Educators tell school board: Attract and retain qualified staff with raises, career ladders, planning time

before the budget hearing

Members entering central office for the budget hearing (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Hundreds of MTEA members and supporters attended the MPS School Board’s budget hearing on Tuesday to urge the board to pass a budget that will attract and retain highly qualified educators. Our demands: support the administration’s proposal to authorize bargaining of a 1.62% raise for all MTEA units: educational assistants, teachers, substitutes and bookkeepers. Fully fund the salary schedule steps agreed to last spring for the teacher unit. Convert last year’s bonus for educational assistants to a base building raise. And provide educators with much-needed time in the workday to meet student needs – including a 45-minute lunch period for elementary teachers and a maximum of one hour per week of meeting time for all teachers.

Several members attending the Tuesday school board meeting held signs up during testimony

Several members attending the Tuesday school board meeting held signs up during testimony (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Second-year MPS teacher Josh Jackson told the board: “I started at MPS in K4. I stayed in MPS for fourteen years as a student. I came back to MPS as a teacher because I wanted to give back to the community that raised me. I want to succeed in MPS.” Jackson described how teachers will lose their career path if MPS does not honor the salary schedule it agreed to last spring: “Right now, my salary is $41,000. If we do not get our salary schedule steps, in 2045, when I am 56 years old, I will have the exact same amount of buying power I have right now: $41,000.”

MTEA vice president Kim Schroeder said: “This is not how we attract and retain quality teachers. We need you to honor the teacher salary schedule we agreed to last year.”

MTEA vice president Kim Schroeder addresses the school board (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

MTEA vice president Kim Schroeder addresses the school board (photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Educational assistants who have been active in the Raise UP EAs campaign testified in support of the proposed 1.62% raise, but were adamant that it would not be enough to make up for more than three years with no raises. Paraprofessional Ruth Moore testified: “This is a profession where kids need stability. Without pay increases, the stability will not be there, and our kids will not have a committed staff to educate and nurture them.” MEAA president Sequanna Taylor urged the board to approve the proposed raise for educational assistants, convert last year’s bonus to a base building raise, and unfreeze salary steps for educational assistants in their first five years on the job.

Several teachers and parents also testified about the need for teachers to spend their time on planning, contacting parents, and working with students – not in endless staff meetings. Rufus King High School teacher Kelly O’Keefe Boettcher choked up as she told the story of having to deny a student the opportunity to work with her after school because it was a staff meeting day. The student then said, “When is your lunch? I’ll come and work with you then.” O’Keefe Boettecher told the board: “When a student expects me to work through my lunch and through my prep, it’s innocent. But when my employer expects me to work through my lunch and my prep, it’s exploitative. Stop making teachers attend so many meetings, and return me to my classroom and my students.”

Members also testified about the need to preserve and expand the traveling music teacher program, and the need for librarians to be placed on a 200-day schedule.

Initial reaction by top level administrators was not favorable to implementing the teacher salary schedule. One official said that the teacher steps MPS agreed to last spring could only be paid next year if drastic changes to health insurance are made.

The board will hold budget hearings next Tuesday and Thursday, May 12 and 14. It is important that MTEA members continue to have a strong presence at the next two budget hearings, to remind the board they must find a way to honor the teacher salary schedule and to adequately compensate educational assistants.