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Our Opinion: Another blow

March 19, 2001

It is getting harder and harder to not take sides in the El Centro Elementary District Board of Trustees' continuing dispute with its teachers.

The latest action that seems to be a shot at least partly aimed at the teachers is the cutting of 25 classified employees' jobs next school year. Among those 25 are teacher aides. The cuts were done to hire a mentor teacher for each school in the district to run a new reading program called "Open Court." That seems a bit of an incongruent trade-off, even if this is the greatest reading program ever concocted.

While in recent years the district schools have improved their standardized test scores, some remarkably so, the scores still must rise under state mandates. A good reading program might be a good idea. But teacher aides also are important to academic achievement. As teachers protested the cuts during a board meeting Tuesday, one teacher said the aides are "mentors, role models and second mothers or fathers." Many children in the district need some or all of those things. Overworked teachers can only give so much attention to their children, and aides are there to help ease the workload so teachers can concentrate on the most important matters.

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The improving test scores have shown that El Centro Elementary has a fine group of teachers. Yet that is a fine group of teachers that has gone two years without a contract, two years without a raise. Negotiations are, from what we hear from the teachers, not exactly rosy. We hear the offers being made are nothing the teachers are going to accept. If what the teachers say about the board's latest offer is true, we don't blame the teachers for turning it down.

The board was given a large chunk of money by the state last year specifically to give decent raises to teachers, but it apparently does not want to use that money for that purpose. The fact that the trustees also want to change contract language so teachers will no longer be treated like professionals also does not speak well for the school board.

Of course, we mostly hear the teachers' side, because they are the ones much more willing to talk to us. If the trustees want to explain their rationale and tactics, we would be willing to listen. Still, if what from the teachers we hear is even remotely close to the truth, the board has a long road to travel to make a reasonable offer.

Now, on top of that, the teachers see that their friends and colleagues working in classified areas will be sacrificed for the sake of some program, for the sake of meeting some numeric goals. We know those goals have to be met. We just wonder if cutting the jobs of those who make schools, classrooms and kids whole is the way to do it.

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