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04-23-05 Celina schools contract issues heat up

By Janie Southard

  It's not over 'til it's over seems to be the battle cry as formal charges of unfair labor practices (ULP) surface in the wake of the 2004 union negotiations between Celina teachers and the board of education.

  Negotiations, which finally produced a two-year contract in December, could be categorized as turbulent. To date, three unfair labor practice violation allegations have been filed with the state as well as a civil action filed recently in Mercer County Common Pleas Court.
  Of the present medley of charges, more than one interested bystander has observed that the school district would be best served if both parties would withdraw their charges and simply move forward.
  Celina City Schools board of education President Matt Gilmore agreed this week, saying he feels both parties withdrawing charges would be "ideal."
  "I think it would be really nice to bury the ghosts of past negotiations and just move on," Gilmore said.  Celina Education Association (CEA) President Phil Long declined comment this week on the idea to withdraw complaints.
  In early December 2004, Celina Education Association (the teachers' union) filed a ULP charge against the board of education following the November 15 board meeting. It was during that meeting board members Gilmore and Tom Rable gave a detailed presentation of the board's position in the negotiations including explanations of the most recent contract offer.
  Both sides had agreed to negotiate behind closed doors, and the teachers' union said the board broke that agreement when it spoke out the board meeting. In the complaint filed with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB), the teachers' union charges that the (school) board "failed and refused to bargain in good faith."
  As well, the teachers group states the board threatened to "unilaterally implement its proposed insurance changes," namely, force a PPO plan, which the teachers eventually agreed to accept.
  Following an investigation, SERB on Feb.10 said the employment relations board found "probable cause exists for believing a violation occurred." Further, it authorized a complaint be issued and a hearing set to determine whether a violation of the Ohio Revised Code (dealing with collective bargaining) has occurred.
  "CEA accepts the ruling ... and we are awaiting a hearing date with a mediator," Long commented in a written statement to the newspaper.
  Backing up a few months, it was in late December 2004 that the board filed a unfair practices charge of its own in response to alleged improper actions taken against board member Gilmore and his 5-year-old daughter, who is a kindergarten student in the Celina district.
  Kindergarten teacher Angie Schwieterman sent a letter home with Gilmore's daughter asking that Gilmore not participate in a reading program at the school for which he had already signed on to do.
  Schwieterman's letter refers to Gilmore's comments in the newspaper to the effect that he did not believe the teachers' union was putting the kids first. She feared Gilmore's very presence would affect her adversely.
  The letter states in part: "Although I appreciate your willingness to volunteer in your daughter's classroom, I am afraid that my discomfort will be noticed by the students. I think it would be best if we postponed those visits until after negotiations are over and a contract has been agreed upon."
  The board's charge states: "Rather than mailing the letter, the kindergarten teacher gave it to Gilmore's daughter on Dec. 3, 2004, and instructed her to deliver it to her father.
  "This caused Mr. Gilmore's daughter to become quite upset for the remainder of the day, thinking that she had done something wrong," the written charge continues.
  The conclusion, contained in the charge, is that "it was clearly illegal for the CEA to retaliate against Mr. Gilmore and his daughter due to his involvement in negotiations."
  The board's charge also alleges that Kathy Hart, vice president of CEA and acting in place of an unavailable CEA president, acted "in retaliation for Mr. Gilmore's involvement in negotiations" and "encouraged and assisted the kindergarten teacher to prohibit Mr. Gilmore from reading to her class."
  On Feb. 25, 2005, the employment relations board received a unfair labor practices charge from the teachers group stating the achool board's charge is without basis in fact or in law and was solely to retaliate against Kathy Hart and Angie Schwieterman and to exert leverage during negotiations.
  "Schwieterman became a target for the board when she consulted Hart regarding concerns she had about a board member coming into her classroom," it continued.
  SERB investigated the board's charge and on March 3 dismissed it with prejudice, meaning the charge cannot be made again with the employment relations board.
  On March 30, the board's attorney Glenn Waggoner filed a notice of appeal in Mercer Common Pleas Court with regard to SERB's dismissal. That case is now pending in the local court.
  Gilmore commented on the board's latest charge: "I do want to make it clear that I believe Angie Schwieterman is an excellent teacher and my daughter really loves her. This whole thing is so unfortunate."


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