Kristin Becker, a first-grade teacher at Lincoln School in Brookfield, reads aloud complaints from fellow faculty members about the beginning of the 2021-22 school year at the Sept. 28 meeting of the District 103 school board. | Bob Skolnik/Contributor

Nearly 50 Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 teachers attended the Sept. 28 school board meeting and stood as their union leaders publicly vented their frustration with the way the school year has begun.

The union leaders expressed concerns ranging from the district’s COVID protocols to teachers getting incorrect paychecks.

“The most significant issue during this time is the lack of clarity related to COVID protocols,” teachers union President Toni Jackman told the school board. “They are vague at best despite the union repeatedly asking for more clarity and consistency.”

Jackman also complained that some teachers’ paychecks were for wrong amounts for the first two pay periods of the year and that some teacher stipends had not been paid correctly or not at all. 

She also complained that some teachers had not received their salary verification letters by the Sept. 15 deadline, and some who did receive letters received inaccurate letters. She also said that some health savings account contributions owed by the district were not received by teachers or went sent to the incorrect bank.

“There have been many issues about the way the school year has begun,” Jackman said in a brief interview after the meeting. “There have been many issues related to the COVID protocols, to insurance payments, to salary payments.”

Kristin Becker, a first-grade teacher at Lincoln School in Brookfield and the union’s building representative at Lincoln, read a number of comments from teachers saying that they do not feel cared about by the district administration. 

“I do not feel safe or cared for at all,” said one teacher’s comment that Becker read.

Teachers also complained that the administration does not respond to their concerns.

“When we ask questions, they are seldom fully answered,” said another comment Becker read. “The pandemic, and someone else’s mistake, is the excuse for everything.”

Another teacher complained of internal subbing wearing out teachers and subjecting some classes to having a different teacher every half hour. Another teacher complained about the management of the district’s preschool program.

After the comments from the union leaders, District 103 Superintendent Kristopher Rivera took the unusual step of responding immediately.

“I hear you,” Rivera told the teachers.

Rivera said he recently addressed the teachers during a staff meeting and is working to make improvements. He admitted that there have been problems with payroll.

“We are working on an action plan right now,” Rivera said.

In an interview after the school board meeting, Rivera said the district is revamping how it does payroll.

“Our payroll department is working really hard to develop the structures that have never been really built; they were doing it manually,” Rivera said. “That’s been an issue for years.”

Rivera told the teachers that business office workers have been regularly working past 7 p.m. to try to get things right.

The district has been paying Accountemps, a temporary staffing agency focused on accounting and finance, thousands of dollars each month to handle the district’s accounting. The employee who had been doing payroll was recently let go.

During the meeting, which lasted about 18 minutes, the school board approved the hiring of three custodians, including two that had been laid off in 2020 after the pandemic shut down schools.

Last month, the school board heard complaints from staff about the cleanliness of the school buildings. Rivera said the district wants to hire three more custodians and that he wants to communicate better with teachers.

“I’m working with the union to establish ways and systems to regularly communicate,” Rivera said.

In terms of COVID protocols, Rivera said some plastic partitions used to serve barriers between students sitting at the same table, and which had been on order, finally arrived the day of the school board meeting. 

He also said it has not been easy to deal with ever-changing COVID protocols that the district has been receiving from the state.

“It’s a difficult time,” Rivera said.