Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chat transcript with Sam Rabiola

August 18, 2005


Moderator: Welcome to our online chat with Lawrence Education Association President Sam Rabiola. We're pleased to have him with us in the News Center today.

We've got good questions in the queue, so let's get started.

Dean, Lawrence: Whatever happen with ex-president Kruse? When is the trial? Will he repay money?

Sam Rabiola: He has, as I understand it, moved back home. And that's second-hand information, I've had no direct connection with him for months.

The trial is slated to begin the week of September 26. At the preliminary hearing, the lawyers planned for a five-day trial.

At this point, however, the legal system is running its course. I've read the discussions about a plea bargain in the Journal-World last month.

It's out of my hands.

Heather M , Lawrence: What do parents of children in the district need to do to support the teachers?

Sam Rabiola: First of all, develop a relationship with the child's teacher so that the two parties are working together to educate the child. It's certainly a give-and-take situation but both parties need to be apprised of the actual situation in terms of how a student perhaps is spending work time.

Sometimes I've found that students give their parents one story that teachers have a different perspective on. By both parents and teachers having a relationship they can talk about how the child is doing. They can help move the child forward.

Brian, Lawrence: Is it not true that the LEA/NEA is simply a political lobby and provides no tangible benefits to teachers for the money they provide out of their paychecks each month?

Sam Rabiola: The political action that the Association participates in is only one facet of how we work to improve education and the conditions for teachers.

We provide in-service to help new teachers to stay in the profession. Currently, 42% of new teachers leave the profession within seven years.

We also work to provide a professional compensation package for certified staff.

At the other end of the salary schedule, about 40% of experienced teachers are going to be leaving the profession in the next five to ten years.

These two ends of the professions put together mean that if we do not significantly improve compensation soon, we are going to face a serious shortfall.

We also work to boost morale of staff. Teaching is a difficult profession. Many people think back to when they were in school and education today is much different than that. It's even far different today to what it was five years ago.

At the beginning of the year, I noticed in particular the physical demands of the job. Some might say the buildings are air-condition and you're walking around on carpeted floors, but interacting with young people all day is demanding. It takes me a couple weeks to build up to the point where I'm not tired at the end of the day.

Ernie in Tonganoxie: Mr. Rabiola --

I have read news reports across the state that say, despite the new money going into education, most school boards want to give only a small fraction of it to teachers. Why do you think teachers command so little respect? Could it be a sense of teachers being "servants," or is it a reflection of money flow (from board to admin. to teachers and other staff, for example) or what?

I've been stumped by this problem for decades. Any ideas?

Thanks for your time.

Sam Rabiola: One of the reasons for this is the fact that teachers are giving. We go into the profession because we want to help others, and historically, societies use this against teachers.

Also historically, education has traditionally been a profession dominated by women. Unfortunately, the view of women in our society has not been it should have been.

Another reason is the fact that teachers who are married are sometimes viewed as a "second income" rather than a primary income.

These factors together have conspired against paying teachers what they deserve.

Paul, Lawrence: I favor changing the salary schedule so that good teachers are rewarded and really good teachers are really rewarded. Moving to pay based on becoming a "master teacher" seems like just another way to reward status instead of how well someone actually teaches. Why are unions so opposed to merit pay in any form? I know you don't like mediocre teachers anymore than anyone else does.

Sam Rabiola: One realization that we have come to in education is that educators are not working in a vacuum. That we are not running a series of one-room schoolhouses. To educate all children, we work together.

Hence, it would be inappropriate to say that one individual has a larger impact and deserves more than others.

One the subjects I teach is writing. But I work with high-school students. While I can improve their writing, I certainly cannot take credit for everything they know up to that point. How can we separate the value of knowing the alphabet from knowing how to compound-complex sentences.

They are interrelated. I cannot take credit for what another individual did because it might seem larger or more apparent.

Sam Rabiola: In terms of "mediocre teachers," I did not want them in front of my children.

I have two daughters in the district, and I want the best teachers in front of them.

In the master agreement, we have an evaluation policy so that staff are evaluated fairly and that individuals who are not performing appropriately are given the opportunity to improve. If they don't take advantage of that opportunity, they are treated fairly in terms of being moved out of the classroom.

Moderator: Here's a question from Journal-World Reporter Sophia Maines: How would you assess the progress of salary negotiations thus far? How has the mood changed from the last round of negotiations?

Sam Rabiola: We are certainly not at impasse as some readers took from the last story about negotiations.

In terms of negotiations, "impasse" is a legal structure when the two sides are not talking. The two sides are currently still talking. While we have differences about how much the board should increase teacher salary and how that increase should be distributed to certified staff, we are still talking.

Compared to finishing negotiations for the 2004-2005 master agreement, the two sides are doing a better job of listening to each other's concerns and attempting to address those.

