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Stalemate ends as NH teachers get new contact

January 26, 2011
A master contract agreement between the North Harrison Community School Corp. and the Classroom Teachers Association was approved by the five-member school board Jan. 13, ending what may have been the longest teacher contract dispute in state history. The vote was 4-0-1, with Marla Adams, a retired NH teacher who will benefit from the contract, abstaining.

The teachers had been operating on a contract that expired at the end of the 2003-04 school year.

School trustee Steve Hanger, who was elected to the board last spring, called the stalement an "ordeal."

"It's not been easy for any of us," he said. "Every one of these board members have worked very hard for this."

Hanger, a retired school teacher, said one of the reasons he ran for the school board position was to help get a new contract at NHCSC.

An "overwhelming" number of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association members voted for the contract when it was presented to the union last month. The contract gives teachers a 1-percent stipend for the first six years of the contract — from the 2004-05 school year through the 2008-09 school year — and a 2-percent stipend for the next two years, which is when the contract will expire.

"We do have a contract, but it is not the kind of contract we had hoped to have," Dan Haskell, president of the NHCTA, said the day after the meeting. "I am relieved that we finally have a new contract, after 6-1/2 years, but I am not enthusiastic about teachers getting no raises for eight years.

"As far as I know, this conflict stands as the longest teacher contract dispute in the state of Indiana," he said. "Eight years without a raise is virtually unheard of, so, in that context, this contract is probably the worst teacher contract in the state."

The stipends will apply to all retirees during the years of the contract. Those stipends, which also apply to extracurricular and summer school positions, are to be paid by Feb. 27.

Haskell said he hopes the community, which had been divided over the lack of a new contract, will begin to heal its wounds.

"We have great employees, including teachers, and we need to work together to bring the atmosphere at North Harrison Community schools back to what it was prior to this dispute," he said.

Negotiations for the next teacher contract will begin in the spring of 2011.

Hanger, who said at the meeting that there isn't anyone involved with the school corporation who doesn't want the best for its students, dedicated the new contract to Dr. Kenneth Oppel, the school corporation's assistant superintendent who died Dec. 31 after a brief battle with cancer.

"He never had a contract in his years as assistant superintendent," Hanger said.

Prior to the start of the meeting, Battista asked for a moment of "quiet reflection" for Oppel, saying he will be greatly missed by the North Harrison community.

The Rev. Jeff Reed, pastor at Unity Chapel United Methodist Church near Ramsey, which hosted Oppel's visitation, thanked the school for its willingness to do "extra work" in order to stage Oppel's celebration of life service.

"There was no place else to do it," Reed said. "Next to his family, this is where his heart was."

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