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Carlton teachers take cause out into the community

On the heels of news that the Carlton School District has worked its way out of Statutory Operating Debt (SOD) a year ahead of schedule, teachers in the district are trying to bring their side of the story out into the community.

Teacher talk
Evan Sansteade (right), Education Minnesota field representative, discusses local education issues with Carlton teachers at a Hometown Holiday Rally Monday night at the Cozy Café in Carlton. Wendy Johnson/wjohnson@ pinejournal.com

On the heels of news that the Carlton School District has worked its way out of Statutory Operating Debt (SOD) a year ahead of schedule, teachers in the district are trying to bring their side of the story out into the community.

"At a time when Carlton Public Schools are in the news regarding great strides coming out of Statutory Operating Debt (SOD)," said Deb Saunders, guidance counselor, "teachers are still working without a contract and have not seen a wage increase for years."

Some 25 local members of Education Minnesota-Carlton and their associates gathered Monday night in what was termed a "Hometown Holiday Rally" at the Cozy Café on Carlton's main street in order to gather together for support of the profession and their co-workers. The intent of the gathering was not only to recognize the district's recent SOD accomplishment but to discuss just where they - as teachers - have fit in to the scheme of things.

"We've all been through this process together," said Steve Therrien, teacher and lead negotiator for the district's teachers, "but we think it's important for the public to know more about the issues and just how the district got there."

Therrien said that while the school district was working its way out of SOD, six teachers were cut at the high school over the last three years; two high school programs were eliminated from the curriculum - home economics and industrial technology - and the teachers' supply budgets were eliminated over the past three years. In addition, he said the district has not purchased new text books for 10 years.

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At the same time, Therrien pointed out, the district has continued to spend more per student on its administrative budget than "almost every other school in our region, including the Duluth schools," he stated.

Therrien claimed that a significant part of the way the district balanced the budget came at a cost to its teachers. He pointed out that teachers in the district have been working without a settled contract for over 16 months, with the current contract period set to end on June 30, 2012.

At the time the previous contract was settled in March 2010, Therrien related, there were no significant changes to the earlier contract language and no salary raises were granted for either year of the contract. And with no salary raises approved for the first year of the current contract, that means Carlton teachers have been working without a raise for the past three years.

"Carlton teachers are among the lowest-paid teachers in the entire area, and at the same time they are being asked to do more than they ever have before," Therrien stated. "People need to understand - that hurts kids in the long run and has a direct effect on what's happening in the classrooms by reducing the amount of personal attention a teacher can give an individual student."

Therrien said the current proposal on the table from Education Minnesota-Carlton asks for a 1 percent salary raise for the current year of the contract, but to date, the district has refused that request. Among other unsettled issues still on the table include how part- and full-time teaching positions are defined and compensated, the manner in which secondary teachers are assigned overloaded class schedules, and the amount of the health care contribution made by teachers toward family coverage.

Therrien said that while the teachers hold periodic gatherings such as the one on Monday night in order to connect with each other and gain input into issues, he admitted they haven't done a very good job of reaching out to the community at the same time. That's part of the reason this seasonal gathering was held at the Cozy Café instead of the school. The other, according to Saunders, was "to give back to the community we care for so deeply." Each of the teachers in attendance at Monday night's dinner session brought a gift card to donate for families in the Carlton community through the Carlton VFW gift basket program.

The local Education Minnesota teachers' group is eager for feedback from the community on the issues they are facing as they move forward within the district.

"We want to let them know what matters to us and find out if they support us," said Therrien.

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Anyone with input is encouraged to contact him at Carlton High School, 218-348-4226.

Related Topics: CARLTONEDUCATION
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