Another view of the teacher salary issue

My turn

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2001

I would like to thank CBJ Assembly members Marc Wheeler, Jim Powell and former School Board member Jeff Bush for their recent letters to the editor agreeing that our teachers deserve a better contract.

It is strange, however, that Mr. Bush qualified, "if this can be done without negatively impacting the quality of education provided to our children."

Who does Mr. Bush think provides the quality education to our children? What teacher doesn't contribute hundreds or thousands of dollars in materials and time to their classroom above and beyond their contract?

Mr. Bush, "would like to clear the record." Please, permit me. Mr. Bush claimed, "for the last several years, Juneau's teachers have been among the highest paid in the state because they have had a very favorable salary schedule."

Actually, there is very little difference in the salary schedules of comparable school districts across the state. And all the comparable districts have recently given their teachers a better contract.

However, there is quite a difference in the cost of living when you compare Juneau to the Anchorage or MatSu or Kenai or Fairbanks or other Southeast districts.

Teachers in Juneau have families and would also like to own a home and have something left over after bills are paid each month.

Mr. Bush correctly stated, "the only raises they have had were some 'step and column' increases as people moved up the pay scale." Unfortunately, this only applies to some teachers.

Also unfortunately, all Juneau teachers are presently on a salary schedule which is 5 percent lower than in 1994. And those few teachers who have qualified for step or column movement on the salary schedule have been frozen in place for full or partial years nearly every year since 1994.

Mr. Bush seemed annoyed that Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Powell used total budget figures instead of operational budget numbers. Well then, let's use Mr. Bush's figures. The increase from $35.5 million to $38.2 million amounts to $2.7 million. According to the JSD Budget Audits, administrative costs have increased more than $1 million while teaching costs have decreased nearly $5 million since 1994.

The main reason that teaching costs have decreased so much since 1994 is that one-third to one-half of Juneau's finest and most experienced teachers have retired or resigned since 1995 - most as part of the state authorized Retirement Incentive Program (RIP).

The purpose of the RIP was to retire our most experienced and expensive teachers in order to create revenue during a time when Alaska's State Legislature was not (and generally is still not) forthcoming for our schools.

There is no other city in all of Alaska with a municipal government more generous to its schools than Juneau. And I am sure Mr. Bush is correct that the CBJ could provide even more. But why should they while the administrative budget continues to grow and the teaching budget shrinks? While such an approach may help attract and retain quality administrators for Juneau's schools, it doesn't do much for our children's teachers.

That Mr. Bush's former school board chose to invest the school budget in priorities other than teachers is an issue for which they will have to answer to our community of parents who send their children to school with the expectation that their children will have an adequate supply of quality teachers ready and willing to devote their time and energy to their students.

A new teacher costs about one-half to two-thirds the price of a senior teacher. The millions saved from the RIP should be used to hire and retain more librarians, counselors, P.E., music, classroom teachers and specialists, as well as provide for their future raises.

So, instead of beating up CBJ Assembly members for standing up for quality education, perhaps Mr. Bush and other former School Board members could spend some time and energy encouraging the present school board to invest their increased budget more wisely - by giving our teachers a better contract.

Clay Good is president of the Juneau Education Association and has taught science at Juneau-Douglas High School since 1985.



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