HUNTERTOWN — Northwest Allen County Schools and the Northwest Allen County Educators Association held a joint public hearing Thursday to discuss the Indiana code that relates to collective bargaining. The teachers’ union will begin contract negotiations with NACS on Sept. 15.

NACS Business Manager Bill Mallers represented the school corporation during the hearing, while NACEA President Steve Driver represented the association. Only one resident, Mike Gibson of Huntertown, offered a public comment during the hearing, urging the corporation to offer teachers raises quicker than in the past.

“I expect collective bargaining to be done in good faith,” Gibson said. “I know in the past raises were not awarded until months after the original settlement date. I would like to see this year, when we get to the bargaining, that it is concluded and raises are awarded. I think it speaks well to management and to the teachers that we meet those goals. … It sends a message to the teachers that management is interested in retaining them.”

Gibson, a resident within the district since 2004, quoted a study by the Rockefeller Institute that found Indiana teachers on average made only $6,900 more per year in 2017 than they did in 2002 — the smallest pay increase in all 50 states. Adjusting for inflation, Indiana teachers’ salaries have decreased by 15% over the past 15 years, according to the Indiana Department of Education, Gibson said in citing the report.

“I would like us to pay our teachers well and to hire the best teachers,” he said. “I think our students have the best chance of getting a good education with the best teachers. … I don’t want school to be government-mandated daycare. I want the kids to get a good education and be prepared for their next step in life, whether it’s the workforce or college.”

While he agreed that teachers deserve better wages, much of the poor teacher pay in the state of Indiana is due to the amount of funding distributed at the state level, NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said. As a result, the district has seen a shortage in applications for all positions — and not just for teaching jobs, but administration jobs, cafeteria positions, custodial work, “all across the board,” Himsel said.

“That’s because we’re lagging farther behind in pay,” Himsel said. “We want to pay our teachers well, but there has to be a means to do it.”

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