Other Voices: Strong opinions, but no easy fixes for school district | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Strong opinions, but no easy fixes for school district

Jeff Ackerman’s column on Tuesday, “High school employees should share in the pain,” has certainly proved that people are still reading newspapers. In the few days since that edition hit my driveway, I have heard about it from many interested parties.

Neighbors, local business owners, teachers, and fellow school administrators have been more than willing to share their personal (and usually very strong) opinions about the column. Mr. Ackerman’s column provides us with a classic example of how perception is shaped by the window through which each individual views the world.

To say that our current economic challenges are as bad as any in recent memory, is an understatement. I believe that Mr. Ackerman’s intent was to encourage our teachers and classified staff to reach an agreement with our district negotiating team to accept five furlough days in order to avoid as he stated “laying off more than 20 employees, slashing programs and increasing class sizes from 25 to 35 students.”

As superintendent, I am the one who has pushed for the furlough agreement on behalf of our board. From my window, the furloughs are an opportunity for all of our employees to “share the pain” and reduce the number of layoffs and other budget cuts that would be necessary without such an agreement.

My concern about the impact of Mr. Ackerman’s article is that the intent looked very different from the perspective of some of our teachers and staff members. As some of them have expressed to me, this article felt like an effort to put public pressure on them, and perhaps to pit some segments of our community against one another. It also felt like an intrusion on the negotiation process, a process that is legally prescribed and which school districts and employee groups across California use to address contract issues such as the length of the work year and other key issues.

I appreciated Mr. Ackerman’s comments about his affection for teachers and his complete satisfaction with the experiences his own children have had as students at Nevada Union. It has been my experience as I have talked with community members over the past couple of years that those sentiments are widely held. It should not be lost on any of us that our teachers and staff members have truly persevered in the face of dwindling resources as a result of funding shortfalls going back to 2007. While we have cut our spending by more than $4 million, and our employee groups have continued their dedicated work on behalf of our students and we continue to see great results on our campuses. Test scores have risen, our API scores have gone up, and three of our schools were recognized last year as California Distinguished Schools. Good things continue to happen in our classrooms, and the young people of our community have benefited from the work our teachers and staff members do every day.

Small business owners, public service employees, builders and contractors – all segments of our local, state, and national economy are suffering. The impact of joblessness is widespread and devastating to families across our nation.

There are no easy fixes, and there are no quick solutions. Our task is to weather the storm and to protect our capacity to serve those who rely on us to do so. Just as firemen will fight fires and policemen will keep us safe, our teachers will continue to teach. They will teach with fewer classroom supplies, with no new money available for textbooks, and with larger numbers of eager faces seated in their classrooms every morning. It is a tough job, a job that has often called upon teachers to make do with less than they really need.

Our schools rely heavily on community support, and our capacity to maintain programs is certainly being stressed by the current economic meltdown. Together, we can continue to provide our kids with the experiences they come to school looking forward to experiencing. Divided, the programs will be less likely to survive and our young people will lose out in the end.

It is my hope that our teachers and classified staff will continue to work with me toward a negotiated solution to our current crisis. It is my hope that all of our employees can continue to count on the support of our community.

It is my firm belief that they we will continue to deliver a rich learning experience to our students, and that all of us will work together to weather this storm in a shared commitment to keeping our district strong. None of us created this problem, but all of us together can contribute to a resolution.

Ralf Swenson is the superintendent of Nevada Joint Union High School District.

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