Thursday, May 23, 2019

OH: Union Reps Fired By Turnaround CEO

Lorain City Schools is one of the three Ohio districts that has been subjected to HB 70, a takeover law that replaces both the school board and the superintendent with a single all-powerful CEO. You can get the background of Lorain's troubles here, and see what has been happening in the fight against HB 70 here.

The short form for Lorain is this: HB 70 is a terrible piece of law, calling for a CEO who is knowledgeable and competent in every single aspect of school management, from teacher assignment to bus schedules, and this super-competent person has to be able to run every aspect of the district while building relationships with all the local folks who are still smarting from having the state strip all of their local power.

Location of my first teaching job
So let's start by accepting that nobody is going to be able to do this job well. But Lorain won some sort of reverse lottery, and got CEO David Hardy, Jr., who is especially not good at this job. Hardy's background is Teach for America and charter schools. I've reached out to someone who worked with him previously, and they suggest that he doesn't take criticism well, nor does he much care for teachers. That's just one person-- but nothing about his history in Lorain suggests otherwise. He has refused to move his family to Lorain, has refused to meet with the elected school board, and has not established positive working relationships with any of Lorain's civic authorities. At one point he told teachers (and the media) that all teachers at some schools would have to re-apply for their jobs. Then a few days later, he had changed his mind.

Hardy has brought in "turnaround principals" and other administrators whose background is also primarily Teach for America. Several turned out to not even have the proper certification for working as building administrators, and in some cases raise serious questions about their qualifications for the job-- the principal hired for the middle school apparently had only a certification to teach preschool through third grade. One parent who was involved in the interview process called the entire hiring procedure "a fa├žade."

Current administrative offices
I've talked to teachers from the district who describe an atmosphere of threats, harassment and intimidation. If you talk about me, I'll sue you. Use Study Island or else. Nobody's going to look at your evaluation-- you have to get on board.

That last one turns out to be true.

This morning's Chronicle-Telegram (a newspaper that has worked overtime to follow the ongoing mess) reports that several members of Lorain's teachers union have been given the ax.

All the teacher affected were non-tenured, and HB 70 gives the CEO the power to hire and fire at will. But there was no hint that this was coming:

First-grade teacher Ashley Krausher is one of the teachers whose contracts were not renewed Wednesday. She said she has taught at Admiral King seven years — two as a student teacher and the past five as a full-time, licensed teacher.

She received an overall rating of “skilled” for this year on May 1 — the second-highest ranking a teacher can receive. Of the two first-grade classrooms at the building, her class was the only one that passed the opinion writing student learning objective, which is meant to measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on student achievement. She said she also passed the state’s Resident Educator Summative Assessment “with flying colors.”

Krausher had actually been recommended for tenure by her principal. This had been her first year as a union building rep.

Union president Jay Pickering told the Chronicle that none of the affected teachers (nobody seems to know exactly how many there are at this point) had received a low rating in their evaluation.

The union has been busy this year-- when you have problems like administrators trashing teachers on social media, random and inconsistent enforcement and rewriting of policy, and all the other problems with having amateur hour in the front office, building reps have a lot of unhappy members to represent. Hardy and his team have been described as having a sense of entitlement, of feeling invincible, of believing that they don't have to answer to anyone-- and that last part is not wrong. The mostly-state-appointed oversight committee (academic distress commission) is supposed to evaluate the CEO regularly, and now, a couple of years in, Hardy still has not been evaluated. Outside of that review, HB 70 says that the all-powerful CEO really doesn't answer to anyone-- another reason the law should go.

At any rate, are folks like that going to take kindly to handling issues raised by the union?

I spoke to another of the teachers who has been non-renewed. Two weeks ago she was given her evaluation (late) and it was fine. A week later she was given her teaching assignment for next year. Last Saturday she filed a grievance regarding the general mess that had been made of her evaluation. On Tuesday, the last day for students, in the final minutes of the day, she was called to the office where she was handed a letter, signed by Hardy, informing her that she would not be renewed.

Amateur hour. Bad Administration 101 teaches that when you want to fire a teacher for some dumb, petty reason, you create some sort of semi-plausible cover story. Nothing has been offered here, other than sending harassing emails about (I swear I am not making this up, and I have no reason to believe the teacher is, either) failing to complete the Bloodborne Pathogens online training and not signing out properly at the end of the year.

The odds that the CEO and his staff will be facing an unfair labor practices charge seem high. Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate needs to decide if they will accept the House's budget language, which includes a complete repeal of HB 70-- including for the cities where it's going on.

Could things get worse in Lorain (where the board declared a state of emergency back in February). They could indeed, because the teachers union contract runs out on July 31 of this year, and David Hardy doesn't strike me as a man with a gift for negotiation. And HB 70 gives him one other power-- the power to declare the district hopeless and then hand it over to charter operators.

Here's some of what Hardy had to say when he went to the capitol to defend HB 70:

I rarely, if ever, directly respond to criticism from angry individuals who have suffered the feeling of accountability and the lack of power to wield their continued oppression on young people and the people care deeply about educating them.

If you want to catch more of his condescension and his sense that he has to come to this frickin' place because these frickin' people are some combination of evil and stupid, there's this TFA profile. But here's the thing. Even if Lorain's former board was the most dysfunctional in the world. Even if Lorain City Schools were a terrible mess, requiring substantive change and redirection. Even if the staff was filled with incompetents who were in education for an easy buck and couldn't care less about the students. Even if all those things were true, this would not be the way to fix it. Hardy and his team are like folks who pull up to a smoking dumpster and decide to fix the dumpster by throwing kerosene on it and then driving over it with a loaded cement mixer. Maybe it had some real problems before. Maybe it didn't. But it sure has problems now.

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