Guest Columnist

An essential supply list for Iowa teachers

Less than a month after the final day of school, I noticed an ad announcing “Back to School Supplies.” That makes a teacher’s heart skip a beat. Like a terrible joke after a terrible tragedy, it’s just too soon.

On average, teachers spend $500 a year of their own money on supplies for our kids, but I’ve got a list of supplies that can’t be bought at Target or the Dollar Store.

• No. 1 Districts need to stop adding things to a teacher’s “To do list,” without crossing something off, providing adequate time during the workday or paying more. This means not adding even those good and noble things to a profession stressed to the breaking point.

• No. 2 Educators need school board members to stop looting master contracts just because the law allows it. Under the new law the only item that is mandated to be bargained is base salary. Every other item previously contained in a master contract, including a salary schedule, is now “Permissive.” Things like leaves, transfers, hours, and evaluation may be bargained only if management agrees to discuss those issues. In some school districts, these provisions are put in a handbook that may be changed by the school board. In other districts, these items simply vanish.

Most of the language in these contracts had been in place for 40 years, so they were gutted by locally elected board members, who in some cases owed their election success to educators.

It’s time for school board members to support their community educators or get off the board. Too often the excuse is “We didn’t know what was happening.” It is the job of a school board member to ask questions until he/she finds out the answer. The school district attorney should not be making these decisions and neither should the superintendent.

If a board member wants to remove everything from a master contract, he/she better have a rationale more solid than the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) or our school attorney said we could. Like Mom said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

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• No. 3 Educators need parents who will support them by voting for legislators who will stand strong for public schools. I’m not talking about politicians who claim in November to be a friend and by January have forgotten that friendship.

• No. 4 Educators aren’t off the hook either. Teachers need to take the cue from the Chamber of Commerce. Business votes and lobbies for self-interest. They are not embarrassed by this commitment, and it has worked for them. Educators need to own that they are a “special interest.” Their special interest is public school children and the people who teach them. Teachers need to vote that way and then lobby hard without embarrassment.

• No. 5 Iowa has both the burden and the privilege to vet presidential candidates through the first in the nation caucuses. Educators need each wannabe President to have a plan to increase educator pay nationally. Because of a looming national teacher shortage, classrooms are going to be unfilled with a teacher but over flowing with kids. Each candidate owes the public a plan that helps rescue and enhance public schools in America.

Is it too early for this list? Unless these supplies are provided quickly, it may be too late.

• Bruce Lear of Sioux City worked as a teacher for 11 years and as a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association for 27 years.

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