News 5 reported this week that Northeast Ohio school districts often spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on high-priced lawyers to negotiate teachers’ contracts.
So, who's the worst offender? The Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Our 5 On Your Side Investigation found the Cleveland Metropolitan School District spent more than any other Northeast Ohio school district we reviewed during our four-month long investigation.
Bills for legal fees piled up when district leaders failed to reach an agreement with the Cleveland Teacher's Union last year.
In fact, the union was days away from a strike when it finally reached an agreement with CMSD in March.
According to records provided by the district, administrators paid Squire Patton Boggs, a Cleveland law firm, $561,807.22 to negotiate their three-year deal.
We repeatedly requested an on-camera interview with Eric Gordon, the district’s CEO, who led negotiations.
Gordon declined to explain why it cost more than half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money to reach a contract agreement with CMSD’s teachers.
During a regularly scheduled board meeting Sept. 12, 5 On Your Side Investigator Sarah Buduson once again attempted to ask Gordon about the cost of negotiations.
The following is the transcript of their exchange:
Buduson: “Why did it cost more than any other district? That's all we want to know, since you’re the person in charge of those negotiations.”
Gordon: “Miss Buduson, we've already said you can talk to Miss Canfora for anything else you need. We're going to start this board meeting.”
Buduson: “Can you share with us why you refuse to comment on this specific issue?”
Gordon (To the woman seated to his left): “Go ahead and start our meeting.”
NOTE: Miss Canfora is the district’s spokesperson, Roseann Canfora.
Canfora sent us the following statement:
The cost is less than one percent of our annual operating budget. Contracting legal services to successfully negotiate a contract with more than 75% of our nearly 8,000-member workforce is actually a wise and prudent investment.
How does Cleveland compare?
According to Jeff Patterson, the superintendent of the Lakewood City School District, the district’s current six-year contract cost taxpayers only $60,000.
Officials from North Ridgeville City Schools said they spent only $77,642.26 on legal fees for labor negotiations during their last two teachers’ contracts.
However, 5 On Your Side Investigators only received invoices for those negotiations after repeated requests over a four-month period.
Records obtained by 5 On Your Side Investigators show the Westlake City School District paid $115,414.50 to reach an agreement with its teachers’ union last year after contentious negotiations that lasted approximately 18 months.
The district’s superintendent, Scott Goggin, told us he is working to avoid lengthy, and thus expensive, negotiations in the future.
“That’s something that we’re trying really hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
For eight weeks in the spring of 2013, Strongsville’s teachers went on strike before reaching a contract agreement with their board.
5 On Your Side Investigators reviewed the district’s legal bills and found the dispute cost taxpayers $236,049.38.
Superintendent Cameron Ryba, who was assistant superintendent during the strike, declined our request for an on-camera interview.
However, through spokesperson Dan Foust, he sent the following statement:
Thank you for reaching out and offering the opportunity for an on-air interview regarding your upcoming story. However, at this time I will respectfully decline your offer. Since 2003, I have had the privilege to be a part of the Strongsville City School District and Strongsville community. During those years, we have faced our share of challenges and successes. One of the greatest challenges was our teacher’s strike in 2013. Although this is a part of the history of our district and one that our students, staff, parents, and community will not soon forget, it is in our past. It is a past that we must know, acknowledge, and most importantly reflect and learn from; however, this past does not define us or our future. In the years since the strike, we have rebuilt trust with our parents and community. We have rebuilt strong partnerships within our district and city. We have laid the foundation for a successful future that will ensure that we are providing the premier educational experience that our students and community deserve
According to the district’s records, two tense negotiations between the board of education and teachers’ union cost taxpayers in Brecksville-Broadview Heights at least $337,925 during the last five years.
Records show administrators paid $103,533 to Pepple & Waggoner, a local law firm, to settle a contract dispute earlier this year.
An earlier contentious negotiations cost taxpayers even more money in 2012.
During the contract negotiation, invoices show the district’s legal fees added up to $234,372.
5 On Your Side Investigators repeatedly contacted school board members to discuss their legal bills.