Saturday, February 15, 2003

Sycamore tired of teacher fight

Both sides want dispute resolved

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SYCAMORE TWP. - Sycamore teachers rejected a contract proposal made by the school board, and people on both sides are disappointed.

Thursday night, the Sycamore Community Schools Board of Education offered what it called its "final offer." Teachers, who have been negotiating for a contract for nearly a year, rejected the offer by a vote of 237-189 (56 percent to 44 percent).

Many teachers were skeptical of the contract because of the threat to remove raises and insurance, as well as the addition of non-negotiated contract language, said Sycamore High School teacher Cheralyn Jardine, 56. The Anderson Township resident is part of the negotiating team for the Sycamore Education Association.

"The language in it was almost like a gag order," she said. "We are proud to be teachers of respect. To be dishonest goes against what we stand for. And to sign this contract would have been dishonest, and we just couldn't do it."

She said students and parents support teachers' goals.

"The parents are always extremely supportive," she said. "And students came out this morning and gave us Hugs, the little candies, and read a poem that talked about how much they supported us."

But others aren't so sure about the issue.

"On the one hand, everyone and his uncle are paying a higher rate for health insurance - it's not just the teachers who are facing this," said Blue Ash resident Susan Austern. "On the other hand, many of us are just disappointed this has gone on so long."

She's not the only one. Nancy Sage, 41, last year's PTO president at Sycamore High School, said this issue will have some unfortunate effects on the whole community.

"We're all pretty tired of it," said the Evendale resident, parent of two. "There's an extraordinary amount of involvement from the parents in the schools, and now the parents might not want to volunteer as much. The businesses don't want to donate as much money. It's a ripple effect."

The average teacher's salary is $56,710 in the district of about 6,000 students. They are the highest paid teachers in Hamilton County and among the highest paid in the state.

"My basic thing about teachers is that they should get paid competitively so the districts can attract and retain the best people - and we all know that Sycamore pays teachers extraordinarily well because they deserve it," said parent Tom Rockwood, a Symmes Township resident.

Still, the parent of three said he supports the board position.

"What I know of it seems very consistent based on the current economy," he said.

Rick Friedman, 46, of Montgomery, said many parents support the board in this issue.

"Teachers very clearly do not have community support. About 95 percent of us are trying to figure out why they're stalemating," said the parent of two.

"These teachers are our friends, our neighbors, and in some regards, they're almost like family. And when a family member makes a really bad mistake, it makes everyone very sad."

Initially, Friedman supported the teachers, even speaking in favor of their position at a board meeting in October. But as time passed and negotiations lagged, he changed his position.

"When I started looking at the facts and figures, it became very clear that the teachers were out of line," he said.

Many families who have moved to the area specifically for the district are upset about the teachers' rejection of the proposal.

"I'm very disappointed the situation is not resolved - for the sake of the kids, for the sake of the teachers and for the sake of the parents and the taxpayers," said Shakila Ahmad of Evendale, parent of two. "I don't claim to know all sides of the issue, nor do I feel I have to know all sides. As a parent and as a taxpayer, I really feel this should have been put to rest."

Another parent agreed.

"A lot of the parents are pretty tired of the issue and feel that the teachers are asking too much," said Susan van Amerongen, 43, of Carpenter's Creek, parent of three. "They're being too demanding." The offer was made the last week of January with the stipulation that if it is not accepted in its entirety by Feb. 17, the board would implement the 2001-2002 contract. The board said it would begin negotiations in April or May on a new contract for 2003-2004.

"The big thing is that this isn't an `us against them' issue," Jardine said. "We know at some point the teachers have to get back with the board and function as a team."


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