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Published: Monday, 11/26/2001

Teachers at Lakota urge others to stay away

BY JULIE NJAIM
BLADE STAFF WRITER

RISINGSUN - Fed up with low wages and dead-end negotiations, teachers are telling job seekers to stay away from Lakota Local School district.

Teachers have been working without a contract since June and don't see a viable resolution any time soon, a union leader said.

In a letter mailed to area educators and colleges last week, the Lakota Education Association urged teaching professionals to apply for a job in the rural Lakota district as a “last resort.''

“We've been in negotiations since last spring, early summer. We've rolled over contracts two years in a row because [the board] said there wasn't any money. We did it in good faith. We went in negotiations expecting for those raises to come about,'' said Deb Capell, president of the association who's taught in the district for 29 years.

“They offered us a raise package, but with insurance that's gone up, cost of living, the fact that we hadn't had any kind of increase for the third year in a row, it just wasn't feasible,'' she said.

The board offered a 3 percent pay raise in October. But union leaders rejected the proposed contract because it came with too many concessions, Mrs. Capell said.

The association was angered last week when the board approved a 3 percent increase for administrators in the district, which has 1,580 pupils. Mrs. Capell said the association was told the board would not settle with administrators before teachers.

That action sparked the letter, she said, stating the district with “should not be considered by educators as an economically viable place of employment.''

Superintendent Mike Eaglowski said the letter does not upset him.

“All I can say is we have a very good teaching staff and we appreciate our teachers and we understand the frustrations of the negotiating process,'' he said.

Mr. Eaglowski said he couldn't talk about the negotiations until the board releases a statement today, saying it is willing to negotiate with the association through a mediator.

The superintendent agreed that Lakota teachers don't make as much money as other area educators.

“Our base salary is low compared with other neighboring districts. Historically, it's always been low,'' he said.

Lakota's base was raised to $20,000 this year, the state-required minimum. Other comparable districts start at least $3,000 higher, according to statistics compiled by the Lakota group through the Ohio Education Association. A Fremont City School teacher starts at $27,138. In Gibsonburg, the base salary is $24,282.

The low salary means high turnover throughout the district, Mrs. Capell said.

“Since 1998, we've lost 48 teachers. They're coming out of college, paying off college loans. They don't want to live with their parents anymore. They have to have a place to live, a car to drive to work, and they have to have a master's degree within five years - that's mandated by the state of Ohio. They have to go somewhere else to make more money,'' she said.

Mr. Eaglowski said the board is doing what it can with limited funds.

“The 3 percent is what we feel is the most we can give,'' he said, adding that voters have repeatedly turned down additional tax issues that would be used to help increase teacher salaries.

Mrs. Capell said the teachers in Lakota district are dedicated to their students and want to resolve the contract soon to avoid a strike.



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