Stephanie Salazar, a fourth-grade teacher at Anderson Elementary School, makes clear her thoughts about strength in bargaining. Ken de la Bastide | The Herald Bulletin
Stephanie Salazar, a fourth-grade teacher at Anderson Elementary School, makes clear her thoughts about strength in bargaining. Ken de la Bastide | The Herald Bulletin
Kylee Mulliken and Ken de la Bastide, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — After some teachers notified Anderson Community Schools that they would be taking the day off, the school system went to an e-learning day Friday.

The day-off notifications came amid ACS negotiations with the Anderson Federation of Teachers. Some ACS teachers have expressed disenchantment with rising insurance premiums.

“The excessive teacher call-offs came after our Wednesday meeting with our AFT union where they gave us the numbers,” said Ashley Loffer, a kindergarten teacher at Erskine Elementary School. Loffer was among the teachers who were not planning to work Friday. “Our district has received millions of dollars from the state due to COVID. We have $10 million reserved in our bank.”

According to Brad Meadows, the ACS director of district and community engagement, the exact number of teachers who called in to take Friday off is unknown, because some teachers who initially planned to take the day off decided to work after the e-learning day was announced.

Meadows said that the decision to switch to e-learning was due to not having enough substitutes to cover classrooms for all of teachers who said they wouldn’t work Friday.

“We stand committed to working with the AFT and will maintain open lines of communication with them until an agreement can be reached,” Meadows said in an email to The Herald Bulletin.

During a gathering of teachers Wednesday, the union disclosed details of the negotiations on a new contract with ACS administrators.

Randy Harrison, president of the AFT, said Friday’s day-off notifications weren’t prompted by the union.

“There are a whole bunch of teachers upset,” Harrison said. “The teachers are frustrated.”

On Wednesday, Harrison said ACS is facing a $2.8 million increase in health insurance costs starting next year.

He said the administration wanted a 48% increase in insurance premiums and the union countered with 20%. The two sides eventually agreed to a 33% increase.

Harrison said the union hired consultants to look at ACS finances and insurance costs.

“We put proposals on the table that would not put ACS into deficit spending,” he said.

Marissa Little, teachers union vice president, said the increase in insurance premiums will range from $53 to $177 per month. Little said the union wants an increase in base pay to cover the insurance costs.

ACS Superintendent Joe Cronk said he was disappointed the union invited the media to the Wednesday meeting.

“That’s bargaining in public,” he said. “We’re still negotiating.”

Cronk said the $2.8 million in insurance costs is a never-ending expense and the number of claims has increased.

The union proposed a $3,300 increase in base salary and a $3,000 pandemic stipend, according to Harrison. He said ACS offered a $1,000 increase in base pay and $6,000 in stipends through three payments.

Harrison said the last offer from ACS was a $2,000 increase in the base pay on a two-year contract with no pay hike in the second year and $6,000 in COVID-19 stipend.

Cronk said any pay increase would come from non-recurring funds in the ACS budget.

“It’s not fiscally responsible to increase the base salary on non-recurring funds,” he said. “We offered a 4% increase over two years, front-loaded in the first year.”

“What they’re leaving out is the fact that we are leaving it because they are offering only stipends,” Loffer said. “They also took off that if we would agree to the proposal that they want for us, that there can be no negotiations next year.”

That means if insurance premiums increase again next year, there would be no bargaining.

Since ACS posted its announcement on Facebook about Friday’s e-learning day, many community members, parents included, have left supportive messages, while others offered differing views.

“We all love our children and we love our community,” Loffer said. “I understand the hurt and frustration of what happened today, but I’m just pleading with them and asking them to look deeper to the facts and to understand why today happened.”

Loffer urged community members to reach out to school board members, Cronk and financial advisor Kevin Brown with their concerns.

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