The Garden City PTA recently issued a query based on parent input about the district's proposed 2009-2010 school budget. The statement included, among other things, a call for "any concessions - financial or otherwise - that the teachers could make to ease the economic pressures of this budget."

In response to this, the Garden City Teachers' Association sent the following response to the PTA leadership:

In reference to the PTA's recent public statement on next year's school budget, we respectfully encourage you to consider the following points:

1. Teachers are already making (and have been over the past three years under the current contract), and will continue next year to make, a direct contribution to the district's fiscal health in the form of increased health-care contributions. In fact, our increased contribution next year outstrips the rise in cost of our health-care coverage, thus resulting in a financial gain for the district.

2. Unlike business, the fruits of teaching are difficult to quantify. For example, how much athletic scholarship money have Garden City students received, due, to a significant degree, to the coaching efforts and college contacts of our coaching staff? How much money in academic scholarships? How much in music scholarships? How much money have parents saved due to college credits earned from success on AP exams? While the students themselves, as well as their parents, deserve tremendous credit for these accomplishments, Garden City teachers have also contributed significantly. What is this worth in dollars?

3. Furthermore, as I recently argued in my monthly message to GCTA members, calls for cuts in teacher pay today represent a betrayal of an implicit bargain that many teachers make when they choose this profession. For in becoming teachers we accept the unfortunate reality that we will never become wealthy. This realization, however, is offset by the knowledge that we will enjoy a stable career, protected somewhat from the vicissitudes of the economy. We pass up sizable year-end bonuses and handsome raises during boom times, in exchange for protection from the downsizing and pay cuts of the bust times. Those who call for "sacrifices" today conveniently forget that we did not share in the remarkable gains made by many over the last decade. Their message translates into "sacrifice now, sacrifice always." If this is the expectation, how does the public expect to attract qualified people to teach their children? If we want good teachers, the least that we have to offer people is stability. Recent calls move us in the opposite direction.

4. The myth of the overpaid teacher perpetuated in Newsday is just that, a myth. The figures Newsday cites as examples of teacher pay are for people who have post-graduate degrees and PhDs, and who have worked for 30 years in the field. The average teacher's salary is well below what is reported in the media, and this is in a high-cost-of-living region. The reality for most teachers is that most of us must have a working spouse and take on additional side jobs just to make ends meet.

5. Teachers do not exist in isolation from the broader economy. We, too, are part of it. Many teachers are married to people who work in the private sector and are being laid off or fired. We too are seeing the value of our homes and retirement accounts plummet, while our property taxes and other expenses continue to rise. The teacher versus public dichotomy is a false one. We are all in this together.

6. Cuts have consequences. As the PTA alluded to in its statement, the education, health and safety of our students is an important priority for all parties involved. At some point, however, budget cuts will have real consequences. For example, what will the effect of reduced overtime be on the cleanliness of our schools? What is a healthy and safe classroom environment worth to parents? What will the reduction in staffing (as represented by the elimination of sixth periods at the high school and middle school) mean for our students' educational experience? Which class will they have to forego? Which athletes will not be able to play high school athletics because a JV-B team has been eliminated? As a district that already has one of the lowest rates of per pupil expenditure in the area, the budget is already lean. In seeking to cut fat, when do we start to cut muscle?

These are just some thoughts you might want to consider and share as the budget debate proceeds.

Scott McAuley

President, Garden City Teachers' Association

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