Rio School District’s teachers have had enough. After months of what teachers describe as failed salary negotiations and inadequate communication between the Rio Teacher’s Association and the Rio School Board, the teachers have taken to the streets to voice their concerns. “My hope is that the district will look at the situation and treat us as partners instead of as children,” said Rebecca Barbetti, president of the Rio Teacher’s Association and a 23-year veteran teacher in the Rio District.
On March 15, Barbetti and approximately 200 people showed up at the Rio School District office to picket at the evening’s school board meeting. According to Barbetti, the group of teachers and supporters held signs in an attempt to raise community awareness about salary issues and a perceived lack of respect from the board.
Barbetti said that salary negotiations failed in January 2007 and a state mediator was summoned to help the teachers and board find a solution. (Currently, a date for the mediation talks has not been set.) Although teacher salaries are part of the problem, Barbetti said that “salary is not the main issue.”
Instead, Barbetti claims that the board does not consult with teachers or communicate with the community enough. “They’re not taking into account teacher’s points of views with regard to education,” said Barbettti. She cited the board’s handling of changes to the district’s school boundaries and the dual immersion program as examples of how the district makes decisions without including the needs or thoughts of teachers and parents.
However, Mona Hasson, human resources assistant Ssuperintendant for the Rio School District, claims that the district does a good job of communicating with teachers. “We do communicate. It’s not an issue. I think that we put a lot of effort into our communication system,” said Hasson.
Hasson also said that she could not comment on the salary negotiations while they were in process. But when asked about teachers’ claims that their proposed pay increases are inadequate, she said she felt badly. “It’s never a good feeling that [teachers] aren’t being compensated properly,” said Hasson.
Barbetti said there are also concerns about how funding is being allocated. She said that the District bought a new $7.5 million building and received $35,000 in donated work from a public relations firm, but can’t find ways to increase teacher salaries. “When it comes to a new building or needing new carpet, they find creative ways to bring money into the district,” said Barbetti.
Parent and former Rio District teacher Eileen Whitney echoed Barbetti’s comments, in regard to finding money to pay teachers. “I know the district has financial problems, but where there’s a will there’s a way,” said Whitney.
Whitney said that she would like to see teachers compensated and their salary brought up to account for cost of living increases. “For many years, teachers were the lowest on the totem pole … It’s time for them to get compensated for what they do,” said Whitney.
Hasson, however, claims that funds used for building improvements cannot be used for teacher salaries. She also said that the superintendent is trying to get teachers the salary increases they’ve requested.
Ideally, Barbetti said that she would like to see the teachers “treated well” and to receive a 6 percent salary increase this year. In the meantime, the teachers will continue speaking out. (Another protest is scheduled for March 31.) And some teachers, according to Barbetti, are taking their fight into the classroom. Barbetti said that as many as 90 percent of the district’s teachers are wearing T-shirts to school that read: We want what’s right, not what’s left.