Lynd parents, teachers speak out on lack of contract

LYND — Four hundred and thirty-seven days.

According to parent Amod Damle, that’s the number of days that Lynd Public School teachers have been working without a contract.

“We cannot begin to comprehend the love, dedication and commitment each of you demonstrate daily to your profession and your kids,” Damle said to the many teachers in attendance at the Lynd School Board meeting on Monday. “We are in awe how you can spend your personal time, not to mention your own money to get ready for the new school year, with this uncertainty hanging over your heads. As parents, we thank you. And to think you’re doing this without a contract. You’ve worked seamlessly for 437 days without knowing what your pay scale will be or what benefits you may receive.”

Despite everything the teachers are going through, Damle said they exude enthusiasm and positivity at the school.

“Every single day when we come to this school, we see smiling faces,” he said. “We see engaging conversations and people who are excited to be here. And we are in awe. While we see this in the students, it’s not the students we’re talking about. We see this each in every day, in you, the teachers Four hundred and thirty-seven days and yet you show up to school, excited and smiling.”

Damle said the parents are grateful for the teachers’ strength and perseverance, adding that he’s disappointed that the negotiations have stalled.

“You’ve come to meetings month after month and watched six elected board members and one SWEC (Southwest Educational Cooperative) employee not be able to come to a decision on how to adequately compensate you for all your hard work,” Damle said. “We have watched you wait patiently, while the board takes all your hard work for granted. And you still show up to work, to welcome, educate and support our kids.”

Damle said it was unfathomable to expect teachers to come to work without knowing their pay.

“I guarantee you, I would never do that,” he said. “I can’t imagine anybody sitting at (the school board members’) table would either.”

Damle said Lynd School prides itself on providing a family atmosphere, quality education and students first motto.

“That is just as true today as it was 437 days ago,” he said. “You keep talking about making decisions that put students first, but these teachers embody the students-first principle more than anybody else in this school.”

Teachers Cheryl Allen and Martin Boucek also spoke during the public input time allotment. Along with Melinda Boettger, Allen and Boucek have been meeting with school board members for more than a year.

“We have been meeting with members of the Lynd School Board since June of 2017, to work on a settlement of the 2017-2019 teacher contract held between the Lynd Education Association and the Lynd School Board,” Allen said. “I want people to know that over the course of the last 15 months, countless hours have been dedicated from both parties to reach an agreement. While a lot of good discussions and progress have been made, the fact is, we still have not been able to come to a finalized agreement.”

Allen shared that at this time, the school board is waiting for the teachers’ response to their latest counter proposal that was sent out right before school started.

“The Lynd teachers are continuing to work without a settled contract now for over 430 days,” she said. “With this being the teachers’ busiest time of year, it was not a good time for us to meet right away. Now that routines are established, we are in the process of setting up a meeting time to continue working toward an agreement that both parties can agree to.”

Allen said that the teachers “remain hopeful” that board members will continue to have face-to-face discussions with them until the process is complete. She added that the teachers are very thankful for all the support that has been shown over the last few months.

Allen said in the meantime, teachers will continue to put students first.

“Our top priority every day is the education and well-being of the many students that we see throughout the day,” she said. “This will not change. The students are why we are here.”

Boucek shared his frustration regarding the negotiation process.

“We have had meetings, but we have not been provided one piece of evidence to show that our proposal cannot be fulfilled,” Boucek said. “The one thing we were provided was an audit from last year that shows a 48 percent increase in administrative costs, 18 percent in teaching and then there was something in the middle which was not explained. To this day, we have not been told why our proposal cannot be accepted. Is it financial reasons or just an ego massage? Did you look at other (teacher salaries from other) districts?”

Boucek referenced a previous board meeting conversation board members said they planned to look at other districts, including Lake Benton, in regard to superintendent salary.

“My question is directed toward (board member) Mike Pochardt,” he said. “Did you guys look at other districts when it comes to teacher salaries, teacher compensation?”

Boucek continued, saying that the teachers had given board members that information, but that because of the negotiation hang-up, those numbers are now two years old.

“Those numbers put us at third from the bottom in the entire state and one of the worst in the country,” Boucek said. “That’s not just the salary, but the full package. It’s absolutely below average and absolutely does not provide any dignity for us as teachers, who have gone to college and gotten degrees — some of us, advanced degrees — and are not even compensated for that.”

Pochardt said to his knowledge, they were not going to be looking at other districts in regard to their teacher salaries and benefits.

“It’s beyond frustrating to look at those charts as well as the data that was provided through the state,” Boucek said. “It shows that we financially can afford contracts like that. And you guys know this — what we offered — keeps us at that third from the bottom. If you say, ‘Yes,’ today, it keeps us third from the bottom. (Our compensation) is not going to be better than anyone else in the whole state, except maybe two schools.”