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Published in Print: September 25, 2002, as Ohio District Shuffles Subs As Walkout Continues

Ohio District Shuffles Subs As Walkout Continues

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Scrambling to keep its schools open during a strike, an Ohio district has found a way to get around a state law that limits short-term substitutes to teaching a class for up to five days.

On the sixth day of the districtwide teachers' strike in Maple Heights, the district moved all the substitutes to different classes, then moved them back to their original classes the next day.

About 235 teachers in the Cleveland suburb have been on strike since Sept. 5. The 4,000-student district has been using short-term substitutes to fill the vacancies, said Marilyn Braatz, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.

The strike had not been resolved as of late last week.

While the state is not pleased with the district's tactics for staying within the law, it is trying to be sympathetic, and won't take action for now, Ms. Braatz said.

"This does not meet the spirit of the law, but it could be interpreted as correct," she said. "Quite frankly, it would be better if they didn't shuffle out, but ... given the circumstances, it's understandable."

The state knows of no other district that has used such reassignments of substitutes to comply with the law, she added.

Henry M. Rish, the district's superintendent, said that central- office staff members had to process substitute applications in the wee hours of the morning after the teachers walked out of negotiations.

All the substitutes have passed state background checks and drug tests, and are certified to substitute teach, he said.

Mr. Rish said in written statements during the strike that he wanted to keep schools operating and run "business as usual," even as teachers picketed nearby.

Teacher Tensions

Ohio issues two substitute-teaching licenses. A short-term license to teach one class up to five days is goes to those who have a bachelor's degree but no coursework for certification. Longer-term licenses to to those who have met some coursework requirements. Most of the district's substitutes are short-term.

Because the permanent teachers are not paid during the strike, and substitute teachers cost less, the district expects to save thousands of dollars during the strike, according to Mr. Rish.

After months of threats, the Maple Heights Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association went on strike. The teachers walked out to protest their pay, which is below state and regional averages; to seek limits on the number of classes they teach; to curtail noncurricular duties; and to to win increased contributions to their retirement plans.

The district said that it would be bankrupted by the demands. Local voters have shot down two attempts to raise property taxes to put more money into education.

News reports said Maple Heights schools were in disarray during the first days of the strike, as students watched TV, roamed halls, and left the campuses. One parent is trying to recall the school board. Meanwhile, teachers picketed outside the schools and the board members' homes.

Tom Mooney, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, which is not directly involved in the strike, said the state should enforce its substitute-teacher standards. He also faults the district's move to rotate substitute teachers.

"For the district to pretend school is open is not only educationally dishonest, it's dangerous," he said.

Vol. 22, Issue 4, Page 3

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