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NH teachers ask for ‘fair shake’

A ‘fair shake’ is all the teachers of the North Harrison Community School Corp. say they are asking for in settling a contract dispute.
‘It’s very difficult as a teacher to put aside all this aggravation I have toward the board and administration not coming to the table over 1.8 percent,’ Dan Haskell said at Thursday night’s school board meeting.
And while the impasse has appeared to be over money, he said, ‘It’s not all about the money.’
It was the first time staff, administrators and school trustees had met since a fact-finder with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board returned its report from a hearing held in August. The North Harrison Middle School library, where the meeting was held, was packed. Many people had to stand; others who didn’t get chairs sat on the floor.
North Harrison teachers, who have been without a contract since the 2004-05 school year, are asking for a 1.8-percent pay raise, an increase Haskell said won’t catch them up with cost-of-living hikes over the years.
‘We’re not asking for the moon,’ he said. ‘We’re simply asking you to be fair and honest … for a fair shake.
‘Get together with the teachers and do the right thing,’ he urged. ‘It’s been too long.’
Dr. Phil Partenheimer, the school corporation’s superintendent, said fairness ‘should drive both sides’ to reach a new contract.
Partenheimer said when he started July 1 as superintendent, the teachers were asking for a 2-percent pay increase, a request that the school corporation couldn’t afford.
After hearing Haskell’s comments, Partenheimer ditched his planned PowerPoint presentation that included statistics based on the fact-finder’s report.
Instead, he said he accepted what he perceived as a ‘cease and desist’ on the part of the CTA.
‘I feel a sense of cooperation,’ he said, adding that he is willing to continue to negotiate with the association on teachers’ salaries, one of the four items in dispute. But, he said he cannot go along with binding arbitration because it would mean that the school board ‘would relinquish their authority as the local government entity to an arbitrator.’
With regard to the other two items in dispute ‘ health insurance and the retirement/severance buyout ‘ Partenheimer said he recommends that the five-member board accept the recommendation of status quo for health insurance and that the school trustees accept the CTA’s language as the basis for the pension bond.
School board president Ron Coleman told the teachers that school trustees will also attend the next bargaining session.
Greg Rupp, a teacher and president of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association, said the CTA is anxious to get back to the bargaining table.
‘Our request is fair; it’s more than fair,’ he said. ‘Let’s get this process settled.’
Prior to discussion about the fact-finder’s report, parent Amy Hill addressed the school board about class sizes.
She said her child, a kindergartner, is in a classroom with 30 other students, a much larger class size than neighboring schools. According to figures Hill received when calling for comparisons, Corydon Elementary averages 15 students, Heth-Washington Elementary 13, Milltown 12, and, the largest she found, Lanesville at 22.
Hill also said that, based on guidelines by the Indiana Dept. of Education, the classroom-per-student ratio at the NHCSC ‘is 30 percent above’ the maximum allowed.
And with numerous parents volunteering their time to help in the classrooms, the environment is ‘crowded and chaotic.’
‘It’s time for you guys to step up and give our children the best education possible,’ she said. ‘The fact-finder says the money is there. Get us a new teacher.’
Partenheimer said Hill has a ‘legitimate’ issue. ‘Money is driving educational issues,’ he said, ‘and it shouldn’t be that way.’
He placed blame on the state for making funding cuts to schools, which ’causes schools to make bad decisions’ for its students.
The superintendent said he would recommend hiring an additional teacher if funding permits.
Tammy Sager, another parent, encouraged the board to ‘adhere as much as possible’ to the fact-finder’s recommendations, which she said she found to be ‘very objective.’
North Harrison High School Principal Kelly Simpson introduced students Lauren Christian and Megan Weideback as being in the ‘commended’ range of the National Merit Scholarship Program, and Tyler Byrne as a cross country state finalist.
‘We’re very proud of our students and their accomplishments,’ Simpson said.
In other matters Thursday night, the trustees:
‘ Approved the appointment of Jill Ireland for a temporary teaching contract at North Harrison Elementary School; Angie Hinton as a sixth-grade boys basketball volunteer coach; and Joe Dones as a fifth-grade boys basketball volunteer coach.
‘ Accepted a $1,950 grant, written by teacher Carla Trotter, from Reading Is Fundamental. The $650 match will come from riverboat money the school corporation receives.
‘ Accepted two anonymous donations, one for $6,000 and another for $500, both to the North Harrison High School baseball program.
‘ Accepted a bid of $530 from David Flannery for a 1986 Ford F-150 pickup deemed as surplus by the school corporation. Assistant Supt. Ken Oppel said the vehicle has 196,000 miles. Flannery’s bid was the only one received.
The next meeting of the North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees will be Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the North Harrison Middle School library.