This story was updated on Nov. 30 to reflect another day of virtual learning for Pike Township students due to the teacher shortage.
Around 2,700 people have signed an online petition calling on Pike Township School district’s Superintendent Flora Reichanadter to resign.
This comes amid numerous learning disruptions as bus drivers and teachers advocate for higher pay raises. Since Sept. 27, some students have been required to switch to virtual or remote learning for five days and faced one day of school closures. High schoolers had an additional two days of virtual learning due to a bus driver shortage.
“Somebody needs to take responsibility for this crisis that is in overload right now,” Jennifer Rubenstein, a Pike parent and creator of the petition, said. “And if this is the way that we can get it handled — and handled fair and equitably — then this is the way that it needs to be done.”
In a text message before the Thanksgiving holiday, a spokesperson for the district did not directly address the petition when asked for a comment.
“We are still in the process of negotiating teacher contracts and therefore we do not want to compromise the process,” the spokesperson said. “We value our teachers and the critical role they play in providing exceptional learning opportunities.”
Earlier this month, the district and Pike Classroom Teachers Association failed to reach an agreement on a new compensation packaged by the state's deadline. The district offered the union $2.3 million, or an average of 4.6 percent, in pay increases. But PCTA rejected that offer and asked for $3.5 million in compensation increases. On Nov. 16 the district began mediation with the teacher’s union to reach a deal.
In a recent Facebook message to the community, Reichanadter said the district is also finalizing the details of the bus drivers’ contract and provided additional information about a stipend payment that will be applied to the bus drivers' paycheck this week.
“My hope is that moving forward, we can all continue to focus on our shared desire to provide the children of Pike Township with the outstanding educational opportunities and experiences they deserve,” Reichanadter wrote.
Parents of the district’s roughly 11,000 students have shown support for teachers and bus drivers during public meetings, and have voiced frustrations with the school district on social media. Community members have advocated for the district to raise teacher pay over concerns that educators in their ‘middle years’ — teachers who have roughly five to 25 years of experience — will move to other school districts that are offering higher pay.
Rubenstein has two daughters — a sixth grader and third grader in the district. She said switching back and forth between in-person and online learning has been hard for her kids who thrive on consistent schedules.
“They're obviously struggling a little bit with just being able to catch up with the work,” Rubenstein said. “Because one day we have in-person, one day we don't have in-person. And as we know from COVID, the non in-person, e-learning days definitely do not translate as well as what in-person do.”
Rubenstein said she hopes the petition for Reichanadter to resign will lead to some change. The petition was published Nov. 16 on Change.org.
“We want things to become better,” Rubenstein said. “We know Pike school systems are better than what is happening right at this moment.”
Rubenstein said if the teachers union and bus drivers negotiate a contract that they’re happy with, “then there's no reason for us to keep the petition up.” But she and other parents will continue to push the superintendent and school board members to implement changes.
School districts across the country have also experienced staff shortages, including teacher and substitute teacher shortages, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NPR reported other issues around mental health concerns and student behavior is also contributing to closures.
The next Pike Township school board meeting is 7 p.m. Dec. 9.
Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.