MISHAWAKA, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has learned the Penn Harris Madison school corporation used extreme intimidation tactics in order to procure a passing vote on salary and pay negotiations after failing to pass the administration’s proposal on multiple occasions. The negotiations involved Educational Services Personnel (ESP), which make up approximately 150 employees in the district. RNM has learned PHM administrators targeted and shamed specific employees in a mass email to the entire district in order to get the result they sought.
While the ESP employees are not represented by a union, they do collectively bargain by voting as a whole when it comes to employment agreements. A proposal by the PHM administration to raise pay for the next two years was voted down twice by the employees — and, with no changes to the proposal being made at all, miraculously passed with 86% approval on a third vote. However, as RNM has discovered, it appears support for the proposal has not changed. So, what did?
The first vote on the proposal took place on October 4th, in person, with a unanimous NO vote. The administration was unhappy with the result and decided to submit the same exact proposal weeks later to all ESP personnel for a vote using Google Forms. With 97 employees responding, they once again voted down the proposal with more than 62% voting NO.
The very next week, PHM sent out another Google Forms vote. This time the proposal passed with 86% voting YES. However, only 82 employees responded (15 less than before). So, what happened?
On October 31st, just days after the second NO vote on the proposal, the PHM administration sent an email to ALL of the district’s employees, not just ESP personnel. The email included a slideshow which bashed ESP personnel for not accepting the proposal being offered. The slideshow also singled out three specific employees for being unreasonable.
PHM Superintendent Jerry Thacker claimed the email was sent to clear up “misinformation” about the proposal. However, it’s clear in comments made by ESP staff, there’s nowhere near 86% support.
GOOGLE FORMS COMMENTS
RNM has obtained the Google Forms document used for voting on the proposal. The document gives space for comments. Multiple YES votes include comments from personnel showing the only reason they voted YES was because they had been intimidated into doing so. Below are some of the comments from YES votes.
“This is disheartening to say the least. I vote yes because I have bills that need paid.”
“I’m not really in favor, but it’s better than nothing.”
“We initially voted no because everything ESP asked for were denied to us. We feel ignored and not valued. What is being proposed is what everyone else is getting and should not be denied to one of the few groups that does not have a union.”
“I am voting yes this time only because I fear that we will get no raise at all. This was not a negotiation and I find it horrible to email the entire corporation and try to portray our board members as opportunists! This is extremely unprofessional on the part of administration! A plan should be put in place to continue discussion regarding the other items we wanted to discuss during negotiations.”
“Thank you for the 5% and 3% but our ESP Group deserves more. Please think about the requests from the ESP Group – NOT JUST THE 3 PEOPLE YOU TARGETED IN YOUR EMAIL TO THE PHM CORPORATION – and compensate them for their work.”
“I am voting yes, not because I feel that this is a fair offering but because it seems that negotiating is not an option this year.”
“I am voting yes, but only because I fear that if I don’t, I will be passed up for any opportunity of ANY perk… We have worked very hard for a very long time. We deserve better.”
WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?
While PHM has attempted to frame the negotiations around the ESP group being dissatisfied with a 5% raise this year and 3% raise next year, that is not the case. ESP was requesting a modests increases in pay for when they’re required to act as Substitute Teachers in classrooms and annual stipends, among other things.
ONE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER PUSHES BACK
While the agreement was supported by nearly the entire board, one member did push back and voice his opposition. Board Member Matt Chaffee gave an impassioned speech in opposition to the agreement at the November 13th board meeting. You can watch video of that below.
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