Teachers union president adding to strife in Y’town

The inexplicable decision by Larry Ellis, president of the Youngstown Education Association, to turn down a 7 percent pay raise for his members has triggered an unnecessary clash between the union and the administration.

Ellis had the chance to accept the olive branch extended by Krish Mohip, chief executive officer of the Youngstown City School District, but he brushed it aside.

In so doing, he opened the door to a possible legal battle that will be a waste of public dollars and will further exacerbate the strained relations between the CEO and the YEA.

Such a distraction could not have come at a worse time for the academically troubled urban school system.

Mohip, who has been on the job since last June and is unjustifiably viewed by detractors as a dictator, recently announced a major structural change in the district.

With the backing of the special Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission that hired him, he has brought back neighborhood schools.

It’s a major departure from what has existed since 2011, when then Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn unveiled an unconventional arrangement for kindergarten to 12th grade.

At the heart of the Hathorn plan was the creation of two high schools: Chaney opened as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and visual- and performing-arts school for sixth- through 12th-graders. East was designed for 10th- through 12th-graders and focused on business, education and law. Both schools adhered to core academic courses.

But with Hathorn’s departure in 2015, the plan went off the rails. His goal of pulling the district out of state-declared academic watch – a small step up from the original academic emergency declaration – has not materialized.

Thus, the decision by Mohip and the distress commission to reconfigure the district.

The two high schools will receive students from specific neighborhood elementary schools, but all will have STEM, visual and performing arts and other special programs.

Singularly important

In unveiling his plan, the CEO made it clear that teaching is singularly important to the district’s academic recovery. Hence, his offer of a 5 percent raise on top of the 2 percent increase teachers already are guaranteed by their successor contract that went into effect July 1, 2016.

It is Mohip’s contention that the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the teachers must be amended in order for the raise to be legal.

Therein lies Ellis’ objection.

The union leader argues that reopening the contract would enable Mohip to get rid of teachers and staff and change other provisions.

However, the chief executive officer has pledged, in a written offer to Ellis and in press interviews, that he is only interested in formalizing the pay raise in the collective bargaining agreement.

“I ask for nothing in return for this increase except continued hard work and dedication,” Mohip wrote.

Given this impasse, the YEA has filed an unfair labor practice claim against Mohip. The administration has not said how it intends to respond.

The union action may well answer the question that has loomed since House Bill 70 became law: How much authority does the chief executive officer have over the school district?

HB 70 brought about the creation of the Youngstown Plan that turned over governance of the failing system to the special state academic distress commission. The elected school board is now in an advisory role.

Mohip, a veteran public school educator from Chicago, spent the first 90 days or so developing a three-year academic recovery plan that was approved by the distress commission. The re-configuration of the schools is the foundation.

During his top-to-bottom review of the system, he found that the comparatively low pay for teachers was a major impediment to retaining good ones and attracting qualified instructors.

While Mohip and Ellis disagree on whether the labor agreement must be reopened to provide the higher salary, we wonder why the YEA president doesn’t believe the written pledge from the chief executive officer.

To repeat what Mohip said in his letter to Ellis:

“I ask for nothing in return for this increase except continued hard work and dedication.”

Ellis should take Mohip at his word and agree to reopen the contract. The public – and this newspaper – will make sure the CEO doesn’t pull a fast one on the union.

It’s time for a bit of trust.

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