Letter: Educating community’s youth a civic duty
It was with great frustration that I read Mr. Hicks’s letter to the editor on February 17. As a teacher, I took his attack on Mathews County Public Schools very personally. Though I do not know Mr. Hicks, I hope he will indulge this long-time teacher a lesson.
First, Mr. Hicks asks, "What does the school crowd want? Pay raises and more money from, well, you name the source." To my knowledge, employees of MCPS have never once—in print or in a public meeting—voiced a request for a pay raise. Instead, we have entrusted our superintendent to be our representative directly to the school board and indirectly to the board of supervisors.
The picture that Mr. Hicks paints—that we are whiny, money grubbers in a time of economic downturn—should be replaced by the image of stoic educators continuing to do what is best for our students and our county in such times. Though some may not have been paying attention, employees in the county have had a pay freeze for the last several years. That means that, in the light of an increase in cost of living, our "virtual paycheck" has gone down.
Also, because the county’s contribution to our insurance premiums has not kept pace with the increase in the premiums, our paychecks have, literally, decreased for three years in a row. There is no other profession where, as our experience, expertise and effectiveness increase, compensation diminishes.
We have not complained; we have not whined. We are professionals, and as such we understand what it meant to become teachers when we made that decision: do not expect to become rich. However, while we did not expect to become rich through this career, there were other expectations when we signed our contracts. Those expectations included adherence to a pay scale that was presented at the time of being hired. Though the county has not held up their end of its agreement, we have very silently held up our end: we have taught. It is time for our county to hold up its end.
It is important for the citizens of Mathews County to understand why they are paying more for education today than they did five years ago. It is not simply because of state mandates, but it is largely because the state has forced a shift in who is paying for education. Picture the school budget as a large pizza. To simplify the discussion, in the past the state has paid, let’s say, for 2/3of the pizza and the locality 1/3. Over recent years this has been reversed and now the state is only willing to pay for 1/3of the pizza, while the locality pays 2/3. Over the past several years MCPS has not really been asking for a bigger pizza. The reason there seems to be such an increase in what the locality has been asked to pay is because they are paying for a larger portion of the pizza.
Mr. Hicks’s argument that we are lucky to have a job and insurance is ridiculous. Luck had nothing to do with it. The teachers I work with put in long hours to obtain their degrees and now put in even longer hours to educate the children of this fine community and continue their own education through professional development. There was no luck involved.
Mr. Hick implies that the he has heard demands from the "school crowd." Far from it, we have been silent. However, I recall an anti-school voice that was expressed recently in this paper (Gazette-Journal, Jan. 26) when "several dozen" members of the community met under the direction of Mr. Farr. At that meeting, it was suggested that our schools can save money by not replacing any buses and by stopping less frequently for your children. Even though these suggestions met with some quizzical looks among MCPS staff members, we remained silent.
Perhaps that is our fault. Perhaps you will see that the time for the employees of MCPS—and the community supporters of our great school—to work together as a political force has come. Surely, if several dozen can find a voice to sway the leaders of our county, then we, as a community, will be an even greater force to be reckoned with.
Towards the end of his letter, Mr. Hicks comments "And if you don’t like this: Quit." Mr. Hicks, I would suggest that you be careful with what you wish for; sometimes you might just get it. I do not believe that there are as many qualified individuals waiting to take our jobs as you might think. You may not have noticed, but there is a nationwide shortage of math and science teachers. Please consider what happens to your school and your community if you can only fill vacant slots with second-rate teachers cast off from other school divisions.
Actually, I have a better suggestion: realize that educating the youth of your community is a patriotic and civic duty, one meant to be shouldered proudly by an entire community, both those with a direct vested interest and those only indirectly affected.