Laurel Teachers Protest School District Over Contracts - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Laurel Teachers Protest School District Over Contracts

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LAUREL, Del. - Budget problems in the Laurel School District continue, and teachers have just about had it. Tuesday, they began a silent "work to rule" protest showing how frustrated they are with the lack of progress in teacher contract negotiations.

"In the last few years, we have seen really good teachers look elsewhere, and that's a shame," Laurel Education Association President and 1st grade teacher Susan Darnell said.

At 3:50 in the afternoon at Dunbar Elementary School in Laurel, what's usually a packed parking lot is empty, as teachers drive away in protest. All across the district, teachers are walking into school together and leaving together - only working required hours, meaning no coming in early or staying late.

"This was a last-ditch effort. We wanted the people to know - the community, the parents and the board to know, how much extra teachers do on a daily basis," Darnell said.

A new four-year teacher contract was supposed to be negotiated between the Laurel School District and the Laurel Education Association in the spring. But eight months down the road and well into the new school year, they're at the same impasse and it seems both parties won't budge when it comes to salaries.

The association has asked that the board freeze salaries in the first two years of the contract, but increase pay by 2% in the third and fourth years. It's also seeking to maintain tuition reimbursement, which benefits a handful of teachers at a cost of $35,000 a year. 

In a statement released to WMDT, Superintendent John Ewald said, "The Laurel School District is in the process of attempting to recover from a financial crisis which was widely reported. The Board of Education must continue to impose fiscal discipline permitting the District to provide efficient, effective education services to the students it serves. The board's goal is to avoid increases in salary and benefit costs the District cannot afford."

But Darnell says the fight for wages is only a fraction of the problem.

"There's a point where some of what they're asking for doesn't have anything, in our mind, to do with money. It's more working conditions and just basically respect for us as professionals," Darnell said.

Among a number of things, the board has proposed decreasing teacher prep time and increasing hours of instruction. Something Darnell says will make teachers less prepared for class and eventually drive them away.

"I mean I love working in Laurel. I wouldn't have stayed here for 25 years if I didn't. But at some point, it does reach a breaking point."

Superintendent Ewald said the board prefers to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, but if necessary, the district is prepared to bring in a neutral third-party to come to a resolution.

LEA is meeting next week to come up with some ideas, but Darnell says they're standing ground when it comes to certain issues. The next bargaining session is tentatively scheduled for December 4.

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