Ankeny school board meeting recap: June 19

Teachers share concern about contract negotiations


Alissa Hansen

The Ankeny school board had its meeting on Monday, June 19. In addition to finance approvals and facilities requests, some district employees spoke out regarding contract negotiations. “Hundreds of teachers show up at these school board meetings in hopes that a message will be delivered to you. However, the lack of questions being asked from your end only perpetuates the problem,” Centennial High math teacher Dana Degeeter said. Centennial High language arts interventionist Kelcy Lofgren expressed frustrations with the board process. “School board meetings were not moved to a larger venue when space was available to accommodate teachers who wanted to attend,” Lofgren said. “These actions signal that employees and employee voices are not valued.”

Vivian Wu, Web/Print/Multimedia Editor; Videographer

Over 20 parents and teachers filled the seats of the spectators’ area on Monday, June 19, at the Ankeny Community School District school board meeting held at 406 SW School St. in Ankeny. A number of teachers publicly spoke out on behalf of contract negotiations, which came to a close last month. 

 The board meeting began with the standard procedure of a call to order, an approval of the agenda, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. The board then opened communication to the public. The first speakers, Heather Stephenson and Matt Stephenson, spoke on behalf of the Ankeny Wrestling Club regarding the use of facilities.

“I just wanted to thank you for allowing the Ankeny Wrestling Club to participate in the community, and we ask that you continue to do that through any policy changes that we have,” Ankeny Wrestling Club Vice President Matt Stephenson said. 

Following these comments, several teachers took to the podium to express opinions following contract negotiations. 

“I feel like the circle of trust has been broken and teachers are leaving Ankeny in record numbers,” Centennial High language arts interventionist and parent Kelcy Lofgren said. “For the first time in my 30 years in the district, I feel that teachers have been made to feel expendable.”

Centennial High math teacher Dana Degeeter has been with the Ankeny School District for three of his 20 years in teaching.

“We need you to start asking questions,”Degeeter said “Why are hundreds of teachers showing up at school board meetings? Why has Ankeny seen over 70 teachers leave annually from the school district in the last two years? Why are teachers ratifying the contract if they aren’t happy? For starters, we don’t have a choice.”

Degeeter opened up about his family’s financial situation. 

“My family’s rent has increased by 26 percent. Grocery bills for our family have increased by over 20 percent,” Degeeter said. “My pay, when looking at both salary and benefits, has increased by 2.6 percent over the last three years.”

This has had a large impact on Degeeter’s personal life as well as his teaching, he says.

“For the first time in my life, my family has one vehicle for our entire family of five. I often work 11-14 hour days and a part time job to cover this extreme difference. And I don’t get to spend time with my kids.,” Degeeter said. “What does this mean for our students here at Ankeny? It means I can no longer volunteer to sponsor clubs [or] coach sports. It means I can’t use my weekends and summer to improve the curriculum instruction for our students. The students receive a significantly less version of me, their teacher.”

Centennial instructional coach, U.S. history teacher, and parent Jason Dagel has been with the Ankeny School District for 21 years. Dagel compared the school district’s current situation to its bright past.

“In the past, the district and administration worked together in negotiations through trust, collaboration, [and] transparency to make sure the education of students was protected in whatever we implemented,” Dagel said.

Dagel expressed his disappointment in the recent changes with the negotiations process. 

“You cannot in seriousness simultaneously say, ‘We support teachers and have recruitment retention of talented staff as a pillar of the strategic plan,’  while working to deny them rights that have been in place for more than 40 years,” Dagel said. 

Among these changes are the removal of guaranteed employee leave rights and the removal of the safety committee. 

“It is disheartening to know that the employee leave rights that were previously guaranteed in the contract have been moved to the benefits summary where they can be changed and are no longer protected,” Lofgren said. “It is disheartening that the safety committee was also removed from the contract and therefore could be disbanded at any time when school shootings and student outbursts are an issue.”

Teachers urged the school board to collaborate. 

“It is disheartening to know that rather than sitting at the table and negotiating collaboratively, the district elected to use a caucus bargaining approach in which teams sit in different rooms and simply respond to one another without considering the why behind proposals,” Lofgren said.

Centennial High math teacher, Carlos Aldape-Sandmeyer, has been in the district  for three years. Aldape-Sandmeyer spoke about his first impressions of the teachers in Ankeny.

“There was a clear message from my conversations with my department and in building-wide professional development: Ankeny believes collaborative culture across the district is the most effective for student learning,” Aldape-Sandmeyer said.

With Dagel stepping down as Ankeny Education Association’s chief negotiator, Aldape-Sandmeyer will be stepping up to take his place.

“Within this school year I’ve grown concerned that the culture described so far is no longer Ankeny’s reality,” Aldape-Sandmeyer said. “The same teachers that thought of Ankeny as their career destination are now looking into other places of employment, whether that be in another school district or in another career where they can expect transparency with their contract and feel as though their perspective is valued when decisions are being made.”

Aldape-Sandmeyer offered his advice to the board.

“There is a way for you to still keep the staff that are currently looking for other places of employment,” he said. “They’re waiting for you, as members of the board, to step up and encourage that we engage in a collaborative process during negotiations in order to create a contract that reflects what is best for both the district and the teachers.”

Some Ankeny School District employees say that a better contract will produce better results for the students of Ankeny. 

“You need to fix [the system],” Dagel said. “Ankeny’s kids and future require it of you. At a time when Ankeny should be at the peak of competitiveness in the job market, we’re positioned instead as the pariah.”

Aldape-Sandmeyer reminded the board the importance of a contract.

“Our contract is the foundation of the culture that you all wanted your children to experience,” Aldape-Sandmeyer said.

Lofgren shared a quote from Leaders Eat Last, a book she read for her work on the Instructional Learning Team. 

“When a leader embraces their ability to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will see to it that the leader’s vision comes to life,” she said.

Degeeter asked for collaboration and support from the board to conclude his public speech at the meeting.

“Please help us so we can help the kids. This is, after all, why we went into teaching in the first place,” Degeeter said. “It is time for the community and the school board to see what is actually happening. We need your help.”

Open communication to the public concluded with almost all members of the public exiting the meeting. Where before, around 30 people were sitting in chairs, now eight seats were filled.

The school board meeting continued smoothly. Members of the board unanimously motioned and approved various finances. The meeting concluded at 6:30 p.m.