School district, teachers working on new contract

NORWAY — Kindergarten through 12th Grade students are headed back to school next week, but one school district is still working to ratify a new contract with its teachers.

“It says, you know, we’re the heart of the community,” said Jeannette Sword, an Elementary Special Education Teacher at Norway–Vulcan Schools. “We believe that the school makes Norway great, and we just want to show the community that that’s what we’re here for.”

Teachers were back to work Wednesday for professional development at Norway–Vulcan Area Schools, but there was something different about their attire. Since their contract expired at the end of June, educators wore t–shirts representing their solidarity in the absence of a new agreement.

Lowered state funding is one of the reasons cited for the failure to reach that agreement.

“We met with a mediator Monday for several hours,” said Superintendent Lou Steigerwald. “We think we made decent progress, but we weren’t able to come to an agreement. The Board feels that considering that our teachers are currently among the best–paid teachers in the area that we have a fair compensation offer on the table. We’re happy to work with our teachers, and we want to pay credit to the hard work that they do for our kids and the excellent results that we have for our children.”

“The last two years, we’ve taken very small raises as a result of our contracts,” said High School English Teacher Erin Berndt, “and we’ve been willing to do that because we understand that the State of Michigan and schools in general are in a precarious position, and we’re also not asking for a huge increase. We just want something fair, we want some acknowledgement that we are an important part of Norway–Vulcan Area Schools as well.”

Teachers also say their contract requests would continue to help attract new educational talent to the district.

“I’ve been proud to be a teacher here, and it’s always been a pleasure to work for Norway,” Sword added, “and I think what we’re doing is trying to continue that tradition and keep Norway strong — keep Norway the place where when people come to this area they say, ‘I want to go to that school.'”

The contract will be discussed at the School Board meeting next week. Regardless of the outcome of negotiations, students will be back to school on Tuesday, with teachers working under the conditions of their previous contract.

“Negotiations and the contract is not going to prevent anyone from doing their job and doing it well. That’s why we all became teachers, is because we love it. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t,” said Sword.

“School will start and we will do what we’ve always done, which is to make sure that our students are as much prepared for the world after Norway as they can be,” Berndt added.

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