USC teachers rally for strong local support

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2002

Every morning since the beginning of the school year, teachers at United South Central School District have been picketing outside the district schools.

Friday wasn’t any different. Begining at 7:30, as a dense fog lifted on a cool morning in Wells, teachers picketed with signs saying “support the teachers,” back and forth in front of USC High School. Cars sped by in the mist, some drivers waving, some slowing down to read signs. At 7:45 the teachers went inside to prepare for another day without a contract.

The USC teachers union has been negotiating a contract with the district throughout the year. But as of yet, there has been no settlement.

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While negotiations have helped to find compromise between the two sides on many issues, the core of the divide, the severance package, is far from settled. The school district has offered the teachers a $60,000 package that would provide $35,000 in health benefits and $25,000 in cash severance.

The teachers want a $72,363 severance package which would give them around $25,000 in cash and $47,363 in health benefits. Union officials claim that this is a cut from their old package which was around $90,000.

The contract dispute has been as much on the minds of teachers as it has been on the minds of residents in the district. Many parents who drop off their children each morning are well aware of the problem and see the teachers walking each morning. Many residents also drive by the teachers each morning.

Is the protest making a difference? Residents had a wide variety of responses to the question.

Jaime Smith, a parent of USC students said, “I think the protests give me something to think about,&uot; she said. &uot;I want my kids to have the best education possible. I know they’re on their way to a deal. I just hope it gets done soon.”

Another parent, Rhonda Harron, said, &uot;It’s kind of sad that the teachers have to protest in front of the school.&uot; Harron said she thought both sides needed to work hard to get a settlement.

“They have to come to an agreement; they need a contract.”

Though there are plans about how a strike would be dealt with, there are students concerned that it may effect their school schedule. Senior Dana Stenzel has seen the teachers out with their signs each morning before school. She said, “I hope they get don’t go on strike because I don’t want it to effect my graduation date.”

&uot;I wish they’d settle for the kids sake,” said parent Wendy Schultze. “In some ways they need to be open about it so parents can react to it. Some kids don’t really realize what’s going on. People need to be informed.&uot;

Schultze said she thinks the protests have done that.

But some feel that the protests have caused some confusion.

&uot;A couple of people driving by question if these teachers are striking or not when they drive by,” said Corey Olson, the clerk of the school board, who has children in the district.

“If anything it is increasing staff knowledge of the problem,” he said. “It’s getting more people involved.”

But Olson said the whole community is well aware of the problem already and he hadn’t had any confirmation that the demonstrators were making a big difference. &uot;Everyone here is aware already of what’s going on. So far though, I’ve received no calls from the community about why negotiations aren’t getting done,&uot; he said.

The early morning protests have a small window of opportunity for the teachers to get their message through. Many parents arrive to drop off their children later than 7:45 a.m., when the teachers go inside to begin their day. For students, school starts at 8:15 a.m.

&uot;The protests haven’t made too big of a difference. I haven’t really seen the teachers,&uot; said Theresa Alger, who dropped her child off for school a few minutes before the bell rang.

Those who do see the protesters regularly do seem concerned.

Stan Bruss, who sees the protests every day from across the road, said, “I think (the protest) makes the public aware that they haven’t gotten the job done over the contract.”

Bruss said he hopes a settlement would come, not because he is sick of the early morning parade, but because he’d like to see things back to normal for both parties. “It’s sad that our board and our staff can’t come to terms,” he said.

A parent dropping off her child, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “We support them. I think the town is behind them. We all hope that things will finally get solved.”