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Voice: E.C. teachers trying to expose their plight

March 28, 2001

The teachers in the El Centro Elementary School District have been working without a contract for almost two years and the immediate outlook is gloomy. Parents should be disconcerted that their children are not receiving the additional academic support after school or on Saturdays they need and could be getting.

Why? Because teachers have stopped participating in these activities in an attempt to gain parental and community attention.

Recently, the district issued a letter to parents of all junior high school students that waived its previous retention criteria. According to the letter, which was given with no explanation, up to two failing semester grades will be "forgiven" and these students will be offered no remediation this academic year. How is this putting children first?

Despite our governor allocating funds in support of teacher salaries sufficient for an 11 percent raise for our teachers, our board has offered substantially less. Moreover, the district attacked our contract language, which has been in place for more than two decades.

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Since October every teacher has had about $1,000 taken from our meager paychecks to pay for the increased cost of health benefits. These setbacks have caused teacher morale to be at an all-time low. I have heard teachers with 30 years experience say they have never seen negotiations in such a quagmire.

Besides alienating current teachers, our board has potentially created an even more serious problem. Our district has been notorious for "stealing" good teachers from smaller districts in the Valley by offering a highly competitive salary and benefits package.

This is no longer true. Many of our quality veteran teachers may be polishing their resumes. Due to the teacher shortage throughout California, other Southern California districts are offering as many as 20 years service credit on their salary schedules in hopes of luring competent teachers at any cost. Other districts have recognized and rewarded top-notch teachers. Why can't ours?

How can our district salvage this perilous situation for our community's children? First, the ECESD board needs to recognize the gravity of this situation. Parents and community members must get vocal in expressing their outrage for the district's adversarial contract negotiations.

Next, I believe Dr. Klentschy, San Diego and Imperial County's superintendent of the year, needs to demonstrate his excellent leadership abilities by guiding the school board toward a prompt and fair settlement. Finally, the board must offer fair contract language in a settlement package that reflects the salary raises given to all districts by the governor.

Our only recourse is to expose our plight to the community in hopes of rallying parents and stakeholders in support of the teachers. We want a settled contract so we can refocus our attention on providing extended educational opportunities after school and in Saturday school programs to our students, who need and deserve extra help.

If contract negotiations cannot be resolved soon, I fear that a strike looms. The El Centro elementary teachers are united and prepared to take the necessary steps to protect our families so we may serve yours now and in the future.

JILL LEE

Kennedy Middle School

Teacher and site crisis captain

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