I am encouraged that the House of Representatives has passed emergency legislation that may save 100,000 education jobs around the country, even though it is estimated 300,000 jobs are at stake. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Unfortunately, pundits like Charles Lane of the Washington Post, think this “scary” number was pulled out of thin air by teacher unions and district administrators to save education jobs. “Indeed, given that the unemployment rate among health and education workers is only half that of the work force as a whole, you could argue that it’s the teachers’ turn to absorb some of the pain that they have been spared to date.”
Mr. Lane needs to step off Capitol Hill and walk in the trenches with the rest of us.
This is a bill for public education, a system where each state devises different methods and amounts of funding, and some states, like California, have been slashing funding for years. I know this because I lived in California for 17 years and raised my children in the public schools where I also taught 4th grade. My last class in 1999 had 32 students, of whom 12 were English language learners. There were no classroom aides and parents paid for busing and school sports.
Fast forward to 2010, to a state like Ohio, where home foreclosures are running high and tax collections are running low. This reality hit my district hard in the fall of 2009 as we faced funding shortfalls of $1.6 million dollars. Appeals were made to limit copies and printing. We turned off lights and canceled field trips. A 9.5 mill levy was placed on the ballot in November. It failed.
Funding for databases, books and equipment was halted. In the middle of winter, children living within two miles of their school had to walk or find rides. All high school students were left without busing in a community with little street lighting, no sidewalks and no crossing guards. Ten bus drivers and one mechanic were laid off. Funds ran low and the district had to borrow $1 million dollars at a cost of $13,000 in interest. Next, our special services director was laid off. Three library aides, a computer technician, five custodians and 11 playground monitors were also axed. Everyone worried they would be next.
Levy attempts in February and May, also failed. Sports fees were implemented. A buyout plan was proposed for senior staff members. Their positions would remain unfilled. The school was closed after 4:00 pm to all outside organizations due to the lack of janitors. We threw out our own trash.
The Winter Ball was canceled. Libraries at the middle and high schools were closed half of the week and I ran each location without help. Students were late to school due to the lack of busing and precious class time was lost for teaching. Administrators became traffic cops in the morning and afternoon, and precious staff time with principals was lost. Administrators froze their salaries and the unions made contract concessions.
In the end, ten additional teachers were laid off, as well as the athletic director and curriculum director. Principals will take on the duties of those laid off. Some administrators, like our treasurer and two principals, have found other jobs. The day before school was out, someone set the high school on fire, and the gymnasium and cafeteria were destroyed. Our superintendent applied for a new position in another district. I, too, joined the exodus for a new job in Wooster City Schools. Their levy is on the ballot for August.
Mr. Lane will be happy to know we have not been spared any pain. It was demoralizing, not just for the staff members who have lost their jobs, but especially for the students who wondered what happened to them when they returned from winter break. No field trips, closed libraries, no high school dances: the traditions of the American school experience have been compromised. Those memories of school that I cherish from my childhood have been eliminated for this generation of students. American public schools need help now! Please contact your congressional representatives to support emergency funding.
By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association