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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Are We Really Compromising?

I wrote this blog post back in the middle of June--and if blogger is the same as it used to be, it might even show that post date when I hit "publish," even though it's now July 19th-- but I ended up holding off on posting it because I hadn't had a chance to vote on the contract yet, I was in the process of getting answers to a few questions about it, and because I wasn't sure if part of my issues with the contract were because I still have a bad taste in my mouth about everything that's happened since February. However, in re-reading it tonight (about a month later), I still feel the same way as I did when I wrote it, so I'm posting it.

For the record, this contract was accepted by both our teacher's union, and the school board, so it reflects the contract we ended up getting.

Part of my issue at the time I wrote it--and something that still bothers me a bit--was that, as a union, we were encouraged to vote to accept it; we were told that it was likely the best we were going to get with the current economic climate, and that it was a decent contract under the circumstances. Now, I believe that our union wouldn't try to guide us down a bad path, so if they said this was the best we were going to get, maybe it really was. But then, another part of me thought: that's bollocks. We're wussing out. I felt sort of let down and out of the loop. I understand they can't keep all of the members in on every stage of negotiations for myriad reasons, but not knowing what went on behind the scenes and what was tossed out and compromised and all of that during the process requires a lot of trust. And frankly, if this is the best we could get, that's kind of sad.

The mediator's report for the possible new teacher contract was released last night at the school board meeting. It was the first I'd seen it because, despite being a union member in good standing, since I'm out on maternity leave (and, if not that, then I'd still be out on suspension), I apparently don't get to know about anything going on with the negotiations unless I seek out the information. Plus, I only get to know what the newspaper shares with the public, as if this isn't my own contract that's in question here.

Regardless, of what I do know about it, I have some serious concerns.

First, there's way too much in the way of pay freezes, and too slow a movement upward in the pay salary. We've already been frozen this year, and people would continue to be frozen until a pay increase in July 2012. Then there's another freeze for 18 months. In a time when, at the least, the superintendent is still receiving bonuses and cost of living increases, and merit pay, and an annuity and car allowance and the like--and who is decidedly NOT frozen--it seems quite unfair and ridiculous that so many people are being asked, nay, expected to take freezes and cuts.

Second, there's an increase to health insurance costs which are supposed to go into effect this July. It seems only fair that, if teachers aren't getting salary increases, they shouldn't have their premiums raised until they're making more money.

Thirdly, and what seems the most glaringly problematic to me, was the proviso that teachers' salaries will be frozen if they receive an 'unsatisfactory' on their annual evaluations, and that 2 'unsatisfactory' ratings result in termination. It seems like an awfully easy way to save money if there's a district shortfall, or to get rid of teachers who are at the top of the pay scale (or who are thorns in the district's sides). After all, these evaluations are pretty subjective. I do not doubt that it would happen. In fact, I happen to know of places where it HAS happened.

Don't get me wrong--I don't have a problem with evaluations. Pretty much everyone in the world is subject to evaluations--students in school, people in the work world--I get it. It's a good check to be sure everyone is still sharp. But to tie the pay to it when the district is constantly trying to save a buck, and to have the fingers of the upper level admin (aka, building admin) performing those evaluations, sounds like a recipe for a whole bunch of new teachers coming in at the lowest level of the pay scale. To me, agreeing to this is weakening our already-weak stance, and opening the door to a place that we don't want to be.

Some district official tried to say this is the opposite of merit pay, because it penalizes teachers for poor performance. Bull. Semantics.

The public touts the importance of teachers doing things with students in mind. They say it should be all about the students. But, I ask, what about the teachers' lives and livelihoods? Should they be doing their jobs for next to nothing? Should they have to worry about providing for their own families? No matter how many teachers love the students and want what's best for them and love what they do, it IS still a job, after all, and something for which they should be compensated fairly. And, though unions tend to get a bad rap, there is a need for them in some industries. Why? Because there needs to be some ability to collectively bargain so they don't end up working for peanuts. Teachers aren't trying to bilk the system. They're just trying to--like every other worker in the free world--get compensated fairly for their work.

This contract as proposed has elements in it that move toward taking away those rights. I'm very concerned that through our effort to compromise, we are compromising ourselves.


  1. So, basically, you're now in the same boat as most of the people in this country:
    1. Your salary is being frozen.
    2. You're paying more for health insurance.
    3. You can get screwed by your employer if they're in the right mood.

    No one doubts the importance of teachers, but if you don't think you're being compensated fairly, you are sorely mistaken. In my opinion, you made a very fair salary based on your years of service; not to mention you had a huge jump in salary between 2007-08 and 2009-10 (over 15%).

    1. Randal; if you are still reading these comments, I would appreciate a response to the following.

      Just how much should a teacher be paid? What should be the salary criteria? Should social science and geography teachers be paid the same amount a physics/maths/chemistry teachers?

      How many years of University study are required to become a teacher, ie, before you can apply for a position?

