Farmington teachers wear red to protest stalled contract talks

Almost two years ago, Farmington Public Schools teachers appeared at a school board meeting wearing red t-shirts that called attention to an unsettled union contract.

On Tuesday, that sea of red appeared again, as staff and the district negotiators have reached another impasse. After adding five years to their pay scale and foregoing full step increases (compensation based on years of service) to help settle the last contract talks, teachers say they’ve sacrificed enough.

Farmington Public Schools board of education teachers
Farmington Public Schools teachers, wearing red t-shirts, filled the Board of Education meeting room Tuesday. (photo courtesy Zach Rich)

The sticking point this year is a full step increase in September. North Farmington High teacher Chris DeYonke told officials that if the district holds to its current stance, teachers with 11 years of experience will be paid the same salary as they would have been in 1994.

“That’s not inflation adjusted,” he said. “That’s fact. If they were to be granted a full step, they would only catch up to what teachers made in 1996.”

While he placed blame on state education funding, DeYonke said the district has enough funds to pay teachers a full step and still maintain a 12 percent fund balance at the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year. He pointed out that student enrollments have been higher than expected over the past two years.

“When you increased compensation for Central Office last summer, (Superintendent) Dr. (George) Heitsch said we’ve turned the corner, we’ve stabilized the economic situation, and I agree with that statement,” DeYonke said.

The Farmington Education Association (FEA) bargaining team is willing to meet prior to a scheduled August 28 bargaining date, DeYonke added, to settle the contract before the school year starts.

Hillside Elementary first grade teacher Mamie Giller said the FEA’s willingness to extend the pay scale and move step increases to February rather than September “was an immense savings to the district, and these major concessions were accepted with the sole intent of bringing the district back to financial stability.”

“I believe that this was a true testament of our good faith,” she said. “Even with a full step in September, not one teacher will reach the top of the pay scale in this new 15-year pay scale, on this third year. Not one.”

Before teachers spoke, Board of Trustees President Jim Stark said the district’s leadership is “working diligently on reaching an equitable agreement so that we can start the school year on a very positive note.”

“Nothing is more important to us than maintaining the balance between showing the support for our teachers and staff that you so richly deserve and demonstrating the fiscal responsibility invested in us by the community,” he said.