Russell apologizes for ‘grown people’ comment at Center Grove meeting

A Center Grove school board member issued an apology for comments he made during a meeting earlier this month.

Center Grove Board of Trustees member Jack Russell made the comments during the Nov. 17 meeting, where about 60 teachers came to protest a vote to give administrators raises despite the United Teachers Association of Center Grove still being in negotiations with the school district on teacher contracts.

A motion to approve the administrative raises was met with jeers from the crowd of teachers.

“Just stop! Act like grown people!” Russell shouted toward the crowd.

Russell issued a written apology for his comments on Nov. 22.

“I would like to apologize to all of you for my negative words at the November board meeting,” Russell said. “My frustration is with the situation, not the individuals, nor was it representative of my fellow board members. I have the utmost respect for all teachers, especially our teachers in Center Grove. I hope my decades of service to Center Grove and great relationship with our teachers and staff will help you to forgive and move beyond this situation.”

Teachers association members were not happy with the apology, co-president David Lawson said.

“An apology was due, but it’s obvious Mr. Russell lashed out at teachers, who were advocating for themselves, each other and their students at the recent board meeting,” Lawson said in an email. “We do not believe he was simply frustrated ‘with the situation.’ Reviewing the video and listening to his words confirm that. And the fact he waited five days before issuing an apology suggests that genuine contrition was not really the motivation.”

The school year after Center Grove lost 50 teachers to non-retirement resignations, the two sides haven’t reached an agreement on teacher pay increases for the current school year. In October, the teachers association rejected a proposed 5.65% salary increase for teachers by a 91-16 vote. During their November meeting, the school board voted to approve the same percentage increase for administrators.

The increase translates to $3,167 for the median teacher, compared to a $6,667 raise for the median administrator, Lawson said.

While the proposed wage increase would raise starting teacher salaries to $46,015, teachers at Clark-Pleasant schools now make at least $47,000. At Greenwood schools, the least-paid full-time teacher makes $48,014.

With the impasse between the two sides, a mediator from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board is being sent to finalize a deal and look at funds that have yet to be allocated in a process called “fact-finding.”