Chesterton Tribune

Duneland Schools and teachers unite behind five-year contract

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By VICKI URBANIK

In what may be viewed as a show of unity, if not a bit of rebellion, the Duneland School Board and the Duneland Teachers Association have entered into a five-year teachers contract that includes some additional protections for teachers though no immediate raises.

The Duneland School Board on Monday unanimously approved the contract, which was earlier ratified by the DTA.

The contract includes language that will allow raises to be renegotiated on an annual basis. But for now, the contract includes no raises, except for the standard incremental pay hike, of about 1.2 to 1.4 percent, for each additional year of service for those teachers not at the top end of the pay scale.

The contracts approved in the summer for the classified and administrative staff also came with no raises.

The fact that the contract is extends to the 2014-15 school year may be a first for the Duneland Schools.

“It’s the longest contract we’d had in Duneland in my memory,” said Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer.

Baer said the teachers were interested in securing a long-term contract in light of the many changes in Indiana in public education. He said the general feeling is that after getting “hammered and hammered” over the past 18 months or so, some in public education are now getting “feisty” and want some security.

The five-year contract, Baer said, shows that the administration, board, and teachers are unified in their desire to retain protections for teachers and administrators, at a time when public education statewide is going through a major transition.

DTA Co-chair Michele Bartels agreed.

“Our future in this state in the teaching profession as we know it today is uncertain,” she said. “We need some constancy. We haven’t had much of that.”

Bartels cited several moves by the Indiana Department of Education and Gov. Mitch Daniels perceived as being unfriendly to public school teachers -- a lack of support for collective bargaining, deep funding cuts for schools, general support for more charter schools, and a perceived tone that teachers somehow are not professionals. “We are not getting respect,” she said.

Beginning in 2009, the state took over the funding for school general funds, which include the costs for teacher salaries and benefits. Then, at the start of this year, the state cut nearly $300 million in school funding, prompting the Duneland Schools to approve a series of budget cutting measures, including reduced hours for classified staff and incentives for veteran teachers to retire early, with some of their positions being left unfilled.

Duneland School Board President Mike Trout said the contract talks were a difficult process and that it’s unfortunate that Duneland could not give teacher raises, given the budget climate.

The contract is retroactive to August 1 of this year and will be in place through the 2014-15 school year.

The contract, while not including teacher raises, does include some language changes.

One of the most significant changes involves the grievance process. The contract now allows the school board to overturn the superintendent if a teacher has a grievance that isn’t settled first at the building level. The teachers’ contracts used to have this provision, and it was reinstated in the newest contract, Baer said.

The contract also establishes a teacher-administrator committee on teacher retirement plans, giving the committee the authority to make recommendations on such matters as which vendor to use.

Further, the contract changes language involving summer school positions. Baer said seniority has typically been the main factor in filling teacher summer school positions. Now, the summer school posts will be filled by teachers most closely aligned with the subject matter at hand; if, for example, a middle school and a high school teacher are both seeking a particular high school summer school position, the post will now likely go to the high school teacher even if the middle school teacher has more seniority.

Farewell

The school board’s meeting Monday included a fond farewell for long-time corporation secretary Treva Puglisi and for school board member John Marshall.

Puglisi has been school corporation secretary for 28 years, serving under four different superintendents. That alone qualifies her for special recognition, Baer joked.

Baer thanked Puglisi for her service and for her “warmth and caring” shown for students and employees. She will be replaced by assistant secretary Melissa Manney.

“It would be difficult to put in words -- without getting emotional -- what Treva has meant to the Duneland School Corporation,” Baer said.

The school board presented a gift certificate to Puglisi -- Trout noted that it was funded by school board members personally, and not with public funds -- and hosted a small reception for her after the board meeting. Puglisi said she appreciates her time with the Duneland Schools and for getting to know the people in the school corporation.

The school board also thanked Marshall for her service on the school board; Marshall will be replaced by Ralph Ayres, who won the Nov. 2 election for the Westchester-Pine school board seat.

Trout presented Marshall with an Indiana School Board Association plaque and commended him for his service. “He’ll be missed,” Trout said.

For his part, Marshall said he intends to stay active with the Duneland Schools and that he has felt honored and blessed to serve on the school board. “It has been a wonderful experience in these last five years,” he said.

 

 

Posted 12/7/2010