Springfield School District 186 teachers are set to resume negotiations for a new contract after union members Monday rejected a deal that included double-digit increases in salaries for starting teachers.
While wages remain a sticking point, the gulf between the union and district includes concerns about security, safety, discipline and helping disruptive and disadvantaged kids.
“It’s not just money – I promise you,” Springfield Education Association president Aaron Graves said the day after the union rejected the district’s offer in a 448-300 vote. The union represents 1,200 teachers, classroom aides and other district employees whose contract expired in August.
Salaries for starting teachers, who earn $35,869 under the expired contract, would have earned $40,776 in the 2020-21 school year under the rejected deal, an increase of nearly 14 percent. Experienced teachers with master’s degrees who’ve worked for the district for at least 25 years make $80,940 under the old contract; the rejected deal, in the 2020-21 school year, would have paid them $86,278 after 26 years, a 6.5 percent increase.
Those who voted in favor of the deal, Graves said, are weary of the saga. “As it drags on, I think they get tired,” Graves said. “Teachers are conflict averse – this is uncomfortable for them.”
The union’s executive committee made no recommendation on the rejected deal. Ben McKinney, a third grade teacher at Fairview Elementary School who is on the union negotiating team, praised the rank-and-file on Facebook.
“There is a chance to fundamentally change the atmosphere of our schools, and the membership has decided to take a risk for everyone’s benefit, and I am happy they have decided to task this bargaining team with that mission,” McKinney wrote hours after the vote.
Graves says that teachers want a psychologist and a nurse in every building, but the union understands that might not be immediately feasible. “We have been pushing,” Graves said. “We’d be flexible – we understand it’s a slow process.”
Teachers feel that the district has made it too difficult to remove disruptive students from classrooms, the union president said. “It pisses you off,” Grves said. “It’s, ‘What the hell -- get this kid out of the class.’ When you go into class, you should be able to teach the class.” Besides physical abuse, teachers have been subject to verbal abuse, he says.
Mike Zimmers, school board president, acknowledges room for improvement, but says that schools are safe. “I feel like we have several things in place to deal with behavior and academics,” Zimmers said. “Can we do more? Yes. I think there’s a little bit of fear-mongering going on here, also. There are times when the union wants to make a school out to be chaos. Are there days when it gets testy? Yes – I’m not saying it’s perfect. There are definitely things we can do, but it boils down to money.”
The district, Graves said, isn’t doing enough for disruptive kids who are removed from classrooms but not from school. “We are warehousing kids who are struggling,” Graves said. “Instead of sending them home because of behavior, we are putting students in different rooms where they are not provided all the educational services they need so they can function in classrooms.” Besides more teachers and classroom aides, such kids need better access to mental health services to address behavioral issues, he said.
Graves rejected Zimmers’ contention that the district can’t pay for what the union wants. “This has been the district’s position: ‘We can’t afford to do this,’” the union president said. “I think we have all the resources.”
The union has been raising concerns about helping disadvantaged kids since at least September, but Zimmers said he thought that teachers would take the latest deal. “I had thought it was more about salaries,” he said. “Now, we’re hearing it’s not really about that. I guess I’m a little confused about what the issues were.”
Zimmers doesn’t foresee a walkout.
“I’m very positive about it,” he said. “I think we’ll come to an agreement. A strike doesn’t benefit anyone, really.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.