Portage teachers protest contract negotiations

Evan Gerike, Managing Editor

The Portage Association of Teachers stood outside Bass Pro Shops on Thursday to protest against the school board.

The teachers argued that the contract they previously negotiated was not being honored.

According to Union President Deb Porter, the PAT is interpreting the contract to say they get pay increases by step. The steps, which increase a teacher’s pay by $950 every year, are added to a teacher’s salary based on experience. In order to receive a step increase, teachers have to be rated highly effective or effective in their evaluations. The base pay for Portage Township is $38,000.

The union also gets to negotiate a percent increase in pay this year, which is based off the $20 million the district has to spend on teacher salaries.

“So [the school board is] saying no steps, only the percentage increase, which is less than what we think we deserve,” Porter said. “It creates the problem that teachers with no experience and teachers with a year of experience will make the same amount, which doesn’t seem fair.”

“The school board has chosen not to honor the contract that we bargained last year,” said Willowcreek social studies teacher Matt Malaski. “We believe the language of the contract is clear and it needs to be honored the way it was written.”

More than 100 teachers showed up to protest while the school board held a meeting in the Islamorada restaurant at Bass Pro. The school board has retreat meetings, which are more relaxed school board meetings, and this was one of them.

Porter says the teachers’ union and the school board need to work out a deal soon.

“We negotiated a contract and we’ve hit a stalemate,” Porter said. “We have to have the contract settled one week from tonight. If we don’t, we go into mediation from the state, so we don’t want that to happen.”

If the school cannot reach an agreement, the state will have to appoint a mediator. The administration will pay for half of the mediator and the PAT will pay for the other half. The two groups will meet with the mediator twice in an effort to reach an agreement. If that does not occur, a third meeting will take place where each side gives the best offer they can. The mediator then takes both offers and gives them to a fact finder, who decides which offer is the one to be used.

“It takes all the control away from us,” Porter said. “We don’t really want to do that because we have always had collaborative bargaining with the administration, and this year it is not collaborative.”

The teachers made it clear why they were protesting, mentioning that they believe it is unfair that the contract they negotiated was not being honored.

“We’re trying to make the greater community aware of what Portage is doing to its teachers,” Malaski said. “We are one of the lowest paid in the Duneland Athletic Conference; Valpo teachers make more than we do, Crown Point teachers make more than we do, Chesterton teachers make more than we do. It’s time for us to be paid what we’re worth.”

Other teachers stressed that prioritizing the teachers and getting their contracts settled meant prioritizing the students and their education.

So far, the PAT and the school board have held two bargaining meetings. The final meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

“If we don’t [reach a settlement Tuesday] we will probably schedule a last ditch effort on Thursday, but we have to notify the state by Thursday night that we have reached an agreement,” Porter said. “If we haven’t, we officially go into mediation.”

Due to Indiana state law, teachers cannot strike or walk out during a school day, leaving an after school protest like this as their only option of organizing.

Teachers were stationed at every entrance to the Bass Pro parking lot, with nearly everyone carrying a sign. As cars drove by, teachers waved the signs. Every truck honk or car beep elicited loud cheers from everyone participating.

“We wanted to be out here to show them, to make sure they understand our position,” Porter said.