‘Real People—Not Line Items’
May 27, 2020
May 27, 2020
Danielle Kinder, vice president of the Russell County Education Association, gave these heartfelt remarks during a budget hearing in her school division in February:
I come from a family of Russell County teachers. My mother has had a long career here, and some of my most vivid memories as a child are watching her grade papers at the kitchen table and decorate her classroom each summer. Despite her obvious love and dedication to her job, she always told my sister and I, “Please, never become teachers.”
So, of course, that’s what we did.
My sister teaches at Lebanon Elementary. She was teacher of the year last year, something my family and I could not be prouder of. She was simply made to be a teacher. Meanwhile, I’ve had the great honor to work down the hall from my mother at Lebanon High, and I have watched her be not only a mentor but a mother to countless new teachers. We’re all distraught that she’s retiring this year.
This is all to say that my family and I have devoted our lives to serving the children of Russell County despite the fact that the county very rarely serves us back. My mother gets to look forward to a rather pitiful retirement because she received only a handful of step raises during her years of service. Because of the years without step raises, my hiring salary was only around $2000 less than my sister, who had been working for RCPS for almost 10 years. She now shares her second grade classroom with another teacher and a room full of students because their building has serious structural damage—a testament to both teachers’ amazing talents.
Each year, I see job postings from Washington County and, like so many, I’ve asked, “Is this the year I choose to place my family’s interests over the interest of the children of Russell County? Will this be the year I leave the school I graduated from, turn my back on my community, and make $5000 more a year?” And each year, I think no, maybe next year. Maybe things will get better.
But my family’s story is an all too familiar one for RCPS employees. I teach next to a man who was my neighbor growing up. He has a master’s degree—and a second job working at Walmart. He told me he can’t buy a house. He always wanted to teach, and he thought he’d at least be able to afford a modest mortgage. He’s a brilliant teacher, but I know he won’t be at LHS long. They never are.
You aren’t losing good teachers—you’re losing your best teachers. I’ve watched countless veteran teachers walk out the door. Last year alone, our school lost six teachers, and none of them left because they were retiring. When planning for retirement, a $10,000 raise outweighs loyalty every time. Most of the teachers we lost were replaced by people who have never spent a day in the classroom or had an education course, working under a provisional license. They come in at the beginning of the year, rightfully terrified. We try to support them the best we can, hoping that maybe they’ll figure it out and stay.
One of our custodians is struggling with medical bills after breast cancer treatment. She had to take leave without pay to get chemotherapy because we no longer have leave-sharing.
My co-teacher is a widow and sole provider for her family. When her insurance doubled, she sat in my room and told me she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. She works after school every day to barely cover her expenses.
The kitchen manager at my school makes $17,000 a year, to manage billing, ordering, personnel, and food prep for a kitchen that feeds a whole high school of hungry teenagers twice a day. Still, when she finds out it’s a kid’s birthday, she takes the time to blow a horn for all the kitchen staff to come out and sing.
There are just so many stories. And that’s why I’m here today—to remind you that real people are affected by the decisions you make. As you all review the budget this year, I want to remind you that these people are more than line items. I’m also here because I’m worried about the future of the schools in the community I love and serve. As we continue to fall behind other counties, how will we ever keep the educators and support staff we need? How will we continue to provide quality education to the students of Russell County?
Every day, I stand in front of the watchful eyes of those students. When they see me grading papers at my desk or putting the finishing touches on my bulletin board, some of them, sometimes, feel a little spark inside of them. Some will tell me, “Hey, Mrs. Kinder, I really think I might want to be a teacher one day.” When that happens, what do I say? “Don’t be a teacher”?