Letters from Readers, April 3-6, 2001

Taking issue with the teacher’s union
To the Editor:

This is a painful letter to write. I have been, and always will be, a strong supporter of unions. But I must take issue with the teacher’s union here in Little Falls of which many friends are members.

I believe that the LFEA has lost its moral compass, and has lost touch with the community it ought to be serving. I also believe that the LFEA holds one of the keys out of the district’s current financial woes.

There was a time when teachers were among the lowest paid members of our society. That time has fortunately passed, at least here in the Little Falls district. Teachers’ salaries now rival the average family income in this area.

Teachers, you are now among the economic and cultural elite in this community. You are well respected. You live in fine homes in nice neighborhoods. You’ve done so well that your world has little in common with those who have to pay for your lifestyles.

I have listened to teacher after teacher stand up to defend either their particular program or their individual jobs, usually under the banner of “what’s best for students.” Some have enlisted members of the community to lobby on their behalf. I have heard teachers criticize the administration, district voters, or the governor. Nowhere have I heard teachers acknowledge their own role in the district’s current financial problems, seeds of which were sown in the last contract.

I would like to see teachers themselves take the lead to give something back to the community before asking taxpayers to ante up more of their hard earned money. Here are three suggestions.

Take a salary cut to save jobs. Teachers complain that their salaries are not keeping up with inflation. The fact is that virtually no one’s salary is. Adjusted for inflation the average worker’s salary is lower now than it was in 1973. And who in this community can guarantee themselves a raise simply by taking a few classes? It is in the best spirit of unionism to share the pain for the good of all. A small cut by all would save many of the jobs stated to be cut.

Allow adjustments to the seniority system. One of the tragedies of the current situation is that younger, skilled, energetic teachers are being cut to save the jobs of long-tenured teachers who have stopped being effective. How are the best interests of students being served by this system? This system exists almost nowhere else in our economy.

I belong to a professional organization that long ago decided it was in the best interests of both the profession and its members to start a process to force members to either improve their skills or leave. It is painful, but necessary, in today’s competitive world. I would like to see our teachers union voluntarily do the same.

Be willing to volunteer more. Every day in this community people freely give of their time for projects they care about. Yet, many teachers expect to be paid for any activity they are involved in outside the classroom. It does not automatically follow that a school program must end simply because the money to pay the teacher was cut from the budget. By volunteering some of their time, teachers could make a statement about the value of giving something back to the community for the good of all.

I support the idea of a referendum to help get past the current financial crisis. I also think we need further cuts in district administration. But, without serious structural changes in the teacher contract, we will be back in the same situation a few years down the line. The economics of this community simply cannot support the status quo. I think it would be a powerful gesture if the teachers union took the first steps “in the best interests of our students.”—Bob Barns, Little Falls.


Concerned about the cuts in school
To the Editor:

I have been hearing about all the controversy going on lately regarding the school systems. I am very concerned about many of the academic and fine arts classes and activities that are being cut. I graduated from LFCHS in 1999 and I am now currently attending Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. For me, getting into a college depended greatly on the extra curricular that I was involved in because I did not receive an above average score on my ACTs. Colleges, especially liberal art schools, look at more than just ACT scores when you apply, just look at any college application! The reason they do this is because employers are looking for well-rounded people that know more about life than just what the books teach them.

Another great concern of mine looks at the fact that middle school-aged young adults, especially females, experience a severe drop in self-esteem at this time in their life. Sports and activities such as choir, band and other areas where youth are able to express their artistic talents, and be commended for them, are great boosters of self-esteem. These activities also give the youth something else to do after school and other ways to express themselves. At a time when drugs, sex and violence are reaching the youth at an even younger age, it is even more important to give them something to be proud of and something that can give them a sense of acceptance and belonging.

I think another issue many of our well-paid administrators are failing to acknowledge is the fact that not everyone attending the Little Falls schools is college bound. By cutting classes in the industrial tech, auto body and electronics areas we are only hurting the community of Little Falls. I know that more than one person in my graduating class took the majority of their classes in these areas. They are now either working in Little Falls at one of these professions, or they are attending a one- or two-year school to make their career in these fields.

Life is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. I’m sure these are all points that many people have brought up prior to this letter, but there is still the question of what other options are available … I have a crazy thought. Why not asking the administration to “take one for the team,” and decline their raises for next year, or possibly even take a pay cut for a year or two. While I am sure this will not solve all of our financial debt, it might save one teacher, one program or one student. It makes no sense to me that when the administration makes a mistake the first people to be hurt are the students, the future of our community.—Jessica Marie Schilling, Little Falls

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