Teachers and parents filled the cafeteria at George Washington Middle School at the District 103 Board of Education’s regular meeting Oct. 22 to hammer school board members and the administration over a lack of textbooks for students in the district about grievances between the teachers’ union and the district’s interim superintendent over working conditions.
Toni Brandt, teachers’ union president and seventh-grade teacher, was the first to take the podium during public comment. When Brandt told the board she represented 200 teachers in the district, those teachers in attendance all stood from their seats behind her in a show of numbers.
Brandt listed a multitude of ways that the district’s teachers go above and beyond for students in the district, including often working late hours and being available for parents on weekends. She told the board that although contract negotiations with previous boards and superintendents were “hard fought,” she believed the negotiations were always respectful and their outcomes fair.
“Today, I stand before you to say that I’m afraid this is no longer the case,” Brandt told the board.
Brandt said that in the past seven years, the union had cause to file three grievances with the district on behalf of teachers. However, in the 39 days that school was in session this year, Brandt said she was already trying to negotiate with the district over two issues related to working conditions and that the union filed two grievances for violations of the its contract by the district.
Following the meeting, Brandt said she could not discuss the specifics of the union’s grievances because she was still negotiating with the district. However, Interim Superintendent Kyle Hastings said the issues included the district requiring teachers to sign in each morning, which he called a safety issue, and that teachers are now required to turn in their lesson plans to the district once a week.
“We’ve been very fair,” Hastings said of the district’s part in negotiations.
Brandt disagreed. In her statement to the board, she said she had been called delusional in meetings with Hastings and that the Hastings had regularly stalled the process by delaying meetings.
“It’s been more than difficult,” Brandt said of working with Hastings. “There’s a lot of stall and delay. It’s my contention that the board should be moving forward with finding a new superintendent. [Hastings] is just not respectful.”
Also speaking at the meeting were parents concerned over the lack of a defined curriculum in the district and in some cases, a lack of textbooks for students.
In his report to the board, Hastings attempted to preempt the night’s public comment period by calling on district administrators to discuss the district’s curriculum materials plan and the district’s budget for purchasing books.
Curriculum Director Kelly Baas said the issue was twofold. The first issue was that the district did not have a textbook replacement schedule in place when she was hired three years ago.
Baas said that setting up a schedule for the review and replacement of textbook would occur this year and that she was forming a committee of teachers and administrators to review textbooks to make a decision on which materials they would use in the future.
The second issue, Baas said, was new Common Core standards in math and science. Baas said that in some cases, the district could not find textbooks which met the new standards.
Baas said the committee will focus on math and science materials this year and will first convene in November. Baas said the district would be running several pilot programs for materials this year to aid their selection process.
Board member Joanne Schaeffer said she understood what Baas was saying, but that she had heard from parents across the district that, in some subjects, there were not enough textbooks available to go around to all students.
Baas said she would need to investigate that issue more, but believed that the district currently had a textbook for each student who needed one, based on last year’s materials audit.
Baas said teachers could contact her directly if there were not enough materials for each student in a class and she would provide them.