Teacher Appreciation: by State Rep. Nickie Antonio

Recently we celebrated National Teacher Appreciation Week; the reality that many teachers face in the classroom is anything but appreciation.  Teachers are forced to deal with the results of state budget cuts while at the same time, expected to perform to perfection with limited resources in order to meet state mandates.

In Fiscal Year 2013, Ohio’s schools are facing a budget deficit of over $1.13 billion.  The financial outlook becomes bleaker in Fiscal Year 2014, when the combined budget deficit reaches over $1.78 billion.  These unprecedented cuts have led to teacher and staff layoffs and potential reductions in curriculum across the state.

School districts have taken massive hits on Governor Kasich’s watch. Lakewood City Schools’ projections for the next two fiscal years are short by about $13-15 million. If we want to just get by, the money will have to come from somewhere. Lawmakers can’t keep crying wolf about our schools, saying we have to defund them to “fix them”.  Not only does doing so work against students, families and teachers, but it builds a narrative that public education is so askew that we should settle on privatizing tax dollars for education without acknowledging the excellence that also exists in many of our public schools.

Just a few weeks ago, Cleveland City Schools announced that 508 teaching positions would be lost at the end of this year while another 200 teachers took retirement packages. The district plans on shortening the school day and cutting music and arts programs. At the same time, the district has devised a transformation strategy and will ask voters to further subsidize public education in the area due to some $60 million that was slashed from our district in the biennium budget. Surely we can all agree that there are cost savings measures which could put in place. Teachers consistently take pay cuts, pay for supplies with their salary, and see reductions in benefits. Already, teachers in Cleveland have settled on a 5-6 percent pay cut next year. There’s no compromise from the state.

I want to state here that I support Mayor Jackson’s plan as presented to the Legislature through HB 525. I participated in many of the planning meetings in a process nothing short of amazing. A group of concerned leaders from the Mayor, school superintendent, business and philanthropy made room at the table to include teachers and legislators to refine a plan in hopes of reinventing the CMSD.  I support the legislation as introduced because sometimes exercising leadership requires taking a risk, and this plan gives hope to our children and their future beyond partisan rhetoric.

In this challenging climate other casualties emerge that give me pause. Women are disproportionately affected by education budget cuts as they make up the majority of teachers in our state.  According to the Cleveland Teachers Union, 63% of those who will lose their job with the Cleveland City Schools are women.  The Department of Education states that 85,045.00 of the total 113,123.00 teachers in Ohio are women.  Defunding education certainly will have a negative impact on women and their families. Not much appreciation felt here.

Today, as we continue to face economic challenges, budget deficits, and competing requests for funds such as quality education for all, the public may begin to place blame and point to quick fixes.  But in the spirit of National Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s remember that our teachers are actually investing in Ohio and our children. Maybe the state should think about doing the same.

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