By Amanda Tonoli
City Schools CEO Krish Mohip and Youngstown teachers are again at war over various policies implemented this school year.
The Youngstown Education Association, the teachers union, has filed 10 grievances since the beginning of this school year.
Mohip denied all the grievances Nov. 4, listing various reasons in each response to the union.
YEA President Larry Ellis said he is discouraged Mohip was so “disparaging” about teacher concerns.
“He just denied all of them, across the board,” Ellis said.
Ellis added although the teachers are not opposed to change, they are opposed to the way Mohip’s changes are “hammered down.”
Some of the changes teachers filed grievances for included problems with student discipline and an entry-door change at Taft Elementary. The union and Mohip also disagree over what powers Mohip is allotted under House Bill 70.
HB 70, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in July 2015. It enabled a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire Mohip to lead the district. The bill gives Mohip complete operational, managerial and instructional control.
Ellis said student discipline is one of the biggest concerns for teachers.
In March, Mohip unveiled a new student code of conduct that implemented Positive Behavioral and Intervention Supports and restorative practices. The process allows all students to receive education rather than exclusion for wrongdoing.
Ellis said teachers are not opposed to restorative practices, but they do oppose the fact that repeat rule breakers face little to no consequences.
“No one is collecting information from what’s going on with a disruptive student,” Ellis said. “There’s not even a conversation. A restorative practice is put in place without an understanding of why a child is acting the way he or she is.”
And this bandage process is what Ellis said results in a safety issue for teachers and a distraction for students who want to learn.
“There has to be some consequence,” he said. “It can’t be the same [restorative practice] every time. We need to understand why students are acting out, why students are struggling and have a road map or a rule book to follow to show what rules we are playing by.
“Students need consistency.”
Mohip disagrees with Ellis and maintains the new code of conduct and disciplinary procedures are working.
“With PBIS, schools have more autonomy to dole out progressive discipline,” he said. “I think it is less a problem with restorative practices and more of a problem with classroom management.”
Teachers have resources, Mohip continued, in each building’s deans of discipline, a district deputy chief of culture and climate, teacher fellows, social workers, counselors, administrators and more.
Mohip said teachers will receive extra support soon, though, with professional development specifically for classroom management scheduled for December,
“This was a change, and change doesn’t happen overnight,” Mohip said.
Another change by the CEO the union is disputing requires everyone, including teachers, to enter Taft through the front door.
Mohip said it’s a simple safety issue.
“Everyone agrees that visitors should only be able to enter through the front door so that our school resource officer can properly screen anyone who enters the school,” Mohip said in his response to the grievance. “Requiring a single point of entry helps ensure the safety of our teachers with our students and other staff.”
“It’s a safety issue for our teachers having to walk all the way around the school buildings now, sometimes in the dark with the onset of the winter season and it getting dark earlier,” he said.
In November 2016, a Taft teacher was robbed at gunpoint early in the morning.
Police were called about 6:40 a.m. to the school where the teacher said a man with a revolver fired a shot before taking her purse.
Mohip said in his grievance response: “Opening a side door would make the school less safe as this door cannot be monitored before, during and after school.”
Although Mohip denied the grievance, he said he is looking into a union suggestion about getting teachers key cards that would permit them to enter the side door.
An overarching theme being disputed between the union and CEO is the interpretation of HB 70.
Mohip said despite the many grievances, he plans to follow the law that allows him to change the contract where he sees fit.
“I’m not sure where the confusion is,” he said. “We are in year three of HB 70, have had a second [Ohio Department of Education] report card ... and I have carte-blanche authority to make the decisions that are needed.”
Mohip reasons it is clear he is supported on a legal level based on the dismissal of an unfair labor practices charge the YEA filed against him.
The State Employment Relations Board dismissed the charge against Mohip on Aug. 3 for a lack of probable cause, according to SERB records.
The charge asserted the district engaged in “direct dealing” and “public bargaining,” according to SERB records.
Specifically, records show the charge was a result of Mohip proposing to increase teacher salaries by 5 percent.
In May, The Vindicator reported Ellis said “no” to the raise on behalf of 518 district teachers.
The raise was 5 percent on top of the 2 percent teachers already were guaranteed by their successor contract effective July 1, 2016.
Teachers, however, have not yet received the raise Mohip is now allowed to give.
“I’ve been working with a team – including teachers – to review compensation structures,” Mohip said, not directly answering a question about when the raises he had proposed would be enacted.
“We are committed to becoming regionally competitive in compensation, as indicated in the goals of the strategic plan.”
SERB records said: “Information gathered during the investigation reveals that House Bill 70 provides the CEO with ‘carte blanche’ in regard to bringing the district out of ‘academic emergency.’”
Ellis said Mohip, however, does not have carte-blanche authority.
Ellis said the teachers’ contract is valid, without interference, until June 2018 as it was signed in September 2015, a month before HB 70’s effective date in October 2015.
Despite the ongoing disputes over grievances, Mohip said he is still willing to talk with the union and collect its input.
“[The union’s] definition of input differs from mine,” he explained. “They can give input, and I will consider it and take action based on a decision I come to. It’s not just taking their input and putting that directly into action.”
Ellis, too, said he is more than willing to work with Mohip to find a middle ground.
“It’s just disheartening to the union when none of our input is taken,” Ellis said.