Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tad Larson's statement to the School Board 1-13-14

Good evening Madame Chair and members of the Board.  Thank you for your time and service dedicated to the School Board.  Thank you for the opportunity for public comment.  My name is Tad Larson and I’m here as a citizen and tax payer to support the teachers efforts to settle their contract. 

My family has a long history of supporting the education system in our community.  My great-great grandfather, Henry Hill, donated the land that this very building sits on.  My children represent the sixth generation of my family to go through our local schools.  We choose to live here because of the priority placed on the education system and the public services that make this such a great community to live in, work in and raise a family. 

Our community supported a bond when the economy was going down hill because we believe in the teachers.  We did this to provide proper facilities, retain our current staff and encourage new staff to teach here.

I’m here to encourage you to settle the teacher’s contract now and not wait for a mediator.  I understand the building administrators and District Office administrators were already given a raise.  That seems backwards since these two groups are actually closer to market value than our teachers and classified staff.

I also understand that the last offer from the District Office included a pay raise, which is long overdue.  This raise means very little if the teachers health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses increase at the same time.  I’ve been told by teachers that there is a priority on classroom size from the District Office.  While classroom size has been a legitimate issue for years, I find this hard to take seriously when the District Office just closed one of our elementary schools. 

I work for a public employer with a multi-million dollar budget.  We have to answer to the public as well and we can’t in good conscience give ourselves raises before contracts are settled.  I know personnel costs are the largest expense in most operations.  Personnel are also our biggest asset.  We need to keep the great teachers we have in our community.  The only way to ensure that they stay is to compensate them at market value.  Any of our teachers could work in a neighboring district less than 30 miles away and have a salary and benefits package that’s worth more than 10,000 dollars per year.

I don’t think that taking this to mediation will be good for our community when you have the ability to settle it now.  Mediation will only prolong the outcome and raise questions with the community about why it took so long.  If the mediator favors the teachers proposal it looks bad for the decision makers at the District Office.  If they mediator favors the District Office’s proposal it could lead to a strike.  A strike is a lose/lose for everyone.  If a strike does occur, most of the community will side with the teachers.  Parents and grandparents will be frustrated when you can’t keep the schools open during a strike.  The tax payers will lose trust with how their money is managed. 

In the past few years it’s been easy for public employers to not provide increases to salary and benefits based on their ability to prove lack of revenue.  That’s not the case lately.  Most public employers have been settling contracts with increases because revenue is up.  In years past, the teachers and the community understood why there weren’t increases when revenue was down.  Now the teachers and the community don’t understand why the revenue isn’t being reinvested in salary and benefits. 

Please settle contract now and don’t put the teachers and the community through the mediation process.  You are all professionals and we think that it’s reasonable to offer a contract that puts our teachers back in line with the market value. 

Steve Love, you represent my area of the community.  Please take this issue into the executive session with the rest of the Board and try to resolve this before it gets any worse. 

Thank you all for your time!

Rachel Duncan's letter to the School Board 1-13-14

Dear Members of the Board and Community,

I am sorry that I cannot attend this important meeting tonight, but I am at the limit of hours and energy that I can expend for the day.

This weekend I spent 12 hours organizing and playing in a band for a function that our Central H.S. choir was invited to perform at, I wrote 2 formal recommendation letters for senior scholarships, prepared a new syllabus for a new college-level course at the high school next semester, and got a whooping cough immunization. Today I used my lunch break to drive to West Salem and let my dog out so that I could stay after school and volunteer to play the piano for our upcoming all-grades musical, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I love doing all these activities to support our students.

But I have had an 11-hour day today, and it’s not unusual at all. It’s not unusual to use my weekends to chaperone retreats, support the theatre program and choir, grade 8 hours worth of papers at a time, and spend my own money in the process. In the first 4 weeks of school I logged 60 hours of extra work for the school, and about $200 worth of supplies that were necessary for my students and work here, like planners for 10th-12th graders. I’m now at $670 for the year, and we’re not through with semester 1.

And I am not alone in this. This is the pattern for the vast majority of teachers and even staff in this district. And we are exhausted from overwork and underpay, not to mention the ongoing disrespect of going 197 days without an acceptable contract.

I am sorry that I cannot be here in person tonight, wearing my red shirt with my colleagues.

I’m sorry I cannot be here in person to express the abominable way we have been promised year after year the very things we’re standing up for now:
that that basic costs of living increase would continue after freezes,
that our salaries would be commensurate with other districts our size,
that actual time with students would be increased again,
that acceptable class sizes would come to fruition.

I am sorry that you can’t seem to hear us when we keep reminding you that you assured us everything would return to normal as soon as  possible after we’ve already suffered cuts, furloughs, reductions in force and giant classes for 4 years. The budget outlook is the best it’s been in years, and yet we still wait.

I am sorry I cannot be here in person tonight to show you my fatigue over this issue.

But most of all, I’m sorry that I cannot be here in person to somehow further prove to you that we care about our contract.  I’m sorry that you don’t seem to believe our union reps, who we elected, and who speak for us in this regard. I’m sorry that you seem to need a mass showing and wasting of hours by hundreds of people before you will take us seriously. I know I don’t have time for that—I’m busy working harder than ever.

I’m sorry that you think we aren’t for real until you see our fatigued and appalled faces. I’m sorry that your dragging heels on the issue of this contract continues to take a toll on my health, and on the joy I usually feel in volunteering for our students.
But most of all, I’m sorry to our students, who need more days, more time, smaller classes, and above all, the surety of a qualified, stable, long-term district teaching staff who doesn’t move on or fail to apply in Central 13J in the first place over poor teaching salaries, benefits and treatment.