You Call This “Appreciation”?

It is becoming more and more difficult to accept the rhetoric that people have regarding teachers. It is currently “Teacher Appreciation Week” and in spite of all of the tangible rewards that we are being treated to in the form of incentives (I can get a free Chipotle burrito with my name badge from work – provided I buy a burrito first) and gifts from the PTA of our individual schools, there is a long way to go before I actually feel “appreciated”.

I came into work today having received an email from a high level official in the county where I work that began with words expressing just how much my work is valued, which were then immediately followed by the news that the local board of supervisors voted in a budget where the county schools are underfunded (again) and this time around there may need to be position cuts. In addition, they decided to cut retirement benefits for teachers. Yeah, that’s some real appreciation there.

Before I go on, let’s take a look at what goes into the budget for a school system. The primary form of funding comes in the form of property taxes (meaning if you own property within the boundaries of a district some of your property taxes go toward the school system). In addition, there are state and federal grants and funds mixed in to help out, but neither governmental level provides enough funding to make up a full 25% of an individual schools’ budget. In my county, there was an initiative to establish a meals tax in order to alleviate property taxes and increase the amount of money available to fund public services (you know, the people you rely on to maintain a functional society; police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and teachers) – but it failed in no small part as a result of a concentrated effort by local businesses, who happen to sell food, that did not want a new tax to pay. I don’t mean the business owners just voted against the initiative – they funded misleading propaganda in order to scare the public into voting against the tax. I live in an area where most of the food sellers are franchises, and if they aren’t they have multiple locations in multiple states – in other words; a group international, national, and regional businesses funded propaganda to convince people a meals tax would be economically devastating to them (even though there are similar taxes in almost every surrounding locality). They threatened the low income positions that the most economically vulnerable people fill (“If the tax passes we will have to cut jobs” – even as they are expanding as much as they possibly can). The words I am dancing around are that if “word is bond”, then the word of these businesses is concentrated horse shit. If they have the money to expand, then they have the money to adequately pay their employees regardless of the tax – they just don’t want to pay their employees anything more than they absolutely have to. As Chris Rock once said, “Minimum wage is your boss telling you, ‘If I could pay you less, I would.’”

But that is only one side of things. While the meals tax did not pass, that does not actually account for missing funding, just a missed opportunity to actually display some form of appreciation for public servants in general. On the other hand, I mentioned that the email that brought all of this to mind came from a high ranking official. In truth, it came from the interim superintendent. You might be asking yourself why this person is the interim (only filling the position temporarily), and the answer to that is actually tied to the budget. About four years ago our county welcomed a new superintendent who rode into town on a promise of doing everything possible to ensure competitive compensation packages for teachers. And for a short while, she did as she had promised (she thawed the “frozen” step increases so that teachers could actually get raises again at appropriate times in their careers). Then, she suddenly resigned – she was given a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to head a non-profit (that the county had conveniently signed a contract with just prior to her leaving). Regardless of whether the business (of which she is now president and CEO) is a non-profit, they don’t do their work for free (and at that level a contract is at least a million dollars – conservative estimate – that could have gone toward personnel compensation). In leaving in the way that she did, the work she had done to improve employee compensation was at least partially undone (whether we’re talking about the physical money that went with her or the fact that an interim in the position she previously held has the same amount of power as a substitute in a classroom – our step increases are frozen once again!!), and all that we have to show for it is a few days out of the year where more substitute teachers are in the building because the teachers they were filling in for were observing in other classrooms. Once the rounds of observations were done, there was a staff meeting where we were treated to a discussion of Bloom’s Taxonomy. For context, Bloom’s Taxonomy is pretty much Teaching 101 – everything we needed to know about it was learned in grad school, where it is at least a partial focus of the majority of our required course load. In other words, this process was a multi-million dollar waste of time that did almost nothing for the students, wasted teacher’s time, and in effect did little good at all for the money that was spent (but at least the board of supervisors can point to it as an example of an attempt to provide a better education for the students of the county when their election cycle comes due – kind of a shitty silver lining). Sure, this is just one example of fiscal waste in the county, but do you really think there is only one example of waste in a bloated bureaucratic system such as ours? The point is; if they really wanted to pay teachers (and other civil servants) enough for us to feel appreciated, the money is available if someone knowledgeable and trustworthy enough is willing to audit the system to ensure your tax money is being spent appropriately and effectively.

So while I appreciate the fact that someone was nice enough to declare this week “Teacher Appreciation Week”, between the underfunding and/or wasteful spending approved by our elected officials and their nominated subordinates at the local level (although the trail of terrible representation goes all the way up to the federal level), the concentrated efforts by businesses to contribute as little as possible to the governments where they operate (while still being willing to exploit the spirit of the week for increased profit coming directly from the people they are “thanking” – here’s looking at you, Chipotle), and the discussions regarding our “failing public schools” by people quoting statistics they don’t actually understand – you can take your fake “thank you” and shove it up your ass.

P.S. The one group that has gone above and beyond to show appreciation to teachers, at least where I am, is the PTA. Don’t get it twisted, I love the parents and how willing they are to show their gratitude for the work we do with their kids. They are awesome. It just sucks for them that they live in an area where, during “Teacher Appreciation Week”, an email from the person currently filling the superintendent position starts with how much teachers are appreciated and ends with a description of how they are going to reduce our retirement packages in the next fiscal year – we aren’t that stupid you jackass; if you appreciated us you would find a way to fucking pay us without ensuring we have no ability to retire when the time comes.

Have a nice day.

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