On Monday, Jacqueline Baker and 22 other former Newbury district teachers filed a lawsuit in Geauga County Common Pleas Court against the West Geauga Local School District to recognize their seniority as teachers, which would protect them if the district chooses to reduce its number of employees.

Around July 8, the plaintiffs learned that they would be deemed a “new hire” and be awarded zero years of seniority for purposes of reductions in force, according to the complaint. A reduction in force is when a person is removed with no intention of replacing them, such as for budgetary reasons.

In 2019, both districts approved a territory transfer that would dissolve the Newbury Local School District and send the students to West Geauga as of July 1. Teachers who were employed at Newbury were transferred to West Geauga.

“Accordingly, any seniority rights the former Newbury teachers had with the Newbury Board of Education were not transferred for placement on the West Geauga teacher seniority list,” according to the complaint.

West Geauga Superintendent Richard Markwardt said he was not aware of the complaint during a call with the Times on Tuesday. Therefore, he could not comment on the pending litigation, he said. The Board of Education, Dr. Markwardt and West Geauga Treasurer Karen Penler are named as defendants in the complaint.

The teachers are asking for a declaratory judgment from the court to recognize the seniority rights obtained by teachers who were transferred from Newbury to West Geauga, the complaint states.

Teachers who were transferred from Newbury were also advised around July 8 that they will be placed on a salary schedule comparable with the training and experience of a West Geauga teacher, including consideration of the prior West Geauga salary [step] freezes, according to the complaint.

The complaint notes that according to the Ohio Revised Code, teachers from Newbury should not be impacted by any salary [step] freezes that occurred in West Geauga prior to July 1. In the complaint, teachers also are seeking a declaratory judgment that Newbury teachers will be on a salary schedule without any reduction due to freezes before July 1.

Kathleen McKinley is the attorney for the former Newbury teachers but did not return calls from the Times as of Wednesday. The plaintiffs are also seeking attorneys’ fees, court costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief that the court finds to be equitable and just. The case is assigned to Judge David Ondrey.

The West Geauga Education Association filed a separate complaint in Geauga Common Pleas Court on July 30 against the West Geauga school district in regard to the collective bargaining agreement between the two parties. The complaint states in part that the district failed to announce salaries to be paid to teachers for the 2020-2021 academic year by July 1 as called for in the contract.

Transferred teachers, the complaint states, had no clue as to what the board intends as the pay and step placement. The complaint also takes issue with the district refusing to delay the start of school until after Labor Day.

Representatives from the teachers association and school district met behind closed doors on Tuesday.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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