Pay disparity

Teachers, parents voice concerns during Lynd school board meeting

Photos by Karin Elton Lynd students, from left, Daniel Andries, Kiah Hoflock, Ellie Andries, Katie Andries and Emma Andries hold up signs supporting their teachers Monday evening outside their school before and after a school board meeting where the topic of teachers’ salaries was raised.

LYND — Teachers, staff and parents crammed into the Lynd Public School library Monday evening where the regular school board meeting took place. They wanted to talk about pay equity.

The disparity in teachers’ wages in Lynd compared to other school districts across the state is lopsided — the starting wage for a teacher is the lowest in the state — and also the disparity between what the teachers get paid and what the superintendent gets paid was the topic of conversation during the public input part of the meeting.

The board members — Ron Prorok, Crystal Pochardt, Mike Pochardt, Amy Korman, Holly Stelter, Mark DeJaeghere, and Bruce Houck, SWEC superintendent — listened while Cindy Duus, second-grade teacher, spoke. She recognized Denise Specht, the president of Education Minnesota, who drove down to Lynd from St. Paul to “show support and encouragement” to the teachers in their quest for higher pay. She thanked the principal, Jason Swenson, for “being a strong leader” and said “we are very lucky to have him.” Duus also expressed gratitude for the continued support of the parents. Lastly, she thanked the board for its efforts to negotiate the salary contract fairly.

But, she cautioned, she didn’t want the progress to stop because of the end of the school year.

“Don’t let the summer months detract from the progress that is developing,” Duus said.

Board Chairwoman Amy Korman read a statement on behalf of the board.

“For some time now the school district has been engaging in ongoing negotiations with the teachers’ collective bargaining unit to establish the contract for Lynd school teachers for the 2017 and 2018 school year,” she said. “After negotiations stalled, the teachers, members of the staff and parents attended the April 10 school board meeting. Their testimony illustrated that teachers add immeasurable value. The school board has the utmost gratitude and respect and treasures every opportunity to learn from the teachers and partner with them to enrich the school environment. Unfortunately, respect and gratitude cannot be the only consideration in negotiating the teachers’ contract.”

She said the school board had to consider “practical and financial considerations” and during negotiations it put forth a “fair and reasonable” offer which was rejected. She said the school board hopes to continue negotiations with the teachers.

Then Lynd parent Amod Damle spoke on behalf of a parent group that is supporting the teachers. He asked an increasingly pointed series of questions of the board and Houck. He spoke about the SouthWest Education Cooperative agreement under which there is a contract with Houck to be the superintendent for Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Hendricks and Lynd schools. Last June, the RTR board of education approved a settlement agreement with SWEC allowing RTR to withdraw from SWEC. With RTR leaving, Lynd will now pay 50 percent of the expense for SWEC from the previous 20 percent.

He asked about Lynd’s enrollment for the past two years. The current enrollment (2017) is 200. For 2016 it was 181 and 2015 it was 187, said Houck.

“So it has held steady or gone up,” he said.

Damle asked if a SWEC audit of expenses for the last three years can be provided to the parent group for its perusal.

Damle noted that the contract with SWEC automatically renews unless one or more members provides a written notice to withdraw more than two years prior to expiration date of agreement.

Korman said one district gave its two-year notice and the other two districts chose to remain.

Houck makes $121,390 a year, with a raise to $130,036 for fiscal year 2018/2019, according to information which is public, Damle said. The increase is a 7.12 percent raise. Houck has 24 sick days. He receives full premiums for medical coverage for the whole family. If there are accumulated sick days of up to 100 days, it can be cashed out. It could be as much as $50,000 at the end of the third year.

Damle asked the board if, with RTR leaving the agreement, will Lynd now reconsider Houck’s pay because of reduced duties?

Korman replied that the board intends to have discussions.

“Can the school board add it to the next meeting’s agenda?” Damle said.

“We can sure try,” said Korman.

The average Lynd teacher makes less than $40,000 a year. Upon retirement, if certain conditions are met, Damle said, the teacher receives a $2,000 payout. The superintendent’s 403(b) retirement plan gives him $6,900 in matching funds per year from SWEC.

Teachers get 15 sick days per year.

“It has been rumored to us, that in order to get a raise, the teachers were asked to give up sick time,” Damle said.

“We have a superintendent that gets 24 sick days. The disparity is not only mind boggling, it’s morally wrong.”

Damle asked that the school board give notice to with draw from SWEC by June 30 otherwise the district will be locked in for five years.

When Damle finished speaking, he received a hearty and lengthy applause from the teachers and parents.

The board said it is willing to have a discussion regarding the SWEC agreement.

After the meeting, parent Marilee Thomas said the “disparity between the teachers’ salary and the superintendent’s salary is unconscionable.”

Specht said she was “really inspired by the community members and parents coming together to support education and parents coming to ask the board questions. It comes down to respect.”

Specht said teachers are “going backward” across the state and are being asked to “do more with less.”

In Minnesota the local school district sets the contract. In other states, such as the ones where teachers went on strike, it’s the Legislature.

She said as far as Lynd Public Schools is concerned, “the teachers here are at the bottom of every list. The starting wage is the lowest in the whole state — $27,000. The salary maximum is the lowest in the whole state — $42,000. The highest pay in Lynd is lower than the lowest pay in the state of Mississippi.”

Specht said about 25 school districts around the state have teachers who are working under contracts that have expired.

“There is a common thread among them — it’s lack of respect,” she said.