March 9, 2010 — I am one of the biggest advocates for the First Amendment. I absolutely love the debate of the letters to the editor section, especially when the debate is over something I wrote. Civilized dialogue is one of the backbones of this nation. We need to take pride in the fact that we can state our opinions without worry of government retribution, even when people misconstrue what someone is trying to say. Dialogue may take several attempts back and forth to reach a compromise.
There have been a few letters to the editor since I wrote about my observation and opinion on the board meeting when Susanna Blackwood, music teacher at Janesville School, received her pink slip. One Susanville teacher claims that I can’t have things two ways. I can’t be against a strong union and then complain a union is not strong enough.
I lost friendships five years ago over an editorial that was written by the editorial board because as a whole the staff wanted teachers to educate children and not threaten to strike and tell even the youngest students teachers were not getting fair wages.
Five years ago I agreed with the consensus of the editorial board that Susanville School Teachers Association was too demanding and not putting students first and now I, personally, chastised Janesville Teachers Association for not standing by one of its own. The teacher who is questioning my back and forth opinion has a right to his opinion, but the way I see it, teachers are not the problem, unions are.
The issue is that unions as a whole do not put students first. About five years ago the paper lambasted the STA for also not treating their teaching jobs as a vocation or calling. Another teacher called the paper and personally put me in my place and told me that teaching was his job not a calling. He never identified himself, though I recognized his voice, and he told me he would rather stand in a picket line and strike than give up a cost of living allowance or health benefits. For some reason, I felt a little betrayed. I can’t explain why. Maybe because I had heard the mantra that teachers wanted to help parents educate their children. I no longer thought that. My children were no longer young people who teachers wanted to educate and prepare for life, but a number on a checklist that may help them get a raise.
Mind you, I know some teachers are not like that but five years ago, my naïve blinders came off, but not all the way. When I went to the Janesville School Board meeting, I was still holding out that teachers wanted the best for students — a good music program.
I still contend that even if the Janesville Teachers Association saw no way out of the school’s financial mess, created by the state or by the school’s board, that the union president could have physically stood by Blackwood and said that the union didn’t want to see any teacher lose his or her job.
A Janesville teacher says my anger was misdirected and I should go after Sacramento. You better believe I will. But that evening was a snapshot in time and I was there to support a friend and a 25-year-old program. I will reiterate that hearing Joe Egan ask two or three times if anyone from JTA had anything to say and then hearing Blackwood say she had not heard from her union but she pays her dues was sad. I am still perplexed why the JTA president didn’t confidently stand when first asked and offer that he looked over the budget with the superintendent and he could see where to make cuts elsewhere, but he tried. It was simple loyalty.
I later learned one person, who spoke at the Janesville School Board meeting and said her son did not need music but needed a library and a computer lab, was a teacher at the school. I was even more perplexed.
Then, I ask why does Blackwood have to fund raise to keep her job? It seems ludicrous to me. Are other laid off teachers fund raising. I didn’t remember at the time, but in January we reported two other Janesville teachers were laid off. According to board members at other school districts, JSB can’t accept fundraising dollars to fund a teacher. I have to do more research on that one. I don’t want to see a trend starting the Sacramento says, “Hey, yeah, fund raise and then we don’t have to send you money.”
Last Wednesday, the Susanville School District Board took action to lay off 8.19 full time equivalent teacher positions or 10 teachers to make the March 15 deadline. That is also shameful and when the numbers from two schools reach a dozen, I do point fingers at Sacramento. Add in layoffs from the other county schools and we have a hemorrhage we all better stop it some how and I don’t think fund raising is the answer. Does anyone have any ideas? I sure don’t. I don’t think over zealous unions will help nor will the quiet ones. It is going to take a lot of voices telling Sacramento to get its priorities straight.
I told one teacher, who has a lot of seniority and is an awesome teacher who made a remarkable difference in my daughters’ lives that if he was on the chopping block, I would single him out in a column too. I can’t do it for everyone all the time. I wrote about Blackwood because first it’s music, then art, then other extracurricular, then we increase class sizes, then good teachers retire, then we hire poor teachers for less and less and then we cut cafeteria, janitors etc. School’s will look awful, are tagged with graffiti and the spiral continues and continues. Yes, sports will get cut, too.
Eventually we have a world of uneducated or undereducated and that is not what will turn the state’s economy around. And if the state doesn’t make education its top priority we will only have uneducated or undereducated young adults in our future.
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