Monday, October 15, 2012

Wear Blue

While sharing my frustration with the current goings-on with our school district this morning, a friend leveled with me and suggested that maybe I need to move. She is worried that I am too unhappy here. And while I would certainly agree that living in a different climate, maybe a more affordable community, maybe just a change would be nice. Golly, getting on a plane about now and going on a real vacation would be fantastic! It won’t solve anything or take care of the fire that is left burning in my gut.
You see, the teachers in our district have been asked to take a hard freeze for a year, followed by two more years of incremental adjustments of various types that lower their salaries. [I stand corrected. I had previously stated that teachers were in the third year of a three year contract. This is not true. I misunderstood what was presented. Their contract ended in August. They were and are negotiating for a new contract. The new contract the board is offering involves paying teachers the rate that was agreed on for the third year of the previous contract (last year).] But the school board is hearing from other folks that the tax base wants the teachers to take a pay freeze and cut back even more on their benefits, etc. Despite lots of money being available for other large projects, all of a sudden, there is no money to honor the teachers’ contract.
That is the really brief version.
Geneva has really good schools and really good teachers. People move to Geneva for the schools. And then they don’t want to pay the teachers? I get it, none of us likes to pay much or more, we like to get things for cheap, get a great deal, a sale even. And yes, some people are still feeling the effects of the poor economy and think that teachers ought to as well. The problem with this thinking when applied to teachers is that you will not attract quality teachers if you are not offering a competitive salary. My husband’s district is highly competitive and even they have many good teachers who leave for better paying districts. He has seen a large number of his fellow teachers move away for better pay. Who wouldn’t? In any profession, people want to improve. We should want our schools to strive for the top, not become a district who ceases the hiring of highly qualified teachers simply because they cost more.
It has been pointed out that some teachers in Geneva make really good money. I won’t argue with that. If you look at a teacher who has a masters degree plus 30 more continuing education credits or a doctorate degree AND they have been teaching for 20+ years, they are going to be paid quite a bit of money. They have earned that. Just like in any other profession where you further your education and constantly work to improve your skill set. (Here is an interesting link to compare teacher contact time and pay around the world) I would hope that anyone arguing with this realizes that in most other professions, the ability to move up the ladder is much greater in the private sector, but having something similar in the teaching profession is of benefit to us as a society - saying that we value those people who invest their lives in the teaching of our kids.
And yes, I’d agree that the system is in need of adjustments and maintenance. The revamping or cutting of teacher tenure is on the tables all over the country and will no doubt be here soon. Basing teacher retention and pay on student performance is also becoming popular. Both of these ideas have their merits but need to be proceeded with cautiously, so as not to disrupt collaboration and camaraderie. But none of this is being discussed right now. I’m sure it will be here in the future; and as a teacher myself, I’m pretty much okay with these ideas.
The concern now is that of whether the contract that was agreed upon two years ago is honored for its final year, or that there is only money for the things and not for the people. (Here is a good source for answers to some common concerns about teacher compensation)
I respect the board (I even really like some of them!). I know their job is hard. I also (now) realize that they are basing their decisions on those voices that they hear the most. So unless they hear from those of us who support the quality teachers our kids have (October 22 at Coultrap - wear blue!), the assumption is made by our absence.
Please don’t assume that I don’t like Geneva because I speak up about these things. I care deeply (maybe too much?). I owe it to my kids to care about their future. While I would absolutely love to move to Oregon or New Zealand or Massachusetts someday, it just isn’t practical for us now. Traveling would be nice.