Throwback Thursday: Teachers rally: ‘Stop monkeying around’

Some of the teachers at the rally nine years ago are pictured with the large blue monkey who wore a sign: “Stop monkeying around. Settle and sign.” Bremen teachers voiced their unhappiness with a rally nine years ago.
By Holly Heller
Former Enquirer Editor

Nearly a decade ago, Bremen’s teachers were unhappy with the school board and administration and weren’t afraid to say it. This article appeared in The Bremen Enquirer nine years ago this week.

“One, two, three, four! You can afford to pay us more!”
This was the chant of Bremen teachers as they entered the administration office last Tuesday for contract talks between the Bremen Education Association and the Board of School Trustees of Bremen Public Schools.
A contract settlement was not reached. The teachers have been without a contract for the duration of the 205-06 school year.
According to Kent Kimpel, UniServ Director for the Indiana State Teachers Association, “The board is offering less than 1 percent salary increase while expecting teachers to absorb an astronomical increase in insurance rates.”
The BEA has formed a bargaining support team and plans to contact the state employment board to send in a mediator, Kimpel said.
An attorney has also been hired to represent Bremen Public Schools in the mediation.
Prior to last Tuesday’s negotiations session, the teachers assembled in the parking lot for a rally to show support for the BEA. A large blue monkey sat boldly atop a car, wearing a sign that stated, “Stop monkeying around. Settle and sign.”
Cyndy McKenzie, co-president of the BEA, explained the purpose of the rally.
“To let the administrative negotiations team know that all of the teachers are disappointed that we taught the entire year without a contract,” she said.
This was the year designated for money and language negotiations, she said.
“Language means number of days on contract, sick leave and other working conditions that are part of our teacher’s contract.”
McKenzie said the teachers have been in negotiations with Superintendent Russ Mikel and the school board since October.
“At every meeting all he (Mikel) has said and continues to say is status quo – there is no money. We do realize that we are in tight economic times, but that state average pay increase for teachers is 1.9 percent. Our teachers were offered less than a tenth of a percent. We have had a 23 percent increase in health care that comes out of our teachers’ pockets so this is very discouraging.”
Mikel and the Bremen School Board members explained at the May 16 school board meeting that the state cut the school system’s budget by 7.5 percent. This is the fund from which all staff salary and benefits must be derived.
“I can understand where they’re coming from,” board member James Emans told the Enquirer recently. “But the dollars are on the table and there’s not enough to go around. Just to maintain the staff and give them a raise … that eats up a budget we don’t have.”
Due to lack of state funding, the only feasible way for teachers to receive a higher pay increase is through a reduction of force, which would result in larger class sizes.
A reduction in force has not been made; although several positions have been eliminated through attrition.
Mikel and Emans both encouraged teachers to contact state legislators; as they are the ones who control state education dollars.