Teacher contract talks take center stage at Board of Education meeting

See article published on TheCSPN: Teacher contract talks take center stage at Board of Education meeting

On Tuesday night, a sea of black and green Mason Education Association t-shirts flooded the Harvard Room at Mason High School for the Board of Education meeting, whose agenda included the controversial teacher contract negotiations.

School Board Treasurer Dick Gardner opened the night with his presentation about the district’s fiscal policy, outlining salary details and health care premium spending. Gardner said that the district is in-line with the market: Mason ranks seventh in academic performance in the Southwestern Ohio region, therefore teachers receive the seventh-best salaries, on average.

According to School Board President Kevin Wise, the district became more aware of the market when it switched to a new health care plan in 2009. Compared to other top performing districts, such as Indian Hill and Madeira, Gardner said that Mason City Schools keeps employee payment of medical premiums at a minimum.

MEA is in the works of negotiating a one-year contract with the school board concerning only salary and health care, according to Public Information Officer Tracey Carson. Until next year, MEA cannot request full contract negotiations. The no-confidence vote for Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline and demands for changes in the contract, however, are bringing out many concerned teachers and community members to fight on behalf of MEA.

Mason parent and Lakota teacher Jen Adkins said that she worries that Mason is heading for the same fate as the Lakota local school district: cut programs, staff reductions, and larger class sizes.

“Today, my heart aches for [Lakota’s] crumbling district,” Adkins said. “I have watched it get turned inside out from the foundation from which it stood when I began my career. I have watched families leave Lakota to come to Mason, to avoid the very things that are concerning the MEA today. My biggest fear now is that Mason is following suit…[The Mason school board has] a responsibility to put benchmarks against other districts, but [it] must also avoid making their mistakes.”

According to Adkins, Mason class sizes are a crucial issue for the board to consider.

“The noted class size for next year as told to me in the first grade-second grade meeting at MECC was 27,” Adkins said. “[It’s only imaginable] what your child will get in a class of 27 six- and seven-year-olds whose emotional and academic needs range far beyond their ages. Research has been conducted time and time again at the cost of our children: class size matters.”

Along with growing class sizes, the removal of several courses also takes a toll on the quality of Mason education, according to Mason parent Andrea Carskadden. As a 15-year Mason resident, Carskadden said she has noticed cuts in special needs support; high school electives such as ECA, art and drama; gifted students services outside of the classroom setting in some grade levels — cuts which she said are hurting the district.

These Mason board decisions affect not only the city’s education system, but also the community’s value, according to Mason parent Nicole Crowley. Eleven years ago, Crowley’s family moved out of Mason. Five years later, her family moved back.

“We chose to move back to Mason where we thought our boys had the best opportunities academically,” Crowley said. “We put our house up for sale. It sat for 10 months with no showings. Close to a year later, we had one offer. We took it. We lost a lot of money, but we didn’t care – we wanted out…I didn’t care if I had to live in a shack to be here.”

Crowley said her family made the move back to Mason all thanks to the teachers who contribute to the school district.

“Our decision to move back to the school district had nothing to do with the administration,” Crowley said. “It had everything to do with the day to day operation of the education we get from our teachers to our boys…[Because of the school system here] We are a sought-out district, with current benefits…as homeowners and community members.”

According to Crowley, the Mason school district plays a large role in upholding the city as one of the nation’s best places to live, and so the teachers deserve fair compensation for their contributions.

“If our quality [and] experienced teachers are not being supported by our administration, then we will begin to lose them,” Crowley said. “It affects us as a community, it affects our core values, and most importantly, it affects our children.”

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