Pickerington teachers union votes no confidence in school board, which censures a member

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The Pickerington Local teachers union has issued a voted of no confidence in the district’s Board of Education, with its president saying at a Monday meeting that district leadership is refusing to address overcrowding, teacher shortage and other issues.

The Pickerington school board also voted Monday to censure one of its members, saying his actions and communications with teachers and the superintendent were violating board policies.

The Pickerington Education Association, voted over 99% to issue a statement of no confidence against the district board of education, union President Brad Harris said. Pickerington schools, he said, are facing significant challenges, including overcrowding, understaffing, and inadequate resources and the Board of Education has failed to address the problems.

“Today, Pickerington schools are at a crossroad and we need major meaningful change,” Harris said.

Board President Clay Lopez declined to speak with the media about the teachers’ vote and concerns following the meeting.

Harris, who has been teaching in the Fairfield County district for 22 years, said fewer resources stemming from a failed operating levy in 2010 gutted the district’s programs, and it’s never recovered. Additionally, continued growth within the district, teacher shortages and rehiring decisions have stretched school staff to the breaking point.

“Our staff is stretched as far as it can go,” Harris said. “And I’m not just talking about teachers, nurses, counselors and specialists. Our principals and assistant principals have considerable workload and are among the lowest paid in central Ohio.”

And further growth is coming to the district. The Pickerington school board heard a presentation on an internal study from district officials showing projections from five years ago indicated the district of 11,000 students is expected to have gained 1,000 students by years 2023-2025.

The study contained recommendations that included hiring additional teachers and other support staff.

Harris said he was “pleased to see these recommendations” but does not believe that is “enough to keep up with the growth in our district, or to adequately address the needs of our students.”

Board Member Cathy Olshefski said money and space will ultimately be limiting factors in the proposal. While she said she disagreed with the PEA’s vote of no confidence, she said that the board and the union are “all in this together.”

“We’re working toward the same goals. We must spend a lot of time collectively discussing the future of this district,” Olshefski said.

Pickerington board votes to censure member

The board also voted Monday 3-2 on a resolution to censure recently-elected Board Member Mark Hensen, who the resolution said was responsible for violations of board policy over communications with the superintendent and members of the PEA.

Hensen, who voted against his own censure, said he believes the policy around school board members communicating with faculty and staff directly was too broad, and that it is no different than speaking with people in district.

Pickerington Board of Education Member Mark Hensen, left, was censured Monday night by other board members that said he was improperly communicating with the superintendent and faculty members.

The censure resolution also said Hensen threatened Superintendent Chris Brigg’s job. Hensen said that he had concerns with the superintendent’s performance, and privately expressed as much in a one-on-one meeting alongside a desire to see improvement.

Hensen said he takes the censure seriously, and will correct his actions “to the degree I think it’s necessary.” He said he will also develop a better understanding of board policies.

“I did not come to our school board to do things as they’ve always been done, nor did I come to ignore issues that need to be addressed,” Hensen said. “The status quo has to change, particularly as it relates to supporting our staff, especially as our district grows rapidly.”

Board members Lopez, Vanessa Niekamp and JD Postage voted in favor of the censure, with Henson and Olshefski voting against. Olshefski said that the policies existed for a reason, and she believed action should be needed, but that a public censure was not the correct route.

“I believe corrective actions should be discussed and addressed in private because we do not carry out discipline of either staff or students in a public venue,” Olshefski said.

PEA’s Harris said the censure represented the board silencing “the voice of a newly elected board member who can take real action to create meaningful solutions for our schools.”