With issues still looming—and the board of education and preparing to move toward fact finding—several people spoke out at Tuesday's board of education meeting about the ill will they see being directed toward the teachers.
"The staff is the best, and they rose to the occasion and showed up every day to foster learning potentials," said Terri Yessman, a parent of three children in the district. "They've remained loyal to the children and to the district, and for that I'm thankful."
"With that said, where is your loyalty?" she asked the board of education.
Those who spoke emphasized that cuts have caused a lot of additional stress for teachers dealing with larger classrooms, less materials and more. But, they said, they have continued to work hard for the children.
"It has now become a juggling act, which is not good," said second grade teacher Kelly Hadfield. "This has spread us thin, and has pulled us in so many different directions."
Yessman said she remembers listening to the talks about the initial budget cuts about three years ago, and sat through a session about how the district would handle its financial issues.
"Monumental cuts were made, and demands on the Bridgewater staff increased exponentially," she said. "The staff has been busting their backsides."
But with a contract that expired in June 2011, negotiations began mediation in December, and have now declared that they will start fact finding after a decision concerning salary, health benefits and time working could not be agreed upon.
"Please take a second to reflect on what is fair and equitable," Yessman said. "You have the ability to go back to the table."
"My children are who they are because they spend seven hours a day with these teachers," she added.
Hadfield, who said she has wanted to be a teacher since she was 7 years old, said she knows that in Van Holten, there are already teachers working on the day's activities at 7 a.m., and many are still planning for the next day at 6 p.m.
"Preps are being used to the fullest, and lunches are being used for work," she said. "We bring stacks of papers home."
But now, Hadfield said, with up to 25 students crammed into classrooms that are not comfortable enough to fit them, there are growing needs from the students, and some of this is making the teaching less effective.
"I never thought as a teacher, I would have to put up with so much disrespect from people who claim to have thought of the students first," she said.
And, Hadfield said, she recognizes that she has never seen members of the school board actually in the schools.
"In the six years I have been in the district, I don't believe I have seen one of you wandering the hallways, popping into classrooms, and being interested in the great things happening in the schools," she said. "The board needs to realize how lucky you are to have schools filled with such dedicated educators."
A 2007 graduate also spoke before the board, saying how much time he believes the teachers have put toward working with the students.
"I see how much time and effort they put into educating the children," he said. "I think they're undervalued and underappreciated, and I think this needs to be taken into consideration. The climate they're under is unfair."
But now, as negotiations continue, Hadfield said, she hopes the board of education gets involved to really see how teachers work, and that that could move the process forward.
"You need to start becoming part of the education process, instead of making decisions and judgments from the sidelines," she said. "Open your minds to the fact that we both want the same thing. We want a district filled with confident, happy students."