Teachers, dressed in black as a sign of solidarity, attended the Clay Community School Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night at North Clay Middle School.
Clay Community Classroom Teachers' Association President Russ True was the first to step to the podium. He reminded everyone how the association was organized and the great lengths taken to insure no teacher has to fear reprisal for their opinions on contract negotiations or possible job actions.
More than 200 teachers are unified in their cause and the only fear voiced by a teacher is of reprisals from the school board, True said.
After a lengthy round of applause, three other teachers came forward to speak about issues upsetting the group.
"As an elementary teacher I put in an extra 10 to 12 hours minimum per week past contract time grading papers, lesson planning, meeting with parents, buying supplies for projects, attending in-services, doing bulletin boards and countless other tasks associated with teaching," said East Side Elementary fifth-grade teacher Ellen Packard.
Teachers can spend $1,000 a year on supply items like construction paper, glue, paint, pencils, cooking supplies and reward items for students, she said. There are also basic classroom supplies like chalk, file folders, index cards, tape, markers, staplers, scissors, paper clips, rubber bands and other materials in a typical school year.
While the corporation agrees each school has a limited supply budget, teachers say they have been picking up the slack.
"When asked last year by the administration how we could save money as a corporation, my thoughts were, 'I can't save the corporation money when I'm already $1,000 in the red,'" she said.
Mandatory license recertification was also a frustrating issue for Packard, who said those expenses are not paid by the school corporation, unlike other school corporations in Indiana and elsewhere. She did not give examples.
"I do not like the implication made by the school board in the January presentation that we only work four hours and 50 minutes per day because it is simply not accurate. I do not appreciate the insinuation that during my prep time I'm not working to benefit the students in my classroom," Packard said. "I don't like my pay scale being compared to the pay scale of other jobs where the requirements are much less."
"No student has ever been turned away by a teacher when seeking help," said North Clay Middle School teacher Jane Penry. "Why do we do this? We have done it simply because we care. We want to do this because it is what's best for our students and our community."
Northview High School teacher John Pliskin said the teaching time is highly misleading when considering all the other ways a teacher spends time with students. Monitoring hallways between classes, study hall duty, Saturday conferences, writing college recommendations for students, tutoring and even taking students home who have missed the bus are just a few of the things teachers do to interact with their students during the day, he said.
"Many teachers are grading papers during their lunch periods, at sporting events, on airplanes and while visiting relatives," he said. "One teacher even reported grading papers while in labor."
The only person to speak at the meeting who wasn't a teacher was former school board member Dr. Forest Buell.
"You have to consider each and every student that comes through the door. The teachers' association has to take some responsibility for some of the financial problems. I think (the problems) are going to be long-term this time, they're not going away and it is going to take sacrifices to arrive at solutions that are best for students," he said.
"The teachers' association, school board and the public need to work together," Buell said. "Job actions do nothing to solve money problems and only shortfalls education in the classroom. There are consequences (from job actions) to students and their participation in school."
Board member Terry Barr said she understood the group's anger over the reported classroom teaching time and it was not intended as a slap in their faces. She apologized for any misunderstanding.
She told the crowd that because of the importance of a teacher's job they are paid more money than the average worker in Clay County, but, "What good is it to give raises to teachers and then turn around and RIF (Reduction In Force) teachers next year?"
Barr said she had the utmost respect for teachers, but they needed to pick themselves up and create a plan for the impossible.
"Teachers are amazing individuals, I know you can do it," she said. "But I do want you to know that I'm throwing unsigned letters in the trash. If your opinion isn't worth putting your name to don't send it."