Appeals court hears Martins Ferry schools case

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The Seventh District Court of Appeals convened Wednesday in the office of Belmont County Common Pleas Court Judge John M. Solovan II.

Judges Gene Donofrio, Joseph J. Vukovich, and Mary DeGenaro presided.

Among the cases on the docket was an appeal of a ruling between The Ohio Association of Public School Employees and the Martins Ferry City School District Board of Education.

Some two years ago, members of the Martins Ferry Education Association accepted a five-percent reduction in pay at the request of the board of education. Members of the district’s non-teaching staff – members of the Ohio Public School Employees Union – never agreed to the cut and sought to fight the reduction. An arbiter ruled in OAPSE’s favor.

The school board argued that the arbiter of the three-year contract overstepped her authority regarding collective bargaining when she ruled in favor of OAPSE. The board of education appealed to the common pleas level and the decision was vacated and reversed.

Speaking before the court of appeals Wednesday, OAPSE’s representative argued that the arbiter found the collective bargaining agreement was specific as to wages. OAPSE representatives argued that the decision was vacated based on a precedent was not subject to collective bargaining law.

OAPSE contends that a case involving contract law should not have been used. They contend that the arbitrator’s decision was not contrary to law and the collective bargaining agreement and request the trial court’s verdict be reversed.

Opposing counsel argued that the teachers union accepted the wage proposal. The OAPSE representative pointed out that the teachers have separate collective bargaining.

The board’s representative argued that the lower court exercised the proper level of review. The basis for the decision was the ruling that the arbitrator exceeded her power by modifying the collective bargaining agreement and inserting language to the effect that statutory right to implement uniform reduction did not exist.

Counsel argued that the wage freeze included in the contract did not cover that matter, since the possibility of a wage re-opener had been included in the last two years, adding that the rights given to the school boards by the general assembly could not be taken away by an arbiter.

The OAPSE representatives countered that the statute should not have been applied to the case.

Judges raised the question of how they could uphold a decision by an arbitrator using the wrong statute. The OAPSE representative said the statute allows for unilateral reduction.

A ruling may be delivered in three to six months.

DeFrank can be reached at