Hammond discusses ending substitute teacher contract early

- By Michelle L. Quinn Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

A once-accepted solution to the School City of Hammond’s substitute teacher shortage is now too big an expense for the ailing district and should be eliminated immediatel­y, say teachers and two Board of Trustee members.

SCH Board Trustee Carlotta Blake-King called for the board to cancel the contract with Kelly Services, which has been providing substitute teachers to the district this school year, after its representa­tives presented a status report to the board during a nearly four-hour School Board meeting at Morton High School Tuesday night. The Kelly people touted a 94% fill rate most days during this school year, compared with only a 61% fill rate when SCH was handling its own subs.

The contract, however, is $3 million, and since the district is facing a $15 million budget deficit now that a continuing operating referendum was soundly defeated in November, getting rid of the contract should be a “no-brainer,” Blake-King told the board. The contract ends June 30.

“We gotta pay this much money until June 30th? Ridiculous. I vote to cancel it now,” Blake-King said. “I don’t see us waiting until June to do this, and they haven’t saved us any money.”

Board Vice President Cindy Murphy reminded Blake-King that the school has a contract with Kelly and that there are “terms” SCH must follow, after which Superinten­dent Scott Miller reminded the audience that hiring Kelly wasn’t such a bad thing to the teachers when it was hired.

“We were at 61% when we did it. We were dividing classes among teachers, and teachers said, ‘We need subs! We’re burnt out’,” he said. “I’m not saying it would he impossible (to cancel the contract), but we’d have (issues filling spots again); the 300 subs we have, they don’t just work for us.”

Miller then said, “We’re not in the habit of breaking contracts,” to which the mostly teacher audience laughed.

Having the Kelly people sub isn’t the panacea it seems, according to some teachers. Franklin Elementary teacher Robin Bellamy told the board that often, getting subs to show up is half the battle, and then their being profession­al is a crapshoot at best.

“Some don’t cancel, but they don’t show up,” Bellamy said. “We had one who, at the end of day, told the kids, ‘It’s Miller Time!’ and they weren’t talking about the superinten­dent. We’ve had subs sleeping, online shopping, on their phones and letting kids behind the teachers’ desks to go through (their personal stuff ).

“This is an expense we can do without.”

Parent Shannon Servin added that some subs come in reeking of marijuana smoke.

“My kids don’t need that,” she said. “They see subs and think, ‘Free Day!’ ”

Blake-King made a motion to cancel the Kelly Services contract, then amended it to have Superinten­dent Miller look into when the earliest it could be canceled. The motion was denied 3-2, with Blake-King and Trustee Kelly Spencer voting in favor of it.

In other business, the board approved Chief Financial Officer Eric Kurtz’s suggestion to establish a $3 million rain day fund after the district got approval to transfer the monies from its debt service; it approved $6 million for the education fund; and it gave the administra­tion the go-ahead to start sending letters to the administra­tors whose contracts won’t be renewed.

Superinten­dent Scott Miller said after the Jan. 10 meeting that since the teachers filed an unfair labor suit with the state against SCH, all negotation­s have stopped and will be for at least 120 days. Miller maintained that the administra­tion was within its rights to add cuts to the contract, especially after the referendum failed.

A special school board meeting has been set for Feb. 27; there will be executive sessions Jan. 27 and Jan. 29 that will discuss collective bargaining and school consolidat­ion.

 ?? KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRIBUNE ?? School City of Hammond board listen during the comment period of a Hammond School Board meeting on January 9.
KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRIBUNE School City of Hammond board listen during the comment period of a Hammond School Board meeting on January 9.

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