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Portage High School

Portage High School

PORTAGE — Portage Township Schools administrators and teachers are awaiting the appointment of a state mediator to intercede in contract negotiations.

A tentative contract agreement was rejected by a 3-1 margin by teachers late last week with more than 400 members of the Portage Association of Teachers giving the proposal a thumbs-down.

During earlier contract talks, negotiators for the union and school corporation tentatively agreed on a $1,000 increase for teachers next year. Teachers were asking for a $1,000 hike in base salary and an extra $950 next year based on current year performance.

Deb Porter, president of the Portage Association of Teachers, said the performance-based bonus was agreed to when the existing two-year contract, leaving next year’s salary open for negotiating, was struck.

School Board attorney Ken Elwood, though, said the bonus is clearly not provided for in the contract language.

Porter said language specific to the bonus is not as tight as she would prefer, but the intent was for teachers rated excellent in their job performance to receive the bonus.

"We believe we all agreed what that meant last year. This year, all of a sudden, those words don’t mean the same thing to the same people," Porter said.

The existing contract limits next year’s salary increase to no more than 2 percent.

Porter said the proposed hike in base pay would not exceed the cap. She also said the money is there to provide the bonus because educators at the top of the pay scale last year are being replaced by younger, lower-paid teachers.

"Our payroll actually went down because we had so many people at the top retire," she said.

While there’s been a payroll savings, Elwood said the school corporation has less revenue coming in because enrollment is down. He also said a 2 percent increase would follow an 8 percent pay hike last year.

"That’s a pretty good raise. It’s probably the highest in any district in the area," Elwood said.

Porter, though, said some teachers received less than 8 percent because of how the money was dispersed to reward seniority more fairly.

She said a factor in the tentative agreement getting rejected was the school system paying $56,000 each for two school resource officers when 71 percent of teachers in Portage make less than that. Teachers salaries in Portage range from $38,000 starting out to $68,000 at 30 years of experience, Porter said.

Times Staff Writer Joyce Russell contributed to this report.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.