AUSTINTOWN - A parent stood outside Tuesday in protest of a schools job fair held in what he called poor taste.
James J. Sobien II, 43, who has four children in Austintown schools ranging from fifth grade to a high-school senior, said he is appalled by the timing of the job fair, which was held Tuesday at the Austintown Public Library, a week before negotiations were set to resume between the board and Austintown teachers.
Recent newspaper ads for the job fair state the district is looking to fill full-time, part-time and substitute positions, including classroom teachers, secretarial, food service workers, bus drivers, sweeper / cleaners and all substitute positions.
Teachers for the district have been working under an expired contract since August.
"There is no issue with our job fair. We are recruiting staff members for the next school year. We are anticipating a bulk of retirements next year," Superintendent Vincent Colaluca has said.
The job fair has nothing to do with contract negotiations and it is not the district's intention to replace the current staff, according to Colaluca.
James J. Sobien II stands outside the Austintown Public Library on Tuesday afternoon in protest of a job fair held by the Austintown Board of Education. Sobien, a father of four, said the timing of the job fair is in poor taste because the district is still in contract negotiations with teachers, who have been working without a contract since August. Tribune Chronicle / Bonnie L. Hazen
Colaluca also said the job fair had a great turnout, drawing about 400 people.
"It's just a tribute to the Mahoning Valley, a tribute to our school system. They want to be part of a system that's successful," he said, referring to the district's Excellent and Excellent With Distinction ratings on the 2012 Ohio Report Card.
Sobien called the job fair unethical and said he believes it is an attempt by the school board to threaten teachers.
"As a parent and a taxpayer in Austintown, this is nothing more than an attack on the teachers, using our children as pawns. It hurts our children's education, it hurts our children," he said. "All I wanted this board to do was postpone this until the negotiations are over."
Board member Harold Porter said in an email that he also voiced his opinion that the job fair should be canceled.
"The board president told me that the board members wanted the job fair to continue," Colaluca said. "The negativeness that's trying to be portrayed is not there."
He also said the union president and vice president were present at the job fair, greeting people and passing out paperwork.
"I don't control people that aren't very positive in life, but the things that we're doing are very successful," he said, attributing the success of the job fair in part to the collaboration with the library to host the fair.
Sobien questioned the library's involvement, stating previously that the fair should have been held on school property.
Sobien also called a recent policy enacted by Austintown teachers unfortunate, but necessary. The Work to Rule policy kicked off recently with Austintown teachers, who have said they will no longer start their work day early, take papers home to grade or stay after school for extracurricular activities unless it is required of them in their contract.
"You work your contracted hours. Nothing before, nothing after," Austintown Education Association president Barb Tomic said. "And you don't take any work home."
The union represents 400 Austintown teachers. Their contract expired Aug. 25.
Sobien, who has expressed his desire to run for board member in the upcoming November election, said his actions as a parent and taxpayer have nothing to do with his run for a seat on the board.
"Whether I win or lose, if I make a difference in the education of these children, I've won. Everything I've done in the past seven years is about the children of Austintown," he said.
Negotiations between the teachers and the board have been underway since April. The district met with the teachers several weeks ago, but both sides were unable to reach an agreement. Colaluca said a tentative agreement was signed by both negotiating teams in June, but that agreement was rejected by union members.
Issues in dispute include class size and resources such as text books and more programs for students, and the Work to Rule policy was initiated in the hopes of making contract talks a priority to administrators.
The two sides are set to meet again next week with a federal mediator.