Archive for Thursday, January 17, 2002

Teacher group dealing with education woes

E-NEA offers scholarships, political action for teachers

January 17, 2002

President of the Eudora chapter of the National Education Association Bob Sailler said recent events like budget cuts and teacher shortages amounted to an "interesting time."

Proposed cuts to the state budget threaten to take money from education that for USD 491 could amount to a $250,000 loss in per-pupil state aid. In addition, Eudora stands to lose more than $650,000 if they decide to eliminate state aid from the local option budget.

In response, the E-NEA sponsored a letter-writing campaign.

"A lot of times you say, 'I'm going to go home and write a letter,'" Sailler said.

Then everyday chores get in the way, he said, so having paper, envelopes, pens and stamps ready made it easier for teachers to write state legislators.

"We need to let our state representatives know how we feel," he said, adding that not only teachers but the board of education and other Kansans need to voice opinions, too.

The E-NEA's enrollment increased 41 percent in this academic year, Sailler said. About 60 percent of the district's teachers are members.

Although teachers had a choice of which area legislator to contact, Sailler called State Senator Sandy Praeger "a friend to education." On a scale of one to five, the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association gave Praeger the highest rating in terms of supporting education. In contrast, Sailler said, the KNEA gave State Representative Lee Tafanelli the lowest rating.

As legislators toss around ideas of how to cut the budget while saving education and alternative ways to raise revenue, opinions in the E-NEA differ widely, Sailler said.

Although political interests are only part of what the organization is involved in, Sailler said NEA chapters had to fight the idea they are a liberal organization.

"We have people on opposite wings of the political spectrum, which is great," he said. "A lot of times we're able to break through that stereotype."

The letter writing campaign and legislative concerns are only part of what the E-NEA does, Sailler said. The organization is also the negotiator for teachers in the district, but action on that front is temporarily on hold.

"Our position is we'll just wait and see before we talk about money," he said. "It wouldn't make any sense for us to settle on a contract right now."

Teacher salaries play an important part in attracting and retaining top-notch teachers, he said. Kansas ranks 41st in terms of how much it pays its teachers, Sailler said. Competitive salaries in other K-10-area districts like De Soto and Blue Valley pose a problem for Eudora, he said.

"We need to raise teacher pay and health benefits in order to attract top candidates to the district and the profession," he said.

That may sound easier than it is.

"I know the state has cut taxes a number of years; we've raised our LOB," Sailler said.

The organization also raises money itself for scholarships and to assist teachers in continuing their education either by earning another degree or taking classes to re-certify. In the future, the organization could place the district's experienced teachers as mentors to teachers new to the district or the profession.

"That's one of the resources we want to provide to help teachers," Sailler said.

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