Bellwood residents critical of board

BELLWOOD – Bellwood-Antis school board members again came under fire Tuesday night – this time from district residents.

In September, members of the Bellwood-Antis Education Association lashed out at the board and administration.

Members of the union remain upset over a school board decision in August to hire 3.5 teaching positions.

The union claims that despite an agreement to allow teachers to use retirement savings to help current teachers – in April the union and board agreed on a salary increase of 2 percent for the current year – the board reneged on the agreement and instead decided to hire 3.5 full-time substitute teaching positions.

The union claims the new teachers were hired as nothing more than aides, while Superintendent Brian Toth previously said the new teachers were full-time teachers, not substitutes.

Meanwhile, the board claims the union is opposed to the new hirings because many teachers would receive a smaller raise if the new teachers are placed on the salary schedule for this year. In a recent letter to district residents, the board said the teachers union has refused to include these newly hired teachers in the salary schedule in order to preserve their excessive raises.

Residents Tuesday night expressed dissatisfaction with the board’s decision.

“I am here as a proud parent but not proud of the decisions the board has made such as hiring the four new teachers. The four were hired as daily substitutes and are working with a small percentage of the student body.

The hiring of the four additional teachers had no impact on my children or many other students,” said Elaine Luensmann, parent of four students in the district.

Others were displeased with the letter sent to district residents.

“I see no reason [why] you did what you did [other] than to manipulate the pay scale. I think sending that letter was an insult to the community and makes our teachers look like greedy individuals,” Melissa Cuevas said.

“The letter is so insulting. I was hurt by that, and I am not a teacher,” Chrissy McCloskey said.

Union members said they believe they are being portrayed negatively in the media.

“We want to go on record that we are the same people. We are dedicated and hard-working and dedicated to making a difference in the lives of our students every day,” Cathy Burch said.

“We can assure the taxpayers and residents that we will do our best to educate the students with the resources made available to us,” said Kerry Naylor, acting president.

School board President Kenneth Loucks said the dispute is not personal.

“We are dealing with contract issues. It is not personal. It is not about the ability of the teachers. We couldn’t ask for a better group of teachers,” Loucks said.

The board and union are attempting to iron out a salary reopener for the current school year, which was part of an agreement when the teachers accepted a wage freeze for the 2011-12 school year, the first year of their present three-year contract that expires June 30, 2014.