I think the mood is noticeably better than it was in February and March. Though I don't mean to imply that we are holding hands and singing "kumbayah."

Howie, Lawrence: Please justify why collaboration time must be spent during the educational day as opposed to after 3:30.

Sam Rabiola: Alluding to my earlier comment about working together to educate children, this essential component, time, must be part of the duty day. Not something that is done afterwards.

Other cultures have their children in classrooms far less than we do. In Japan for example, students are with teachers about half the day, and the other half of the day, the teachers are preparing for class, grading, preparing lesson plans and working with other staff. Germany has a similar situation.

A few years ago, the district implement a new reading program that made reading instruction more individualized. This was modeled on a program from New Zealand, where students go home at 1:30 and teachers are on duty until four-ish.

Most of the rest of the world recognizes that what teachers do is not just stand in front of students and deliver information. Most of the rest of the world recognizes that preparation is key to providing quality education.

Kathy, Lawrence: Any chance elementary and junior high teachers could at least be open to discussing moving Wednesday's early dismissal to a more convenient time? It seems they could collaborate in the morning as they do in high school.

Sam Rabiola: A number of districts in this state and across the nation collaborate at different times. Some districts use Friday afternoons, some take take all day Monday, the key is that it is regular and scheduled instead of sporadic.

I would guess that in these districts that those times are not seen as "convenient" by all parents. Thus, it's a matter of balancing priorities, but planned collaboration time must remain a priority.

Moderator: Another question from Sophia: What would you say teachers expect over the next few years in terms of salary?

Sam Rabiola: We are working towards being competitive across the experience spectrum with competing districts. By competing districts, we need to look East, because that's where a number of teacher who are leaving Lawrence Public Schools are going.

One colleague left and got a $6,000 raise. That's before the district he went to knew how much additional budget authority they would have from the state. On top of that $6,000, once the board and teacher negotiators came to an agreement, he got an additional $3,200.

Another person who left the district last year got a $10,000 raise before negotiations were settled.

If we want to keep teachers like these in Lawrence, the compensation package for educators needs to be comparable.

stuart Lawrence: Hi, part of the most expensive costs of housing is the property taxes. For some reason, the school district just doesn't get it, nor do the teachers. Their salaries come from taxes, local and state. USD 497 is basically pillaging the taxpayer. Why doesn't the teachers union realize this and take what they have and not steal from the taxpayer. The teachers are earning far more than they pay into the local tax base on their own property. This has to stop for Lawrence to become realistic in terms of housing costs. Between USD 497 and Aquila, it is a wonder anyone will continue to live here.

Question? What is the teacher's union doing to stop the spiraling out of control USD 497 budget? Or does the union really care as long as it gets what it wants?

Sam Rabiola: Teachers understand paying taxes. That was one of the concerns last year when the district only implemented the salary schedule. That additional money, for many teachers who live in Lawrence, did not cover the higher property taxes.

Some teachers cannot afford to live in Lawrence with housing prices what they are. Hence, their families, their children, are being educated in other school districts. We ought to work towards a system where teachers live in the district where they teach. And if they have children, their children are in the district as well.

However, the matter of housing prices has affected the district in another way. Many young families cannot afford to buy a house in Lawrence, so they are buying houses in outlying districts, like DeSoto.

DeSoto's growth has enabled it to increase compensation for teachers. Because we are losing, or for the past few years we have lost students, we have not been able to increase compensation.

The more important factor than property taxes, because that is largely but not entirely controlled by the state, is housing prices.

One of the things that the new school finance law did away with was ancillary weighting, which very few districts got. DeSoto, Blue Valley, and Olathe were among those districts. That ancillary weighting had nothing to do with student enrollment, the cost of educating students, or teacher compensation. It was simply a way to get legislators in those districts to vote for the earlier finance plan.

Lawrence did not get this ancillary weighting. So the matter of financing education and teacher compensation is far more complex than merely looking at property taxes.

Moderator: Those are all the questions we have today. We'd like to thank Sam Rabiola, again, for dropping by the News Center for our online chat.

Moderator: Our next chat will be next Thursday, with Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin.

Sam Rabiola: Thanks to the Journal-World for inviting me. And I do appreciate the support of Lawrence as a whole for education in general, and for teachers in particular.


Salvador 12 years, 9 months ago

"I think macon47 is right on, those teachers should never be allowed to call in sick, or deal with personal business during the school year. I mean no other profession gets that kind of a benefit. I've never seen an architect take a day off once they are under contract to design a building--once those rotten lazy teachers start the year they shouldn't get a day off until the end. Period. I mean as stuart said during the chat, all teachers do is pillage the taxpayer---take take take---what do we ever get for the dollars we pour down the drain on schools?"

