Teachers association wants more coming home in teacher checks

A motion to approve the hiring of a new Spanish teacher at Huntington North High School brought a reaction from the Huntington County Teachers Association during the school board meeting Monday, June 25.

Teacher Tom Gross, co-president of the teachers union, told members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation board that teachers want more in their paychecks.

“Because of the impact that teachers have on our county, we want the board to have an ongoing plan in place to bring our educators’ wages to a professional level,” Gross said. “The additional $796 we received last year is appreciated. But some of our current teachers are working at wages and benefits less than an educator received in this county eight years ago. We have a problem that must be fixed for us to continue to be a district of choice for so many families.”

Gross went on to say that teachers’ salaries and benefits must be equal or greater than districts in surrounding communities. He said the recommendation to hire Spanish teacher Andress Aza is at a salary that exceeds the contracted salary amount for Huntington educators by $4,000.

The recommendation lists Aza’s starting salary at $41,109. Aza previously taught Spanish in the Fort Wayne Community School District, and has worked as a case manager for the Bowen Center and a direct support staff member of Easter Seals ARC. He has also coached basketball and cross country and served as a tutor, mentor and translator for minority families.

Gross said HCTA is asking for an average wage increase of $8,000 per teacher for the 364 other HCCSC educators, adding the raise is not unreasonable.

“If the district hires an out-of-county employee at wages higher than the current employees, then the actions of the district do not follow the plan to culturize,” Gross said. “Respect must be shown to the current employees … The loss of over 40 teachers last year and over 30 so far this year indicates that we are not competitive with our salaries and lack the commitment to our current employees.”

Following Gross’ remarks, the board separated the new certified employees portion from the regular consent agenda, which included Aza’s contract, and considered it on its own merits, approving the hiring of five new teachers with a vote of 6-0. Board member Matt Roth was absent.

Board member Kevin Yarger said he appreciated Gross’ concerns and his taking a stand for his fellow teachers. However, with only three candidates applying for the job, the situation puts HCCSC “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

“That being said, the hiring market, not only in education but everywhere, is pitiful, to say the least, right now,” Yarger said. “Not only teachers, but all employees are hard to come by, and especially ones that are qualified in a very specific field. And so I have to look at this Spanish candidate, and I have to think of it as what I would do in my private sector position, and in my private sector position I have to pay what I have to pay to get a qualified candidate to do the specific job that I need them to do. And unfortunately, there are not very many candidates for this position.”

Superintendent Randy Harris commented that statewide, in the midst of a teacher shortage, there have been rumblings noted in a June 8 business journal article of a statewide teachers strike. He said he welcomed talks with HCTA about the issue.

“I think we’re pretty lean, administratively, when you look at a district our size,” Harris said. “I think all of us need to look at the state and say, ‘You need to address this problem … This is not a problem that is going to be resolved tonight.”

Board member Brian Warpup, directing his comments to HCTA, said a long-term goal of the school district is to keep giving raises to teachers.

“We continue doing that, and I think in that light we still haven’t done enough. That may be why we’re not getting as quality or as many candidates as we would like to have,” he said. “We’re still going to continue to do the best that we can, because all of us have kids or grandkids that are tied to this community, and we want our teachers to stay here and be part of our community.”

One of the teachers whose hiring was approved is Aaron Childress, who will take over the choir and show choir director’s position vacated by Dan Baker.

Childress has served in education 13 years in a variety of roles including choir teacher, director, choreographer and musical director. He taught at Austin Middle/High School, Southmont Junior/Senior High School and Churubusco Junior/Senior High School. He has also been involved in community musicals and the music program at his church.

Childress’ base salary will be $48,430.74, with stipends of $766 as music director of musicals, $3,503 for Varsity Singers and $4,334 for vocal music.

The board also welcomed a new principal for Lincoln Elementary School, Brady McClure, who replaces Chris Tillett.

McClure grew up in Wabash County, graduated from Northfield High School and attended the University of Indianapolis. He previously served four years as the assistant principal and athletic director at Peru Junior High School. His starting salary will be $79,000.

“He comes highly recommended, and we’re pretty excited about getting him over here and getting him started,” Harris said.

In other action items before the board, a bid for the Crestview Middle School re-roofing project by Millwood Roofing & Construction, Inc. with a base bid of $1,171,903 and a voluntary alternate bid of $1,290,472 for a metal roof was tabled until the next school board meeting. The Millwood bid was the only one received for the project.

Another singular bid, by Rex Collins Electric, of Marion, for $202,000 to replace lighting in the high school arena was unanimously approved.

Dana J. Wannemacher of Barton-Coe-Vilama advised the board that both projects would likely not be completed by the time school starts later this summer.

The board postponed the vote on textbook rental fees for the 2018-19 school year.

The next HCCSC school board meeting is set for July 23, at 7 p.m. at Salamonie Elementary School.