• 52°

Teachers, students speak out about career center layoffs

It all comes down to 55 fewer students and reductions in state funding, the Collins Career Center board told more than two dozen parents and students at Monday night’s meeting, talking about the school’s recent cutbacks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

It all comes down to 55 fewer students and reductions in state funding, the Collins Career Center board told more than two dozen parents and students at Monday night’s meeting, talking about the school’s recent cutbacks.

Yet, those education cuts – in the form of nine layoffs last month – will hurt the community even further than declining enrollment, the students and teachers said.

"What you are doing to Collins Career Center is wrong," said Charmaine Gore, teachers union spokesperson who was laid off because others had bumping rights.

"The students have worked hard to overcome adversity and by removing teachers you are disrupting education," Mrs. Gore said.

Why don’t you start at the top, she said, adding later that while looking through a 15-year-old yearbook she found the vo-tech school had 52 more students but five fewer administrators then.

Other teachers spoke, one reading off a list of years served by and achievements accomplished by those laid off. Some logged more than 10 years of work at Collins.

Parents spoke, expressing frustration that to cut back now will only hurt their children’s education because teachers will have to "double up" on classes.

And students spoke, upset at losing some of their favorite teachers. Clayton Wilcox read a poem about why God made teachers.

Board president Gerald Love said he sympathized with everyone, calling the board’s decision painful because the school’s losing good staff.

"If we hadn’t lost 55 kids we wouldn’t be here," Love said, adding the board didn’t know until school started. "If anybody’s got any ideas, I’m all for it."

The board hoped that the state’s "parity aid" and the DeRolph decision would equal more operating dollars but just the opposite happened, he said.

"We never could believe we’d be short 55 students this year."

Other board members – B.J. Hannon, Paul Leffingwell, Robert Pleasant and Ray Malone – nodded their agreement.

"If there were any other way we could have handled this situation, we would have," Pleasant said, adding that voting for layoffs was one of the hardest decisions he’s ever made.

In the last two years, Pleasant has seen the great work Collins does and the enthusiasm of its staff and students, he said.

"I know what you’re talking about We can push and push, but we need all of you to push along with us," he added, meaning talks with state leaders who have cut vo-tech funding.

Superintendent Perry Walls said even legislative leaders like Larry Householder, Richard Finan and even Gov. Bob Taft himself have said the state’s schools have enough funding.

"I really think you’re protesting against the wrong group," Walls said, adding that there just wasn’t an option because at the end of the year the school has to have a balanced budget.

The board even checked into borrowing money but the state would not allow that, officials said.

Love said he had preached the career center’s message to county superintendents, principals, and others for years, and to state superintendent Susan Tave Zelman more recently. Three weeks ago, he stood before the Ohio General Assembly to express dismay over funding cuts to vo-ed, he said.

All state leaders will say is, "I hear you," Love added.

"I’ve been involved with this before the school was built, but how do you get the students out here?"

Ray Malone said "layoffs break our heart" and the board has tried to take its message to the state and it’s "way past time" for parents, teachers, students and others to also get in touch with senators and representatives.

Parents disagreed with Walls, saying they are protesting the right group because it’s the board that should have sent home information about the financial problems before now.

A student, Jessica Waugh, agreed with the parents’ assessment.

The board should be doing more to not only push enrollment at the school, but to let students know what’s going on because layoffs hurt students just as much as teachers, Miss Waugh said.

And, many students are still upset the layoffs came mid-year, she said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, attorney John Wolfe, whose wife was one of those laid off, said state statutes dictate that those with limited contracts cannot be terminated or laid off in the middle of the year. Wolfe is not the bargaining unit’s attorney, but spoke as a concerned citizen.

The board’s consultant, Bob Cross, said the board had cited both the state statutes and the collective bargaining agreement, which does cover reductions in force under article 19.

Except article 19 cites the statute, Wolfe said.

Cross countered that the union has the right to file grievances.

Wolfe hinted that a grievance, or legal action, wouldn’t take long to come back in favor of the teachers.

During the meeting the board also took minor action to rephrase last month’s motions for the "reduction in force" at the vocational school. (The reductions do not affect the adult portion of Collins Career Center.)

Afterward, Miss Waugh and other talked more with board members and the superintendent.

"We’ll go as far as we have to," the Symmes Valley student said. "Even if during Christmas break we make visit to Columbus (to talk to state leaders), we will keep going."