By Jordan Cohen
The city board of education, which last month deadlocked on a proposal to eliminate 15 teaching positions, approved the issue Tuesday by a 3-2 vote.
Without the layoffs, the board faced a deficit in excess of $1.3 million and could eventually have been forced into fiscal emergency and a state takeover, according to Superintendent Mark Robinson.
The decision will cost 11 teachers, one of them a part-time employee, their jobs. The remaining four positions, which became vacant due to retirements, will not be filled.
Richard Limongi, the board member whose abstention in the earlier vote led to a 2-2 deadlock, cast his vote in favor of the layoffs Tuesday. Joining Limongi in voting for the layoffs were Eric Lanham and Tony Perrone. Voting against the layoffs were board members Christopher Doutt and Susan Longacre.
Limongi said he abstained from the first vote because his wife and sister-in-law are teachers. However, Limongi said he changed his vote after consulting with the Ohio Ethics Commission.
“They told me that I could cast my vote because neither of the two are among those affected by the [reduction in force],” Limongi said. “This is not something I want to do, but as an elected official I have a fiduciary responsibility.”
Last month, the board voted 3-2 to lay off 19 non-teaching employees. Doutt and Longacre voted no. Longacre revealed after the May meeting that her husband was among the classified workers losing their jobs.
The special meeting at Niles Middle School was packed with more than 160 teachers and classified workers. The teachers, many of whom wore black to display their “sadness and disappointment” about the vote, did not speak during the meeting, but representatives of Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 365, the classified workers’ union, did.
“Sacrifice should be shared in every way possible,” said Debbie Simini, local president.
As the board prepared to vote, teachers arose in unison and held signs with the names of their co-workers about to be laid off. Chad Ries, a teacher and spokesman for the teachers union, the Niles Education Association, said he felt there was no point in addressing the board because “nothing else needs to be said.”
The union and board have been having intermittent contract negotiations as a previous agreement, which expired last August, remains in effect. Ries was asked if the layoffs might impact contract negotiations.
“I don’t know how that will play out, but I do know we want to continue negotiations,” Ries said.
Unlike the teachers, the classified employees had agreed to a new package with significant concessions last November, but because of what Robinson referred to as “a me-too clause” in the OAPSE contract, the concessions have not been enacted. “If the teachers settle with a better plan, [the OAPSE contract] has to match it,” Robinson said.
Despite the layoffs, the board must still eliminate a $289,000 deficit, and the superintendent said one of the biggest obstacles is health-insurance costs.
“We spend $3.8 million in health care every year, and we need to come to some kind of conclusion about that,” Robinson said, adding that he hopes to “have something in place by fall.”
The superintendent said that he and a board team are looking at several options including a levy. He indicated he expects more discussion about those options at the board’s next meeting June 27.