East Aurora teachers, support staff picket school board over contract
About 200 East Aurora District 131 teachers, education aides and office workers made it clear to the school board Monday night that they don't like a new contract the board has proposed.
Clad in their union T-shirts and waving signs, they picketed in front of East Aurora High School, then went inside to reinforce their message at a board meeting.
Two of their main points: They want the contract to include limits on class sizes, and they are tired of working without a contract.
"Thirty-five is a speed limit, not a class size," read some of the signs they waved.
Negotiations stalled seven weeks ago. The East Aurora Council, American Federation of Teachers Local 604 president, Gerry Mestek, said it was the district that walked away.
In an interview before the meeting, school board member Annette Johnson said the delay was caused in part by the district's hiring a new business manager this summer and replacing the attorney representing it in the negotiations.
"I also want to acknowledge how anxious we all are about getting our union contract," school board Annette Johnson told the teachers. "We have asked for a meeting date on Sept. 29."
Mestek said another sticking point is salaries for support and office workers. He said the union wants increased, seniority-based pay. He said the district has had trouble retaining good workers, because they leave for better-paying jobs in neighboring districts.
But Johnson said that those workers "have always been paid well in this district," and better than in other local districts.
The two sides disagree on the amount of money the district has available to increase pay. The union contends that the district will receive an additional $64 million in the next three fiscal years from the state in evidence-based funding. The district contends it is receiving less of that money this year than last and expects only about $24 million in the next three years.
Several teachers told the school board they are struggling to serve students.
An elementary-school art teacher told of having 38 students in a class, with 12 of them requiring individualized education plans because of disabilities. Another spoke of not having enough textbooks and computer devices, as her class has grown repeatedly since the start of the year to 31 students. Students aren't getting enough attention from her, she said, which causes those with the least skills to lose focus and become disruptive. That means she spends more time on managing the classroom and less time teaching, she said.
The local represents about 1,000 teachers, 400 support workers and 100 office workers, Mestek said.
The union voted Aug. 31 to authorize its leaders to call a strike. It would have to give a 10-day notice of any strike.