MICHIGAN CITY — While many local teachers spent Tuesday asking state lawmakers to listen to their demands, including higher pay, their message was heard loud and clear back home.

During its meeting that night, the Michigan City Area Schools Board unanimously approved a new two-year contract with the Michigan City Education Association. Among the provisions of the agreement is $1.24 million worth of raises to corporation educators over the next several years.

The contract, which runs through June 2021, calls for a flat $3,000 salary increase for teachers for the 2019-20 school year, with a 2% raise the following year.

The school corporation will also raise the minimum starting salary for teachers from $37,982 to $40,000, and bump that figure up again to $40,800 for the 2020-21 school year.

The pay increase keeps MCAS' teacher compensation rates in line with those of the La Porte Community School Corporation, the other major district in the county, according to associate superintendent Wendel McCollum.

"We want to remain competitive so that we can retain our teachers and our students," he said. "This is definitely one way we can try to support that."

Mandy Chastain, president of the Michigan City Education Association, called it a "fair contract with what we have available" and said teachers ratified it easily.

She said one key element was to raise starting pay. "That was important to make the district competitive with others and to make it attractive to new teachers."

She said it should also help keep present teachers in Michigan City.

"Given the climate in education right now, there is a shortage of teachers, and we want to be able to keep our teachers ... They are caring, qualified and trained, and we want them to stay here teaching our children."

Other changes to the new contract include:

• Increasing the amount of paid leave time for maternity, paternity or adoption reasons from two to five days.

• Extending the district's retirement incentive, offering a $10,000 bonus over two years to qualified teachers who give retirement notice by March 15, 2020.

• Removing a provision that withheld teachers' stipends for summer profession development until the second pay period of the school year.

• Adding a requirement that teachers who receive an advanced degree stipend must work a full calendar year after getting the bonus. Those who leave before then must repay the allowance in full.

The contract ratification – which followed months of negotiations between the teacher's union and MCAS administrators – took place just hours after a massive teacher demonstration that took place that day in Indianapolis.

MCAS was among the nearly 300 school corporations across the state that suspended classes for Tuesday's rally, which allowed faculty members to lend their voices to the effort.

MCAS board member Deborah Chubb joined the local teachers on their trip to Indianapolis. She mentioned that the district ferried three busloads of educators to the rally during her remarks Tuesday evening. 

"It was really terrific," Chubb said. "Congratulations to the teachers for organizing that all over the state. I hope it has some impact on the legislature."

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