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Injunction decision expected this month

Collins Career Center teachers must wait almost two more weeks before finding out if the center’s board can lay them off.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Collins Career Center teachers must wait almost two more weeks before finding out if the center’s board can lay them off.

After a full day’s testimony in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday, Judge Richard Walton set Jan. 9 as the deadline for attorneys representing the teacher’s union, another non-union teacher and the board to file legal briefs on lawsuits seeking an injunction against the board.

"You will have until Jan. 14 to file rebuttal to the other parties ," Walton said. "I will try to give a decision as close after the 14th as I can."

The injunction seeks to bar the vocational school’s board from suspending contracts covering nine instructional positions.

The lawsuits filed in December – Janice J. Wolfe vs. the Board of Education of the Lawrence County Joint Vocational School (LCJVS) and Lawrence County Vocational Teachers Association vs. LCJVS Board of Education, according to court records – also prompted a temporary restraining order, so those layoffs are not yet official.

Union attorneys William J. Steele and Susan Kozlowski called the layoffs in mid-school-year an "unusual and unheard of step" by the board.

The attorneys also represent teachers Gwen Adkins, Daniel French, Charmaine Gore, Susan Helo, Kim Holliday, Amy McCloud, Linda Meyers and Matthew Monteville, according to the lawsuit.

"These reductions in force are, number one, not allowed under law and if they are they are unreasonable," Steele said in opening remarks.

The net reduction in enrollment over a three-year period was lower than the board states, so the layoffs were not reasonable, he said.

The treasurer certified that funds were available at the beginning of the school to meet the contracts; financial difficulties are not a basis for layoffs; layoffs will erode collective bargaining currently ongoing with the teachers’ union; and it’s harmful because it’s hard for teachers to find full-time jobs in the middle of the year, Steele added.

During testimony, Steele called Ohio Education Association researcher Andy Jewell, who said his analysis of school funds showed the district had enough funds to maintain the current teaching level.

Mrs. Wolfe’s attorney, John Wolfe, argued that if her position is terminated it would constitute a breach of contract.

Ohio Revised Code 3319.17 does not apply to limited contracts or extended limited contracts; and the teacher’s negotiated contract does not apply to Mrs. Wolfe because she was not a member of the bargaining unit, her complaint states.

The school board approved Mrs. Wolfe’s retirement effective Feb. 8 but a union member who was laid off used the union contract to "bump" Mrs. Wolfe from her job.

Without an injunction, Mrs. Wolfe will be irreparably harmed, Wolfe argued.

While testifying, Mrs. Wolfe said she could not participate in contract negotiations and she was not furnished with a copy of the contract until asked.

The school board’s attorney, J. Rick Brown, called the cases an issue of whether or not state statute (ORC 3319) or collective bargaining agreement applies.

The union agreement cites four situations where reductions in force can take place, which was negotiated over several sessions; and even if the court were to apply the statute, the board has complied, Brown said in opening remarks.

Evidence will show a long decline of enrollment until this particular year there’s suddenly a drop of not 12 to 13 students but 55 students, and the district’s funding is based also on enrollment, he said.

Loss of enrollment and program specific dollars led to reasonable staff reductions; the reduction was not done on a whim, because an effort was made to make sure programs were not eliminated; the union’s using "bumping" rights gained under contract yet the statute does not cover bumping; although mid-year layoffs are unusual but enrollment figures from the state are not finalized until October; and Mrs. Wolfe’s position is recognized as a bargaining unit position under the contract, Brown said.

Witnesses who testified Wednesday included school superintendent Perry Walls, board treasurer Joyce Blazer, Jewell, and teachers Gwen Adkins, Amy McCloud and Mrs. Wolfe.

Walls testified that the severe enrollment declined surprised the board, and the district took the layoff action to safeguard the school’s programs from the impending state funding cut.

Also, a significant amount of testimony time Wednesday was spent on how much the district’s monetary shortfall will be and how that amount, as well as enrollment numbers, were calculated.