ITHACA, N.Y. — About 20 teachers walked out of Belle Sherman Elementary School after dismissal Friday, carrying signs demanding a new updated contract from the Ithaca City School District — something they have been without since August.

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Standing on the corner of Cornell and Mitchell streets, the teachers waved their signs: Honk for a fair contract. Recruit and retain. Teachers always go above and beyond for students & families!

“Unfortunately, we’re now in the middle of January and there has been no movement with the district,” said Adam Piasecki, president of the Ithaca Teachers Association.

Related: Hundreds rally to support Ithaca teachers in dispute with school district

He said the association did not organize the rally — nor did it organize several other similar rallies happening throughout the city for teachers Friday afternoon — but he said employees impacted by the expired contacts are demanding action.

Specifically, teachers and other full-time employees are asking for more competitive wages, continued health care and opportunities for personal development.

For instance, according to the association, first year teachers make less than teachers at 75 percent of districts of a comparable size. Teachers who have been with the district 26-35 years make less than those as 98 percent of other comparable school districts.

Teachers wave signs at a rally for updated contracts Friday afternoon in front of Belle Sherman Elementary School. Photo by Jolene Almendarez

Piasecki said the difference in pay, impacts the school and students directly.

For instance, he said about 35 of just over 580 permanent employees have retired or left the district this academic year.

He said there’s anecdotal evidence that the employees, in some cases, left after finding jobs with better salaries and benefits.

And those numbers don’t include, he said, people who are offered employment by the district and end up rejecting the employment the when jobs from other districts are offered to them.

“Teachers here move to other districts for better pay,” confirmed Nancy Thompson, a fourth grade teacher who has worked at the district for about 15 years.

She said that creates a lack of consistency at the schools and hinders long-term collaboration among educators and administrators.

But she said pay and benefits aren’t the only things that motivated her to speak out against the expired contract.

She said that for her, the movement is tied to the community. She lives in the district and her kids went to school there.

“I plan to stay,” she said. But she said she wants to speak up with her colleagues, some of whom make salaries that leave their own children eligible for free or reduced lunch within the district.

Randi Beckman, a first grade teacher who has been with the district since 1983, said she doesn’t know exactly how the district should reallocate funding for teachers. But she said that just like it’s a teachers’ job to teach, it’s the district’s job to find a way to pay employees a fair wage.

Piasecki said this kind of divide between the district and employees is not uncommon, despite months long negotiations.

Teachers also worked with expired contracts in 2011 and that stalemate lasted until about the end of the academic year. A similar incident occurred in the early 2000s.

“This stuff takes time” he said. “We would like an acknowledgment that they would like to resolve this as well.”

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.