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ED COMMISSIONER: NO TEACH, NO PAY

Following yet another round of teacher sickouts that canceled classes at four public schools on St. Croix Tuesday, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds has ordered that those who have called in sick be charged with leave without pay.
"There will be no sick, personal or annual leave granted to employees participating in job actions on any day in which the Department of Education experienced a job action resulting in the closure of any school," Simmonds said in a release Tuesday afternoon. "Any and all absences shall be charged to leave without pay."
The commissioner’s stance comes on the heels of sickouts that preempted classes Tuesday at Claude O. Markoe, Alfredo Andrews and Charles H. Emanuel Elementary Schools and John H. Woodson Junior High School.
Those sickouts followed similar actions at eight other schools on St. Croix since last Thursday. In all, thousands of students have been affected by the actions of more than 500 teachers and support staff. The St. Croix sickouts followed a job action on St. Thomas a week ago, when approximately 90 percent of the 700-plus teachers in the St. Thomas-St. John district called in sick.
Simmonds said her decision to dock teachers with leave without pay will apply to all the job actions that have taken place and any in the future.
The teachers are protesting inadequate conditions and lack of supplies in the territory’s public schools and the fact that they are owed millions of dollars in back pay since 1993.
Despite their complaints, Simmonds said she could not excuse the missed instruction days caused by the sickouts or the fact that canceled classes means many kids are left unsupervised most of the day.
But Cecil Benjamin, president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers are indeed "sickened and depressed" and therefore have every right to take their allotted sick and personal leave.
"Everybody has the right to their sick time. By law you use it as you wish, for personal reasons — period," Benjamin said, adding that the sickouts are not sanctioned by the AFT.
Simmonds, however, said that while the AFT hasn’t formally declared a strike, the sickouts violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement. On Sept. 14, Simmonds said she contacted AFT officials and asked them to direct members to end the sickouts. Instead, she said, the actions have intensified.
Meanwhile, Benjamin said that along with the back pay issue, which stands at $100 million for teachers, the fact that Gov. Charles Turnbull found more than $400,000 to fund personnel positions and raises in the executive branch since January is enough to depress even the most hardened trade unionist.
"It’s sickening for (teachers) to see the governor pay a chauffeur $25,000 a year when they can’t pay a teacher with a four-year degree $25,000," Benjamin said. He said a first-year teacher’s salary is $23,000 annually.
In addition, he said Turnbull’s proposed five-year economic recovery plan is "without a dime" for government employees.
"I have to wait five more years, on top of the six, to get my money? How do you expect (teachers) to feel?" he asked. "Some people are desperate. Some people are depressed."
Both Simmonds and Benjamin said the sickouts hurt students, but Benjamin said that so does low teacher morale and schools that are in need of repair and lacking in supplies.

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Following yet another round of teacher sickouts that canceled classes at four public schools on St. Croix Tuesday, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds has ordered that those who have called in sick be charged with leave without pay.
"There will be no sick, personal or annual leave granted to employees participating in job actions on any day in which the Department of Education experienced a job action resulting in the closure of any school," Simmonds said in a release Tuesday afternoon. "Any and all absences shall be charged to leave without pay."
The commissioner’s stance comes on the heels of sickouts that preempted classes Tuesday at Claude O. Markoe, Alfredo Andrews and Charles H. Emanuel Elementary Schools and John H. Woodson Junior High School.
Those sickouts followed similar actions at eight other schools on St. Croix since last Thursday. In all, thousands of students have been affected by the actions of more than 500 teachers and support staff. The St. Croix sickouts followed a job action on St. Thomas a week ago, when approximately 90 percent of the 700-plus teachers in the St. Thomas-St. John district called in sick.
Simmonds said her decision to dock teachers with leave without pay will apply to all the job actions that have taken place and any in the future.
The teachers are protesting inadequate conditions and lack of supplies in the territory’s public schools and the fact that they are owed millions of dollars in back pay since 1993.
Despite their complaints, Simmonds said she could not excuse the missed instruction days caused by the sickouts or the fact that canceled classes means many kids are left unsupervised most of the day.
But Cecil Benjamin, president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers are indeed "sickened and depressed" and therefore have every right to take their allotted sick and personal leave.
"Everybody has the right to their sick time. By law you use it as you wish, for personal reasons -- period," Benjamin said, adding that the sickouts are not sanctioned by the AFT.
Simmonds, however, said that while the AFT hasn’t formally declared a strike, the sickouts violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement. On Sept. 14, Simmonds said she contacted AFT officials and asked them to direct members to end the sickouts. Instead, she said, the actions have intensified.
Meanwhile, Benjamin said that along with the back pay issue, which stands at $100 million for teachers, the fact that Gov. Charles Turnbull found more than $400,000 to fund personnel positions and raises in the executive branch since January is enough to depress even the most hardened trade unionist.
"It’s sickening for (teachers) to see the governor pay a chauffeur $25,000 a year when they can’t pay a teacher with a four-year degree $25,000," Benjamin said. He said a first-year teacher’s salary is $23,000 annually.
In addition, he said Turnbull’s proposed five-year economic recovery plan is "without a dime" for government employees.
"I have to wait five more years, on top of the six, to get my money? How do you expect (teachers) to feel?" he asked. "Some people are desperate. Some people are depressed."
Both Simmonds and Benjamin said the sickouts hurt students, but Benjamin said that so does low teacher morale and schools that are in need of repair and lacking in supplies.