I am a professional teacher. I have 90-plus units over a BA and 20-plus boxes in my garage filled with school materials that I either bought with my own money or gathered on my own time. I have taught for 15 years, as both a classroom teacher and a specialist. I love teaching children and being a contributing member of my community. I do my best to learn as much as I can about both the subject matter I teach and the art of teaching so that I can meet the diverse needs of the many students I work with. I am 10 years from retirement.
During the first contract negotiations I experienced in Juneau, six years ago, teachers were told by the Juneau School District that there wasn't enough money for the requested raise. We should be patient, we were told; many teachers had recently taken advantage of the district's early retirement offer, and in a couple of years the exodus of experienced teachers would free up money to raise salaries during the next contract period. Overall, the teacher salary portion of the budget would be reduced because brand new teachers who were much lower on the salary scale were being hired to replace more "costly" experienced teachers.
The next contract negotiations rolled around two years later and were told that the district still could not afford a reasonable cost-of-living increase for teachers. Be patient, we were told again. The money will be there in two years.
It has now been two years. This past spring, my teachers' union brought to the table an offer which met the financial parameters the district had set. However, the offer was rejected by the district, and negotiations went to mediation and now arbitration. Try to understand, we are told. Based on the state and federal allocations, the district does not have the money to finance a raise for teachers.
During my time in the district, I have received a one-time $500 bonus. The salary schedule has been revised twice, once to merge the divisive two-tiered schedule and once to reduce the annual increments so that savings from staff attrition would cover the cost of longevity steps and lane changes for additional education. That schedule was increased by 1 percent last year. With all these changes to the teachers' salary schedule, the total district portion of the budget which goes to teachers' salaries has actually declined by almost 6 percent.
Over the last six years, my professional responsibilities in terms of assessment, reporting, paperwork, curriculum development and planning have increased considerably. I have seen new mandates for professional development and test-taking as well as a health insurance premium that has risen to the point where I now pay $153 a month for my health insurance with an anticipated increase to $243 a month. I continue to buy supplies out of my own pocket and to pay for professional development classes to meet my re-certification requirements.
I feel that I have been patient. But I am now ready for my district to take a good hard look at how it prioritizes spending. Given the ever-decreasing piece of the district budget pie that the teachers receive, I believe that the district can afford to give me a reasonable cost-of-living raise without increasing class size, cutting teacher positions or curtailing student services. I'm ready for less money to be spend on administration and administrators and out-of-town consultants and for more money to be spent on fulfilling past promises to the teachers of this community.