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Virginia Journal of Education


Lee County EA Wins a ‘Buttoned Down’ Victory


Last February, 39 Lee County teachers who had not yet earned continuing contracts received a letter from the school system telling them that they might not have jobs when the school year ended. A month later, another letter confirmed their fears—their contracts would not be renewed.

Thirty-seven of those teachers later received an odd offer: They could come back and teach the same classes, only they would be hired as long-term substitutes, not full-time teachers, thereby losing their health insurance and other benefits.

In today’s tough education job market, the teachers accepted the offer, but it didn’t sit right with the Lee County Education Association and its president, Sandra Johnson.

“Our first priority was to make sure people had jobs,” Johnson says. “We figured it would take $350,000 to fully reinstate everyone, which seems like a small price to pay for happy teachers.”
 
Johnson met with the superintendent and called members of the school board, and LCEA came up with a list of suggested cost-cutting measures to find the necessary funding for the teacher positions. The Association also launched a button-wearing campaign, passing out buttons reading “Cut Waste! Reinstate Teachers!” The buttons were created by LCEA member Martha Willis and her husband.
 
“Some principals even came and got buttons for the teachers at their schools,” says Johnson.

At the crucial school board meeting, the buttons were everywhere: on members, non-members, principals and spectators. “It was a little bit intimidating,” says Johnson, with a smile. During her speech to the board, she let it be known that LCEA and VEA were both looking into the legality of the long-term subs plan.

Not long after, the school board decided to offer the teachers full-time contracts, and today all the long-term subs are back on the job, with benefits. “I took a list of members’ names to the superintendent and they were the ones reinstated first,” says Johnson.

In addition, those teachers who were eligible to begin continuing-contract status received it.
 

 


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