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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Teachers' contract dispute lingers on

Friday, August 17, 2007

Russ True
Early Tuesday morning, Clay Community School teachers rallied to show their support of Clay Community Classroom Teacher's Association (CCCTA) President Russ True's decision to walk away from the negotiation table during contract talks with the Clay Community School Board.

"We grouped together so that members could be informed of what had transpired during the negotiations," True said. "It wasn't a picketing situation, or a strike."

According to True, Indiana has a 'bargaining law' that basically states teachers can't go on strike, but neither can the board impose an offered contract upon the teachers.

"We were offended. There is no other way to say it, the contract they offered us was essentially a slap in the face to the teachers of this community," True said.

To understand the contract dispute, look back in time about five years.

From Aug. 1, 2001, to July 31, 2003, the CCCTA had a contract. On the last day of July in 2003, it expired, and the CCCTA has been trying to re-negotiate a new one ever since.

"We would love to have a two-year contract, but we have some issues that we've been trying to get straightened out," True said.

Those issues are simple. The teachers want a raise, retroactive back to the 2003-04 school year. They haven't had one for four years, and the 2007-08 school year will make five years without a raise.

There has been a 12 percent cost of living increase in the last five years, but not for these teachers.

The CCCTA is also fighting to keep their health insurance as it is.

The current plan is an Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) trust, which caters mainly to school personnel.

"We currently have a United Healthcare network, without their policies," True said. "While we haven't had an increase in co-pays, and the company pays a good percentage of the bill, our premiums have increased approximately 20-25 percent over the last five years."

According to True, while prescriptions have decreased, hospitalization has increased, and that was a major cause for concern during negotiations. The CCCTA is trying to remedy this, without having to change insurance plans.

"We have been working on a wellness plan. A preventive care plan that will decrease that hospitalization number, and as a whole make us healthier, and includes more maintenance and exercise is in play, but it will take time to show its effectiveness," True said. "We are trying to find a way to contain costs and be pro-active, however, this is something the board doesn't want to hear."

According to True, the board wants the CCCTA to switch to a cost-shifting plan, with the CCCTA paying a larger portion.

True, a veteran teacher with 27 years of experience, finds these tense negotiations draining.

"I'd like to do more, but it's very hard to keep banging your head against a wall," True said.

The board broke off negotiations abruptly in July because the board wanted to wait for insurance bids.

They resumed in August at the urging of the CCCTA to settle this issue.

"We said that it wasn't sending a good message to the teachers not to come back to the table and discuss these issues," True said.

"We told the board that we want a 1 percent raise for the school years from 2003-05, with a 1.5 percent raise for the 2006-07 school year. We don't want a cap on the insurance." True said. "They countered with a 0 percent raise for 2003-06 and a less than 1 percent raise for the 2007-08 year, but only if we agree to the insurance cap. Plus, they want to cut our retirement package by 60 percent."

The retirement cut was totally out of the blue for the CCCTA. It had never even been discussed before.

"We have a large group of members, more than 300 teachers, and I'd say the majority are veterans at teaching. Most have been in Clay Community Schools for over 15 years. We had almost 20 retire last year," True said. "To have them say this to us, well, yes it was like a slap in the face. It's obvious that this board isn't willing to even meet us halfway."

According to True, until an agreement is made, the teachers will have what is referred to as a 'status quo' contract.

"We have the teachers on our side, if we could get the public to weigh in on this subject, something might get done. Until then, well, I guess we just continue to do our jobs and teach the children of Clay Community Schools," True said.

Clay Community Schools Superintendent Dan Schroeder referred calls to board lawyer Michelle Cooper, who had not returned phone calls at press time.

The Clay Community School Board meets the second Thursday of each month, at 7:30 p.m. in the media center at North Clay Middle School. The next meeting will be Sept. 13. The public is invited to attend.

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