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Education

Teachers Rally For Respect, Say They're Working In 'Survival Mode'

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Abigail Beckman
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KMUW

Tensions were high leading into Wichita Public School's Board of Education meeting last night. Hundreds of unionized teachers lined the street outside of North High School wearing red t-shirts and holding signs demanding respect and better treatment from the district.

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Credit Abigail Beckman
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Chitra Harris has taught in the district for 13 years and said she is sad things have come to the point where they are today.

The rally came on the heels of stalled contract negotiations between USD 259 and the local teachers union. Many of the signs at the rally had messages focused on declining morale, increasing workloads and little to no change in compensation. Pat Stevens, a 2nd-grade teacher, says it's time teachers stand up for themselves.

"USD 259 doesn't pay enough for you to really make a living at this," Stevens said. "And it just keeps getting worse."

Rachel Smith, another educator in the district, agrees.

"My colleagues have gone to college and spent weekends or summers doing extra work to earn their masters and then we don't get paid for it," she said.

The protest moved indoors during the meeting. Chants of "enough is enough" could be heard through the closed doors of the auditorium.

Board members recognized the anger teachers expressed, placing the blame for their discontent on the state legislature. 

Longtime board member Betty Arnold said that if it was up to her and the funds were available, she would give the teachers more money than they are asking for in negotiations.

"It's kind of like preaching to the choir," Arnold said.

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Credit Abigail Beckman
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United Teachers of Wichita President Steve Wentz is cheered on my union members after he addresses the school board demanding change.

United Teachers of Wichita President Steve Wentz demanded action from board members, saying he's tired of seeing employees in tears. Wentz said he realizes that state funding issues have had a negative effect on the district's financial situation.

"But I would be remiss to not address issues right here in this district that have very little if anything to do with Sam Brownback and his legislative water boys," Wentz said.

Board members have the option to return to mediation with the union or to seek help from a fact finder. If they choose the latter, a state representative would be tasked with gathering information from both the union and the district in hopes of coming up with with a non-binding suggestion for the contract.

Follow Abigail Beckman on Twitter @AbigailKMUW.

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