Letter to the Editor: Notice to Redbank Valley School Board

As a property owner in the Redbank Valley School District, I feel angry.

This afternoon I read the Explore Clarion article “Sponsored Content: Notice to Redbank Valley Residents”. In it, the Redbank Valley School Board details the financial aspects of teacher contracts. This is supposedly done in an attempt to help us understand why the school and the teachers have gone two years without a contract, but it is clear that the school board is actually just attempting to make taxpayers, like myself and many members of my family, turn against teachers at Redbank Valley. I’m not willing to do that, at least not yet anyway. I’m not angry at the teachers now that I’ve finished the article. I’m angry at the school board.

I’m angry as a worker. I’m not a teacher at Redbank Valley, but I’ve dealt with contract negotiations too. My union negotiates my contract with my employer, just like the teachers negotiate with the school board. Every time our contract is being negotiated I feel like I deserve more money than I am currently making. I work hard, and I want to be fairly compensated for that work. My employer, however, always feels like I deserve less money, less vacation, or less benefits. We sit down at the negotiating table and we negotiate. In the end, I think both parties feel like it didn’t go perfectly, but that’s just the way of the world. If my employer bought newspaper and Explore Clarion space just to outline my contract to try and turn my neighbors against me, I would be furious. Isn’t that what the Redbank Valley School Board just did? Teacher salaries have always been public knowledge, so why buy space just to advertise them? Clearly this was just an attempt to make us all turn against the teachers, and honestly, I’m not even sure if it is a legal thing to do. Fair labor laws dictate that public institutions not coerce or bully their employees out of their ability to collectively bargain a contract, but clearly the school district is trying to do just that. The school board wants me to walk across the street and tell my neighbor to take less money, or fewer benefits, or whatever, for doing her job, but that’s not my place. She has a family to take care of, just like I do, and I know how I’d react if she came over to my garage and told me that I need to pay for my own health care. I negotiate that with my employer and so should she. I take care of my family, she takes care of her family, and our kids play together after church. End of story.

Speaking of families, I’m angry as a family man. My niece attends Redbank Valley Elementary school. School for her has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. She always has positive things to say about the things she learned and did in school that day. Her teachers make her feel intelligent, valuable, and talented. They send her graded assignments home every single night and keep my brother and sister-in-law in the loop with what she is learning in school. I cannot even begin to list the things she has said to me about those teachers, and it saddens me that I am unwilling to type their names for you because I worry that the school board will work extra hard to drag those teachers through the mud as well.Those teachers push my niece to read, and write, and do her math tables to the best of her ability. They counsel her when a classmate steals her pencils, or when she feels left out at recess. They make her feel like a valuable member of our society, and for that, I literally cannot thank them enough. One day my daughter will be old enough to attend school and I legitimately pray that all of those teachers are still there when she gets to school. High quality people demand to be treated with respect, and if the school board won’t respect them, I imagine some of those teachers will look for schools that will.

I’m also angry as an informed citizen. I make decisions after I have gathered all of the necessary information. The Redbank Valley School Board insulted me when they assumed that I would turn against the teachers when they advertised their salaries. The school board makes it sound as if the teachers are the problem, but I think it’s pretty impressive that the teachers have been willing to continue teaching our kids for the past two years without a labor agreement in place. Whatever you think about teacher contracts, I think we could all agree that the teachers deserve some respect for doing their jobs without a contract in place. They certainly don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud so that the school board can pressure them into accepting a contract. If you’ve ever negotiated a contract, you know that a lot more goes into it than salary and benefits. Every aspect of the job is negotiated, and while the school board says that the only sticking point has been health care, but I have to wonder if maybe there are other concerns that are being discussed as well. The thing is, fair labor laws are in place to make sure that these things are collectively bargained at a negotiation table, not in the newspaper.

I’m sure that teacher salaries and benefits are a large portion of the school’s budget, but that’s true of any employer. From the information the school board posted, it’s clear that teachers make pretty good money, but you know what? They have pretty important jobs, too. We trust our teachers with our children. We trust them to impart all of the knowledge they will need for college and future jobs, while also looking out for them as people. We want to make sure that we have good teachers, right? Well, teaching as a profession wouldn’t attract talented individuals if it offered minimum wage. I know plenty of people who make a lot more money than teachers, some of whom serve on the Redbank Valley School Board.

Is the Redbank Valley School in such a bad position that they can’t afford to meet the teachers’ contractual demands? I don’t know. I don’t know because I don’t have all of the information to make such a decision, but if the school board wants to do a real public service announcement, then I think they should. I just think they should give us all of the information we need. They’ve already given us the salary and benefits package for the teachers, but there is some other information that I’d be curious to know.

  1. 1. What is the compensation and benefit package for the administration at Redbank Valley? I bet the administrators make a lot more money than the teachers, yet their information was not published. Why is that? Didn’t the school board think we’d be as mad at the teachers if we saw that the administrators made twice as much, or more, than them?
  2. 2. What is the compensation package for all other school employees? What do they pay out for their business office personnel, secretaries, custodians, maintenance crew, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc.? Why are we only worried about teachers? I’m not willing to hate monger against the teachers just because I got detention from one in 8th grade. I was being a jerk, and I deserved it. The point is that lots of people are paid by the district, not just teachers, but not all of those people impact our students in the same way that teachers do.
  3. 3. How much money does the school spend on non-academic endeavors? It’s easy to see the teacher compensation package and feel like that’s too big of an expense, but I’d rather they spend their money on good teachers than on a new gymnasium, or a weight room, or renovations to the football field. Maybe the teachers won’t sign the school board’s contract because they feel like the school is spending too much money on non-academic expenses. I don’t know that this is the case, but it never occurred to me that I should ask, at least not until the school board posted their article.
  4. 4. How much money does the school have? If you’ve ever done a contract negotiation, you know that both sides look closely over many financial documents. I wonder if the school is really in such a dire financial situation. When times are tough at my job, the union doesn’t ask for as much. When the company has money, we ask for more. I wonder if something like that is going on with the school as well. The school board seems interested in posting financial information, so why not post it all? My neighbors and I are smart enough to look at the numbers and decide who we agree with.

I feel insulted that the Redbank Valley School Board thinks that I will look at one number and make a complicated decision. I hope that the school board will read my response to their notice and provide the taxpayers with all of the information they need to make an informed decision. Since times are so tough for them, maybe next time they can just write a letter to the editor,for free like I did, instead of paying for print space.

– A Concerned Citizen

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