LANSING, MI (WLNS) – If you step in any of the several schools within the Waverly community schools, you’ll find hundreds of students learning about a variety of subjects between the first and final bell.
But what you probably will not see is that those children are learning under tough circumstances as their teachers are knee-deep in a fight for a new contract.
If you remember two weeks ago, the contract dispute became the center of attention during a board meeting. Because there were so many concerned teachers and parents, the Waverly Board of Education decided to cut public comment short and finish its meeting behind closed doors. The decision left those who showed up, upset and angry.
It also forced the board to issue an apology.
During a special meeting Monday night, the board allowed members of the public, who were turned away last month, to have a second chance to speak.
More than 100 teachers in the Waverly school district have been working without a contract since July of 2016. While school officials say they’re doing what they can to compromise on a contract that works for everyone, teachers say they aren’t looking at the facts.
Negotiations involving things like salaries, benefits, and class sizes remain the hot topic.
Many who spoke Monday night, also said theres been amendments made to the contract
“We are not asking for lip service, we are not asking for declarations that the board is with us. We are asking to be shown our value,” Gini Larson said. She’s a teacher in Waverly community schools and also serves as the chairperson for the Waverly Education Association.
“We don’t feel valued enough that they’re even coming to the table with any kind of changes,” she said. “We don’t feel like we’ve been bargained with in good faith and the fact that they want to take collaboration out of the contract, it makes us feel like they don’t respect us as professionals.”
The Superintendent, Terry Urquhart said there have been more than 20 meetings where negotiations have taken place, saying the district has been working with teachers to come up with a plan that works for everyone.
“The board has made eight different offers,” Urquhart said. “One is benefits, one is salary and those are probably the two biggest issues. Some of the other issues coming out tonight aren’t really problems.”
He said some of the facts aren’t straight when it comes to things like class size.
“We report class size the way the state reports it and that’s why it’s 22 to one,” he said. “The board is not trying to raise class size at all. I mean our class sizes here are very workable, the teachers’ contract is very flexible; it’s favorable, we don’t need to change it.”
“They have taken numbers and made them say what they wanted them to say,” Larson said. “I know that my limit on class size right now is 26 and across the board at the elementary that’s true. There are some classes that have less than that, but they’re the kids that really need extra help and there might be some special needs classrooms that have very, very small numbers and that’s the average that they’re using. They’re using those numbers to pull our average down.”
Even students spoke out about the issue.
“If you were to come and visit the school, you will see that 32 students in the class is just too much,” Jasmine Williams said. “With 29 other students in the class, it is extremely hard to get the one on one attention needed from my teachers.”
Williams said she’s been attending Waverly schools for the last six years. She said it’s disheartening to see teachers fight for contracts. She and many other students held a protest last month to show their support for the teachers.
“It’s disheartening because it’s like they work hours inside and outside of school every single day for me and it’s like they deserve better than what they’re getting,” Williams said.
“One of the things we wanted to see is not a corporate board in front of me, but the school board I elected,” a man during public comment said.
“Some of our families are paying $800 almost $900 a month toward their insurance,” Larson said. “We know that for our kids, we need to have class sizes that are reasonable. We need to have teachers in the district that are excited about being here. We want to get those of us who are experienced and seasoned want to bring in those new and great teachers who are coming out who have great new ideas.”
“Our teachers are the highest paid teachers in mid-Michigan with the old contract; we are willing to offer new compensation, we’re willing to offer incentives if we can up the performance. That’s only to get everybody on par and make sure everyone’s learning,” Urquhart said.
The superintendent said he hopes negotiations in the coming days will have a successful outcome.
“Both teams are not plugging in the way they should,” he said. “Hopefully with fact finding, with mediation that the district brought on early to try to solve this contract issue, hopefully some of that is starting to ware off and we’re starting to get closer and closer.”
Negotiations are expected to continue on Tuesday. Bother teachers and school administrative officials are hopeful moving forward.