Picture from "The Library Dragon" by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrations by Michael P. White

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
- G. K. Chesterton

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Letter to Senator Kenley

I sent this about a week ago:

Dear Senator Kenley,

As a constituent and educator I am writing to you to ask you to support SB 144 and to rethink the recent education legislation passed that is hurting our students and public schools. I have been in education for 25 years and I have never seen such upheaval as in the past few years. For some reason the Indiana legislature decided it was their job to "fix" education. Laws were passed that had an extremely negative impact not only on teachers and students but me personally. Following the property tax cap, schools were left with little to no state funding. At that time I was a high school media specialist for Southern Hancock Schools. First my assistant was cut. Then I lost half my budget (which was pretty small to begin with) and finally, in the Spring of 2010 I was laid off. I had worked for the school system for twenty-three years but because there Indiana requires only one licensed media specialist per school district and my district had one who had more seniority, I was RIFFED. The media specialist who took my job was due to retire in two years so it was my hope that at that point I'd be called back. But no, the legislature butted in again saying that teacher unions could only bargain for wages and benefits, thus the former system of calling back RIFFED employees was now void.
After two years of searching, I finally found a new position at Zionsville Schools but I had to basically start over at a beginning teacher salary. Consequently, I'm now making over $10,000 a year less than I was previously. Oh, and I forgot to mention that while I was unemployed and looking for work, I went back to school to get a Masters in Library Science to better myself and my chances at finding a better paying position. Unfortunately, a Masters degree means little to nothing in education in Indiana anymore. In my new position as a middle school media specialist, I actually get to spend very little time running the school media center because I'm expected to teach research/keyboarding classes to fifth and sixth graders. This year I also had to teach a seventh grade computer skills class. While I have a great deal of experience collaborating with classroom teachers to teach research skills, this is the first time I have ever had to teach on my own. Studies indicate that it is best to teach research skills by integrating them into subject area but since I am not part of the fifth and 6th grade teams this is difficult for me to do. In the past this class was taught by the fifth & sixth grade teachers but guess what - budgetary restrictions have changed all that. As enrollment increased, so did class sizes. There wasn't enough money to add new teachers. It was decided that the only way the middle schools could afford to keep their media specialist was to use them to teach these classes. Am I qualified to teach keyboarding and computer skills? Not really. Have I had training on teaching methods for middle school? No. I do the best I can but still I can't help but feel my students are being short changed because of a chain of events that began in the Indiana legislature.

Every day new laws are being passed in Indiana that continue to threaten public education in general and my job specifically. The 2012 law dealing with Protected Taxes for Schools contains undue restrictions which minimizes the amount of money flowing into the different school fund accounts. Many school districts may need to use dollars from their general fund to pay for transporting students to school. This means less money to pay for teachers. Once again I face the very real possibility that I may lose my job - not because of any thing I have done wrong but because of the legislature's failed attempts to "fix" education. I write to you to beg you to please stop! Leave the education of our youth to the experts - teachers, principals, superintendents, and our State Superintendent, Glenda Ritz. Yes, there are school systems in poverty stricken parts of Indiana that need work but there are a lot more that were doing wonderfully before the Indiana legislature stepped in. I worked at two and sent my children to one (Noblesville). If the legislature wants to "fix" those schools that are under preforming then focus on the real reason these students aren't learning - poverty. Please start supporting PUBLIC education in Indiana.

Now here's his response:
Thank you for your extensive email. I am sorry about your personal circumstances. I think if you check with union officials that I am a strong supporter of public education.

I do believe that we have had some serious problems in public education. Performances in our urban areas like Indianapolis have been unacceptable for 30 years and getting worse. It would be criminal for us not to try and improve those situations.

It is a complex problem- as I said, I strongly support the public schools, but leaving it to the "education experts" is what we did, and there have been extreme problems.

Sent from my iPad
On one hand, I was impressed that it appeared he actually answered my letter himself.  On the other hand I did not find his response very encouraging.  Nothing at all regarding the effect of poverty on the performances in our urban schools or why fixing urban school requires the complete overhaul of a system that worked fine for the majority of our school districts for so many years.  Overall, I am not reassured.

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