“We want justice” — 145 teachers at the Lexington School for the Deaf spelled out in American Sign Language on Tuesday afternoon after contract negotiations hit an impasse and they took to the front of the school to protest.
The teachers, all members of the New York State United Teachers union, began negotiations at the end of May, but when their contract officially ended on Aug. 31, the group had still not reached an agreement with the administration.
Then on Tuesday the highers-up said they would no longer talk about the issue.
That’s when the teachers left, all dressed in black, and stood in front of the Jackson Heights school at 30th Avenue and 75th Street.
“We are making them uncomfortable like they have been making us,” said teacher Steven Schneiderman.
The administration of the Lexington School for the Deaf did not return phone calls for comment before press time.
Schneiderman, a social studies teacher for sixth through eighth grades, has worked at the school for seven years and attended the school himself since he was 3. He said the talks have not been fair.
According to the employees, the school wants its teachers to work more hours without extra pay and match health insurance payments, something the employees have never had to do.
Daryl Lasher, a technology teacher at the school for 19 years, said they would be open to contributing to healthcare if they saw an increase in salary.
“We haven’t had a pay increase for five years,” Lasher said.
At public school the teachers would be paid more, according to Lasher adding the average starting salary at Lexington is $45,000 and is on average capped at $80,000.
According to 2008 data from the Department of Education, a teacher at a New York City public school starts at a salary of between $45,500 to $75,800, depending on experience and schooling. The cap is set at $100,049.
The employees estimate that a 1 to 2 percent pay increase for all teachers would amount to about $250,000. Teachers who started in 2008 have never seen their pay increase.
Whether the school is facing financial difficulties is up in the air, teachers say. Last year employees were told the school was operating on a deficit, but by June it had a surplus.
“We don’t know what to think,” Lasher said.
Karen Gonzalez, a 30-year veteran of the school, said, “ I absolutely love Lexington, but this has caused a lot of pain. We’ve never had to fight like this.”
Students, grades K-12, don’t come back to class until Monday.
The teachers said they don’t plan to disrupt class.