RACINE — While the beginning of the school year always has some wrinkles to iron out, Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz said this year she’s hearing more complaints from teachers and parents than usual.
The lack of a teaching contract as Racine Unified School District starts the school year is exacerbating those frustrations, according to Cruz, as the bargaining team, which consists of full-time teachers, continues to bargain with the district for higher base pay and a new salary schedule.
“It doesn’t feel good because we’re at the start of the school year,” said Cruz. “This should be done at this point and (the bargaining team) should be focusing on their profession.”
A 2.13 percent cost of living increase across the board was approved by RUSD’s board last spring and was initiated on July 1 for some staff. However, because the union asked for more money than what the board approved, the increase has not been implemented for teachers as their union, REU, negotiates their base pay and a new salary schedule for the 2018-19 school year.
Unified officials began looking into changes to the base pay and salary schedule last fall when Julie Landry, the district’s chief of human resources, and her team told the School Board that the district’s existing teacher salary schedule was out of compliance with its own requirement to remain in the top third percentile for salary and benefits compared with peer districts.
In addition, 45 percent of the district’s teachers are maxed out on the current salary schedule, and at present can only receive cost-of-living increases.
A meeting between RUSD officials and the bargaining team was scheduled for Sept. 5, but REU requested it be rescheduled because it was the second day of school and teachers wanted more time in their classrooms. The meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 19.
A rocky start
Cruz told Racine Unified School District’s board at their meeting on Monday that even though they were less than a week into the school year, teachers and parents are frustrated over the the lack of communication that resulted in them not receiving the supplies they need to teach.
“I just want to be clear that your teachers are really at a breaking point five days into the school year and that is a problem,” said Cruz. “That is a huge problem.”
Cruz told the Journal Times the root of the issue is a lack of communication; instead of seeking input from teachers and parent-teacher associations, Cruz said many decisions were coming from the top down.
“We’re not trying to cause a ruckus, a scene. We just want to be treated with professional respect,” Cruz told the school board. “I also encourage you to visit some of the schools in your district, maybe have some hard conversations with some of the people that are doing their best.”
RUSD Chief of Communications and Community Engagement Stacy Tapp said the Cruz had not raised those issues with RUSD officials when she’d met with them the week before. Cruz said it was because she had just heard about the issues on Monday before the meeting.
Some examples she gave were supplies lists that were changed without teacher or PTA input and a teacher who said he had a supply closet full of Clorox wipes but no pencils.
Tapp said the changes to the supplies list were part of a new initiative where the district provided basic supplies to classrooms.
“It was an effort to better support our families and avoid families with several kids having extremely long and expensive school supply lists,” said Tapp. “It was an effort to support our families and ensure they have the supplies they need.”
A bilingual education teacher told Cruz they had received no Spanish textbooks and no Chromebooks for students to access the resources online. When they raised the issues with administrators, Cruz described the response as “flippant.”
Tapp said that Cruz “mischaracterized” the tone of the email. As for the overall complaints, Tapp said district officials were unable to confirm Cruz’s allegations.
“We need to hear from her if her membership is sharing concerns,” said Tapp. “She can make an accusation about a decision being made top down or not being communicative but we don’t see that evidence. We have not heard those concerns.”
On Wednesday, Cruz met with representatives from human resources and she said that in that meeting she told them which buildings she knew had these issues. Cruz said she’d heard from union representatives from multiple buildings, who passed along complaints on behalf of dozens of teachers.
“I am ready to work with whoever in the district to address these issues,” said Cruz. “But it takes opening up a genuine line of communication instead of handing down mandates that are clearly not working at this point.”
Tapp said the district’s teachers and administrators should be commended for the start of the school year.
“Our 3,000 staff members who made our schools shine, spent the summers working on new lesson plans, welcomed families at open houses (and) got their classrooms ready to make sure that 19,000 students had a great start to the school year should be commended,” said Tapp.