Court rules against ESC

STEUBENVILLE – The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the Jefferson County Educational Service Center and more than 200 Virtual Learning Academy instructors this month who claimed status as teachers eligible to participate in the State Teachers Retirement System.

The Jefferson County Governing Board members learned the details of the court ruling during a nearly one-hour executive session Tuesday morning with attorney R. Brent Minney.

According to Minney, three VLA teachers attempted to gain status in 2008 as teachers in the State Teachers Retirement System.

“The STRS decided in 2008 the VLA instructors were not teachers but independent contractors and the teachers filed a lawsuit in Franklin County contesting the decision. The dispute was sent to a magistrate, who recommended the VLA instructors should be treated as teachers. But the Ohio Court of Appeals rejected the magistrate’s recommendation and ruled against the instructors and the ESC,” recounted Minney.

“The VLA teachers and the ESC appealed to the state Supreme Court and the court ruled 4-3 that the VLA instructors are independent contractors and are not entitled to participate in the State Teachers Retirement System.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said the instructors did not establish by clear and convincing evidence the STRS abused its discretion by determining they were not ‘teachers’ under the Ohio Revised Code for purposes of their work as instructors for the VLA.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell disagreed and wrote in his minority conclusion John Nese, Donald Williams and Catherine Miles satisfy the definition of teacher set forth in the Revised Code.

“The Jefferson County Educational Service Center employed them as teachers, they served in that capacity for several years, made STRS contributions during that time and relied on their status as teachers for their retirement,” O’Donnell said in his minority conclusion.

Minney said the ESC now is in the process of preparing checks to pay the affected instructors the money withheld as their share to the STRS as part of their pension contribution.

ESC Superintendent Joy Howell said more than 200 current and past VLA instructors are affected by the court ruling.

In other business during the monthly meeting, the school board approved a number of personnel issues including accepting the retirement of Professional Development and Curriculum Coordinator Joseph Roshak effective July 31.

The board also agreed to amend Clyde DiAngelo from part-time status to full-time status to replace Roshak.

Three preschool handicapped positions will be abolished at the conclusion of the current school year because of financial reasons.

In other personnel matters the board:

Approved the retirement of Patricia Beagle from her general secretary job.

Approved Sondra Cupini as an occupational therapist.

Approved the re-employment of Marianne Madzia, Christina Somerville, Davis Lucas, Gina Waggoner, Nikki Richardson, Sharon Doty and Patricia Fletcher, Martha Bell, Susie Fristick, Bonnie Moore and David Moore, Rebecca DeVendra, Bonnie Napoli and Cara Siragusano.

Approved the employment of practical nurse assistants Kelley Miller, Pam Miller and Delores Spragg.

OK’d employing Visual Impaired personal assistants Tracy Atwood, Amber Basich, Deborah Cosgrove, Beth Kirk and Michelle Trikones.

Approved Alison Dukich as the alternative school case manager.

Approved the employment of Marybeth Swartzmiller, Kristina Ash, Martariesa Fiala, Zachary Murray and Ken Dawson as classified employees.

A field experience and student teaching agreement with Franciscan University of Steubenville was approved during the board session.

The board also agreed to sponsor the annual breakfast meeting set for Aug. 8 for principals and district administrators.

“I try to attend these meetings because they are a very informative learning experience,” noted board President Ken Simeral.

Wells Academy was commended for being named an Ohio Department of Education High Performing School of Honor and commendations went to Wayne Elementary and Karaffa Elementary for being named High Progress Schools of Honor by the state education department.

The board approved ESC service contracts with Buckeye Local, Edison Local, Indian Creek Local and Harrison Hills, Toronto and Steubenville city schools.

The board’s next meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. on June 26 in the ESC offices on Sunset Boulevard.