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West Bend district, teachers at odds over compensation plan, execution

District cites ‘administration turnover’ for lack of stipend payment

By Callie Gay

For the Daily News dailynews@conleynet.com

WEST BEND — When the West Bend School District's Board of Education met Oct. 29, Sally Heuer, a West Bend West teacher and member of the executive board of the West Bend Educators Association, voiced concerns about the lack of accountability and follow through for a compensation plan that allows teachers to earn stipends for meeting certain requirements like professional development.

The teachers claimed they were never told by the district there would be no stipend while they continued to work toward those requirements outside of the school day, on their own time and at their expense.

At the meeting, dozens of teachers sat in the audience to show their support as Heuer reminded the Board they have held up their end of the deal and trusted the district administration would hold up theirs.

“This sends the message to all teachers that experience is not valued here and leaves veteran teachers wondering if we can afford to stay,” she said.

For the last several years, teachers who hit a pay cap were locked into their base salary and received a lump sum payment in lieu of a base increase. According to the West Bend Education Association, because there were no stipends paid, this resulted in the district’s most experienced teachers getting about $1,400 less than previous years.

This year, the district decided to give all teachers at least a 2 percent salary increase even if they’d reached the cap. But shortly after the increase, staff was notified their health benefits had been cut.

In response to Heuer and the WBEA’s concerns, David Hammelman, human resources director for the West Bend School District, said administration turnover was to blame for teachers not being paid the stipends they worked for in the 2017-18 school year. He said the district is going to make a new plan for the year and revise the teacher salary framework.

“We’re actually going to come through with it,” he said. “There’s been some bumps but we’re looking forward to making sure we are doing the right thing so that if someone wants to be a teacher, the West Bend School District is the place they’d like to be.”

Heuer said turnover occurs in every profession.

“To use administrative turnover as a reason, just doesn’t cut it,” she said. “Contracts are legally binding agreements.”

Tanya Lohr, president of the WBEA, said, “If you owe a contractor or a supplier for services they provided, you must pay for those services. Refusing to pay is not an option. It’s no different when you owe teachers for the services they provided last year.”

When asked what the next steps are to resolve the teacher’s concerns, Superintendent Donald Kirkegaard said the district wants to make sure it continues to provide a quality and beneficial benefits package with pharmaceutical, dental and medical insurance.

“It’s a challenging pursuit,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of our faculty, staff, supporting staff, the entire workforce in the West Bend School District. We’re very appreciative of them and we want to make sure we do everything to make sure we’re competitive when we hire new people and also supportive so we can make sure to retain the people who are already here.”

But according to Lohr, the WBEA, and more than a dozen West Bend district teachers that have asked to remain anonymous, the benefit cuts and lack of follow through with promises made and money earned has left teachers in the district feeling unappreciated and frustrated and question why a district that claims to be fiscally responsible isn’t taking every step possible to retain the educators that they have invested in thorough training, development, and experience gained in the classroom.

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