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Tension still high in Anderson as school district, teacher union make plans to ratify new contract

Many in the community say process was hurtful
November 9 ACS Board Meeting
Posted at 10:36 AM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 10:38:33-05

ANDERSON — Anderson Community Schools and the Anderson Federation of Teachers announced a tentative collective bargaining agreement at the beginning of this week.

They have plans to ratify it on Nov. 30, which was announced at Tuesday night's school board meeting. Despite the tentative agreement, a lot of people in the community said this bargaining process has been demoralizing and hurtful.

Holding back tears at times, Marissa Little, dean of Erskine Elementary School in Anderson and elementary vice president of the Anderson Federation of Teachers, explained how the process felt to many.

"It seems that we haven't been able to get a listening ear from anyone. The school board, our central administration, until the employees, our paras, our parents and community started speaking up," Little said.

With a tentative agreement on the table for teachers, several of those who spoke at Tuesday night's school board meeting wanted to make sure other staff members, especially paraprofessionals, see some type of raise as well. Those at the meeting said they do a lot of the heavy lifting in schools and make $77.50 a day which totals to around $13,000 to $15,000 a year.

"A lot of us work two and three jobs outside of a para position not because we want to but because we have to. We make $77.50 a day. We don't get paid for holidays, snow days or any other day we're not in school for any reason," Robin Wagner, a para for the district, said.

"It's not like we're asking for a million-dollar raise, we just want to know that we're actually worth staying in this school system," Rachel Smith, another para for the district, said.

Along with pay, some community members are still disappointed in the message sent out last week by the Anderson Community Schools. The message said teachers who could called out sick, forcing school to close were "engaging in an illegal concerted job," essentially calling it a strike which is illegal under Indiana law. That message went out to everyone including students.

RELATED | Anderson schools closed Wednesday due to teacher absences as negotiations continue

"I am very disgusted with the administration and what my children had to read in their emails about their teachers. My son asked me if his teacher was a criminal," Stephanie Stennis, a parent in the district, said.

WRTV asked Superintendent Dr. Joe Cronk if he thought the email was excessive. He told us it was approved by their attorney.

"It was tough language in a tough situation," he said.

Cronk could not share specific details about the tentative agreement, but he did address concerns that were brought up in Tuesday night's meeting.

"We're quite well aware what the para staff wages are. They've been that for quite some time which is why we've made the commitment the last several bargaining cycles to include them with that staff covered by the collective bargaining agreement," Cronk said.

As for the hurt feeling that have come from contract negotiations, Cronk had this to say.

"Everyone just needs to realize negotiations are volatile times. We need to heal, move past and we need to strive for greatness."