By Sam Elliott
Frustrated by the impasse reached in contract negotiations between teachers and Zionsville Community Schools administration, a crowd of more than 100 teachers, parents and students attended the Zionsville Board of School Trustees meeting Nov. 9.
Twenty-eight community members addressed the board during the portion of the meeting designated for audience comments. Most matched a vast majority of the crowd wearing black T-shirts that stated “RESPECT” in white block letters with an apple — long a universal symbol for teaching — replacing the letter C.
Tim Yovanovich, a teacher at Zionsville West Middle School and president of finance of the Zionsville Education Association, was first to speak.
He provided a brief history of the situation, stating that the ZEA agreed to freeze teacher salaries in 2010 after huge cuts in state funding to save jobs because “it was the right thing to do for teachers and students.”
“A year later, we had the failed operating referendum, and in the spring of 2011, the ZEA again allowed salary concessions to once again save every teacher’s job because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Our offer to save every teaching position was rejected and the school laid off teachers instead. This was the moment when we feel the administration and the school board no longer wanted to work with the teachers like we had in the past, but to use us and seemingly punish us for some unknown reasons.”
Others shared stories of the realities of living with a four-year pay freeze, taking pay cuts from previous jobs to come to ZCS without being told of the freeze during hiring and their inability to afford to live in the town in which they work. Most were quick to say how much they love their job and teaching at ZCS, but also reiterated the severity of their situations and the potential that they could be forced to leave ZCS to provide for their families.
Trisha Smart, a Zionsville Middle School teacher for 13 years, shared the tragic story of her family’s experience after she was laid off by ZCS in 2011.
Pregnant with her third child when she was laid off, Smart was forced to apply for Medicaid — which her doctor didn’t accept. She changed physicians at 20 weeks pregnant and, as a result, her placenta previa went undetected. On Nov. 9, 2011, after an emergency C-section, Smart’s daughter died later that night.
“When I was called back to Zionsville, honestly I was very bitter and I still am,” she said. “My hope in sharing my story is that as an administration that I’ve given so much for that you’ll understand that all choices can affect teachers in ways you cannot even imagine.”
The ZCS board, on advice of its council, refrained from engaging in public bargaining during the meeting.
“Because of the fact that we are in negotiations, the last thing I want to do is commit an unfair labor practice,” board president Shari Alexander Richey said. “At the same time, I would like to say that we are still very much engaged in contract negotiations. That may be news to some, but that is the case and I’m very positive about our ability to get to a contract that is good for everyone. I know I speak on behalf of the entire board, I do appreciate everyone coming out and giving us your perspective. For those that didn’t speak, we appreciate everything that you do every day. Let there not be any mistake about what this administration and this board values in terms of all of you.”
IN THEIR WORDS
Dozens of teachers and community members voiced their opinions at the ZCS school board meeting Nov. 9. Here are some of their views:
“The starting take-home pay for Zionsville teachers is $39,000 and is currently being earned by about a quarter of all teachers in Zionsville. Additionally over half the teachers at Zionsville make less than $50,000 a year… When you look at the cost of living and the expectations we have in Zionsville, $39,000 doesn’t get you much… In 2008-09, prior to the recession, over 50 percent of Zionsville teachers lived in the community. Now, less than 30 percent of teachers live in Zionsville. Quite simply, the amount we pay teachers has not been able to keep up with the cost of living in this community — which might in part explain why so many of our new teachers are choosing to leave after just a few years. After all, why stay somewhere that doesn’t value you enough to make it possible for you to live in the community where you work?
“Failure to act now to address this issue will have dire consequences on the quality and performance of our schools. To be clear, the change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. It will be realized by the parent whose child gets a permanent sub for a teacher because their regular classroom teacher left in the middle of the year to take a job in the private sector to make end’s meet. It will be realized by the student who loses a year of chemistry because their chemistry class ends up being taught by a biology teacher teaching on an emergency license… It will be realized by every student in this community whose standardized test scores are a bit lower than they used to be. Some of these things are already happenning.”
— Matt Mulholland, physics teacher at ZCHS
“I took over a 10 percent pay cut to work in the Zionsville school district from my previous job. This was a cut I was willing to take as I was thrilled to take the opportunity to join Zionsville schools. In addition, I looked at the salary schedule that was available online and thought that in a few years I would get back to my original salary. I was not told in my interview or during hiring that we were on a pay freeze.
“I would have never expected that at 27 years old, with a master’s degree and in my sixth year of teaching, I would qualify for financial assistance. I love Zionsville schools. I expected to be a career teacher here, but the thought of saving, starting a family and ever buying a home seems impossible if I continue to be paid as a first-year teacher.”
— Claire Purtell, special education teacher at ZCHS
“Within the last three years I’ve been approached and offered jobs at a state university, an area Catholic high school as well as another school corporation without even submitting an application. In one instance, I was offered pay at their highest salary rank, at another I was offered my years experience, recognition on their pay scale of my master’s degree and an additional $1,000 per year if I would come teach for them… One of the main reasons keeping me here right now is because of the relationships I have dedicated my career to developing — with your daughters, Mrs. [board member Jane]Burgess, with your daughters, Mr. [board member Joe]Stein — but I’m not sure how long that can continue to motivate me.
“How can Zionsville Community Schools expect to attain or retain passionate teachers with four years of consecutive pay freezes and no end in sight?”
— Amanda Harmon, psychology and history teacher at ZCHS
“I have a family to support, and though I want this place to remain my home, my loyalty to the district does not provide for my family. Nearby districts and the private sector are competitively and actively seeking my talents. Additionally, I’m concerned about the education my son will receive when he starts kindergarten in three short years. I want him to have the finest teachers that the state has to offer, but I know that the best teachers are going to districts where they compensate their employees in a competitive fashion.”
— Mikayla Koharchik, seventh grade language arts teacher at ZMS