NEWTON COUNTY — At the meeting of the North Newton School Board on Monday, Sept. 13, the focus of debate was the constraints of the school budget and teacher salary expectations.

Bob Gonczy, representing the teachers, opened the meeting with a statement for the preliminary bargaining process, saying, “Reasonable people, equally informed, will make good decisions.”

His statements framed the discussion regarding wage raises, questioning the number of wage increases and the sustainability of doing so.

The state has mandated that beginning teacher salaries for next year start at $40,000. With the current way the school district operates, the school is provided with more funding based on the number of enrolled students. The issue at hand was expressed to be twofold: how to make that fair and how to make that happen.

Gonczy concluded his introductory comments by saying there were more questions in the process than answers.

The school superintendent, Dr. Cathy Rowe, began her statements by expressing appreciation for the good relations between the teachers and the school board. She then spoke in support for the North Newton teachers and staff, saying, “There are good things happening despite the challenges.”

Rowe continued, saying that the teachers make sure kids come first, and each educator becomes the spokesperson for the great learning that happens in the school.

Following Dr. Rowe’s statements, the teachers offered their perspectives on the issue, citing a desire to feel valued in a way that is reflected in their wages.

Ron DeYoung, an agriculture education teacher, used the phrase “it’s not right,” in response to other faculty members who said they worked at least two jobs, sometimes three, to pay their bills.

Following statements from other teachers, including Shawn Nuest, Monica Dewes, and Robyn Gregory, the board was asked to “do the best you can for our teachers.”

Following a lengthy review of the budget, including capital project money expenses, the question was raised about shifting some of the surplus to teacher salaries.

Dr. Rowe reminded those present that there needed to be sustainability tied to any teacher salary increase. She also explained that with four aging buildings, it is necessary to have money in reserve for emergencies.

Diane Gonczy brought up the need to be fiscally responsible with bond projects where taking a proactive approach would alleviate the heavy reliance on emergency funds. She called for more review and attention to future bond projects, making sure the targets were more “need” based, rather than “want” based. She contended that some of the office remodels and carpeting were not as high of a priority as water and structural issues.

Dr. Rowe stated that the collective bargaining for teacher and certified personnel salaries will take place between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 of 2021. She reiterated that student numbers drive the funding and concluded the meeting by saying, “We want to do what’s best for all our staff.”

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