Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Tough Session for Public School Educators in Virginia

I have been thinking for weeks that I needed to write something for my blog. I have let lapses in posting grow longer and longer because it seems that I have been busier and busier, and this General Assembly session has been a real bear, frankly, leaving little time for reflection or writing. Things are so dynamic that they change dramatically from day to day. Robley Jones, the Director of the VEA Office of Government Relations and Research has said on several occasions that it is the toughest year he has ever experienced, and he has been doing this work for a lot of years.

As if it isn't bad enough that legislators seem to have it in for public school educators, yesterday the Richmond Times Dispatch decided to participate in a little piling on. Ironically, two of the other major newspapers in the state (the Virginian-Pilot and the Roanoke Times) also offered editorials and they took the exact opposite approach from the Dispatch...but then what else is new, right?

I couldn't let the Dispatch op-ed piece stand without an answer from the VEA, so I am using my blog space today to offer what I wrote in response to their attack on our "Black Friday" effort and our call for Virginia's citizens to wake up to what is happening to public education in the commonwealth.

Please feel free to share as you feel necessary.

Letter to the Editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch, February 24, 2012:

With regard to the February 24th editorial on teachers wearing black last week, I am sorry to see that the RTD has chosen to adopt the same air of disrespect, disdain and disregard for Virginia’s hard working teachers that our legislators have recently adopted. When you don’t care for the facts, I suppose the next best tactic is to simply mock those with whom you don’t agree.

Thousand s of teachers and supporters wore black on the VEA designated “Black Friday” because they know that support for schools from officeholders is declining, while disrespect for the work they do is growing.

It is only partly about the money. It is disingenuous on the part of the editorial board to only call attention to this Governor’s K-12 budget while ignoring the fact that SOQ (Standards of Quality) funding for K-12 schools has been reduced by $1.4 billion, and that permanent changes in the formula have undercut teachers’ ability to do their job. The state’s per-pupil support for public education was at $5,277 in 2009. The governor’s budget would bring it to only $4,730 by 2014. That’s a 12% cut.

Class sizes in Virgina, once very low, now rank us 41st in the nation. This is not the level of support needed to prepare students for a competitive economy.

More than the money issues, however, our teachers and support professionals are upset by the general tone of disrespect, disdain, and disregard that is coming out of Richmond’s legislators and now has been piled upon by the Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board.

Teachers really don’t ask for much, and most of them expect even less. They have, in many cases, dedicated half of their lives to children other than their own because they had a calling and felt a need to make a difference. Most of them struggle to make ends meet, but they never expected to “get rich” doing what they chose to do.

What has shocked and disappointed them, however, is they have now been labeled by some politicians as “greedy, entitled, and lazy.” The last straw was the most recent attack on continuing contract which is not tenure. Teachers in Virginia do not have tenure and never have. The suggestion that teachers have lifetime jobs with “irrevocable life time security” is bogus. This needless and unwarranted attack on their professionalism and dedication to their chosen profession is simply the last straw.

We’ll wear black every Friday if it gets people’s attention and causes the citizens of Virginia to take note of what is happening to our students and those who work in schools.

So, mock if you will, but unlike this editorial board, we know what the real issues are.

Kitty J. Boitnott, President

Virginia Education Association