      What should the entry level salary be for a new teacher? Should it be the same everywhere in the US or should it vary by region/location?

      If this salary level does not attract the sort of qualified applicants you are looking for, what is your strategy then? Or is it your argument that there are a huge number of qualified people in the teacher job market, just waiting for an opening, and salary level would not be a consideration?

      I only ask as you seem to have a particular view on what a suitable salary should be, and your response might be representative of a commonly held opinion.

  2. @ Randal-- The point of my post wasn't to complain about my own salary. It was to express my concerns over the trend in the contract for teachers in general, particularly in a teacher-hating climate (because, frankly, I think a lot of people doubt the importance of teachers, actually.)

    Finally, if you're referring specifically to my own pay jump between those school years (which ended up being about $60 a pay check), I earned my master's degree at that point, and that degree cost me upwards of $30,000 for the courses alone (and that's not including the cost of books & supplies, travel expenses, and my personal time spent on the coursework itself). Master's degrees are required for Level II Certification, and the districts can stipulate which programs they'll accept as "valid" institutions; they don't tend to take the less expensive ones.

    I'm still very much in the red where that is concerned.


  3. According to your district's website, you were eligible for tuition reimbursement for all credits up to your masters degree. Did you not take advantage of that, or are you claiming you spent $30,000 beyond what they reimbursed? Also, my wife is a Level II Certified teacher in a neighboring PA district and you only need Bachelor +24 to for Level II Certification, not a masters. The masters is ONLY for the pay bump.

  4. Yes, Bob, I am saying that I spent $30K on my Master's. There is a yearly cap of how much you can get reimbursed (usually around $1500, give or take $50), and I'd already earned some credits prior to being employed by the district. (Also, many of my colleagues who entered the field having already earned their their Master's did not even get the partial reimbursement.)

    Regarding the Level II Cert needing only Bachelor +24, as it turns out, you are correct. I actually found out about that yesterday at lunch with a friend when she was talking about applying for her own Level II Cert; she looked it up and read it to me. Until yesterday, it was my understanding that you *needed* the Master's degree. Regardless, since most Master's programs require 24-30 credits, it seems almost wasteful not to just get the Master's.

  5. How would you feel about getting paid for your masters only if the job requires it? How many K-12 teaching positions actually require a masters degree? The answer must be NONE since virtually every teaching job can be filled by a 21 year-old fresh out of college with a BA.

    1. Oh yes, indeed. Clearly, there's no difference in the quality of instruction provided by a random 21 year old fresh out of college with a B.A. in Business Administration and an experienced professional with a graduate degree in education. None at all. We ought just fire all the teachers with more than three years of experience and replace them with wet behind the ears college graduates... we'll save a fortune, and get the exact same results! Brilliance of the highest order.


    2. People like Joel Sears are representative of the enormous challenges public education faces. A staggering ignorance of education, schools and students. But extremely opinionated and possibly in a position of influence beyond this forum. How to overcome this mindset is something I have always found depressing as a teacher of twenty years.

      I applaud what you have written about class sizes. We had small classes in Australia and the success of our system is hard to argue with. The very reasons you have stated so well.

      The US will need to need to take off its blinkers or fall even farther behind. You need to have a serious and most importantly, informed, debate.

  6. Ms. Munroe,

    I applaud your convictions and character, and I encourage you to continue pointing at the emperor.

    There has never been a more accurate and legitimate portrayal of the "Truth hurts" scenario than your suspension.

    America's education system today is *PATHETIC* compared to what it once was. Kids flunking? Make the tests easier. Kids complain about homework? Eliminate homework so we don't damage their oh-so-prec­ious self-estee­m. School district lagging behind in minimum standards scores? Lower the minimum standards. The mean national IQ score in America for children ages 10-to-18 has dropped by 38 POINTS since 1970. It's the dumbing down of America and it's accelerati­ng at a stagnating pace.

    American school students ***ARE*** frightfull­y dim, disengaged­, lazy whiners, and the country's ranking THIRTY-SEV­ENTH among all civilized nations proves it. Ask an average American teenager what was the last novel they read voluntaril­y. They'll look at you like a monkey with a Sudoku puzzle. Ask them who Guy Montag is and they'll say he invented washing machines. Ask them to cite Pi to the fifth digit and they'll ask you what flavor.

    We *PRAISE* kids for MEETING THE MINIMUM REQUIREMEN­TS and treat it as though they'd just won a Mary P. Oenslager award. Passing the ludicrousl­y diminished national A.I.M.S. test is considered a *GOAL* instead of a mandatory minimum.

    American students *ARE* dim, and poorly exposed to traditiona­l, thought-pr­ovoking material, and they *ARE* encouraged to just get by.

    And any parent who thinks their child isn't *CONSIDERA­BLY* less intelligen­t than his or her 1950s counterpar­t is a frightfull­y dim, disengaged­, lazy whiners.

    While your blog's passion is education, and mine is politics, we both seem to be advocating the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not get away with it.

    Please continue your fight against intellectual mediocrity.

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