Public educators in Iowa find themselves against the ropes and defending their profession on a regular basis. What was once regarded as a noble, well-paying career is now low-paying, high-stress and has left teaching professionals begging for respect and higher wages. Crowded classrooms, lack of support from parents, underfunding and a growing disregard for the profession have sent teachers fleeing from the profession both nationally and locally at a higher rate than other professions. I myself am a product of the “five year burn-out,” the infamous rate at which new teachers make their exodus from education. While I am no longer in the classroom each day, fighting the good fight and molding young Iowans’ minds, I still care deeply about public education. I am now channeling that passion into running the Burlington/Des Moines County chapter of Iowans for Public Education (I4PE).
My involvement with Iowans for Public Education is still new and still developing. I was asked by Karen Nichols, president of I4PE, to start a local chapter in southeast Iowa after speaking at a May 22nd Burlington Board of Education meeting regarding teacher contracts. I was one of about seventy citizens that packed the board room that night to plead with the board and district administrators to compensate their local teachers fairly following the gutting of collective bargaining rights earlier this year. Unfortunately, our pleas fell upon deaf ears. A week later, the Burlington BOE met at noon the Tuesday after Memorial Day, school still in session, to ratify contracts for the 2017–2018 school year. The contracts reflected a $730 raise to the district’s base salary and did not include any language items (language items include things such as work days, class size, etc). They decided to take full advantage of the Iowa Legislature’s move to gut public employees’ bargaining rights. Permissive items (items which can only be negotiated or bargained if both the teacher’s union and the district agree to it) were not considered, and it was announced that language items would be moved to an employee handbook, which as of June 30th, has still not been presented to district employees. The Burlington CSD was not alone in the removal of permissive items from contract negotiations. Dozens of school districts statewide removed or excluded permissive items from their contracts. An additional blow in the Burlington district was the announcement that lane changes for additional education hours would be frozen; teachers were once incentivised to further their education with the promise of a boost in pay, but this is no longer the case.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), the average American teacher spends 50 hours a week on instructional duties. Some of these duties include lesson planning, grading papers and club advising. The average teacher is already working overtime hours, which makes the suggestion by a board member and retired teacher that the district’s teachers supplement their admittedly low wages by working ADDITIONAL hours (specifically suggesting they work games for $10/hour), just that much more appalling. At that rate, a teacher with a district family insurance policy would have to work an additional 3.8 hours per week all year in order to afford the premiums. And if our education professionals don’t have the time to work these extra event hours? Pat Coen, Superintendent, and Marlis Roberts, BOE President, suggested teachers sign their children up for state-funded HAWK-I insurance to help with the financial burden.
As summer flies by, teaching positions in the Burlington CSD remain open and unfilled. As of June 30th, there were at least 10 full-time teaching positions open on the district’s website. I don’t think that the large number of vacancies is a coincidence. Many of us across the state saw these negative changes coming after Iowa’s legislative session earlier this year. Local citizens packed West Burlington’s Town Hall in February to voice these concerns. While the district and school board share ownership in stripping BCSD teachers of their rights to fair wages and benefits, we ultimately have Senator Tom Greene and Representative John Kerr to “thank” for this current situation. Those who voted to gut bargaining rights for public employees need to know how their decision is negatively impacting their constituents. They need to be held responsible, and in 2018 and 2020, they need to be voted out.
Iowans for Public Education
Burlington/Des Moines County