Margaret's Musings: A column long overdue but conflicted at the heartFriday morning, I decided to walk around downtown Hudson to see if I could get some folks to comment on the record about these two questions: “How do you feel about Gov. Walker’s proposed bill?” and “How do you feel about the Hudson teachers’ walkout?”
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Friday morning, I decided to walk around downtown Hudson to see if I could get some folks to comment on the record about these two questions:
“How do you feel about Gov. Walker’s proposed bill?” and “How do you feel about the Hudson teachers’ walkout?”
Now those who know me, know I have been a strong supporter of public education all of my life and particularly for the last 27 years since I have been in this business. I have worked throughout the district, in all of the schools at one time or another as a journalist. As spring approaches I will be busy covering teacher, student and school-wide events as the end of the school year draws near.
In doing my job, I frequently ask people why they have moved to Hudson. Uniformly most respond that they came here for the quality of our schools. They are not talking about the buildings, although our brick and mortar buildings are something to be proud of as well. The quality of the district comes from the quality of the teachers, many of whom hold post-graduate degrees. I have many friends, past and present, who are teachers and my dad, nearly 90, served tirelessly on a school board for over 30 years.
We have a lot to be proud of here. The district is one of the best in the nation.
Unfortunately, the teachers’ action last week leaves a lot to be desired.
What is even sadder is that business owners in Hudson have been and continue to be intimidated by the teachers’ perceived power. Through the course of the morning six independent business owners refused to comment on the record about how they felt for fear of repercussions. Even as I write this column, I admit to harboring the same fear, especially since I feel I have a unique relationship with the teachers, especially those I interact with on a regular basis. However, that being said, I hope by expressing my personal opinion they are able to realize just as they had a right to protest “after school hours,” I also have a right to express an honest opinion.
There is nothing so powerful in a child’s life as an exceptional teacher. Years ago, I took a Physics for Adults class. The teacher was an astronomer with a Ph.D. from Rice University. While teaching this class he shared with us that he nearly flunked freshman algebra in high school. It was an exceptional teacher that turned his life around.
Today, Dr. David Talent is a senior scientist and astronomer specializing in astronomical techniques applied to space surveillance problems. I have never forgotten his story of how one teacher made such a profound difference in his life.
In Wisconsin the teachers have been privileged to be members of the strongest and most strident education union in the nation. Ask any teacher in any other state and they know of the reputation WEAC has.
It was with complete dismay, I watched a New Richmond teacher proclaim on television that he just might have to find a different job. He did not say a second job. In tears he proclaimed he would have to leave teaching. I say, “Go for it.” I would like to see him find a job in the present market that pays entirely for his retirement and all but a very small percentage of his health care plan. That level of employee benefits simply does not exist in the private sector, yet teachers have grown to take them for granted.
The private sector has been hurting a long time. Unemployment is still high and many folks have lost benefits, gone without raises and lost employer retirement contributions completely. Many have taken significant pay cuts as well. Yet, most are grateful they have jobs.
Our teachers showed a complete lack of responsibility by walking off their jobs on Friday. That caused great distress to parents who were not notified until nearly 10 p.m. Thursday evening that school would not be in session the next day.
I thought the Hudson teachers were better than that. After all, the community just last spring granted them a 4.67 percent raise for the 2010-2011 school year. Administrators, for the same year were given 4.80 percent and the superintendent was given a 5.40 percent raise. That is more than most of the citizens paying their salary have seen in years. Yes, I used the numbers for the current year to make a point. The average for the two-year contract which included the 2009-2010 year was 3.48 percent for teachers, 2.40 percent for administrators and 2.70 percent for the superintendent.
Over two decades ago, I was covering a teachers’ in-service prior to the beginning of the school year in Red Wing, Minn. Anthony Boza, former Minneapolis chief of police, was the keynote speaker,
His message was clear: The most important job in America falls to the teachers. They have the future of our nation in their hands. Teachers can change the course of individual lives. He had nothing but the best to say of the teaching profession. He went on, however, to point out that, in our society, that importance did not equate to equal pay.
Today, the teaching profession, especially in Wisconsin, has made phenomenal strides in providing better compensation for a profession which holds in its hands a huge responsibility. However, at the same time, the union has created a very negative situation. It has bullied not only its own members but the very citizens who pay the taxes.
It is time for educators to take a breath and share the burden with those who pay for their extraordinary benefits, the likes of which are nearly unknown, not only in the private sector, but in other school districts in state and out, including those next door in Minnesota.
I am proud of our district and its many wonderful teachers but I feel they could have shown us a higher level of character by staying in the classrooms last week.