District says pay plan not sustainable without budget cutsBy:
Tim Ryan [email protected]
Shawano school district officials expecting to discuss the merits of a joint-recreational facility with the city were pulled into a debate over teacher pay issues during a sometimes contentious board meeting Monday.
Discontent over the district’s handling of the issue was set out in no uncertain terms at the outset of the public comment period when high school music teacher Jill Sousek, a 15-year veteran of the district, let it be known she was looking for employment elsewhere.
“I have looked for a different job,” she said. “I have two interviews coming up because I am looking at leaving the district.”
Sousek said she is not happy with the way teachers are being treated.
School district faculty was recently sent a survey seeking their input on possible changes to the district’s teacher pay plan that was implemented three years ago.
“I am not happy with the options that I have been given,” Sousek said. “It’s not acceptable. Your options are not acceptable.”
The pay plan is based on a standard annual increase and rewarding monetarily those teachers who participate in professional development activities, pursue further education, participate in activities involving students, building and committee work plus other items.
According to the school district, sustainability of the plan has always been a concern and it was due to be reviewed every few years.
That time has come, according to a statement put together by Superintendent Gary Cumberland and Business Manager Louise Fischer.
“The district has made it no secret the last few years we are losing students and subsequently, we have reduced or cut the budget to address the decreasing amount we can levy according to state statute,” they said.
The statement was sent to the Leader in response to criticisms of the district that have been posted on social media.
According to the statement, the district has been paying teacher salaries far above the initial expectation when the plan was implemented three years ago and is paying significantly more in teacher salaries than was paid before the plan was implemented.
“Together with declining enrollment the last three years and assuming less students in 2019-20, and other significant budget expense increases, the plan as it is, is not sustainable without making major reductions elsewhere in the general fund budget,” the statement said.
The survey sent to teachers asked for their input on what elements they value within the pay plan.
“Teachers are not getting a pay reduction on their teaching contract, however, there may be a cap on how much an individual can increase in one year,” the district statement said. “Currently, there is no cap.
The district also noted that starting July 1, the district is increasing starting teacher pay to $40,000 in order to be competitive in the labor market. Starting pay is reviewed every two years.
Sousek told the board Monday that finding a fix for the teacher pay plan is not the teachers’ responsibility.
“You have not budgeted the money that is needed for the pay increases that all of you have said, or most of you have said were going to happen,” Sousek said. “You don’t have the money budgeted. So whose fault is that?”
Sousek also questioned the timing, given that the survey was sent out while the district is contemplating an agreement with the city for a joint-recreation center that could cost as much as $28 million.
Substitute teacher Megan Pyatskowit also told the board it was bad timing for the survey to come out during National Teacher Appreciation Week.
“Pretty disappointing for the survey that just came out,” she said. “‘Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. Basically, how can we cut your pay?’”
Pyatskowit said the district needs to find a way to keep its veteran teachers.
“As a parent and as somebody who works in the district, that should be a priority,” she said. “Our teachers do not feel like they are really appreciated and really needed and compensated for what they’re doing.”
Board member Chuck Dallas said the timing of the survey while the recreation center was being discussed sent a mixed message to staff.
“We’re in declining enrollment, we’re having budget issues right now and we’re talking about a $28 million facility?” Dallas said. “We started out talking about expanding the weight room. Now we’re at this level. It’s the wrong message to send to the people that are working with the students on a regular basis.”
District officials are stressing that the teacher pay issue and the proposed recreation center are separate issues, with the funding for the center coming from debt service that cannot be used to cover district operations.
However, the district said in its statement, “Should declining enrollment continue, the district can turn to the taxpayer for a general fund (known as Fund 10) operations referendum to continue current programs and staffing.”
Board member Mart Grams said that while the teacher pay and recreation center issues were not related, they have created a perception problem for the district that, according to Grams, has exacerbated animosity between the district and its teachers.
“Those teachers cannot stand our guts,” Grams said. “They hate us with a passion.”
Grams said the district is perceived as not treating people very well.
“You don’t send out a survey to a teacher and tell them to tell me how to cut your pay,” he said. “We need to start treating those people like they matter.”
Grams also said the school board needs new members.
“We need a new board,” he said. “We need new people. We need to show the people who work for us we give a s—- about them. We don’t. We’ve never shown that to them.”
Cumberland said in an interview Tuesday that he did not agree with Grams’ characterization of the relationship between the district and its teachers.
“I don’t get that view when I’m out in the buildings,” Cumberland said. “I’m not sure what he’s referring to and I haven’t had a chance to follow up with him on an individual basis.”
Cumberland said he believed teachers are being treated well.
“We continue to try and find ways to do a better job,” Cumberland said. “Sometimes information or the communication isn’t as open as it should be so people understand what’s happening and why it’s happening.”
Cumberland also said he spoke with Sousek on Tuesday following her comments at Monday’s board meeting.
“There was some misunderstanding when that survey came out,” he said. “She didn’t have a lot of the facts. She understands it now and she gave me a lot of good answers.”
Cumberland said he hopes the matter has been clarified and that Sousek will stay with the district.
Sousek could not be reached for further comment Tuesday afternoon.