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Contract dominates board meeting

INDEPENDENCE - About 80 teachers, parents and other community members packed into the board room at Henry Hill Support District Office Monday night.

January 14, 2014

INDEPENDENCE - About 80 teachers, parents and other community members packed into the board room at Henry Hill Support District Office Monday night.

Teachers passed out signs that read, "Supporting teachers equals supporting students," and "I support Central 13J teachers."

One fourth-grade teacher wore a button that read, "I have 32 students in my classroom."

Nine people, parents and teachers, spoke during the board's citizen comments, each asking for the district to give the teachers a fair contract, and not to take the issue to mediation, which is scheduled for Jan. 22.

Parents expressed concerns about large class size effecting the education of their children.

"When you have a class size of 30 or more students, you end up doing crowd control, not teaching," said Trey Parker, of Monmouth, father of two students at Independence Elementary School.

Irene Pena, of Independence spoke in Spanish, aided by a translator. She said the big classes worry her. She said at meetings about closing Henry Hill Elementary School, administrators and board members assured her classes would not be larger than 25.

"Today, a teacher of my daughter will uphold this, she has 35 children in her class," she said.

During board comments at the end of the meeting, after more than half of the audience had left, board member Steve Love said he would like to see the dialogue change.

"We don't like this situation any more than you do," he said to the remaining teachers. "It tears us apart. It's time to move past that as quickly as we can."

Board member Jerry Shinkle said he wants to make sure whatever the contract is, that it's sustainable.

"If we give a big raise this year, will we have to take it back next year?" he said.

Ben Gorman, teacher at Central High School and president of the Central Education Association, said he felt really supported by the community.

He started a Facebook page, "I support Central 13J teachers," that has garnered more than 350 "likes" in a week.

At about the same time, Superintendent Buzz Brazeau posted a question-and-answer document on the district's website in an attempt at keeping the public in the loop about the details of negotiations.

The district is offering: a 3 percent salary increase for 2013-14, with an additional 2.25 percent for 2014-15; and to maintain the district-paid health insurance benefit of $1,215.28 per month for the next two school years.

Gorman said insurance costs have gone up 14 percent this year, and teachers are asking for an increase of 6 percent contribution from the district toward those costs in 2013-14 and an additional 6 percent in 2014-15. This is one place where the teachers and district are at a standstill.

The other place they cannot agree is in guaranteeing an additional teacher will be hired at each school in the district, regardless of funding and/or enrollment changes, and committing in writing to protect certain elective classes.

"They say, don't worry, we will hire people," Gorman said, adding that each school building would benefit from an additional teacher.

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