Teachers strong voice meets district's cool response
Before Monday's nights Anchorage School Board meeting, hundreds of teacher's and members of the teachers union held an informational picket.
"This is significant because it is a Monday," Gruening Middle School Teacher Bryce Purcella said. "It's also the first day for the newly elected school board members. We want them to know where we stand."
Purcella is also a member of Alaska Teachers United, a group of teachers banding together through social media and unattached from the union to send enforce what it is that teachers want in the next round of contract negotiations.
"We want to send a strong message," Purcella said. "The school board and the district need to know where we stand and hear our voice."
Negotiations started in April between the teachers union and the district on a new contract for the upcoming school year. The current deal ends in June
"The past agreement did not address a lot of our concerns," Gruening Middle School teacher Michelle O'Leary said. "There is now a loss of middle school, no field trips for the students. Teachers are now teaching additional classes without being compensated for the extra time put in. Kids are scattered, there are no teams, less programs and planning time, all because the schedule now dictates what we do."
At Monday night's school board meeting, after the new members were sworn in, the board along with Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop heard the many concerns from teachers, students and members of the community during public testimony. Dr. Bishop says she understands the frustration and the district is doing everything they can to meet the needs of the teachers. She says it's not as easy as most people think.
"Teachers should be paid more for their time is if affordable," Dr. Bishop said. "That where we are. It's not a matter of not wanting to do something, it's not being able to. When there is no new money, what goes way? What is it that we all choose that goes away that is able to go away?"
According to the district, the latest budget doesn't offer any new money.
"That's my situation I deal with," Dr. Bishop said. "I came into ASD with two flat years of funding. No new money, no new money. I've been the one that has to find ways to reduce. I do feel the burden but by the same token, I believe in the people doing the work. They are doing great work with kids."
If there is no new money, then where does the money for new executives come from?
"I am beyond angry when I hear that the district has no money but then hires a six-figure assistant to the superintendent," Elaine Daw from Eagle River Elementary told the school board Monday night. "Provide hefty raises to the suits in this building. Spend tens of thousands on new curriculum, then hire a consultant to revise it."
The district's response?
"There is a new person in a position," Dr. Bishop said. "I eliminated four positions last year when I came on administratively and adjusted salaries. The person they are referring to is Dr. Stock. I streamlined positions and made some shifts longer to adjust for raises within the means that I had. I mean, we could give raises to all the teachers but I really don't think that's an area they'd like to go. We'd have to eliminate some to get others more salary. Our teachers don't want overcrowded classrooms. That's not a positive solution. When you think about raises for a handful of people here versus thousands of teachers. The numbers are pretty quite substantial. Again, what gets cut?"
Dr. Bishop says the school start time issue is not a district or school board issue but one that was asked for by the students.
"I knew it would affect the whole community," Dr. Bishop said. "The emotions about that are pretty high. So I knew it had to be data sourced out of our system and hired an expert that does that. The funds for that were encumbered funds and not used from this year. It came from past years."
Teachers also want negotiations more transparent so that the public can see what is happening.
"There are some strategies and tactics that have been used that I don't think are fair and upright," Teacher Kelsey Gerke said. "We want a fair contract that's best for our students, we want to protect planning time and equity between levels and we want benefits benefiting our profession."
The district says that would be wonderful if both sides were committed.
"If some people aren't in the room all the time from the beginning to the continuation," Dr. Bishop says. "Sometimes we have to start again or there are misinterpretations if you haven't been in the conversations from the beginning. So that's the concern that was brought up in having negotiations public."
Parents have concerns and worries that changes being made to the curriculum for the upcoming year are not being transparent. One teacher claims the district is mandating reading intervention weather students need it or not. Other teachers say they are not allowed to teach they way they would like. How does the district respond?
"I go into schools every day," Dr. Bishop said. "Teachers are working their hearts out. We have great people in our district and kids are loving school. We're learning about our kids in the 21st century. Teachers have asked for new curriculum and we've given it to them. We're trying to give the schools what they want and what works for some doesn't work for others. The steps to get our students where we all want them as a district does take growing pains sometimes. It's not an easy job all the time and not one you can just turn off. Teaching comes from the heart and we want to be a great employer. I know we're going to get to a contract. I understand that this is a part of the process."
The next school board meeting is May 21.
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