Open Letter Against Ratification
Dear Tiverton School Committee members:
It so happened that, the Friday before you’ll decide whether to approve the arbitrated teacher contract, my boss called me on the construction site to tell me that, after I take my five paid days of annual vacation this week, he and I will have to sit down and agree to cut my salary. Having trimmed all indulgences from my family’s budget, I’m already barely making enough to get by, but as you know, times are hard. Indeed, the governor has already warned you that the state will likely be cutting your budget, too.
I understand that everybody in Tiverton just wants to move beyond the current contract negotiations — buy a respite and feel, for a short time, that we’re all working together toward the same goals, maybe kick off the new school committee with a lowering of the tension that simmers with each meeting. But that feeling would be an illusion, and shorter-lived than you’d like to believe. Times are only going to get harder, and any compromises made now, when the contract is not yet signed, will be unreachable for modification when Tiverton joins other RI towns in considering asking its unions for contractual concessions.
Forgive the passive voice, but I was informed this week that I’m broadly disliked in certain circles in town, circles with which some of you run. That, I cannot help; I am who I am, and I believe what I believe. As our town’s elected education representatives, however, you ought to be concerned about my belief that the teachers’ negotiating tactics and their ever-increasing slice of the budgetary pie made it a matter of parental responsibility to pull my children from our public schools. My wife and I cannot afford private school, but our assessment is that we would be shirking our duties as parents not to sacrifice for it.
Our house — the only home that our children can remember — should not be among those sacrifices. But if the cost thereof should increase in keeping with recent yearly trends, its loss is a very real possibility, and we are most definitely not alone.
In these times, Tiverton teachers — who are already well paid in comparison with the norms under which average Rhode Islanders live — ought to be giving back, not demanding thousands of dollars in retroactive pay. If they receive raises, instead, the possibility of keeping tax increases within bounds will disappear, and I’d remind you that you do not represent them, but us.
At every meeting you are all presented the faces, the voices, and the requests of public school teachers. They may not demand so much attention, but my family has faces and voices, too. Ms. Black and Ms. Herrmann see those faces and (despite my admonishments) hear those voices every Sunday morning, and I hereby request that you represent us and refuse to write large checks to working-to-rule teachers during times of fiscal uncertainty. I request that you consider my children before you decide that teachers whom their tax-paying father does not trust with their education deserve to be rewarded even as every private-sector Tiverton worker suffers pay cuts, unemployment, or (if they’re lucky) insecurity.
If you would hesitate before telling my children that they should live in their grandparents’ basement so that union teachers can continue to earn well above the median household income for the state, do not ratify this contract. The stakes are that high.
With sincerity and hope,