Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
By Shelley Grieshop
St. Henry teachers develop own union
  ST. HENRY - Nearly all the teachers at St. Henry schools have cut their ties with the state and national education associations to join their own locally-formed union.
The St. Henry Education Association (SHEA) union was formed after teachers voted May 19 to disaffiliate from the Ohio Education Association (OEA) and its parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA).
SHEA members total 57 out of the 71 teachers in the district. The majority of those not in SHEA also are not members of the OEA/NEA, local officials said.
The district is the first in the Grand Lake area to disaffiliate from the state and national organizations. OEA officials told The Daily Standard only a handful of local schools across the state have taken such action.
In a statement to the newspaper, SHEA members said their reason for the change is "to get back to the basics of education."
OEA/NEA no longer has any role in the teachers' contract negotiations, grievances or any other matters of collective bargaining involving the certified bargaining unit of educators at St. Henry, SHEA's attorney, Paul Howell, said. That role will now be conducted by SHEA.
School board president Ron Gelhaus told The Daily Standard the board has been fortunate in the past to have few problems during teacher negotiations, and he doesn't feel the new union will change that.
"I'm not aware of any impact it might have," he said.
Gelhaus called the teachers' actions to form their own union "an individual decision on their part" and said he's optimistic about its success.
Michelle Prater, a spokeswoman for OEA, could not provide accurate statistics on the number of local schools who are not affiliated with the state organization; but she called the status "rare."
Prater also did not know the exact amount of dues each St. Henry teacher previously paid. However, she noted each teacher in Ohio pays $470 annually to OEA and $162 annually to NEA. Other amounts paid in dues often benefit the local school or its organizations, as designated by educators or their teacher's association, Prater said.
The dues now paid by SHEA members will be used in accordance with state and federal laws, as well as SHEA's bylaws and constitution, at the discretion of its elected officers and with the majority votes of its members, Howell said.
Current officers are Joan Albers, president; Maureen Kramer, vice president; Candy Hemmelgarn, treasurer; and Kristy Wourms, secretary.
The teachers' retirement funds will remain under the administration of the State Teachers Retirement System fund, which is controlled by the Ohio General Assembly.
SHEA will hold regular meetings throughout the year, and representatives will attend each monthly school board meeting. The group also will host an annual food fair to provide scholarships for eligible high school seniors.
SHEA officials say their focus is to support teachers and the community in which they serve.
"We recognize community members as friends of education for their support of our district as well as acknowledge retired teachers for their many years of service to St. Henry schools," the group stated in a news release.
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