STATELINE - "Are you guys on strike?" a Kingsbury Middle School student asked picketing teachers on Tuesday.
"No," another girl whispered. "They're just saying how they feel."
Kingsbury teachers Dennis O'Connor and Cathy Ricioli joined Douglas County Education Association President Marty Cronin in a protest against the school board.
Signs reading "Books not bureaucrats" and "No more rubber stamp board" are the first O'Connor has ever carried.
"The reason I'm willing to carry a sign after working (in the district) for 21 years is because our morale is shot," O'Connor said. "Schools work because of the morale of the teachers."
According to O'Connor and other Kingsbury teachers who asked to remain anonymous, the issue is not necessarily salary, but increased work loads and poor working conditions.
A district-proposed cutback in sick days, doubled paper work and not enough prep time were a few of the complaints made by O'Connor, Ricioli and others.
"Paperwork takes teachers away from students," said O'Connor. "The paperwork has already been doubled and now they (the district) want to double it again. It's bureaucracy run amuck."
Paperwork includes a Personal Education Plan for each student who is either above or below average as well as parent conferences for each of those students within the first 40 days of school, according to O'Connor.
Assistant Superintendent John Soderman offered a look at things from the other side of the table.
"There are some things in negotiations we believe haven't been dealt with appropriately," Soderman said. "The teachers left the (negotiation) table, we didn't. To expect a contract when you've left and haven't countered any of the district's proposals and not let the district counter any of yours. ... They haven't even listened to what we might be able to do."
According to Cronin, four negotiation meetings, (the required amount) have already been completed, allowing arbitration as the next step.
Soderman said that while four meetings have taken place, they were spent drafting ground rules, not actually negotiating proposals.
"We don't believe that ground rules are negotiations," Soderman said. "The district doesn't think we should go to arbitration, because there haven't been enough negotiation meetings."
Cronin said the negotiation process was ineffective.
"We have been unable to open effective lines of communication with the district and board through the negotiation process," he said.
So where will contract negotiations go from here?
"What we have now is our lawyers bargaining, not us, and that's not good," Soderman said. "Since (the teachers) left negotiations, if they have an idea of what it will take to get back to the table, they should let us know."
O'Connor said board members have to make a greater effort to communicate with the teachers.
"They need to be around more and see what's going on," he said. "The administrators need to take a more evenhanded approach."