14 AM, 12.14.2020