PORTAGE – More than 100 Portage Township Schools teachers picketed Thursday night over what they alleged were broken wage promises by the school corporation.
The 30-minute demonstration was billed by teachers as a last-ditch effort to bring each side together before a state mediator has to come in to try and settle the dispute.
Deb Porter, president of the Portage Association of Teachers, said another round of contract talks is scheduled Tuesday, two days before a tentative agreement must be reached to avoid mediation.
She said her fear is mediation would create animosity in what’s historically been a mutual relationship between teachers and the school corporation.
"We are literally at the last hour," Porter said.
The more than 400 Portage Township teachers are in the second year of a two-year contract that allows monetary compensation for the final year to be renegotiated.
The current contract provided a 2-percent salary hike the first year and a 2-percent cap on wage increases the second year.
However, Porter said teachers agreed to the cap only after the school corp. promised to consider going above the ceiling for the contract’s final year.
She said the school district has refused to go above the cap.
In addition, Porter said, the contract specifies each teacher receives an extra $950 if their classroom performance the previous year is rated effective or highly effective.
Schools officials, though, insist there is no such provision, Porter said.
Teachers said they’re also unsettled by a stalemate at a time when their job demands have gone up.
"This has caused teachers to work extra hours and have extra meetings. Just a lot of extra stuff," Porter said.
Teachers gathered at both entranceways to Bass Pro Shops to draw the attention of School Board members heading there for an executive session.
"Honor Your Promises” and “My 2nd Job Paid For This Sign" were among statements on the signs.
Portage Township Schools board attorney Ken Elwood said both the board and teachers union unanimously approved a two-year contract last year with a wage reopener only this year.
The contract also set parameters that wages would be increased between 1 and 2 percent this year.“We have had two bargaining sessions so far,” said Elwood. “We will continue bargaining in good faith.”