I retired in June of 2011 and yesterday I returned to the high school where I had taught social studies for 35 years. The district is one of the wealthiest in Ohio. Many of the residents are well-paid professionals. Our alumni include numerous lawyers (one of whom argued in front of the US Supreme Court a year or so ago), doctors, executives, a current member of the Saturday Night Live cast, and a current newsperson on a national network. Every year, we would send students to Ivy League schools. In short, it is a district of high-powered residents who demand a quality education for their children. If they felt the public schools did not suit their needs, there were five excellent private schools nearby from which they could choose.
It was great seeing my friends and colleagues, and seeing former students was wonderful. However, after sitting down and talking with several members of the social studies department and a friend from the Foreign Language Department, I came to see all is not well in my former place of employ. It is time for contract negotiations which always worries people, especially in unsteady economic times. The Board has come in with a tough position, wanting little, or no movement with salary increases, raising health care premiums, and cutting back on severance pay.
On top of this, Ohio funds its own State Teachers Retirement System. By law, this system has to show it is fully funded 30 years into the future. First the dot com crash, then the Great Recession have hit STRS hard. Changes are going to have to be made. STRS used to fund health care for retirees and spouses, now only retirees are funded - an just partially. Teachers are able to retire after 30 years at any age, with a bonus if they stayed for 35 years. It appears they will now have to teach to age 60 and have at least 35 years of teaching (no bonus) before retirement, and pay a greater percentage of their salaries (currently 10%) into STRS while teaching. These changes have not taken effect yet, but they are looming over teachers in the near future.
Then there is the residue of a nasty fight with Ohio governor John Kasich, who last year had the state legislature eliminate collective bargaining for public employees and their unions. The unions organized and obtained enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue, which was then overturned. Nevertheless, Kasich and his supporters are expected to try again to weaken public employees’ unions in Ohio.
Throw in the educationally unsound practices of high stakes testing, value-added teacher evaluations, and the constant attacks on teachers by politicians and pundits of both political parties and it is no wonder teachers, even in high-performing districts like where I used to teach, are demoralized. It makes me angry, and it makes me want to do something to help my friends and former colleagues.