Lake Ridge teachers fighting over pay, retirement issues

2013-10-10T11:15:00Z 2013-10-12T00:20:07Z Lake Ridge teachers fighting over pay, retirement issuesCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

CALUMET TOWNSHIP | Members of the Lake Ridge teacher's union held up signs Thursday as parents dropped off students at different school buildings to show their displeasure with continued cuts in the district.

Calumet High School New Tech teacher Dan Brugioni, who also is president of the Lake Ridge Federation of Teachers, said teachers are being treated disrespectfully. Brugioni said teachers are hosting "informational pickets" Thursday and Friday, as well as before the Monday School Board meeting, to protest issues over retirement and pay cuts.

"We've had no part in budget discussions and the School Board never even offered us a proposal in negotiations," he said Thursday while standing with other teachers at Calumet High School.

Lake Ridge Schools Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley released a statement saying the district is facing financial shortfalls because of decreased state funding, mediocre tax collections and the circuit breaker or tax break to businesses and residents. She said teachers were present at public budget talks but made no comments about the budget.

Johnson-Shirley also said students in grades six through 12 have a laptop and students in kindergarten through fifth grade have mobile computer labs for learning. All teachers have laptops, and administrators have iPads to assist with data collection and teacher evaluation.

Johnson-Shirley said Lake Ridge Schools have given raises to teachers through two Excellence in Performance Awards for Teachers through the Indiana Department of Education for 2012-13 and 2013-14.

"In the fall of 2011, the School Board provided 3 percent appreciation pay to all teachers," Johnson-Shirley said. "At the same time, the School Board provided a 1 percent appreciation pay to its administrators. The Lake Ridge AFT teacher's union and the School Board is in contract negotiations and has requested a mediator to assist with discussions."

Brugioni said the administrative negotiating team dismissed teachers' proposals and they want to take back a benefit negotiated decades ago that would amount to a 3 percent pay cut for teachers.

"We've yet to see a raise in eight years, and they want to stop paying for our retiree insurance and severance packages — two things that we have been promised and that teachers have counted on for years as part of our income and retirement," he said. "And all of this after the hugely increased workloads and levels of accountability that teachers have had dumped upon them in the past three years. And all this after almost all of the budget-cutting done last year came on the backs of teachers, clerical and custodial workers," Brugioni said.

He said administrators have received raises and salary adjustments and bonuses, stipends, iPads and free insurance benefits, none of which anyone else received. "This level of disrespect simply is not acceptable. Good teachers are leaving because of it, and it hurts our students. So, we're out here fighting for our students, our community and our lives," he said.

Several parents honked their horns or hollered out the window in support of the teachers as they dropped off their students.

One parent, Sharon Lauderdale, who dropped off her two sons at the high school, said she wasn't aware of the issues until seeing teachers and reading the posters Thursday. "Teachers are more important than the administrators, and they are the ones teaching our kids every day," she said. 

Calumet High School became a New Tech school, focused on project-based learning about three years ago. It is implementing that style of learning throughout the school district.

Parents and teachers were in an uproar when the district closed Grissom Elementary School in the Black Oak section of Gary last school year. School leaders said the district was facing a $1.7 million deficit. Administrators said the district could save $267,000 in 2013 and $800,000 in 2014 by closing an elementary building. The board voted 4-1 to close Grissom.

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