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My Turn: 'Flat funding' won't allow teachers to get everything they want

Posted: December 16, 2013 - 1:03am

It concerns me when a teacher says, “We’re not paid for putting on any concert outside our school day. We never have been.”

Further, I am somewhat dismayed at the constant belly aching currently underway by many of our teachers over the amount of hours they work and when some say they’re not adequately compensated for those hours. Here are a few of the statements I’ve heard:

“I work 9- and 10-hour days during the week sometimes.”

“I regularly work through my lunch.”

“The average 40-hour worker gets two to four weeks off a year.”

“I have to complete continuing education during the summer months.”

Regarding the comment, “I work 9 and 10 hour days during the week some times,” here is a simple math problem: Teachers are contracted to work 183 days per year during a nine-month period. During that time, they are allowed five days of personal leave; two of which are currently paid by the district. If the average teacher worked 10 hours each day, they’d work 1,830 hours for the year. The average 40-hour worker puts in 2,080 hours per year.

A teacher is working 250 hours less per year than the average full-time employee, which is about six weeks less. Isn’t that a little more than the two to four weeks of paid time off the average 40-hour worker gets? Let’s not forget they also have a winter and spring break during that nine-month period.

Regarding the comment, “I regularly work through my lunch,” it’s a paid lunch. I can assure you that I am grateful, as are many other folks — students particularly — when you dedicate the extra time to help with an assignment, a book report, or simply have lunch in your classroom so the students can hang out in a productive learning environment.

Regarding the comment, “I have to complete continuing education during the summer months,” isn’t that simply part of your job? I know many 40-hour workers that must complete continuing education for their job. How is this any different for teachers?

Further, I’d really like to know what teachers expected when they were hired for a salaried position. Most dedicated professionals work more than a 7.5 hour per day to complete their work. Teachers are contracted to work 30 minutes prior to and 30 minutes after the start and end of the school day. Keep in mind that teachers receive a paid lunch, paid prep time (180 minutes, 250 minutes and 450 minutes per week at the elementary, middle and high school levels) and two 15-minute breaks a day (at the elementary level). In fact, if teachers truly only worked their 7.5-hour day during their 183-day contract, wouldn’t they only be working roughly 1,373 hours? And wouldn’t that equate to a .67 FTE position?

The average teacher salary is $69,179 for nine months and they are contracted to work 183 days. That’s 77 days less than the average 40-hour per week worker, or roughly a 70 percent equivalency. The average annual salary for teachers is equivalent to roughly $97,000 per year.

I’m not aware of too many jobs that guarantee income will increase simply by showing up again the next year, but teachers do have that guarantee through step and column raises. Teachers receive a “step” raise for each additional year of experience, plus a “column” raise for additional education related to their position each year. Roughly 75 percent of our teachers receive these raises and the average increase is three percent. In addition to these funds, they are seeking a “cost of living” increase.

Why is it when you discuss raises for teachers, most will indicate, “We didn’t get a raise,” when in fact the majority have received their step and/or column raise? Furthermore, why are these increases not considered the “cost of living” raise they seek?

I would advocate all teachers receive a raise, annually, tied to the adjustment in the cost of living. But that raise should be performance based. Teachers shouldn’t get a raise simply for being a year older (experience) and a year wiser (education).

Our teachers — a high majority of them — are in the job for all the right reasons. They deserve our respect, as they provide a quality education for our children. Also, they are entitled to earn an honest wage for their skills and experience.

It is important we remain informed and I strongly encourage you to read the negotiated agreement and understand what Juneau’s teachers are asking for as a part of their negotiations. Keep in mind we remain in a “flat funding” environment as it relates to the Base Student Allocation provided by the state. The district continues to face rising energy costs and will need to further cut programs, which will negatively impact our children, in order to give teachers everything they want.

• Bill Peters is a Juneau resident and former Juneau School Board member.

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