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My Turn: Teachers have no choice but to put collective foot down

Posted: December 12, 2013 - 1:03am

We want to inform parents and our community why teachers are dissatisfied with Juneau School District leadership and are putting our collective foot down.

This is the second year in a row where teachers started teaching without a negotiated contract. Last year, teachers did not receive a cost of living increase. Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich would like teachers and community members to believe that there is no money in the district’s budget again this year to fund a cost of living increase. However, analysis of the district’s personnel budget for this year reveals that the average salary budgeted for teachers is larger than the actual average salary earned by approximately $3,000 per teacher, and includes salaries for more teachers than there actually are.

In short, the current budgetary amount allocated for teachers is inflated and, because of this, money exists within the budget to fund a cost of living increase for teachers this year. The cost of living increase the teachers are asking for can be funded without altering the spending plan for any other line items in this year’s budget.

Did you know teachers in Anchorage and Ketchikan received cost of living raises both this year and the next? And did you know that salaries in Ketchikan and Anchorage are already higher than Juneau’s?

We all live here. We all know Juneau currently ranks highest in the state for average home cost, and third in rent, behind Anchorage and Kodiak. Disparity between salaries in Juneau, where the cost of living is among the highest in the state, and other communities makes it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain quality teachers.

The higher cost of living and lower pay has resulted in the loss of some of our best teachers. For example, considering only Juneau-Douglas High School, four experienced, highly competent teachers have left our district in favor of others where their salaries are greater, living costs are lower, and they feel more valued. All of these teachers were involved in extracurricular activities where they mentored students after school hours. Their absences are being felt not only in the classroom, but outside it as well.

Gelbrich is fond of telling teachers there is no room in the budget for raises. Teachers are at the heart of any school, and investing in teachers makes good long-term sense. Not doing so will result in the further degradation of the quality of our schools via the loss of experienced teachers and the difficulty of finding new teachers willing to work for less than they could earn elsewhere. This is not what we, as teachers and parents, want for our community. A school without quality teachers is not a school. Funding for teachers must become a priority for the district. The truth is, we can’t afford to do otherwise.

• Ben Carney and Jake Jacoby are teachers with the Juneau School District.

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