By Rachael Daniel
Living in the Ledge Staff Reporter
Six years ago when deciding where to raise a family, Bri Dennis had no doubts when choosing Grand Ledge.
Her father and her husband’s parents all graduated from Grand Ledge High School and she believed her four children would receive the same quality education that they had, however in the last few years she has become frustrated with how Grand Ledge Public Schools has been treating its teachers.
Since the last contract expired in June 2015, the teachers union and administration have been negotiating a new contract for Grand Ledge Public School teachers.
Dennis was the first of several parents who stood in front of the Grand Ledge School Board at the school board meeting on March 28 to voice her specific concerns about one of the teachers’ main points of negotiation: planning periods.
“It pains me to see the direction our district has taken. You need to give them their planning hours. They cannot teach our children effectively if they do not get a planning hour,” said Dennis.
Grand Ledge School Board president Linda Wacyk said that parents and teachers have a different perspective of the situation than the board.
“They are looking at the problem through a different lens and their interests are narrowed to the interests of the teachers which is a very legitimate interest, but we are forced, the board, to look through a much broader lens and see a lot of different issues at once and realize that there are a lot of repercussions on kids no matter where we cut the budget,” said Wacyk.
Former educator and husband of a Grand Ledge High School teacher, Todd Marsh said at the meeting he has witnessed how the absence of a planning hour can affect a teacher.
“She was excited in August, because she was taking over some new classes, anatomy and physiology,” said Marsh. “By November, she was in tears almost everyday and was up until four in the morning working on curriculum.”
Grand Ledge High School senior Taylor McCrackin said she also sees first hand the need for her teachers to have optimal time to plan.
“I think it’s completely unfair that teachers are so disrespected by the school administrators that they won’t give them a planning period,” said McCrackin. “It’s frustrating to be a student and see your teacher clearly struggle to have enough time to grade anything.”
According to Grand Ledge Public Schools parent Jessica Fuentes, teacher salaries are another concern for both parents and teachers.
“Grand Ledge teachers have been known to be some of the lowest paid teachers in the area. In fact, our interns will point out that Grand Ledge’s contract is actually shown sometimes in their classes on what to look for as a warning,” said Fuentes.
Wacyk also said her response to parents and other members of the community who say the board does not have its students best interests in mind is that the district has to make difficult decisions about funds with a small budget compared to the rest of the state.
“We have higher special education costs than many districts, because we serve our special education populations well and people come to us for special education services. We also have higher transportation costs that many districts, because we have 120 square miles we cover,” said Wacyk. If we were to cut funds from either one of those areas to give more money to instructional salaries we would be accused of not caring about kids and not serving kids well.”
The only way the teachers union and administration can finally reach an agreement is for both sides to compromise, said Wacyk.
“The board is very united in our priorities. We want to preserve opportunities for kids, we want the highest level of instructional practice we can afford and we want stability for our district, said Wacyk. “I would say we are very clear and united on those priorities and I think that the teachers union team needs to be very clear about its priorities and then both sides need to be prepared to meet in the middle and negotiate it at the negotiating table.”
Michigan State University educational administration professor Joshua Cowen said that lack of state funds contributes to low teacher wages.
“When it comes to money teachers tend to lose, because there are only so many dollars available to the district,” said Cowen. “It’s not like the districts are sort of holding over all this cash.”