The Griffith Federation of Teachers will begin mediation today after they say Griffith Public Schools denied the teachers’ request for a raise.
The school district instead offered a 1 percent stipend, the union’s attorney Larry Stassin said, because the district’s general fund has dried up due to overspending.
Stassin said the fund is hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red, despite having enough funding to provide salary increases in last year’s contract negotiations.
“It’s somewhat concerning that the school can be that far over its projected budget in a given year, and we haven’t received a good answer as to why that’s happened,” Stassin said.
Superintendent Michele Riise declined to comment, citing the pending contract negotiations.
Stassin said debt in the district had been rumored but unconfirmed until negotiations began last month. He said he believes with steady enrollment in Griffith Public Schools, money coming into the general fund has remained consistent with previous years, but that overspending this year could be to blame for district’s current financial state.
Teachers pointed to recent renovations to Griffith’s central office, technology upgrades and the addition of several new positions within the district in a letter provided to The Times.
It is unclear whether these expenses were funded via the school district’s general fund or using other means.
Riise was promoted to superintendent last year after former Griffith Superintendent Peter Morikis retired. Her contract lists an annual salary of $135,000 — about $35,000 less than that of her predecessor. Ten administrators in the district make between $70,000 and $102,000 annually, according to their contracts.
The current starting salary for teachers in Griffith schools is $38,500 and can increase up to $72,500 based on a point system evaluating factors such as continuing education obtained or years of experience teaching in the district.
Teachers in Griffith Public Schools received raises last year coming from the general fund, Stassin said, before the district overspent its means.
Nine instructor salaries were brought up to Griffith's current $38,500 base salary, while other returning teachers received raises from a pool of $144,000.
Griffith's base salaries are among the lowest in the Region. By comparison, the district's starting salary is slightly lower than the nearby School Town of Highland, Lake Central School Corp. and Merrillville Community Schools, which offer starting salaries of $39,000, $41,000 and $43,000 respectively, but more than the School Town of Munster, which offers a $38,000 starting salary.
Teachers say the district’s offer of a 1 percent stipend does little to cover rising insurance costs. With Griffith Public Schools’ recent ranking as a B district in the state’s annual School Accountability Grades, teachers say they deserve more.
“We have increased test scores and school ratings, and created a positive school community for our students and peers,” teachers wrote in the letter shared with The Times.
“In spite of all of this, the people making decisions on our behalf have decided that financial compensation for classroom teachers was not a priority.”
The teachers' federation next will request funding for salary increases from the district’s rainy day fund, Stassin said.
Stassin said mediation will begin Monday and be followed by a second mediation session on Thursday.
In the meantime, teachers have organized to show support for the raises. A group wore red to the district’s Nov. 8 school board meeting, and last month began wearing blue to school every Tuesday.