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Lack of progress on Hammond teacher contract holding up approval of school calendar

Hammond Teachers Federation President Louis Gikas speaks during the Feb. 20 school board meeting.
screenshot from School City of Hammond YouTube video
Hammond Teachers Federation President Louis Gikas speaks during the Feb. 20 school board meeting.

The stalemate over the Hammond teachers contract is becoming a stalemate over the school calendar. The school board tabled the proposed 2024-2025 calendar for the second time Tuesday, after members of the Hammond Teachers Federation complained that they weren't part of the process.

Federation President Louis Gikas said union members find it hard to take part in committee work, when they don't know what the future holds for their contract. "The union actually views the intent by your administration as a workaround or a bypass to the union, and we wonder if they want to continue to work collaboratively or not," Gikas told board members.

One major sticking point is synchronous eLearning days, where teachers and students hold class in real-time but remotely. Superintendent Scott Miller wants to do away with those, and if classes are canceled, make them up in-person.

"Our PSAT scores, they were single-digit," Miller noted. "Our kids need to be in-person and learning. That's my recommendation."

But teacher Robin Bellamy argued that the problem wasn't with synchronous eLearning itself, but School City of Hammond's requirement that teachers be at their computer for the whole day, even if their students aren't. "Instead, I took benefit days," Bellamy told board members. "I don't want to sit in front of a blank computer for six hours."

Still, Miller said he made adjustments to other parts of the calendar, after getting feedback from about 60 staff members.

Board member Cindy Murphy questioned what else there was left to discuss. "The reason to get the calendar out is that people need to start doing things for next year," Murphy said. "This is schedules for sports. This is schedules for the ACC, and even for extracurricular academics."

As for the contract itself, teacher Christopher Howard said teachers recognize that the district is in a financial emergency, but administrators aren't as willing to communicate as they used to be. "Since the last contract proposal, we've heard nothing — no emails to the School City of Hammond family, no responses to public comments here, just what we hear in the rumor pill, podcasts and in the local media," Howard told board members.

Rev. Homer Cobb, president of the Hammond branch of the NAACP, also weighed in, saying his organization stands with teachers. But he also stressed that the issue was larger than just the city of Hammond.

"If anybody will go on IN.gov, they'll begin to realize that, when you go under "education," that there's a continual battle, an onslaught against public education," Cobb said.

He encouraged school leaders to come up with creative ideas for saving money, like installing solar panels on schools.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.