Supervisors hear pleas to fund raises for teachers

Pulaski County new logoBy MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

The recently proposed school budget for next year, with its $2 million request for additional local dollars to fund a 7 percent raise for teachers and staff, took centerstage during Monday’s meeting of the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.

While the school budget was not on the meeting agenda, several school teachers and others used the meeting’s public comment period to urge supervisors to grant the school board’s request for additional funds for the raises.

Pulaski County Education Association President Candace Castelluccio was the first to address the board on the issue.

Castelluccio said her request for an additional two minutes to speak for over 700 school employees – above the allowed three minutes – had been denied, so she could not provide the same speech she had given at an earlier school board meeting.

She did, however, repeat some details from that earlier speech, including results from a poll of education association members in regards to inflation, raises and jobs.

“Ninety-six percent of members responded that inflation has affected their financial decisions,” Castelluccio said. “Seventy-seven percent said if they don’t receive a raise next year it would create or continue a financial hardship.  Sixty-five percent said they were at least likely to look for other employment if they don’t receive a raise.”

“Numbers don’t always tell the entire story,” she said. “It’s not just about numbers, its personal,” Castelluccio said, noting she had received pages of details from PCEA members about how inflation had affected their households and how not receiving raise would make matters worse.

Following her comments, Supervisors Chairman Laura Walters asked Castelluccio how many teachers in the county are members of the education association.

“I don’t think we need to disclose that in a public forum,” Castelluccio responded.

Walters responded that she would think the number would be “public knowledge.”

“It makes a huge difference. When you say 75 percent is that 75 percent of 15, is that 75 percent of a few hundred,” Walters wondered.

“I will reach out to our district attorney to see what their advice from counsel is. I was asked that by a reporter and we also decided not to disclose that as well,” Castelluccio responded.

“But I can assure you it is in the hundreds,” she added.

Pulaski resident Jill Williams praised her teachers and the education she had received while growing up in Pulaski, noting that she had found in college she was in most ways just as well-prepared as her college classmates were.

Williams said that nine years ago, she had convinced her husband – who had been born and raised in the greater New York City area – to move to Pulaski and raise their children.

“I promised him Pulaski County schools are full of great teachers and opportunities for our children,” Williams stated.

“As I ponder the fact Pulaski County may not fund teacher raises this year, and we may in fact have to cut programs and teacher positions due to a lack in local operating funds, I’m scared I sold my husband a bill of goods,” Williams said.

“Please fund these raises so we can keep Pulaski County great,” she emplored the supervisors.

E.W. Harless said he agreed that teachers need a raise.

“I’m with them 100 percent,” he said.

“What I’m not in favor of is giving the teachers any more than what our county employees get,” Harless said, noting he believes teachers need step raises.

“The schools can afford their own newspaper … the superintendent has his own private newspaper. That’s probably to the sum of $90,000 counting benefits. So, they can cut, too,” he added.

Harless said he had been in a union for 45 years and had served as a union steward. “I’ve heard it all from both sides,” he said.

“What I’ve learned is you have to work together, but you’re not going to be able to work together with all this trash talk. It’s not going to happen, and the school board is as guilty of it as anybody else.

“Until that stops there’s not  going to be a working relationship,” Harless said.

School teacher Angie Clevinger told supervisors she had endured a lot of economic hardship because she had decided to stay loyal to her school for 25 years.

“We have to have teachers who have licensure and experience who are qualified. There is no loyalty when you’re 20-some years old and you’re not from Pulaski County and those relationships haven’t been built. Those people go across the river and get better pay,” Clevinger said.

“I do believe there’s a lot of peeing contests going on between boards. I get that. But that’s not okay to do when we’re talking about our children’s education. When we’re talking about the future of our children.

“This is not up for debtate,” she said.

