Two resource teachers leaving district for higher-paying positions

Two resource teachers leaving district for higher-paying positions

Zoe Frentzas, Chloe York, and Lulu Flavin

When students learned Mr. Ben Sullivan and Mr. Jim Mergl would be leaving their positions as resources teachers, they were left feeling stressed and confused.

Junior Kate Bienkowski says she was “absolutely shocked” when Mr. Mergl told her he was leaving. She credits him with “reigniting my love and confidence for math.”

“I had a brief moment of despair, as Mergs had been helping me with math since I was 14. And then I felt disappointment – the fact that  LFHS was letting this absolute gem of a human being leave was utterly disappointing,” she said. 

Mr. Mergl says he is disappointed that his job as a resource teacher did not translate to a traditional classroom position.

“When I started, it looked like I was actually on the career path to become a teacher. But that path evaporated, so whoever is coming out of college and sees this job, they need to let them know the motives so they know what the possibilities are for a career path,” he said. “Imagine you get your possible dream job that becomes a dead end job… that’s kinda how it felt. It would be to their advantage to build [a career path] for the next person in this job.”

While Mr. Sullivan took a better paying job at a lab, Mr. Mergl will be working in another school district that pays more. Mrs. Monica Wertz, president of the District 115 Union Support Staff, said the support staff is paid $19 an hour. Chaperoning Homecoming, Winter Formal, Prom or Graduation bring a higher hourly rate than working at a resource center at our school.

“People seemed to be underestimating the value of our support staff, and it really came to the surface during the pandemic. The support staff was in school while other staff and teachers were still at home,” she said.  “During the pandemic there was new appreciation for the support staff and it showed they are essential for our school district, but that has kind of faded and to some degree we feel underappreciated.”

Principal Dr. Erin Lenart said resource positions are “hard positions to fill,” but the new five-year contract put in place last spring leaves the administration with no options. The contract includes a base pay rate for each category of support staff. 

The temporary solution means sending one of the science teachers into the SRC during his or her free period, but there are times where the room is left empty because none of them are available. Students even received emails asking to help tutor other students in the SRC during their study hall in exchange for service hours. 

The lack of consistency in the resource center may be affecting students, said Environmental Science Teacher Mrs. Mary Beth Nawor.

“Mr. Sullivan was able to form relationships with students throughout the day because he was there every period, which made kids feel comfortable going to get help. Students may be reluctant to go get help when they see an unfamiliar face.” 

Resource teachers need expertise in many fields of science and math, which makes them especially valuable.

“The trouble staffing the SRC has a lot to do with the $19/hour pay. These are people that need to have expertise in all five science disciplines. Many of my students have jobs that are relatively unskilled and earn the same or nearly the same as the resource center teachers,” Nawor said. 

Senior Annie Swift says she makes more than $19 babysitting.

 “I was really shocked when I heard that the resource center teachers at our school are being paid less than I get paid babysitting. I don’t think it’s fair that their pay is far less than other teachers and even less than students at our school.”