Lack of funding hurting schools

Peninsula teachers want to avoid 'extreme job action' like that taken in New Jersey

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2001

Teachers in New Jersey took extreme job action recently and were jailed. Harsh feelings between the different shareholders in the issue have developed. Teachers don't think they are adequately compensated or have suitable professional working conditions. Students feel the teachers are using them as "a pawn" in the negotiation process. Parents and administrations' thoughts weren't reported.

Apparently, the administration isn't willing to meet the teachers' needs in compensation or working conditions. This is not a good situation for anyone involved.

Unfortunately, it is a situation that well may be repeated here on the Kenai Peninsula, soon, as we go into contract negotiations this spring.

Public education involves everyone, and I hope everyone involved will help avoid a similar scenario here in our community.

The staff of Nikiski Junior-Senior High School recently held an informational rally. The purpose was to inform the public of the critical situation that exists in our schools. Our staff is attempting to proactively respond to a situation that has been building up over the last 15 years, in order to avoid having to bring this situation to the community's attention in the form of a job action. Job actions tend to bring strife and discord to all those involved.

The situation that may soon lead to critical job actions by the local teachers is insufficient funding of education.

Teachers' salaries and benefits have been eroded over the last decade and a half. Money for materials necessary to effectively teach the required curriculum is inadequate to non-existent. Pupil-teacher ratios are too high. Mandates by the federal and state government are not funded. Inflation has escalated at an exponential rate, and funding for public education has lagged behind to such an extent that teachers are now considering serious job action.

Teachers have been willing to do more for less and have done so for many years. Unfortunately, we do this so well the community has been, more than less, unaware of the buildup to the current critical funding crisis we now have in public education. We can no longer be expected to do more with less -- and are no longer willing to do so.

It is not the desire of any teacher I know to have to go to the extreme the New Jersey teachers were compelled to take. We here at Nikiski High think that if community members were made aware of the situation and educated on the issues, they would contact all the lawmakers in Juneau and demand that schools be funded in full and any unpleasant situations regarding job action would be avoided. We advocate a positive and proactive approach.

As a conservative Republican, I think the best economic investment our community and state can make is providing the best education for our children that money can buy. Several years ago, the president of the school board was quoted in regard to a substantial pay raise offered to a new incoming superintendent of schools as saying, " If you want the best, people will have to be willing to pay for the best." It should be understood that this philosophy should apply even more so to the professionals directly providing the service to our children, the teachers.

If we want to attract the brightest young teachers and keep the best experienced teachers from leaving, we need to have competitive wages and benefits, manageable pupil-teacher ratios, working equipment and resources to effectively teach the curriculum, and provide an environment in our community that advocates providing best practices in education for teachers to provide the expected professional-level services.

Those claiming they support "fiscal responsibility" and opposing increased funding for education present several arguments. These arguments, as a whole, are flawed. It is not my intention to address the various arguments in this column. I urge anyone wanting to pursue these to contact a teacher.

And though there is some merit to a few of the arguments, these certainly don't weigh sufficiently to dissuade teachers from the current consideration of job action.

I encourage you to let those in Juneau know you want public education fully funded and for the money to be directed into the classrooms of our schools. With competitive wages, adequate material, lower pupil-teacher ratios and funded mandates, we can avoid the troubles New Jersey has suffered in recent weeks.

Phillip Morin is a science, dance and gifted-talented teacher at Nikiski Junior-Senior High School.

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