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Voice: ITA leader unfairly attacked, union positions misrepresented

February 13, 2002

The Imperial Valley Press recently printed a letter addressed to Mr. Thomas James Hepburn, president of the Imperial Teachers Association. Ms. Elydia Gonzalez was reacting, or should I say overreacting, to a previous letter requesting community support for teachers in their struggle over contract negotiations.

She complained the facts in Mr. Hepburn's letter were somehow inaccurate. That was her first mistake. Not only were all the facts in Mr. Hepburn's letter accurate, administrative staff in the Imperial Unified School District office confirmed them before the letter was ever printed. It seems Ms. Gonzalez is the one who needs to "check her facts."

Ms. Gonzalez also was incorrect in assuming the letter was a personal correspondence from Mr. Hepburn himself. He is the elected representative of the ITA. To attack him on a personal level was grossly inappropriate. Anyone who has been a community member of Imperial for even a short time knows that Mr. Hepburn is far from being "greedy" or "self-serving."


As director of the district's band program he has managed to turn a once nonexistent music department into a hugely successful and much-admired marching band, color guard and choral group. He has dedicated countless unpaid hours of his personal life to the children of this community. How could that possibly "compromise" any child's education?

Ms. Gonzalez stated that Mr. Hepburn "stood up in the boardroom and turned down" the district's last proposal. That is not what happened. First of all, Mr. Hepburn is not a negotiator for the ITA. Secondly, negotiations are not discussed in open board sessions. Third, Mr. Hepburn simply presented a signed petition stating teachers in the district were unified behind their elected leadership.

If anyone is shortchanging the students in our school system, it is definitely not the teachers. Many donate money out of their own paychecks to buy materials that the school refuses to provide for students. Even more contribute extra time tutoring, volunteering for additional duties, and just working endless unpaid hours in their classrooms. When you add up all the extra hours, days, and weekends, working in our classrooms, averaging grades and grading papers we end up working a lot more than our contract "180 days."

We are not asking to take money away from the students, but only for what is fair. The money used for teachers' salaries has no effect on the funds available for student expenditures. They are two separate parts of the budget.

When the state increased the district's budget by 11 percent in 1999, it meant to include all areas of the budget. The teachers received no part of the 11 percent increase to date; neither have the students. The IUSD spends $588 less per student than do most unified school districts in the state.

By the way, every school gets the same amount of money per student. The size of the school has nothing to do with it. Bigger schools do not get more money per student. Teachers' salaries have nothing to do with the size of the school. There are smaller school districts in the county who pay their teachers more than IUSD.

I too could go on and on, but I'm not angry, as Ms. Gonzalez stated she was. I'm happy, and I'm proud to be a teacher and resident in the city of Imperial. I just believe teachers deserve what is fair.

I hope these facts will be enough to open her eyes. I also hope that parents realize our dedication to this community and continue their much-appreciated support.


Fifth-grade teacher

Ben Hulse Elementary


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