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My Turn: What is a teacher worth?

Posted: December 26, 2013 - 12:04am

The teachers contract issue has piqued my interest. I have read the current contract on the Juneau Education Association (JEA) web site and this is what I found.

The lowest annual teacher starting salary is $46,063. The highest annual salary tops out after 18 years at $84,112 for a masters degree, with 36 credits and 18 years experience. I found the median at $60,192 annually. One contract sentence reads, “The salary schedule for the 2012-2013 school year will remain the same as the FY 2012 salary schedule”.

So, if there is no change to a new contract, this would be the third year that starting salaries would not increase to attract talent to our teaching community. It would also be the third year of no increase at the top to retain experienced teachers. An annual inflation increase is needed to retain experienced teachers and attract new talent.

Next, I looked at the Juneau Economic Development Council’s report on median incomes in our area. Here is what I found to be the median annual household income on these two documents: Juneau $77,558; Alaska, $68,211; Southeast, $67,270; Juneau Teachers, $60,192; United States, $51,484.

Juneau teachers’ salary may often be compared to what teachers are paid in other areas of the United States. It is not appropriate to use the low United States median income values. Teachers need to be compensated equitably in the community they serve. This concept is reasonable and customary. Juneau is where our teachers live and purchase goods and services.

What is a Juneau teacher worth?

I would like to make one more contract observation. The “estra duty assignment schedule” has not been updated since March 3, 2009. Updating the list of activities covered as well as level of compensation is overdue.

The continued use of the same two compensation schedules year after year gives strong support to the teachers union (JEA) to ask for a cost of living increase. In recent years, the union has shown their willingness to compromise and leave the schedules flat. It is time to break the cycle of a stagnant, flat, compensation schedule in a growing economy.

Flat funding harmfully impacts more than the talent the district may attract and retain. It also impacts the learning environment. In one small classroom I visited, the 30 desks are placed tightly head to head. To face the teacher students have to sit sideways in the seat. In addition this teacher has three English sessions in that room during the day. This means there are 90 English essays to grade and then give each student 15-minute of feedback. Grading is done on weekends and evenings so papers can be returned in a timely manner to the students with remarks. The number of pupils served, not just the class size, is too high.

The solution is to fund public eduction at a higher level. School administrators managing the flat funding provided by politicians is not working. Political leadership to increase the funding is the answer. This means the task to increase funding goes to the governor, state Legislature, city assembly and the Juneau Board of Education. This is where school budgets are prepared and funded. Lets get it done.

• Roy Fulwiler is a Douglas resident, a grandfather of students and father of teachers.

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