Blue Ridge Federation of Teachers

Blue-clad members of the Blue Ridge Federation of Teachers attended the regular school board meeting Wednesday as teacher Don Anton gave a statement on the ongoing contract negotiations.

Representatives of Blue Ridge CUSD #18 and the Blue Ridge Federation of Teachers offered statements at the regular school board meeting Wednesday in Farmer City as the possibility of a strike in the district remains.

“We remain committed and hopeful that we will come to an agreement that is fair to our employees and maintains the financial health of the school district,” school board president Dale Schneman said as he read from prepared remarks to open the meeting.

Schneman discussed the district’s teacher turnover rate, claiming they are “average for our area and are not excessive,” and “a very small number have left for higher pay.”

As blue-clad members of the Blue Ridge Federation of Teachers stood behind him, filling in behind the rows of seats in the crowded library, high school English teacher Don Anton read from a prepared statement.

“We all know that the Federation gathered together Sunday night (Sept. 15), discussed the state of negotiations, and voted to form a Strike Exploratory Committee,” Anton told the board. “Though not a single person in that room wants a work stoppage, the group is firm in its desire to come to an agreement with the board that stops the revolving door and stabilizes the workforce in our district. Our kids deserve the very best learning environment, and recruiting and retaining excellent people is critical for that to happen.”

Anton described his 25-year history with Blue Ridge and highlighted the accomplishments and improvements the board has made in that time.

“This school board has made great things happen. When we needed a new high school, the board worked to make it so,” he said. “Here we are in a great facility. When Mansfield’s intermediate building needed to be replaced, we made it happen. The 4-8 (grade) building is beautiful. Becoming a one-to-one computing district seemed like a pipe dream, but we found the means to put devices in hundreds of kids’ hands, and it has changed the way we educate our children. When Schneider (Elementary) and the unit Office needed updating or the HVAC system here in the high school needed an upgrade, you found a way to make it happen.

“It’s this simple: when the district leadership sets a priority, the goal is consistently achieved. We are the gold standard for facilities and technology. But educating kids is about more than buildings and computers. More than anything else, it is about relationships. It is time for you to reset your priorities and to remember that your greatest resources are human resources.”

Federation members cheered and applauded as they left the school library following Anton’s final statement to the board:

“I implore you to be a part of the solution,” he said.

FULL STATEMENTS BELOW

Dale Schneman, Blue Ridge CUSD #18 Board President

We have received word from media sources that the Blue Ridge Federation met Sunday night (Sept. 15) and voted to form a Strike Exploratory Committee. The Blue Ridge Board of Education respects and values the work of our employees. We remain committed and hopeful that we will come to an agreement that is fair to our employees and maintains the financial health of the school district.

We have received numerous questions in recent weeks and would like to provide some clarifying information on a couple of items. We have looked at teacher turnover rates for area districts, based on the information available at the illinoisreportcard.com.

Our teacher turnover rates are average for our area and are not excessive. A handout is available on the back table to provide you with the breakdown and it will be posed to our website. Teachers and other employees who have left the district have left for a wide variety of reasons, including health, retirement, discipline, and personal reasons. A very small number have left for higher pay.

Most school employees receive an automatic increase every year. This is called a “step” on the salary schedule. Every year an employee stays at Blue Ridge, they move up on the salary schedule and move up a “step” automatically. At Blue Ridge, the step averages about 3 percent. Any proposed percentage increases are in addition to the step increase. For example, a proposed increase of 1 percent is 1 percent plus step, so actually about a 4 percent increase each year.

School administrators do not receive the step increase, but receive a straight percentage increase. So an increase of 3 percent is actually an increase of 3 percent.

Again, we remain committed that we will come to a fair agreement for all.

Don Anton, Blue Ridge High School English teacher

Imagine, for a moment, being a senior at Blue Ridge High School. It’s the first day of school, and you decide to pay a visit to some teachers from past years before the day begins.

Your first stop is the library. Ms. Brokaw is a great librarian and you loved book club time with her last year. When you ask if she is in today, you learn that she left for U High in Normal.

You decide to visit your math teacher, Mrs. Keith. She’s gone too. Biology teacher? Gone. The nice special ed teacher who ran the snack shack? Gone.

Though you see a few familiar faces, you quickly realize that in just a year your high school feels like a different place. Many of the people who shaped you, listened to you, helped you are gone. The new faces who have replaced them look like really great people, but you wonder: will they be here when I come back for homecoming next year?

In the past five years we have had three different life skills teachers, four different biology teachers, two math teachers, and three librarians. We have lost an ag teacher and a social studies teacher, as well. Mind you, this is just at the high school. Ask Mrs. Nichols about her woes with finding a math teacher last year or filling a PE teaching spot. Mr. Peyton still has a Title One aide position he can’t fill, and the transportation department is so short of drivers that our transportation secretary is days behind on her normal job duties because she has to pick up trips on a regular basis.

I first came to Blue Ridge 25 years ago. I interviewed for this position in February, proudly dressed in a new suit from JCPenny, eager to land my first teaching job. When the principal called me into her office and shut the door, one of the secretaries, Mrs. Wells, turned to the other office secretary and said, “That young man won’t last very long here.” To be honest, I thought the same thing. I quickly learned that this was a great place to teach and learn. I loved the students, and my colleagues were welcoming and supportive.

Five years into my career, I became a National Board Certified Teacher, and my salary increased significantly. That bump in pay made it possible for me to afford to stay here. That opportunity, by the way, no longer exists for my colleagues. Unlike so many of our new staff, I started out with no student loans, a partner with a healthy income and an excellent health insurance, and the opportunity to achieve competitive pay. I am the exception to the rule.

My colleagues are hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. They make less than people doing the same jobs in other districts. So people leave, and other positions are almost impossible to fill.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask your administrators how hiring has changed here in the past 10 years. I would wager a bet that your principals will tell you hiring good people has become ever more challenging. I am sure even Mrs. Wilson will tell you that our pay scale for certified staff is so bad that she doesn’t even use the first step.

This school board has made great things happen. When we needed a new high school, the Board worked to make it so. Here we are in a great facility. When Mansfield’s intermediate building needed to be replaced, we made it happen. The 4-8 (grade) building is beautiful. Becoming a one-to-one computing district seemed like a pipe dream, but we found the means to put devices in hundreds of kids’ hands, and it has changed the way we educate our children. When Schneider and the Unit Office needed updating or the HVAC system here in the high school needed an upgrade, you found a way to make it happen. It’s this simple: when the district leadership sets a priority, the goal is consistently achieved. We are the gold standard for facilities and technology. But educating kids is about more than buildings and computers. More than anything else, it is about relationships. It is time for you to reset your priorities and to remember that your greatest resources are human resources.

We all know that the Federation gathered together Sunday night (Sept. 15), discussed the state of negotiations, and voted to form a Strike Exploratory Committee. Though not a single person in that room wants a work stoppage, the group is firm in its desire to come to an agreement with the Board that stops the revolving door and stabilizes the workforce in our district. Our kids deserve the very best learning environment, and recruiting and retaining excellent people is critical for that to happen.

I implore you to be a part of the solution.