I lost my job last week. I know that it’s happened to a lot of people, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me.
I’ve worked in Alaska and Washington State since 1983, teaching English, science, P.E. and art in middle and high school classrooms. The past two years I taught at TMHS. This year I was hired as a secondary instructional coach for the Juneau school district, assigned to work with teachers at JDHS and Yaakoosge Daakahidi. On Tuesday, I learned that my job had been cut from next year’s budget. I’m not too concerned about myself; I’ve got a strong track record, I’ve stayed involved in new initiatives and kept updating my education. I’ll land on my feet. But I am concerned about the future of the school district and the city of Juneau after it sends its educators packing.
I’m concerned about the loss of an assistant superintendent who has devoted her career to supporting our schools. I’m concerned about the loss of the coordinator for the EL, ESL, and elementary behavioral interventions program. I’m concerned about the loss of two assistant principals at the high schools; these are the people who take the weapons and drugs out of our school hallways, supervise the basketball games and answer the phone late at night when there’s been a car accident out the road. I’m concerned about the nurses and the students who line up daily in their offices, waiting for parents to come. I’m concerned about the maintenance and custodial workers (you think you’ve got snow to shovel?) the instructional aids and office staff. These job losses reflect real budgetary concerns, but they affect real people, your neighbors, your children’s classmates. Mostly I’m concerned about the teachers who will soon lose their jobs. Any teacher who was hired in the last three years is a teacher living in fear, a teacher looking for a new job elsewhere. If any of these teachers have helped your child, thank them while you’ve got the chance. And brace yourselves for the crowding in the classrooms of the teachers left behind.
I know it’s a tough economy. And the governor says he won’t support an increase in funding until he sees an increase in performance. I don’t agree with his assessment — much of the most important work teachers do doesn’t show up in standardized test scores. But I can relate to his sentiment. I expect students to show growth in order to improve their grades, and he wants to see test scores increase before he increases funding for schools. So it was hard for me to read this morning that James P. Gorman, the CEO of Morgan Stanley, just got a 9.7 million dollar bonus (on top of his $800,000 annual salary) after leading his firm through a year in which the value of its shares dropped by 44 percent. In the same year, Juneau students showed growth, and our teachers get pink slips. This is hard to understand in terms of financial incentives or economic realities.
But those aren’t the issues that matter. This isn’t about rich vs. the working class. It’s not about industry vs. the environment. It’s not about labor vs. management; though in a negotiation year, it may seem that way. It’s not about liberals vs. conservatives.
It’s about family. Schools support families. It’s possible for some people to school their own kids at home, but when it comes to the education of all of our children in Juneau, the job falls to the schools. When the schools thrive, our families thrive. When the schools suffer, our families suffer.
Every one of the 66 employees whose jobs are threatened by JSD budget cuts is a person whose work supports families. When these people leave town, they’ll leave holes in the safety net that was put in place to protect our children and our families. Juvenile drug use, violence, pregnancy and crime will go up. Arts and recreation venues will close. Real estate values will drop. This isn’t rhetoric; these are predictable social outcomes.
But there’s hope. There’s hope because it’s not about politics, it’s about legislative priorities. It’s about families. And many of our legislators, and our governor as well, have families. If we can state our message clearly, they will get it. They work for us. They seek our input, and they rely on our votes. They will respond to your letters, your emails, your phone calls. We all don’t agree on many things, but if we can come together to urge our legislators to put a priority on protecting our families, then we can save our teachers, our schools, and our community.
• Fraychineaud is a Juneau resident.