To The Daily Sun,
Education, as many know, is forever evolving. The system that children of the past were nurtured and grew in, is nowhere close to the school system of today.The demands on today's teachers are far greater than ever in the history of education. Teachers are expected to be counselors, mathematicians, parents, mediators, scientists, cheerleaders, historians, dieticians, anti-drug spokespeople, community activists and so much more.
The fact that our teachers in Laconia have been without step increases for over four years is just appalling to me. I see teachers from my children's school at countless community events where they are supporting students after hours, yet we seem to be turning our backs on this same group when they need our support most. It is part of this unwavering LOVE for kids and community that keeps the teachers of Pleasant Street School and the other four Laconia schools, consistently putting in countless hours outside of the school day. These same professionals are trying to enrich students who are ready to soar, but are left doing this juggling act on their own, as there is no money for enrichment programs at the elementary schools like neighboring towns have. Now more than ever, we need to come together to rally behind the teachers and award them with fair contracts. The alternative, will leave teachers nervous for future job security, as positions repeatedly need to be dropped each year.
I know for a fact that the School Board has tirelessly tried to shave costs, even making the tough decisions to cut positions to stay within the budget. Yesterday evening I learned that the School Board had to cut 1.7 million dollars from the previous year's budget. This year was another $800K. With less federal and state money being given to schools than ever, we are going to be left with figuring how we will financially support and sustain our schools with less and less national support. Yes, this is unfortunate, but a reality nonetheless.
One councilor at the meeting expressed concerns that if the city councilors advocate for the proposed teacher contract that they would of course have every other city employee coming to seek compensation too. I, like most, value and respect police officers, firefighters, road crews, and the many other city employees who work day in and day out to make Laconia a city we can be proud of. I'd ask the council members if turnover within these other city positions comes even close to that of the teachers in our district? I already know the answer is NO! So perhaps the more burning question the council members must ask themselves is WHY? The answer is rather simple. Because of these budget freezes and constant budgetary cuts each year, our salary scales are now the lowest in all neighboring towns, including Franklin, Meredith, Gilford, Winnisquam and Belmont. How are we expecting quality educators to want to come and stay in a city that clearly is not putting education as its top priority? How are we attracting middle class families to come and plant roots in our city?
As I was speaking at the last City Council meeting, I looked out at a room packed with educators. I saw the pride in the way they stood tall, the unity in the sea of red shirts, but most importantly, the concern on their faces. Each time citizens stepped up to the microphone to speak out in supporting the teachers, the applause was thunderous.
I myself went through the Laconia school system from kindergarten until I graduated from LHS in 1996. I now teach in Belmont and have for the last 17 years. I'm proud of what I do on a daily basis and would never change careers for the world. I have administrators, school board and a town that values education, always putting the kids as a top priority. I am one of the lucky ones I guess. I used to daydream about teaching in Laconia, giving back to the community that gave me so much. Because of teacher salaries in the basement, this dream fizzled like air from a balloon. I'd no longer be able to support my family of six. Yet somehow, our teachers in Laconia have made this budget crisis work temporarily, supporting their salaries with second even third jobs. When all towns that border Laconia are offering superior contracts, and consistent step increases, it's no wonder we are losing 17 teachers who we have trained to these neighboring schools.
I don't have all the answers and certainly cannot think up the solution myself. I at least left the last City Council meeting feeling like some of the councilors are in favor of reaching an amicable solution with the School Board to show unified support. If overriding the tax cap conservatively isn't the answer, I look forward to hearing what is. One thing remains certain ... we must find a way to once and for all show our city's teachers that they deserve a fair contract for all they are doing for the city, today, tomorrow and the future. The council will be voting on this important issue at an upcoming June 5 meeting and I look forward to seeing another packed room as we get to listen to proposed solutions. My final question is for the city councilors to ponder: Do we want to live in a basic city or an extraordinary city? I know my answer.
- Category: Letters
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