BOURBON – A week after area educators – among the estimated 16,000 statewide – marched on the Statehouse demanding better pay and more funding for better working conditions, they are admitting the next hurdle is keeping the issues in the public eye.
For Shawna Shively, a fourth-grade teacher at Triton Elementary and president of the district’s teachers’ union for 10 years, last week’s rally was a chance to express their concerns to state lawmakers – something she said they’ll continue to do.
Shively said five teachers from Triton traveled down to Indianapolis with her: Jenny Mevis, Lana Howstrowser. Gwenda Gard, Kaley Alber and Susan Dietzel.
Shively said the group had a chance to meet with Republican State Rep. Curt Nisly, who mostly serves Kosciusko and southern Elkhart counties, during the Red for Education Action Day.
“We felt that the meeting with Rep. Nisly was thoughtful and encouraging and look forward to continuing meeting with lawmakers to voice our concerns,” she said via email. “After the historic rally (Tuesday) I feel that our teachers will continue to make our concerns known and fight for our schools, students and profession.”
The 22-year veteran educator said her group has three main concerns:
– Investing the state’s budget surplus in teacher compensation (“Indiana ranks 51st in the country – including Washington, D.C. – for teacher salary raises over the past 15 years,” she said.);
– “Hold teachers and communities harmless form I-LEARN;
– “and repeal … externship requirements,” Shively said.
Likewise, Bremen High School English teacher Kristi Monesmith, who is co-president of the Bremen teachers’ union, is optimistic change will happen – but it admits it will take some time.
“I believe the changes will be slow, but I’m certain that our voice was heard,” she said via email. “I believe if (legislators) could reduce health care costs that would be a huge raise for some. On top of that, if they could guarantee that teachers could receive a 2-4 percent increase each year to cover the cost of living, it would be extremely helpful. I hope the legislators will consider making changes.”
According to Monesmith, educators are now eyeing the state’s next two-year budget cycle – and how local legislators will help craft it.
“I believe the next steps to be that someone in the next legislative budget session – 2021 – will decide how to find more money to better fund public education,” the veteran educator said. “This may include reducing the number of vouchers, money to charter or virtual schools, and/or investing in green energy (or) using some of the state surplus.
“One thing that could really help teachers would be to reduce the cost of health insurance,” Monesmith continued. “It’s expensive and takes out of an already small paycheck for those who have not been in the profession for a long time.”
Still Monesmith was satisfied with how last week’s rally played out. The English teacher attended the Action Day with fellow educators Rhonda McIntyre, Lauren Phipps, Linsday Hudkins, Aaron McNeely, Sabrina Stichter and Jessica Klingerman.
“The Red for Ed Rally went quite well on Tuesday,” she said. “It was packed full of people, but everyone was polite and protesting peacefully.”
Much like Shively, Argos educator and teachers’ union president Brenda Baker, a 37-year teaching veteran, says keeping public education issues at the forefront is now the goal. Baker attended last week’s rally with fellow educators Beth Cohagan, Savannah Gates, Tonja Jolly, Ashley Yeager and Amy Overmyer.
“Now that we’ve got people’s attention, and we’ve got parents and we’ve got superintendents, now maybe we can start working toward making some changes at the state level – whether that’s through elections, trying to promote different candidates more education supportive, (candidates) more pro-public education,” Baker said. “But I think from going to all my meetings as the (union) president, that’s kind of where we’re heading next: Just keep the momentum going through postcards, emails, more lobbying, keeping the parents and public aware as we head into the next legislature.
“I think that is our mission now, just keep it going,” she continued. “We hope to have more local meetings with our (state) representatives and share our concerns more now because we’ve done it on a big scale and now we want to start more of a small scale and trying to get meetings scheduled with (State Sen. Ryan) Mishler and (State Rep. Jack) Jordan (to) talk about the issues. And then if that doesn’t work, obviously, I think the next thing is we just need to start getting people to run for office that are more pro public education and get (the incumbents) voted out.”