The Unknown Teacher
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written by John:
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        After announcements from the state and department of education (DOE) here in Hawaii that teachers would take a last and best offer for a contract whether they liked it or not, I got worried. We are a collective bargaining union and are mandated by law to vote to ratify all contracts before they can go into effect. Those rules were swept aside and that was the end of it. Teachers were given a 5% pay cut, including a 10% increase in our medical payments. First worded as an employer-employee co-payment 60%-40% ratio it became a 50%-50% arrangement. That change doesn't sound so bad when you hear it, only a ten percent increase, but when my "best deal" paycheck arrived the 10% increase translated into a much larger deduction.
        I was trying to avoid thinking about the new budget cuts, so I didn't consider going over my most recent paystub. That was, up until I overheard a colleague yelling about his medical payment. He has a family plan like me and he was unhappy about paying twice as much as he use to. "Hey, this ain't no 10 percent increase!" I heard him exclaiming inside his classroom as I walked by. I looked at him and he was livid; I kept on walking.
I don't look at my earnings statement; it hurts my feelings. I call my bank, learn what amount on the check I can afford to write out to my wife, and that's that. I went straight to my car and drove home without noticing traffic. I ran to the house past my wife without a kiss or salutation, directly into the computer room. I opened the filing cabinet, and yanked my pay stub out of the drawer. There, in front of my non-believing eyes was the deduction column telling me I was now paying 120% more than my previous co-payments.
        I grabbed the telephone directory and found the number for the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA). I was going to vent to the first union representative in line. Cell phone in hand, I poked those little numbers as I made my way out the front door. My wife was not going to hear the words I would use to let the person receiving this call understand exactly how I felt. I was not apologetic about my profanity. Why didn't my union publish the news of what this medical payment increase really meant to teacher paychecks on top of a 5% salary cut?
        The "last and best offer" from the state had been in the news and those articles read as if our union was guilty of wrong doing.
        The current governor's (democrat) newly appointed Board of Education (BOE) chair, a successful bank CEO, recently retired, said he assumed teachers would accept this. He is the head of the BOE and he assumed teachers would ratify? We would never have agreed to such an outrageous offer. What does this tell you? No, he is not an educator; yes, he is a businessman. How's business in the U.S. these days? Maybe good for CEO's but not for workers, or taxpayers.
        Two years ago, our then governor (republican) threatened that we either ratify her contract offer that included 17 and a half furlough days or else 800 teachers would lose their jobs. I voted against signing that contract, knowing full well that teachers would get blamed for not wanting to work on days we wouldn't be paid. Teachers were faulted for being greedy while children would miss school, and they would suffer. Teachers were demonized and demeaned for being the cause of yet another problem in the public education system here. No one stuck up for the teachers.
        Two years later, along comes another new governor (it doesn't matter what party anymore, politicians aren't in this business for carrying out public mandates) who says, "we all have to make sacrifices" and the teachers will set the example: 7 and 1/2 furlough days, a 5 % salary cut, 120% medical deduction increase, along with another veiled threat that 800 teachers will lose their jobs. Four straight years of paycuts. Nobody mentioned how ironic it was that even though a different political party is now running the show, that same number of teachers, (800) was used by state negotiators the last time teachers were extorted into ratifying their contract offer.
        Want in on a secret? The DOE was looking for and needed 400 more teachers last year. Somebody do the math.
        Why wasn't my union telling the whole story? Why do they allow the media to be manipulated by the state and the DOE, so that the public doesn't get all the facts? My union doesn't appear to be working for the best interest of teachers and I want answers no one will give. If we keep getting increases in our medical, why doesn't the union or the state (preferably both) create an insurance company that doesn't work for profit? If we can't get pay raises, why can't the union bargain for affordable housing for teachers, or tax breaks to help promote teacher retention? How come we didn't take a straw vote to see how many teachers would accept and ratify the shabby contract and decry the way it was forced on us? So what did my union rep tell me to cure my woes? "I will pass your comments on."
        Really? I called up every T.V. news station and the daily paper. I told them my story and they seemed very interested; no one had come forward with information about how much the ten percent insurance deduction increase really cost teachers; not the state, not the union. I asked them to meet me at noon at the state capitol on our upcoming first furlough day which was July 28th. I was told that camera crews and newscasters would be on hand to film and interview me.
