Guest Editorial, September 26, 2009 |

Guest Editorial, September 26, 2009

Heidi Matthews, Park City

As the Park City Education Association president, I represent the many teachers in our Park City School District. We are a dedicated group who have willingly chosen this life of educating students in this community. We are parents. We are taxpayers. We are professionals. We are thankful that the decisions we made with regards to our own education and career choices have lead us to these students and this community.

Like those who have taken career paths in the private sector, we are not immune or insensitive to these economic hard times. We too want to maintain financial sustainability; we too see our security dwindling. When the school district where we work — where we live — where we educate our own children is experiencing significant budget shortfalls, we understand and want to seek solutions.

Over the past few weeks we have been meeting with school-district administrators to seek these solutions. On the night of Sept. 15, about 150 teachers, who had already spent a full day teaching children, took about four hours of their own time to express concerns to the Park City Board of Education. We united that night with the belief that there were other solutions to district budget shortfalls than had been explored and were going to be voted upon. Simply put, our message at the meeting that night was about the need to establish priorities in our school district.

Our students have amazing educational opportunities. For many it is why they moved their families to Park City or sought a teaching position here. As a teacher, I certainly do not want to cut any program that helps students. Qualified teachers, however, are the key to implementing these programs. As a district, our first priority should be to attract and retain the most qualified teachers to implement these programs. Compensation is critical to this goal. However, the recent Board of Education decision to reduce teacher compensation before exploring other options seems contrary to this logic.

Health insurance, like salary and other benefits, is an integral part of our compensation package. Cutting insurance benefits means cutting compensation. Park City teachers are already facing a salary decrease of about two percent with the loss of funding for planning and training days. We were understandably not anxious for any further cuts to our compensation.

Yes, the vote to further reduce our compensation elicited a strong response from the teachers, a few of whom put voice to those feelings on the night of Sept. 15. The frustration was increased with a surprising alternate recommendation made after the time had passed for public comment. This eliminated the opportunity for teachers to have any input.

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Rather than spend our time in this community pointing fingers about behavior or making judgments about who is more deserving of what, why don’t we begin the more meaningful conversation about our priorities and how we are going to move forward? How can we as a community and a school district maintain our level of services in this economy? How can we assure that our most qualified teachers who provide these educational services are able to sustain a modest living with equitable compensation? How can we continue to make sure every student has a highly qualified teacher at the head of the class?

As the representative of the Park City School District teachers, I would encourage our community to see that we have already shown our willingness to join the conversation.