|Dozens of teachers join their peers at North Harrison Thursday evening prior to the board meeting of the North Harrison Community School Corp. for a tailgate party and rally. (Photos by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor)|
NHCTA brings in supporters
March 19, 2008
The North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association brought in reinforcements Thursday night as the impasse on a new teacher contract nears the end of the fourth year.
Dozens of supporters, including teachers, former teachers, parents and union workers, gathered in front of North Harrison Middle School for a tailgate party and rally before crowding the school's cafeteria for the monthly meeting of the North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees.
Many carried signs with messages such as "United we bargain; divided we beg"; "Settle now"; "Parents support North Harrison teachers"; and "Support teachers; Support education."
Speakers at the rally included Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County (Ky.) Teachers Association and a North Harrison High School graduate.
|Superintendent Dr. Phil Partenheimer explains teacher salaries from the Indiana Department of Education's Web site.|
"I am very proud of the education I received here. I'm very proud of the teachers that taught me," he said. "I'm not proud of what this school district is doing to the teachers who are here now."
McKim noted that it shouldn't be a choice between teachers and bricks and mortar, alluding to the school corporation's possible renovation project for Morgan Elementary School.
Once the rally moved inside the school for the board meeting, McKim urged the five school trustees to "do everything they can to reach a settlement." He said teachers can't do as well when they are focused on something else, like not having a contract.
North Harrison Superintendent Dr. Phil Partenheimer told the crowd at the board meeting, which was vocal at times, that the money isn't available to give the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association what they are asking, which is a 1.8-percent increase for each of the past four years.
"I think before any decision is made, we need to make it on the facts, not emotion," Partenheimer said. "I understand your emotion, and I sympathize with you."
Partenheimer, who began his duties as superintendent on July 1, said that with the proposed NHCTA increase, the school corporation would have to start laying off teachers in the second year of the plan.
"In the fourth year, we would have to reduce $650,000 worth of teachers," he said, because "the state won't let us go bankrupt."
Partenheimer presented statistics from the Indiana Department of Education Web site (www.doe.state.in.us) that shows the average pay for staff at North Harrison has been higher than the state average since 2000.
"We're one of the state's poorest (school) districts," said Partenheimer, adding that North Harrison is fighting the growing schools for funding. "And we're losing."
Most points made by the superintendent were met with negative response from the crowd.
Dennis Van Roekel, vice president of the National Education Association who came to the meeting from Washington, D.C., said he "enjoyed" Partenheimer's presentation.
"I understand the challenge you face," he said, but he doesn't understand why North Harrison hasn't been able to settle the contract dispute in four years. "I want to work with you to make that happen. We need the same commitment from you."
Nate Schellenberg, an officer with the Indiana State Teachers Association, said he disagrees with many things about the impasse.
"One thing I do agree on is it's time to settle the contract," he said. "When it's over, neither side gets everything it wants."
School trustee Gary Byrne told Schellenberg that they have been willing to "stay all night" at mediation sessions if that's what it took to settle the contract.
Once the topic of the teacher contract was over, the teachers and their supporters took 10 minutes to file past the school board and Partenheimer before the meeting continued.
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