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Middletown school district, superintendent violated Ohio labor law, union says

At the heart of the matter are badge-like certifications called micro-credentials.
Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 8:59 PM EST
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - The Middletown Teachers Association has accused the school board and Superintendent Marlon Styles of openly flouting Ohio labor law.

MTA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the State Employee Relations Board on Nov. 3.

Dozens of teachers gathered Monday night outside a Middletown Board of Education meeting chanting their demands. Later, some teachers spoke before the board.

“They’re not willing to come to us and negotiate a fair contract,” Susie Lane, a Middletown first-grade teacher, said of the board.

The SERB filing stems from a particular point of contention in ongoing negotiations over a new teachers’ contract after the previous contract expired last year. So-called “micro-credentials” are badge-like certifications that allow students, teachers and other professionals to demonstrate competency in field-specific skills.

The board implemented micro-credentials this year by a “top-down mandate” on MTA members without negotiating the matter first, according to MTA spokesperson Susie Lane.

Micro-credentials are among the issues that remain unresolved in negotiations where MTA, as permitted by Ohio law, is operating as the certified bargaining representative of its members.

That certification confers on the board a legal responsibility to bargain in good faith with MTA, according to Ohio’s system of collective bargaining. By the same token, the board is prohibited from “direct dealing,” or bypassing MTA and negotiating directly with MTA member-teachers.

The district’s alleged wrongdoing began Aug. 5 when Styles presented the topic of micro-credentials at the district convocation ceremony attended by MTA member-teachers, according to the SERB filing.

The topic “was then subsequently disseminated and discussed by building administrators throughout the district to bargaining unit employees while the topic continued to be the subject of collective bargaining,” the SERB filing states.

Said Lane, “MTA has been negotiating with the Board of Education for months and no resolution is in sight. A whole host of issues remain unresolved…yet again…due to the lack of professionalism and courtesy demonstrated by district administration and the Board of Education. Our students deserve supported career-minded educators who can in turn support them…meet them where they are…in positive, welcoming environments. That can only occur when this board and administration demonstrate that they value the educators of this community. The Middletown City School District Board of Education must negotiate a fair contract now before more damage is done to this community.”

A district statement reads:

“The board of education is in negotiations with the Middletown Teachers Association. The board remains committed to the process of securing an agreement acceptable to all parties. The Middletown City School District continues its focus on serving our students.”

The Ohio Education Association touts micro-credentials as an ultra-flexible way for educators to “grow their professional practice and student success,” but viewpoints vary. A veteran educator opined in Forbes that such “online mini-courses” could lead to the “flattening and simplification of learning.”

Lane on Monday said micro-credentials “take away precious time that educators need to plan lessons, contact parents, score assessments and most importantly prepare their classroom to meet the needs of Middletown’s diverse community of learners.”

A SERB investigator will review the charge, prepare a report and present it to the board, which will determine whether there’s probable cause that a violation occurred.

If it determines there was a violation, the board will issue an unfair labor practice complaint and set a date for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge, a SERB member or the full board itself.

MTA and the board are scheduled to have another negotiation meeting on Friday.

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