10/12/07

Teachers strike divides community

Waiting well away from the small cluster of orange-clad, chanting teachers, Chris Fazi stood outside Hopedale Elementary School yesterday with his hands in his pockets. Looking down on the teachers, carrying signs and singing as the buses loaded, he gave a helpless shrug. "It's a joke. "Just give them what they want so they can get back in the classroom," Fazi said while waiting for his 9-year-old stepdaughter, Star Roe.

The school is part of the Harrison Hills School District, where the 140-member teachers association has been on strike since Oct. 1. Teachers have been without a contract since June 30, and in negotiations since early May. Despite the ongoing discussions, the association and the school board keep getting hung up on three main issues: salary, the length of the contract and a no-reprisal clause.

The school district has offered a 3 percent raise for each of two years, but the teachers want a three-year contract. So far, the district has not put that on the table. The district and the teachers union are scheduled to have negotiations today.

Thirty-year Hopedale teacher Marsha Hennis said the board was being unreasonable. She teaches second grade at Hopedale and said she's never worked with less than a three-year contract.

She said she'll be saying an extra prayer that today's latest round of negotiations wraps up a situation that has caused plenty of strife in this small village about 110 miles east of Columbus. The issue has divided the community, with more than half of the district's 2,000 students staying home since the strike began nine days ago.

"This needs to be settled," Hennis said. "We need to be in there with our kids."

Superintendent Jim Drexler said it is hard for parents to send their children across the picket lines, but for each day the kids don't go, they are counted absent.

"There will be a long healing process," he said.

Drexler said the board has done everything it could to meet the teachers' demands, but the district does not have the money to satisfy all requests.

David Morgan Jr. came to pick up his two children yesterday. He said they didn't miss a day because of the strike.

"To me, they're asking too much," Morgan said of the teachers' demands. "Everyone is entitled to a raise, but they need to make it clear why they deserve it."

He said he wouldn't let his children stay home because the state only allows for 18 days of absences before the child can be considered truant.

Fazi said Star stayed home for the first five days of the strike, but when the issue went past the weekend with no resolution, he decided he couldn't keep her out any longer. Star said she did not like her substitutes, who are provided to the school by a security company that brings them in by van each day.

"If this continues, she's going to Steubenville schools," Fazi said.

(columbusdispatch.com)

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