Madison red demonstration

Teachers, community members, students and even educators from a neighboring district attended the Madison school board meeting Wednesday in support of the teachers' union.

MADISON -- Payton Hall and Leia Walker have seen the stress of the last two years impact their teachers.

That's why the two girls attended the Madison board of education meeting Wednesday night, wearing red and holding signs in support of their teachers.

"They're definitely a lot more stressed and everything is a lot more rushed together ... it's like everything has to be done right now,” said Hall, a junior at Madison Comprehensive High School.

“You can tell that they don't have a lot of time because in their free time, the little time that they give them, they're covering class or they're waiting in line for the single printer we have or something like that.”

Walker, a seventh grade student, agreed.

"They're having to make sure the students are good with the COVID impact, too. Trying to make sure the students are OK, the students are healthy,” she said.

“Other things, besides the normal teacher stuff, they also have to struggle with and I feel like it's very hard for them as well as the students."

The girls were just two of the dozen or so Madison students who showed up at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. 

Walker and Hall both have parents who teach in the district, but said they likely would have come otherwise.

“Even if it weren't for my parents, I really respect our teachers," Hall said. “They do a really great job and we should really all stand with them and appreciate them."

In addition to students, teachers and community showed up en masse, silently protesting against the administration amid tense contract negotiations.

Members of the MLEA have been working without a contract since their previous agreement with the district expired in July 1. The Madison Local School Board declared an impasse in negotiations on Sept. 29, according to an MLEA press release.

A mediator has been present for each negotiation session since then. Superintendent Rob Peterson, a Madison graduate, declined to comment on contract negotiations.

Jim Robinson, a retired teacher, read the board a letter in support of the union.

“What I am about to read was shared with teachers in this district and due to board policy, they have asked me to share these with you as a concerned community member,” said Robinson, who taught middle school math at Madison for 35 years.

The letter listed multiple stressors for teachers, each followed by a refrain -- “This cannot be the new norm.”

Jim Robinson, a retired middle school math teacher, read a letter in support of the Madison Local Education Association during a school board meeting Wednesday.

“Teachers are coming to school feeling poorly but afraid to use a sick day because they do not want to burden their fellow team teachers,” Robinson read. “Teacher contract language and insurance changes all the while during a pandemic and countrywide teacher shortage.

“A teacher had yet another discussion with a fellow teacher about how he or she should stay in the profession, when that same teacher said in their car this morning crying, ready to give up.”

“The new norm becomes the norm when we allow it,” he concluded. “The time is now to support the Madison teachers.”

The union is currently working to contract, meaning members will not cover for absent co-workers or do any other task that isn’t laid out in their most recent contract agreement.

“As teachers, our students deserve better than that,” union spokesperson Josh Boliantz said. “But that's what we feel we have to do to show camaraderie and solidarity in this fight.

"As educators, we got into this profession to serve our students. It's been a hard decision to make but we felt it was necessary.”

Boliantz said teachers want a fair living wage from their next agreement.

“Not that we're asking for an exorbitant amount, but just a fair wage,” he said.

The school board met with the union negotiators again on Monday. The parties are scheduled to meet again Thursday afternoon.

About 150 area educators attended the school board meeting. Some were teachers from the Mansfield Schools Education Association, who came to express solidarity with their colleagues at Madison.

"We have to support one another when nobody else will,” said Sherry Vaught, a second grade teacher at Mansfield’s Prospect Elementary.

Vaught teared up as she talked about the difficulties teachers have faced during the pandemic.

“Supporting our children through the physical, emotional, spiritual and academic troubles that our entire world has been going through for the last two years doesn't just deserve a coffee mug,” she said. “We need to be able to take care of our families, have reasonable insurance and make a living wage so that we can buy pencils to use in our classroom."

Support Our Journalism

Support journalism that informs, inspires and fosters engagement. Be a Source Member today.

Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie@richlandsource.com