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home : news : local   May 24, 2016

4/15/2014 12:04:00 PM
Did Ottawa follow state law in shop teacher's dismissal?

Kevin Caufield
NewsTribune Reporter

OTTAWA — Ottawa High School administrators are countering an email written by one board member and a statement made by the teacher’s union president regarding the ending of the district’s building trades program.

OTHS superintendent Matt Winchester wrote the NewsTribune a letter dated April 11 meant to “set the record straight” on the specific action taken during its March 17 board meeting.

He stated the board adopted a resolution to dismiss building trades instructor Dave Keely because it made the determination that it would no longer be providing building trades as a “teaching service.”

The letter also stated that since Keely is only qualified to teach building trades — and since the district would no longer have a building trades program — Keely was released from employment.

However, board member Anita Kopko in an email to some board members and Winchester, and then later during an interview with the NewsTribune, stated it was her understanding the motion on the floor during the March 17 meeting was to approve a reduction-in-force proposal and not to terminate the program.

Additionally, Winchester stated the “district’s proposed action to undertake a reduction in force to eliminate the building trades program” was discussed with representatives of the Ottawa Township High School Education Association on March 11 during a staff relations meeting and then again with the OTHSEA president and vice president.

“The process of meeting with the union prior to the decision to end a particular teaching service and the board’s determination to take such action was plainly in conformity with the Illinois School Code, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and the contractual agreement between the Board of Education and the OTHSEA,” the letter stated.

Winchester also cited Illinois School Code that states “a teacher may be removed or dismissed as a result of a decision of a school board to decrease the number of teachers employed by the board, a decision of a school board to discontinue a type of teaching service, or a reduction in the number of programs or positions in a special education joint agreement.”

However, as previously reported, OTHSEA president Wendy Sheridan told the NewsTribune the district did not follow reduction-in-force procedures outlined in the district’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Sheridan had said Winchester never consulted with the OTHSEA for input on a reduction-in-force and never created a reduction-in-force committee to address the district’s proposal.

Sheridan told the NewsTribune Monday she still stands by her previous statements, but has been advised by the Illinois Education Association to not comment further on possible contract violations.

The board will meet again April 28. A large, organized protest against the district eliminating the building trades program is expected to take place during the meeting.

Kevin Caufield can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or

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