Monday, May 9, 2011

It's the poverty, stupid.

Oh, the intentions I had to keep this blog regularly updated again....sadly, life gets in the way.

But I have finally carved out some time to pen my thoughts on next year's MMSD Budget. You know, the one in which we ask the Madison teachers to collectively take a $15 million dollar pay cut.

Last year, the Board did not have the flexibility to ask the teachers to make such a sacrifice. Instead, they were forced to propose budget cuts that directly affected student programming. You name it, it was on the chopping block: sports programs, English-Language-Learner services, school closings. After months of difficult negotiations and community-listening sessions, they came up with a budget that worked for most people (within the realm of our very screwed-up school funding formula.) The community came out in droves to state their objection to the cuts. Most of the listening-sessions were standing-room-only. In the end, I felt like we avoided the most damaging cuts. Barely.

But in comes Governor Walker and his budget repair bill, and the tables are turned. Wave the magic wand and we can balance the budget on the backs of our teachers! You know - those overpaid fat-cat teachers.

John Matthews (Teachers Union leader) is calling "uncle" and Ed Hughes (school board member) responds.

I have much more to write on the interplay between management and the union in our school district. Surprisingly, I agree with the school board more often than with Mr. Matthews.

But, I think we are losing sight of the true key issue: childhood poverty. We live in a country in which nearly 20% of our children live in poverty (or "near-poverty.") In our district, 50% of the children qualify for free/reduced lunch. At our school, it is close to 70%.

Who do you think is the one key person who can actually help a kid escape poverty? In my experience, that person is their teacher. The teachers at our school do more than teach - they provide food, clothing, love, guidance, and support.

Every year, I put together a book through iPhoto for our teacher. I ask the kids to tell me their favorite thing about the teacher and we throw together some photos and their quotes. It's really nothing fancy, but it looks nice after Apple gets done with it.

The kids like my son, the ones who grow up with 2 parents and a bed to sleep in and enough food to eat, - they give boring answers: "I have a nice teacher. We do fun things." You know, generic, stock 8-year-old answers.

But the other 2/3rds of the class....they make me cry. They could fill the entire book with the incredibly meaningful things they say about the teacher. It is immediately apparent that for many of the Hmong kids in the class, their beloved teacher is the only person who is able to regularly read to them aloud. They remember she has read all year long. They describe her voice when she reads, the plot of the story, the twist at the end.

Teachers matter.

I am not willing to accept a society in which 1 in 5 children doesn't get enough to eat. And the people I see leading the charge to eliminate childhood poverty are the teachers.

So I'm just not sure how drastically cutting their pay helps anyone.


Bridgett said...

Wow, you're still here--I'm going to put you back on my radar just in case!

Anonymous said...

Excellent. I linked to this through Facebook.


Tammy said...