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Lake Ridge teachers protest job, salary cuts

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Updated: November 12, 2013 6:18AM



GARY — Lake Ridge Schools teachers greeted students with picket signs Thursday morning as they protested job cuts and salary reductions they say will drive young teachers away from the district.

The Lake Ridge Federation of Teachers held protests at all four of the urban district’s schools Thursday and vowed to return Friday morning and at Monday’s school board meeting.

“We’ve had no part in budget discussions, and the school board never even offered us a proposal in negotiations,” union president Daniel Brugioni said in a written statement.

He said the district cut 12 teacher jobs in the spring and attempted to stop paying 3 percent into the teachers’ retirement fund. Brugioni said the teachers union recently won an injunction from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board that halted that action.

He said the 3 percent benefit, which represents the teachers’ share of retirement benefits, was negotiated into their contract decades ago.

“What this does is we have a lot of young teachers who say ‘we have to get out of here.’ That directly hurts the students,” said Brugioni.

Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley issued a statement, saying the district is facing fiscal shortfalls in part because it is receiving less money from the state and from local taxes. It now has general revenues of $14.6 million but anticipated general fund expenses of $16.9 million. About 80 percent of the general fund goes toward salaries and benefits, she said.

Johnson-Shirley’s statement also notes that “there were several open meetings with the public early in 2013 to review the fiscal deficit” and adds, “the administration and union had a series of meetings between March and June 2013 to review options for reducing budget expenditures in light of loss of revenues.”

She also said it is against state law for a school district to enter into a contract that would require deficit financing of their general fund obligations.

In addition to teachers, Brugioni said the district has cut clerical staff and others and those losses impact the community. “You’re in danger of reaching a tipping point,” he said.

In its current proposal, Brugioni said the school board wants to stop paying into future retirees’ insurance and severance packages — two items he said teachers have counted on for years.

Brugioni said administrators are still receiving raises, salary adjustments and bonuses including iPads and free insurance benefits.

Johnson-Shirley’s statement said administrators have been issued iPads to assist with data collection and teacher evaluation, but no computers, laptop and iPads have been purchased through the general fund.

In March, citing a $1.7 million deficit, the school board made the unpopular decision to close Grissom Elementary School.

A month later, James Huddleston, the district’s business director quit. He was charged in May with diverting $133,624 in school funds into his own accounts for personal use.



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