A teacher speaks to lawmakers

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, April 28, 2011

An open letter to Senator Brian Taylor and Representative Alan Boothe:

During the past two years, our national political discourse has run the gamut of extremes between a veto-proof, filibuster proof Democratic Congress with a liberal president, to a very conservative Republican House, as well as many republican-leaning state legislatures. Voters have sent a strong message that they expect their government to stop out-of-control spending and live within their means. This dynamic has obviously had a ripple effect in our own state, which has caused the election of the first Republican governor/senate/house combination which have sat together since reconstruction. I am sure that you are both bursting at the seams with the powerful feeling that gives you and your caucus as you craft legislation. For the record, I was one of the voters who decided that we needed a more conservative tone to government.

That said, it is my opinion, and I assure you that of an overwhelming number of my teaching colleagues at Charles Henderson High School that both of you personally, as well as your fellow politicians in the statehouse in general, are misreading and overreaching the mandate your party won in the last election. I am unaware of any teachers who were invited to have advisory roles on your committees, or whose opinions were sought to find solutions for our current budgetary dilemma. (Were there any?). Let me provide a point of view that counterbalances that which you must be getting from others to whom you are politically beholden.

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With respect to public schools in Alabama, while I am sure that you pay appropriate lip service to education professionals and the students they teach, I am afraid that the legislation you have both supported during the current session (and in some cases, have already passed), tells another story about whether you value what goes on in our public schools on a daily basis. Your legislative actions are both so extremely anti-student and anti-public education that it makes me wonder whether the true agenda of some politicians in Montgomery is nothing less that the dismantling of our current system in favor of one in which only private schools exists. In your eagerness to exact revenge on Paul Hubbard and AEA simply because you perceive that organization as your political adversary, you have lost sight of the fact that your actions are permanently damaging to students and the teachers who serve them.

HB 414 cuts teacher pay 2.5 percent over about one year beginning this fall.(I suppose teachers should be grateful that you didn’t deduct the entire amount immediately). Both of you supported cutting $72 million dollars from state-funded teacher units. This will put 1,100 teachers in our state on the unemployment line, an action that will further damage an already fragile economy in our region. SB 310 eliminates tenure and fair dismissal. I am 100 percent with you on the tenure issue. Good teachers don’t need tenure. However, what about fair dismissal? The current bill provides that an administrator can place a teacher on unpaid leave at any time they chose in a completely arbitrary fashion, and without having to provide a reason. Is it right in our country for governments to eliminate due process rights for employees? I tend to think that the state will have to defend itself often in courts when the lawsuits inevitably come on this issue.

HB 525/SB 412 is terribly ill-conceived. It takes control of all teacher retirement invested funds from an independent TRS board elected by its own members to a board appointed by politicians. What a brilliant plan! We all know how well a board beholden to the politicians who appointed them will serve the best interests of teachers and taxpayers as they manage the educators’ retirement funds, don’t we? By the way, it is illuminating indeed that only the teacher retirement money is singled out for this managerial coup. The retirement funds of other state workers are untouched. How this is supposed to help the State of Alabama is hard to fathom. This legislation does not pass the smell test, I’m afraid.

Additionally on the subject of legislation, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Boothe, please tell your constituents who happen to be parents how the plan is coming along, that is under current consideration in the Legislature, which would axe up to five school days from the calendar year in 2011-2012 (and which would bring Alabama far below the national average for student attendance days).

In closing, let’s face some hard decisions, shall we? We all have to tighten our belts and live within our means, right? Let’s see, now. Since my personal bills are going up, not down, and you are reducing my salary, where should I cut from my own budget? How about the $400 plus dollars I would spend out of my own pocket next year for instructional supplies that my students and I use in my classroom? (I have spent at least this amount for each of the 39 years year I taught, because wanted my students to have something extra). Legislators used to grant classroom teachers some money, but they decided that it would be wise to cut those funds several years ago. Maybe I should decline to participate in the numerous school fundraisers about which my students approach me every year. (I am delighted that you folks in the Legislature do not have to sell fruit to maintain your programs). Now I know both of you gentlemen are fair, and believe in shared pain, right? Hmmm, let’s examine that thought. The landed gentry in this state pay pennies on the dollar for their hundreds of acres in timber land. I don’t see Goat Hill politicians tell them they have got to sacrifice and pay more. And didn’t the politicians give themselves a decent raise during the last session? I haven’t had a raise in several years, and I’m about to get a cut. The next election comes soon, gentlemen. Teachers and their families vote in good numbers, as do many of their children and extended family. Parents of affected students vote as well. Please redo your math and reconsider what your mandate really is.

David Laliberte

CHHS math instructor, Troy