“A seven percent raise would be great to give to everyone … I hold two masters degrees. I have been in school for nine-plus years after high school. I can tell you why a child can’t read. I can diagnose their problem and give you a prescription to fix it. Daggone it, I’m worth a seven percent raise. The people in my cafeteria are worth a seven percent raise. The people on the school bus are worth a seven percent raise. I want everybody to get paid what they need to get paid. But when you are in Pulaski County and you go to school like I did and you come back and the appreciation you get is ‘we can’t do a seven percent raise.’ We do our children and our community a disservice. We’re never going to have anything but manufacturing jobs and our kids are going to leave us. And we will not have any jobs,” she said. “We need to work together and educate our children, get more industries in here that are not just building things with our hands and move our children and our community forward into this century.”

Another teacher, Chad Owens, said “everything starts in Pulaski County from the ground up which is our students.”

“If we don’t have good teachers, then we’re not going to have quality young people moving forward that want to be here in this county.

“I like many of the ways Pulaski County is moving,” Owens said. But we “have to make our education system central. If we don’t, I believe everything else will fall short.”

Owens said he has seen excellent teachers leave the county and wish they hadn’t left.

“Only way to keep excellent young teachers is to pay them a little more each year.

“Every job in this county is important … not trying to put one over another. But we’ve got to put extra value in our teachers,” he said.

Next it was the supervisors’ chance to respond.

“This board has supported teacher raises,” said Walters. “We’ve supported a full budget for teachers every year I’ve been elected. Mr. (Dirk) Compton as well. You’ve had other boards who have not, but we have.

“I agree teachers need raises. We want qualified teachers. Unfortunately, we don’t have an unlimited checkbook. Our county employees need raises too.”

Walters said, at this  point, she isn’t sure who says the supervisors are not going to give teachers raises.

“I hear from you that that is the case. But that is not true. The legislature has not come in with its budget, so we’re waiting on that [final word on state funding]. We are just starting on our budget. We’ve had one budget meeting so far to work on our budget.

“So, at this point we don’t know what we are going to be able to do. And knowing the state we’re probably going to find out last minute what you’re going to get [ in state funding] and what we’re going to get.

“But I think I can speak for everyone on this board, we do support good teachers and we know we need good teachers. And we will do all we can to help facilitate that,” Walter said.

“This board has consistently done that,” she continued. “So, if there’s a rumor out there that we’re not going to give you raises, that’s a rumor. Period!

“I know there are those who say we haven’t fully funded you as well. We have fully funded every year. I don’t know that we can fully sustain the amount of increase.

“As far as inflation goes, it affects all of us. We know what you teachers are feeling. I’m on a fixed income. I know what it’s done to us and all of us. And there’s a lot of people less fortunate than all of us in this room.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do about that, but we do understand about inflation,” Walters said.

Massie Supervisor Mike Mooney said schools are very important to him.

“I ave four grandchildren in the school system. Schools are very important to me. School safety is important to me.

“We want to support the school system. We want good teachers. That’s my goal to have my grandkids here when they grow up and for them to stay here and thrive and work in this community.

“We support the school system. We’ve got some hurdles, but I think both boards need to work together and make it work for everybody. That’s my goal,” Mooney said.

Draper District’s Dirk Compton continued.

“I want to thank the teachers in here who taught my sons. I wouldn’t sell you short for anything. Your excellence is as good as any. My boys are being successful going through school now,” Compton said.

“When I joined the board I said I wanted us to do economic development in this county because the more businesses we bring in the more people will have jobs. We’re trying a balanced approach by bringing in businesses to keep  our taxes low. We want to support our kids,” he said.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said the issue isn’t about numbers, it’s about children.

“I know this board. I know your hearts and your minds. I know you are going to do everything you can to support public education … for my children, for teachers and for the sake of this community.

“Rhetoric and fear mongering – all those things – should not play a role in doing what is right and I’m confident this board is going to do what’s right.

“I would love to be able to work strategically, creatively and resourcefully with my counterpart in the school system to figure out the solutions that will be necessary to not just effect a seven percent raise, but to make i.t sustainable. To make it as beneficical to not just the teachers in the school system, but to the students and the taxpayers. To look at it holistically.

“Everything that was said tonight I don’t think is arguable. It is so much more than numbers,” Sweet said.

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