The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Disputes between board members, teachers aired

  • Thursday's Eldorado school board meeting was consumed with debate between certain board members and teachers regarding salaries, public posting of those salaries and test scores.
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  • Thursday's Eldorado school board meeting was consumed with debate between certain board members and teachers regarding salaries, public posting of those salaries and test scores.
    The crowd was large enough the meeting was moved from the board room to the cafeteria.
    Board member Jason Kasiar said he detects a lack of transparency between the administration and the board and has been seeking information on salaries through the Freedom of Information Act. Teachers believe he went too far when he disseminated the staff salary schedule with a star beside the top 10 salaries in the district at his place of business.
    Eldorado Education Association President Jeff Cox began the meeting by reading a statement.
    "These past few weeks rumors, innuendoes, insinuations have been running thorugh the community against the teachers, staff and faculty of Eldorado Unit 4," he said.
    He proposed open forum between the staff and board so issued can be addressed. He believes politics are creating divisions in the community and distracting from the job of teaching children.
    "I propose we have an open forum that certain teachers, administrators, board, parents, students and community members can attend and begin work on a team to provide a quality education for our kids," Cox said.
    Kasiar explained the reason behind the posting of teacher salaries in his place of business.
    "A lot of rumors and things that have gone on are about some information I presented to certain people in the community," Jason Kasiar said.
    He said base salaries of administrators and teachers must by law be presented to the board and by the board to the state prior to Oct. 1 each year and posted to the school's Internet site each year. He maintains that information was not being posted as required — a point disputed by Superintendent Gary Siebert and T.J. Zurliene who is involved in maintaining the school's Web site. Zurliene said he posted the required information months ago, though Kasiar said he could not find it Wednesday.
    He did find it Thursday, he said.
    "I am not here to cause division. The law states what the law states and for too long a lot of the things have not been addressed," Kasiar said.
    Kasiar said taking into consideration low test scores at the high school and the state budget crisis that the district may be looking at tough choices.
    "My frustration is that if you look at the salaries posted on the state website, you can look at 2010, 2011, 2012, we're coming up on a very difficult time in school finances. You all know that if you stay on top of it. At some point we're going to have to look at cuts, timewise, whatever it may be. Because its going to get ugly. My point is if you look back at these salaries which all of you have the right to do both public taxpayers both as teachers, us as board members, you have the right to do by law. The law states it has to be posted," Kasiar said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Kasiar said as a board member he has not been provided with a list of teacher salaries that is supposed to be done annually. He said had to get his information from the state Web site and detected discrepancies.
    "On a paper I have that you all have a copy of, or most of you have a copy of, I put a star beside the top 10 salaries paid in this school. What I had a problem with is you've got one person on there who has five-and-a-half years experience and is making more money than Greg Goodley who has been here 18 years. I find that unfair," Kasiar said.
    Zurliene interrupted Kasiar to say he believed if individual staff were being named that the discussion was more appropriate in closed session. Kasiar conceded that was probably correct, but told the teachers he believed their frustration may be misdirected.
    "What you guys really ought to be concerned about when talking education of our kids and everything else is that some of you are making minuscule salaries and other people are getting $10,000 raises in one year, $15,000 raises in one year and I can read what the minimum requirements are for teachers and raises. So that's what should be being looked at, not the fact that I brought this information up," Kasiar said.
    "So my question is this. If we have to bring up test scores before it's addressed by the board, if we have to bring up salaries before anyone knows about it, what else don't we know?"
    Stacy James said the board discusses test scores every year. Kasiar said the board had not discussed test scores during the two years he has been on the board. James said he may have missed a meeting. Zurliene said test scores have also been posted to the Web site.
    A teacher in the audience asked why Kasiar believed the situation so "acute" at this time.
    "Why is this an acute situation? Because the public has a right to know. And we just voted on a contract extension for the superintendent, for the superintendent's administration and all of this information that legally everyone has a right to know is not being… We've had Freedom of Information Act requests. We're not getting the information that we need," Kasiar said.
    A teacher in the crowd said it was her belief Kasiar's actions could cause unnecessary division among the staff and that the pointing out of the top 10 salaries "demonizes" those teachers.
    "The information I feel that we get is not always open and transparent. So, that being said, I apologize if it demonized anyone. My point was to stick up for our teachers that work hard, that have been here for a long time, some of these … I did the research. I took the time to look at it. You have some teachers that are getting minimal raises. You have some teachers that are getting big raises. And so my question about that was if school law says it has to be given to the board, it has to be gone over by the board in an open session regular meeting and posted, why has that not happened?" Kasiar said.
    Page 3 of 3 - Jeff Cox said salary discrepancies are most often due to some teachers taking on extra duties such as sponsorship of school clubs and the extra pay for those extra duties are set during contract negotiations with the board. The last contract negotiations were three years ago. Kasiar — a two-year board member — has not had an opportunity to be involved in the contract negotiation process.
    Siebert agreed. He pointed out the examples of teachers involved in the school improvement plan, an ag teacher getting an FFA stipend, a coach getting a stipend. Those extra payments are a part of the salary schedule the board must approve during contract negotiations. Also, those who take an early retirement incentive have a larger salary the last couple years of their employment.
    Siebert also said if the teachers believed certain teachers were being given unfair raises the union would not stand for it and the union has not voiced any issues.
    He said as far as Freedom of Information Act requests, he has submitted every one he has received to the school attorney to be sure it is information that may legally be released and when he receives a response, that response is provided to the person who filed the request.
    He said Monday or Tuesday of this week a board member called the bookkeeper asking for W-2 forms for staff. Siebert contacted the attorney and the attorney said that was a piece of information the district could not release. Had the district done so it would have been liable.
    "That would open up the school district to all kind of lawsuits," Siebert said.
    The board agreed to continue the regular business of the meeting and to answer teacher questions following the meeting.
    Discussion following the meeting was calm and a range of issues came up. High school teachers told the board some of the issues that create challenges, from unstable student home life to homelessness, to coming to school intoxicated.
    Board member David Bartok described the meeting as the most productive one he has attended in his eight years on the board and in an e-mail Friday indicated he believed an transparency issues appeared to be resolved.
    Following a closed session the board made several cuts. Siebert said if funding allows by the beginning of next school year the staff may be rehired.
    The board voted to release Blair Melvin as a part-time aide, Theresa Hopkins as full-time aide, Ashley Clark as full-time aide, Karen Wilson as part-time non-tenured teacher, Larry Pierson as part-time non-tenured teacher — with Bartok, Kasiar and Preston Justice voting no — Mallory Tippett as a full-time non-tenured teacher and Mallory Rick as full-time fourth year non-tenured teacher.
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