Definitive ruling needed on Y’town’s schools CEO

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When the State Employment Relations Board ruled earlier this year that the chief executive officer of Youngstown City School District has “carte blanche” in managing the academically challenged system, we thought the detractors would be silenced.

We were wrong.

On Dec. 4, Youngstown Education Association filed another unfair labor practice complaint against CEO Krish Mohip, this one for awarding new teachers a $5,000 signing bonus.

You read that right: The teachers union is objecting to Mohip doing all he can to attract the best and the brightest teachers to the urban school district that had been under a cloud of failure for many years.

Paying signing bonuses to lure new employees is a longstanding practice in the private sector. One need only look at what the major hospitals around the country have done to address the shortage of nurses. Signing bonuses are commonplace.

Why, then, would the teachers union object to the chief executive officer doing whatever is necessary to bolster the teaching staff with skilled, knowledgeable individuals?

The straightforward answer is that the complaint filed with SERB is just another act of defiance by the opponents of House Bill 70, which was passed to save academic failing school districts like Youngstown from total collapse.

HB 70, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, calls for the creation of a special academic distress commission to oversee the school district in place of the elected school board.

The bill, passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. John R. Kasich, also creates the position of chief executive officer endowed with full authority over the district.

The Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission – three members were appointed by the state superintendent of public instruction, one by the mayor and one by the president of the school board – tapped Mohip to fill the position of CEO.

Despite the many hurdles he has had to clear in his year and five months on the job, the veteran educator from Chicago has implemented major changes that are designed to pull the district out of its academic tailspin.

Previous ruling

The latest SERB complaint comes on the heels of a ruling against the teachers union on another unfair labor practices charge.

Here’s what W. Craig Zimpher, chairman of SERB, wrote in dismissing the teachers union complaint:

“Information gathered during the investigation revealed that House Bill 70 provides the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with ‘carte blanche’ in regards to bringing the District out of ‘academic emergency.’ Under the provisions outlined in House Bill 70, the CEO was under no obligation to negotiate the implementation or the effects of the recommended five (5%) percent salary increase with the Union. Prior to any implementation, the only approval required by the CEO was that of the Academic Distress Committee, which gave CEO Mohip its approval.”

Against that backdrop, the teachers union’s complaint about the $5,000 bonus should be summarily dismissed.

However, we would urge SERB to bolster its initial ruling with a detailed listing of the powers granted to the CEO by House Bill 70.

The courts already have ruled the measure is constitutional, but that hasn’t stopped the Youngstown Board of Education and its allies in the state, including the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, from continuing to wage a ludicrous legal battle.

But while the lawsuit is being played out in the courts, there’s a need for a definitive answer to this question: Does CEO Mohip have the authority under HB 70 to “limit, suspend, or alter any provision of a collective bargaining agreement entered into, modified, renewed, or extended on or after the effective date” of the Youngstown Plan?

We believe he does – based on one analysis of HB 70 that says the law went into effect in July 2015 and the first report card under it was in September 2015.

The complaint filed by the teachers union over the payment of signing bonuses shows why the Youngstown City School District needs to shed all the impediments to learning that have deprived the city’s children of a sound education.

Mohip is well aware that he will be judged by how well the district performs in next year’s state proficiency examinations. The legal distractions are counterproductive and shortsighted.

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