First, happy Fourth of July (or July 5th since I didn’t get this posted yesterday!) to my American readers. To any readers from the England, sorry. I did see an awesome meme of the Queen with that grumpy look on her face with the text, “Happy Treason Day, Peasants”, but I digress.
In July of 2015, I wrote this blog titled “A Teacher’s Voice”, about the state of education in Iowa. I used some content from other blogs and had hoped to inspire some conversation, to see other teachers organizing, blogging, and to make a difference.
Fast forward almost two years, and this is what I read last night, “The Degradation of Public Iowa Educator“, by Laura Blanchard. In it, Laura details her involvement both as a public school teacher and now as the person running the “Burlington/Des Moines County chapter of Iowans for Public Education (I4PE).” Side note: if you are an Iowa teacher and believe in our cause, I encourage you to search out “Iowans from Public Education” on Facebook. This has given me hope that there are those out there who are like minded and who want to do good work.
Anyway, a bit of background: during this last election cycle, both sides, Democrats and Republicans in Iowa ran on the “making education a priority” platform. Not one candidate ran on the “collective bargaining is bad for Iowa” or “Iowa taxpayers are getting screwed by collective bargaining” platform. Not. One.
The problem was, the Trump wave hit Iowa head on, and both the branches of our legislature fell into Republican hands. That, coupled with our Republican governor, did not bode well for most, and true enough, it wasn’t. Suddenly, collective bargaining was “tipped to favor the workers” and was “unfair to taxpayers, who don’t have a seat at the table.” I’m a taxpayer, what about me? What happened then was a 40 year old law that was signed by a Republican governor was gutted. Collective bargaining as we knew it ceased to exist. Basically, the only thing that can be bargained is base salary. Gone is the ability to bargain for “issues such as health insurance, evaluation procedures, staff reduction and leaves of absence for political purposes.” There are some topics, which, if the district and the association agree, can be bargained, but much of our contract has been reduced to a page, maybe two.
Laura tells us about the Burlington School District, and the negotiations that went on. Around seventy people went to that board meeting, pleading the district to “compensate their local teachers fairly”, but it was not something that was going to happen. The base salary was added to, but, as with many districts since these “reforms” have been passed, they would not negotiate about anything but base salary. The permissive items (those that need both sides to agree upon) were taken out, The contract was ratified at noon on a Tuesday, a time where most teachers and supporter are at work.
The truly disappointing part of her blog were comments made during the meeting. At one point, it was suggested that staff, who typically work 50 hours a week or more, supplement their income by working more hours or sign up for our state’s funded insurance program to “help with the financial burden.” It was appalling to see these comments printed, having being said out loud during a public meeting.
This is going to become more and more common place as contracts expire this year, school boards, by advice of council, will take out the few items that could be bargained, leave teachers at their mercy. Some have said, they can take away our bargaining, but they can’t take away our retirement fund, know as IPERS.
In yesterday’s Des Moines Register, this story about “fixes” planned to our retirement fund scared the crap out of me. I did not EVER feel like I was going to be rich as a teacher. My father was one, so I knew going in, it’s not for the money. But I also knew that at the end of my career, that my pension would be there. IPERS has been well run, well managed, and is a model for other public section retirement funds. When I see the words “401-k” thrown around, my first thought is “fees” which is exactly what will happen. I’ll have less money to invest, more fees on that money, which makes someone else very wealthy.
What has this all taught me? The times for sitting on the sidelines are no more. If I want my profession represented in Des Moines and Washington DC, I need work to make that happen. Too many teachers have gone soft on the fact that, since 1998, there was always a split in the Iowa Legislature. There was complacency where there needed to be urgency.
So, what do we do? Organize. Right.Now. Groups like Iowans for Public Education are a great start. It is the time to get ducks in a row, because the 2018 midterm elections are coming. Vouchers, IPERS “reform”, another year of terrible school funding are all coming, Republicans have said as much. Our schools are important for the creation of thinkers in our society. We as a group have been shocked to our core by the brazen changes that have taken place. Our job now, wake the hell up, and get out and make sure that doesn’t happen again. The age of Iowa nice has past and we need to get pissed off, ready to dig down and elect officials who will stand up for public education. We need to find those school board candidates, those local officials who will not be swayed by “tax reform” rhetoric, implying that public workers are to deal for the state’s financial woes. We need to keep calling, emailing, visiting public forums, writing letters, and keeping the pressure on to make education a priority in Iowa.
We owe this to ourselves and each child in Iowa, to spend sometime so they get the best possible education, in the best possible schools, from the best possible teachers.
If we don’t push this, who will?