Marquette teachers protest lack of new contract

While teachers usually arrive at work early and stay late, today was different for the Marquette Area Public Schools.

This morning, teachers from across the district gathered together and walked in precisely at their contractually-scheduled workday start time and planned to leave in the same fashion at the day’s end. They planned the demonstration to raise community awareness for the current contract situation.

“We’ve been working without a contract for 234 days, and we would like the community to know that,” said Nancy Usitalo, a third-grade teacher at Sandy Knoll Elementary School. “They would never know that by our work ethic and our day-to-day contact with the students.”

“Because we go about our day-to-day things and because we smile, because that’s just who we are, I don’t think that people are really aware of the situation,” said Alicia Fure, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Knoll.

Educators are frustrated with both the absence of a contract and with what they say is a lack of a clear reason why an agreement between teachers and the school board has not been made.

“I don’t know if there’s been really any clear answers given,” Fure said. “Our district appears to be financially sound, as reports have shown, so I’m not sure what the holdup is. When you continue to provide the best education for your students, because they’re really what is the most important thing to you when you’re a teacher, it’s hard to keep giving and giving and then to not feel appreciated at the end of that.”

Teachers hope community members will talk to the school board and voice their support. MAPS superintendent Bill Saunders says the district has offered raises but that the teachers weren’t satisfied with the amounts.

“We did have an agreement early on that we wouldn’t negotiate through the media or through the public,” Saunders said. “Unfortunately, I guess what happened today is, in a manner of speaking, negotiating through the media or through the public.”

Teachers say future events like today’s will be planned if the no-contract situation continues.