        I arrived at the State Capitol an hour before I was scheduled to meet for the interviews. Meanwhile, I decided a quick tour of the place was appropriate. I grabbed the elevator up to the second floor where all the state house members offices were and perhaps, if I had the time, I would mosey up to the third floor afterwards to stroll past the offices of the state senators. Did I mention I was presenting myself as the "Unknown Teacher?" and that I was wearing a paper sack over my head? Or, that I carried a large sign that said, "Teachers, Check Your Shorts!"? My shorts also had huge "bites" cut out of them.
        I still don't know what made me decide to parade around inside the state capitol building dressed like that, especially in this day and age. Can you imagine the impression my appearance made on those viewing the monitors inside the security office? I just made it around the second floor of the capitol's open rotunda back to where I started from. I looked at my watch. It was almost time for my interview, so there wouldn't be enough time to go up to the third floor. I was standing between the stairway exit and the elevators making up my mind whether to catch the elevator or walk down the stairs. I pressed the down button and in that same instant, the elevator doors flew open and five sheriffs (one in plain clothes) burst out and immediately surrounded me.
        "Hi, fellas," I said, while tugging my wallet out of my shorts. "I'm sure you want to see some I.D."
        The officer in charge stepped up to me peering into the eyeholes of the sack. I had my shades on so I knew he could only see dark glass reflecting his own image back at him. The gash in the sack that was supposed to represent my sad faced mouth showed only my neck, so the policemen had no way to see who I could possibly be.
        "You are scaring people." he told me forcibly.
        That's when reality hit me and I wondered at my own stupidity. I see scary guys who look like the person I appeared to be in the news all the time and I thought, "I better get this damn bag off my head." I can only say that it's lucky I live in Hawaii. After I explained what I was doing, Hawaii's best ushered me downstairs while telling me that I could demonstrate outside of the building proper, on the steps leading up to the building, but, not enter the capitol itself, like that again, ever. We parted with shaka signs; they at least, understood my plight.
        Maybe two of my colleagues mentioned that they saw me on T.V. and I got a call from a retired parochial school teacher who thanked and blessed me. Not one other teacher in the whole state contacted me! Not one. After my surprise television appearances, (every station, every news broadcast) I called the HSTA again, this time to demand that they drop pretense and protocol and allow me to observe the negotiations... I have yet to hear back from them. They did say they would send a special group of HSTA representatives to my school if other teachers there wanted their questions answered so I sent out the following message to colleagues at my school:

Aloha one and all. I am quite upset with the HSTA's lack of ideas, progress in negotiations, and articulation of what is happening and what should be happening with our non-contract status. Today I called our union office demanding to be allowed to sit in on negotiations as an observer. I said drop the pretentions of protocol, I want to be there. I also asked why the HSTA hadn't taken a vote by its membership to see if we would have accepted the state's proposal. I complained that our union has the worst health care plan of all unions, that our benefits are the worst and then some. I was asked if any teachers would care to attend a meeting with a group of our union leaders to explain to us what is happening. I would like an in-school response to see how many of you are truly interested in asking questions AND getting answers to questions concerning this debacle. I was told we can set a date and the union leadership will come and answer our contract concerns. How many of you will join me? Can we arrive at a date for this meet? thank you, John

        Two people answered this e-mail. One teacher and one staff member. One other teacher who did not want to be identified on our e-mail system, came to me personally and said he was interested. Three people. How can you champion those who will not champion themselves?
        So, now my paycheck is back to what it was ten years ago and my big three years which determine my retirement benefits (highest three years of pay) are washed away. Is this why the state cut us down, to lower future retirement benefit payouts?
        I'm pau. Finished. I will say no more and I will do no more for this lethargic group who are so intimidated, and beaten, and fearful for further loss, that they won't stand up for improvement and the betterment of their... alas, once but no-longer noble profession. I wouldn't expect much from these people, they won't stand up for enlightenment in education...they will try to hold onto their jobs no matter what, and teach for the test, trying to produce the next best generation of test-takers, because that's how teachers will be evaluated...on their students test scores. End of story.
Taking it to the Streets
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