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Stafford Teachers Take a Stand


Congested roads in Stafford make for cranky drivers, so honking and blaring horns on Route 1 usually signal tired motorists impatient to get home.

On Tuesday, however, the rush-hour noise on Route 1 was all about support for Stafford Education Association members, who braved the rain and lined up along Route 1, outside the county courthouse, urging drivers to honk for increasing school funding. Blaring horns echoed down the road as teachers, support personnel, students, parents—even a baby—bore signs and tee shirts reading "Fund Our Future,” “Honk If You Support Schools,” and “Restore Our Value.”

(Click here to view a slideshow of photos from the rally.)

It was the latest evidence that SEA members will not go away quietly as the county’s Board of Supervisors continued to slash school funding. In the latest budget cycle, county supervisors took up the school board’s request for an additional $15 million in school funding required to deal with growth and stepped-up demands—and slashed all but $750,000 of it.

As a result, employees will not get a true COLA this year (small stipends are being given). Step increases for newer employees will be miniscule, and teachers at the top of the scale will get only a $700 stipend.

Teachers like Lou Wendling, who’ve endured three consecutive years when the county board made such significant cuts, say they’ve had enough.

“Two years ago, we started losing positions, and the class sizes started increasing,” said Wendling, who chairs the math department at Brooke Point High School. “With the cuts they’re making in funding, we’re going backwards. The teachers in Stafford are physically and mentally exhausted.”

SEA President Jannette Martin is currently teaching special education classes at Rockhill Elementary School—but that will change next year, as her position will not be funded at that school. Instead, she’ll have to split time at two other campuses. Stafford leaders are compromising on school quality, she said.

“We’ve seen class sizes rise, teachers are doing more with less, they’re working longer hours, staff turnover is 10 percent, and morale has gone down,” said Martin. “We need to shine a light on what is going on, and put the focus back on education.”

Since May 19, as part of the SEA’s “Restore Our Value” campaign, Stafford teachers have been “working to the rule.” They’ve done everything they can to compress their duties within the required 7.5-hour work day. But they’re reclaiming all the extra unpaid time they worked to keep up with committee meetings, grading at home, serving as chaperones, and so on. At many campuses, members enter and leave the buildings together in a show of unity. Many SEA members also are taking leave to spend shifts maintaining a campaign presence at the county administrative office building.

At Tuesday evening’s board meeting, teachers like Jeff Cooper, a government teacher at Stafford High School and a Stafford schools graduate himself, were blunt in telling Supervisors how educators felt about their budget-cutting and the signal it sent. “I have two job interviews with different counties in this area,” said Cooper. “The only reason I would leave Stafford is this board’s lack of respect for educators and this board’s refusal to provide the basic funding needed to support quality education driven by quality teachers.”

Carol Huebner, a middle school math teacher and SEA treasurer, said she and other teachers were not about to quit the fight for better funding—or for the respect they deserve. “We need the administration, the supervisors, the school board, the children, and the parents to respect what we do,” she said. Faced with increasing demands (her class load has jumped from 103 to 148 students in the past three years), “we’ve always just done it,” said Huebner. “This is long-term; we’re going to stick with it.”

For more about Stafford’s work to the rule campaign, go to:
http://seaweteach.org/

To view photos from Tuesday’s SEA rally, go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/veacomm/sets/72157605425729438/


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