Former Newbury teachers now working in the West Geauga Local School District will retain their seniority, potentially sparing them from being first to the chopping block in the event of a reduction in force, according to a newly minted agreement.

In less than five minutes, the West Geauga Local Board of Education approved two resolutions in a special meeting Saturday to settle an agreement with 23 former Newbury teachers. With the passage of the resolutions, the teachers were to dismiss pending litigation in the Geauga County Common Pleas Court.

On Aug. 3, the 23 teachers who transferred to the West Geauga district filed a lawsuit against the West G BOE in the county court to recognize their seniority as teachers after finding out in July that they would be considered “new hires” with zero years of seniority with West Geauga schools.

The Newbury Local School District shut its doors and joined the West Geauga Local School District in a territory transfer that went into effect July 1. Many teachers originally with Newbury schools transferred to West Geauga.

With their seniority stripped, the Newbury teachers would be at greater risk for layoffs in instances of a reduction in force, according to the court complaint, which is the removal of staff with no intention to replace, oftentimes for budgetary remedies.

While the settlement was only minutes long in a Saturday morning special meeting via Zoom, negotiations took place behind closed doors since the filing of the case against West Geauga and assigned to Geauga Common Pleas Judge David M. Ondrey.

West Geauga board President Bill Beers thanked Superintendent Richard Markwardt, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Curriculum and Instruction/Human Resources Nancy Benincasa, Director of Pupil Personnel Amy Davis and district Treasurer Karen Penler, among others involved, for working out the agreement with the teachers.

All present board members voted in favor of executing the settlement agreement with the 23 teachers, allowing them to retain their levels of seniority “which they held with Newbury on the last date of their employment with Newbury,” the agreement states. Board member Dan Thoreson was not present for the special meeting.

Other terms of the agreement include teacher evaluations in which prior Newbury evaluations will not be used, and the Newbury staff will be assigned numerical ratings according to evaluations with West Geauga for the 2020-2021 school year to be used “in the event of a necessary reduction in the size of teaching staff.” The teachers were also to dismiss the pending lawsuit within seven days of the board’s passing the agreement.

In other news, Dr. Markwardt said he could not comment on the flying of the Blue Lives Matter flag before the Aug. 31 Chardon High School football game in response to board member Kathy Leavenworth’s inquiry on the subject or how West Geauga would respond if in a similar situation.

“We have to respect all opinions of all involved,” he said. “We’ve had a very good relationship with our law enforcement partners and I think I want that to continue.

“I certainly value them a great deal, and I also respect the perspectives of other people. But one of the things that we have to realize in a school district is that we are a forum that recognizes and values free speech,” Dr. Markwardt continued. “As long as students are not violating the educational process and disrupting the educational processes with what they say, we certainly do not wish to silence one voice over another.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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