Kendra Young, a school teacher, wrote a wonderful letter that appeared on Chattanoogan.com this week (“When The Extra Becomes Expected From Teachers”) that included a line where she misspoke. Kendra writes, “This letter is only intended for one audience. Teachers: I’m talking directly to us.”
No, Kendra is writing to all of us, her experience wide in buying classroom supplies with her own money, taking home mounds of silly paperwork, and enduring even dumber visits from those “in the central office” who she knows are the furthest thing from “an expert” that you can imagine. Teachers such as herself are brain-washed into a system where ‘bus duty’ and ‘cafeteria duty,’ and ‘police duty,’ and ‘psychiatric duty,’ and ‘home room duty’ are only a few of the distractions of every single day.
For the record, there are 176 full student days on the 2019-2020 school calendar.
There are roughly 20 more days for a teacher so, for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume a teacher will work 200 days a year. Simple math tells me a proposed 2.5 percent raise to an experienced teacher who is making $50,000 a year will be a $1,250. Divide that by 200 work days and we’re talking increasing that teacher’s hands-on salary by $6.25 a day.
But life’s calendar is different. Our teachers don’t exactly vaporize the other 165 days of the year. We talk loud and bold about giving our teachers “a life” so it is really more like a $1,250 salary increase, spread over 52 weeks of the year, means a 2.5 percent salary increase is realistically $3.42 more per day. (Think of $3.42 as one gallon of gas.)
I have a problem when I compare all the “extra” our teachers are “expected” to do and what must run through their minds when elected experts quibble over a raise that is just $3.42 a day. That’s wrong. It isn’t enough, and when I am told every adjacent county in Tennessee and Georgia has better pay and has better benefits than Hamilton County, not only is it wrong but it is embarrassing.
School board member Tucker McClendon is as right as he can be when he insists that we “look outside of the box” but the taxpayers of Hamilton County overwhelming believe there is enough fluff in a proposed $410 million budget to easily give our teachers a five percent raise. Guess what? Our own teachers believe there is enough “fluff.”
We are pouring cash into our “priority schools” at the expense of our other schools and that’s dishonest. The State of Tennessee, after six years of trying, just announced shoveling cash into “at risk” schools has not worked. It hasn’t worked in sports, our armed service, the Volkswagen assembly line, with free tuition at Chattanooga State or in medicine – more millions isn’t the answer.
Let’s move money now being lavished on poverty experiments and put it where we know it will be for the good. A typical kindergarten at a school in the north of Hamilton County will have 25-30 students and one teacher. In the poverty zone we’ll have 14-to-20 students, a teacher, and a teacher’s aide. Guess which group does the best?
Understand, I believe our poverty schools are our biggest challenge and that Jill Levine is a treasure but that the disparity in the school district is crippling our Department of Education. Look at Birchwood, Sale Creek and other fringe schools … there are poverty problems galore in the district but, at many schools, their needs are basically ignored.
There is little question we are spending money unwisely. The school district spent $500,000 to have our school’s physical plants studied. That report will be presented this week. The most aching need should draw the same attention. If we were to have an intensive audit I believe we could fund a five percent raise for our teachers, support staff, and more by renewing our misled priorities.
Further, we need to do some long-range planning that would prevent the same crisis every summer. It is shameful a salary increase for our teachers has been allowed to turn into such a bungling mess. The raises should have never been part of a tax increase. The thinking that the want for better education would stir the taxpayers back-fired – no one trusting the hiring of 300 people -- and pity the wizards who believe it was “critical” to insure the momentum of the Department of Education.
The only momentum a simple man has seen over the past 15 years is the parade of public school students leaving for private schools. When over 30 percent of school-age students go elsewhere, somebody ought to acknowledge the reasons and confront them, rather than leaning back to watch.
The other monster in the mix is the not-for-profit group, UnifiEd. As it has been discovered to be a political instigator of the “liberal elite” and a threat to public education, the taxpayers’ distrust has spread into the county’s Department of Education. With most of the county’s elected officials disavowing UnifiEd, it is believed the schools may be on a slippery slope with the elections coming into focus.