G-A Education Association hosts community session
Perspective, numbers and how to talk to kids about a teachers strike were the main topics at a coffee klatch hosted by the Greencastle-Antrim Education Association last week.
It was the latest in a series of teacher talks presented by the teachers union as part of the ongoing contract negotiations. The 181-member union is working under terms of a contract that expired Aug. 31, 2017, and has set a strike date of April 4 if an agreement is not reached. The teachers have voted twice to accept the recommendations of a fact-finders report, while the school board has twice rejected them.
About 40 people attended the meeting, including parents, other community members, support staff and teachers.
Dan Barrett, elementary guidance counselor, led the session and started by talking about perspective.
He said there is the perspective the board presents, the perspective the teachers present and "somewhere in between those two is the truth."
GAEA's negotiating team is made up of 10 teachers, a very diverse group, that came to "the conclusion a strike is what we need to do as a community of teachers," Barrett said.
The school board presents a view of the numbers that is skewed and wrong, Barrett said.
"They have the perspective that Greencastle teachers are paid too much," Barrett said, going on to say that good districts pay teachers well and get good results.
He said after nine months of saying teachers were not worth a raise, the board chose not to share numbers with the fact-finder. In addition, he said only two of nine board members have been active in the majority of negotiations.
"We really really want them to come to the table," Barrett said.
Barrett talked about numbers that were presented at a state-of-the district meeting earlier this year. Since the nationwide recession in 2008, revenue has continued to group.
The last four or five years, the district's budgeted revenues have been lower than actual revenues and actual expenditures are higher than expected, according to Barrett.
During the tough years of the recession, GAEA members had a contracted raise of 3.8 percent every year for four years. In the fourth year, the union agreed to open the contract and took a zero percent raise.
Another time, the teachers saved the district $700,000 by agreeing to higher insurance deductibles.
Every year, the board projects there will be a budget deficit, but the district's fund balance — or savings — has only gone from $5.2 million to $4.65 million — in the past 10 years, Barrett said.
"Financially, Greencastle is relatively stable," Barrett said. "We believe we are not asking for too much ... a 2 to 2 1/2 percent raise isn't asking for too much."
He said the average salary of $70,359 is not out of line when compared with district residents.
Talking to kids
High school guidance counselor Diane Reed joined Barrett at the front of the room as they talked about talking to kids.
"We don't want to strike, we believe we can come to a fair agreement," Reed said. "But if it comes to a strike, we want parents to know how to talk to children."
Disagreements are a part of life, but it's how you get through them that's important and this is a teachable moment, Reed said.
"We have a strong disagreement and we are going to get through it together," Reed continued.
A strike is a tool — not one the teachers want to use — that the state gives them permission to use in an impasse.
GAEA teachers care, said Reed, explaining she has been here 25 years and loves the district.
"Let your kids know that teachers love their jobs and we will get there together," she continued.
Like when there is discord in a marriage, children may blame themselves. Reed said to stress that it is not about them, it is about two groups that can't agree.
For younger elementary students, it will seem almost like a vacation and there is no need to go into great detail, Barrett said.
Older elementary students, in fourth and fifth grade, may ask more questions, Barrett said. He echoed Reed's comments that a strike is a tool in the disagreement.