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.
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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.