Why we should support Burlington teachers (and hold all elected officials accountable)
By James Haslam
I am writing to express my support for the Burlington teachers’ efforts to settle a fair contract, and I was spurred to do it today after reading an editorial by Brian Cina, my own School Board member, attacking teachers’ tuition reimbursement benefits. More on that later.
Everyone should be a stakeholder in supporting teachers and public education, not just someone like me who’s been married to one for more than a decade. Over that time I have witnessed how much of themselves teachers give to the well-being of the community.
Why high-quality teachers are important
Public education is the bedrock to our community and our democracy. Yet, before teachers formed unions they were treated and compensated poorly. It was a profession that was primarily held by women, and like many feminized professions it was grossly underpaid and undervalued. In fact, I have spoken to Vermont teachers who back in the 70’s and 80’s who, despite working full-time, were living in poverty and relied on public assistance to support their families.. After years of collectively bargaining, Vermont teachers have been able to raise the standards in their professions, and the quality of education has risen dramatically as a result. We all benefit from a strong public education system and we need highly trained and experienced teachers working with our children every day. We trust them to nurture and support the growth of our children and the development of the future generation of our community. It makes a lot of sense for us to invest in this public serving profession that ultimately benefits us all.
Burlington teachers’ contract struggle
For almost a year now, Burlington teachers have been seeking a fair contract. They actually didn’t expect this would be a difficult process, because in their last contract they reached an agreement with the School Board to place Burlington teachers in the “middle of the middle” compared to the salaries of neighboring districts. Burlington teachers’ compensation has historically been lower than that of many of their counterparts in surrounding schools. I think many would agree this makes little sense, considering Burlington has the largest and most diverse student population in the state. However, the current School Board and Administration decided to renege on this agreement and are even now considering imposing a contract on the teachers. This, despite the recently issued report of a neutral fact-finder which offers a clear path to a settlement, one that teachers are eager to take. The teachers have made it quite clear that they are willing to continue negotiating until a fair settlement is reached. It is about time the Board shifts its focus from scare tactics and press releases to real negotiation and bargaining.
The role of School Board
As a public institution, we elect a School Board to represent us and ensure that the administration serves the interests of the community and, if they don’t, then we have the power to replace them at the next election. School administrators, who are removed from actual day-to-day classroom instruction, often look to contain costs by cutting services that directly impact students. My School Board representative is Brian Cina, who is also running as a candidate for the State House of Representatives. On September 13, he published an editorial on behalf of the Burlington School Board calling for the elimination of teachers’ tuition reimbursement and compensation for attaining higher levels of education. Cherry-picking quotes from a somewhat outdated and clearly biased Wall Street Journal article, Cina only presented their opinion as fact that advanced degrees do not necessarily lead to higher student achievement. He conveniently left out, however, that the same article stated that advance degrees of teachers in Math and Science do lead to higher student achievement.
All children deserve highly educated teachers, which is why every other school district in the county honors some form of tuition reimbursement for teachers. Does Burlington really want to send the message that we, and only we, don’t value the professionalism of our teachers?
I have watched first-hand the endless work outside the classrooms and well-beyond the work day that teachers invest in their students, and the level of commitment it takes on top of it all to attend advanced degree classes at night in order to continue to grow as educators. It is deeply insulting to teachers and destructive to this community that this School Board is not only reneging their agreement to move Burlington teachers to the middle for salaries, but is now undermining a professional development benefit that every other community in this region provides to its teachers.
Take action: Support teachers and hold the School Board accountable
Please support our teachers. I hope you will join me in contacting your School Board member and telling them to settle a fair contract. You can contact Brian Cina at 802-233-9131 or email@example.com
Here is a link to all of the School Board members’ contact information: http://district.bsd.schoolfusion.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/2383192/File/Board%20Sidebar/201517%20School%20Bd%20Members%20Info.pdf
Full disclosure, I also work for Rights & Democracy, a grassroots membership organization that endorsed and helped Brian Cina win his Democratic Party primary this past August. I don’t regret that I also personally supported Cina because we do share many of the same positions and values. However, I am terribly disappointed in his position on this issue. This case serves as a good reminder that part of having a functional democracy is holding all of our elected officials accountable.
Action Alert: Support Burlington Teachers. The Burlington School Board has called a new meeting tonight: Thursday, September 15 at 7:00, Ira Allen Administration Building Board Room, 150 Colchester Avenue. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the teachers' contract and possibly vote to impose a contract. Please come and bring friends if you can.