Do the people of Lawrence really agree with this argument? As a Lawrence teacher reading this chat and commentary, I have to wonder why am I here teaching if this is what people think about public education. Macon47 and Stuart, you are wrong. Plain and simple. Your tax dollars are collected and distributed to do numerous services. Build roads, protect your property rights, educate children. If your attitude is that you get nothing for your taxes, and teachers are nothing but lazy freeloaders, then I feel truly sorry for you. Because you obviously have no idea about what it takes to create this democracy that you are so happy to complain about.

LawrenceMommy 12 years, 9 months ago

Salvador is another one of those "If you don't agree with my opinion then you must be ignorant of the facts" type of people @@.

I believe the point Macon47 was trying to make was that the number of sick days taken by teachers in Lawrence (numbers provided by the school district last year, by the way) are unbelievably high compared to most other fields. The average was over 13 days per year (keep in mind that is over a 9-month period)! That number did not include vacation time...only sick days! Good Lord! What kinds of diseases are these teachers getting???

I am a RN (and, yes, a CPA, also...if you read my earlier posts on another thread...although I'm working as a stay-at-home-mom now) and I worked full-time for 12 months a year on a critical care unit specializing in cardiac, neurological, and INFECTIOUS patients and we would have been fired...period...had we taken that many sick days in a 12 month period. We were exposed to all sorts of virulent and contagious diseases and sometimes we got sick. But NO ONE would have been excused for taking that many sick days in a don't use sick kids as an excuse.

I agree with Macon47 completely. The teachers in this town (as an average) abuse the system tremendously and that comes out of our tax money...whether through local property taxes or state income taxes. I have 7 family members who are public teacher (not in Lawrence, or even Kansas, for that matter) and every single one agrees that there is clearly a problem in this town with the abuse of sick time.

I understand democracy...and the abuses it creates. Get off your soapbox.

LawrenceMommy 12 years, 9 months ago

ReachAround - I'd be happy to provide you with a link if I had the article name from a year ago. I have a good memory, but I don't remember that well. It is public information provided by the Lawrence School District so you are welcome to call them and ask for the numbers.

No, they aren't impacted by family and medical leave...those are not considered "sick days" and are classified, legally, as Medical Leave. "Sick days" constitiute UNSCHEDULED medical abscences. You can argue about the reason...maybe those working in Lawrence do have weak immune systems...but the FACT is that the average teacher in the Lawrence School District takes over 13 UNSCHEDULED sick days per 9-month year. That sounds abusive to me.

bbjm 12 years, 9 months ago

Folks. People like Stuart are willing to destroy this state to save a buck. Does he really want kids to be educated by teachers earning what they pay in taxes? Unbelievable stupidity. It is sad to see that kind of sentiment in a discussion like this. Depressing stuff. Education has been a proud tradition in Kansas. The last few years have seen an overwhelming power grab by the ignorant in this state. Sad. Sad.

We are a year away from having to have a popular vote to pass a tax increase. We can't let the dummies in this state ruin our schools. They'll do it with a smile. Watch out!

Chocoholic 12 years, 9 months ago

I find Mr. Rabiola's comments to "Ernie in Tonganoxie's" question to be very to-the-point. It is so very odd to me that teachers receive so little financial compensation, so little respect for their work in the lives of the children they influence, nurture, and encourage daily for 180 days of the year. And this lack of compensation and respect is found in most, if not all, jobs in our society involving any kind of child care.

In order to evaluate whether a teacher is under- or overcompensated financially, one would have to walk through a school year in the teacher's shoes.

First of all, there are the kids, each with individual needs and learning styles, each of whom is a complicated, endearing, mouthy, messy, energetic, extroverted, or introverted little ball of humanity coming from a variety of backgrounds and family situations. Usually they speak English, but sometimes they don't. And sometimes they have disabilities, learning or otherwise.

And THEN there are the parents--repeat the entire previous paragraph after the word "kids" and replace "little" with "big." Usually the parents care about what's going on at school with their kids, but sometimes they don't.

Add to these main characters the cast of thousands in the wings who are waiting to see whether the students' official test results for the year indicate that the teacher's school will retain its good name and maintain its level of funding. The teacher works hard to prepare students for the tests, and yet has limited control over the outcome; the outcome, after all, is in the hands of the students, and only with them lies the power to pass or fail.

And by the way, let's consider the teacher's 20-minute lunch break and time spent at home grading papers, developing lesson plans, or cutting turkey hats out of construction paper.

Teachers' work = Priceless

LawrenceMommy 12 years, 9 months ago

To all of you who believe our taxes should keep going up and up and up because it's "for the children"...I have a suggestion.

There is no law that states you can not give extra money to the government. You can send them every penny you make if you feel that your taxes aren't high enough. And they can take it and spend it on the things they've been screaming for more money for.

So, by all means, if you feel that your taxes are too low and that we need to pay teachers more, send them your money. Put your money where your mouth is. Send a nice big check to the "Kansas Department of Revenue" and you can contribute your little part to help.

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