Letters of Mass Construction

Lions & Tigers & Taxes Oh My

It has been a rough couple of years in the teaching world. In my school district we have lost 20% of our staff. Truthfully, we were lucky. There have been school districts hit far worse. Now as we head towards June, here in the state of California, we are standing right on the edge of the cliff. Peering down into the great abyss because it looks like more cuts might be heading our way. How we will manage I have no idea.

Already we have let go of all but one librarian. This will mean school libraries will only be open once a week. How we are suppose to teach reading while not actually providing reading for pleasure I don’t know. My students are lucky. I have a huge classroom library (easily the biggest in the entire school district). Not only is my library big it is very current. Other classrooms will not be as lucky. The problem is we can’t help to keep the libraries open because they are union jobs and there is a rule about supplanting other union jobs.

I get having the rule. They are trying to make sure school districts don’t just fire people and make teachers take up the slack. Insisting that those positions are not needed anymore. It just bugs me because the students are the ones who suffer. It’s a weird time to be a public union right now. There are attacks going on all over the place against them. As if teachers and our ridiculous pay are what’s causing states to go bankrupt. It cracks me up because there is some much pork tied to every budget that I am fairly certain it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with some extra cash just by eliminating everyone’s “pet” project.

But this library thing is the type of thing people will point at and say “see those damn unions are ruining everything” forgetting to point out if we hadn’t had to lay off the workers in the first place we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Like I said, tricky. I definitely think there is a place for public unions. You don’t need to look any farther than people saying teachers make too much money to understand why.

I love my job but I am not living high on the hog. I am an intelligent, articulate, skilled person (and a legend in my own mind). There are a lot of jobs I could be doing for more money. I choose to teach because I think it is important. I love the knowing I am giving students a chance to succeed. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I turn a non-reader into a reader. This job has intangibles that are untouchable by other careers. It doesn’t change the fact that I have bills. That someday I want to retire and enjoy the end of my life with Sheri.

I knew what I was getting into when I took the job and never expected to become rich from it. My union has allowed me to keep the job and not feel like I have made a terrible mistake. This doesn’t mean my union is always right. They often do wrong headed things. For instance, here in the state of California, CTA is currently pressuring the governor to extend a tax hike in order to do away with the cuts about to happen in education (you remember that cliff we are standing on).

The problem is the governor promised an election to approve any tax hikes. It is a position I completely agree with. If we want to hike the taxes in the state of California it should go before the people of California. There was going to be a June election but the bill was killed in the House. Again, I didn’t disagree with that. Why hold a special million dollar election in June when you can just slap it onto the November ballot.

Schools can’t wait until November. They will begin laying off people now because almost every school in the state of California was already running a bare bones budget. I refuse to believe there isn’t some congressman’s pork project somewhere which can be put on hold until Novemeber to make sure schools can operate. I think it makes the teachers union look really bad to ask for taxation without a vote. It sends the wrong message at a time that people are just looking for a reason to hate unions.

There has to be a better answer. If the governor doesn’t find one soon though we will be laying off even more teachers. Which will lead to a new round of demanding we make even less money (the teachers in my district have taken voluntary pay cuts the last two years trying to save jobs). Which will lead to too many kids in the room. Which will lead to communities which are already stuck in poverty having even less of a quality education. The wheels are falling off this bus. I hope some of us survive the wreck.

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