ANDERSON — On Friday, students at Anderson Community Schools were not in school. Instead, they were home for an e-learning day due to excessive teacher absences.
This comes as the school district and the Anderson Federation of Teachers are currently in negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement for teachers and other certified staff.
WRTV spoke with two longtime educators with the district who said now is the time to compensate teachers more fairly.
"I came from Anderson. I am a product of Anderson Community Schools. I was born and raised in Anderson Community Schools, and I've spent my entire career in Anderson Community Schools. I'm trying to not get emotional, but for the first time, I got on the Department of Education website to see what job openings there are," said Marisa Little, Dean of Erskine Elementary School in Anderson and Elementary Vice President of the Anderson Federation of Teachers.
She knows right now she's not the only employee thinking about leaving the school district.
At an Anderson Federation of Teachers meeting on Wednesday with more than 400 district employees, they were asked the question if they can't get a more fair compensation package, will they leave the district?
"I am very concerned for my community," Little said. "The children, and the people I love."
On Friday, the school district posted to their Facebook page emphasizing that they feel it's important to share their current proposal publicly for clarity and transparency.
It states, "Each employee in the bargaining unit would receive a 4% base salary increase or a $2,000 increase in base salary and $10,000 in total stipends over the next two years."
The district said the proposal ensures all certified staff, despite an increase in insurance premiums will see an increase in their take-home pay.
"For me, with a master's [degree] and 20 years, that 3% increase is approximately $2,100 and the last offer that was given to us on the table was $2,000 to the base [salary], so I would make less next year if we accepted the offer on the table," Little explained.
The Anderson Federation of Teachers has two proposals on the table giving employees a base increase they say will offset the insurance premium costs and stipends for COVID-19 hazard pay, retention, and Christmas.
"We are losing our best, brightest, and youngest credentialed educators because our salary schedule has been stagnated, which every district has, but we've not been able to bargain solid base increases to keep up with the neighboring school districts," Randy Harrison said.
Harrison has spent 29 years in education and currently teaches government at Anderson High School. He's also the president of the Anderson Federation of Teachers.
"It's been very difficult. We've been beating our head against the wall because there's more money than ever and I've never seen this much money, whether it's recurring or federal COVID-19 dollars that are laying around that have been available and I've been associated with bargaining in almost 20 years," Harrison said. "Our educators, as some have said, we need to be treated like the essential workers that we have been the last two years during a pandemic and we need to do the best to get our salary schedule in order so we don't think about going to other districts."
A district spokesperson declined an interview with WRTV but explained in an email that they understand the success of the school district depends on the ability to recruit and retain the best educators and support staff for students.
Right now, educators in the school district don't feel they are being made a priority.
"It's demoralizing to fight for your worth and it's more demoralizing this year when we know the money is there and they could do it and we just haven't been made the priority and I don't know what else would be in the top five priorities of a district besides their educators," Harrison said.
The Anderson Federation of Teachers says a tentative agreement must be reached by Nov. 15.
Both sides have signed paperwork to hire a mediator and head into mediation in the near future.
The school district told WRTV in an email that they are committed to working with the AFT on an agreement that increases teacher and other bargaining unit members' salaries in a thoughtful and responsible way.
The Anderson Federation of Teachers offered two proposals: Option A is a one-year deal with a $3,300 base increase and three $2,500 stipends spread throughout the year. Option B is a two-year deal with a $2,750 base increase for the first year and a $1,750 base increase for the second year with the same three stipends.