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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, May 28, 2022
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TEACHERS, WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

The low-pay-itis that has been sweeping teachers out of classrooms and closing territory schools a day at a time is showing no signs of a cure.
If anything, tensions may be escalating. Glen Smith, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, said late Thursday he will be filing a complaint Friday before the Public Employees Relations Board, charging the government with unfair labor practices for attempting to dock teachers for time out.
"We are countersuing them," he said, referring to the government's charge of unfair labor practices against the teachers.
Smith charged that the administration used Territorial Court by bringing an action against the unions, then withdrawing it once it got a restraining order
"They didn't want to argue their case," he said.
"Sickness is not limited only to the physical," said Cecil Benjamin, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers. No one should be docked for time off the past few weeks "until and unless the government can substantiate that that was a job action."
The unions continue to say the sickouts are not sanctioned or organized.
The round-robin nature of the action – teachers failing to show up at just one or a few schools for any given day – has several effects.
For one thing, it lengthens the action and maximizes the publicity. For another, it keeps the administration off-guard.
"We will keep the schools open," said Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds, since there has been no official job action declared.
One positive effect of the rotating actions is that students have not lost as much classroom time as in a traditional strike.
Basically, "it's been one day for each school," Simmonds said.
Neither Simmonds nor the union leaders were prepared yesterday to talk about make-up days.
"We haven't discussed it," Simmonds said, but added that the administration would need to "sit with the unions" to go over the issue.
"I want to see the commissioner sit down with the unions on some other issue," Smith said. "I do not see that as a major issue right now . . . We need to focus on the bigger picture. When there's a fire, you have to think about the firemen, too, not just the house and the people in it."
He said 40 to 50 teachers have left the public schools, and the territory, in the past year because of low pay and poor working conditions. Another 80 to 100 educators have retired early.
"The people are really down and they're desperate," Benjamin said, noting they haven't received salary increases in six years. "They're paid at a '93 level, and they have to pay bills at '99 prices."
Simmonds, herself a former teacher active in the union, said teachers are "very unhappy," but "I have a responsibility for the integrity of the department."
Reports of recent hiring of education administrators clearly have added to the teachers' anger. Simmonds defended the hirings, saying many were promotions that actually consolidated two jobs into one and saved the department the second salary.
For instance she said, Dr. Noreen Michael is now assistant commissioner but she continues to do the work she did as director of planning, research and evaluation. The government is saving the $50,000 she made under her old title.
The same thing happened in the public relations department, Simmonds said, when June Archibald became director; no one was hired in her old job and no one is getting her old salary of $30,0OO.
Moreover, some of the promotions didn't cost much, she said. The new insular superintendents are earning just $200 more per year than they made as school principals. "That's no raise."
"No raise" is what has angered teachers, and no one seems to know how long they will continue to take turns staying out of the schools.
"I would not try to second-guess them," said Simmonds.
"Those who know don't say and those who say don't know," said Smith.

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The low-pay-itis that has been sweeping teachers out of classrooms and closing territory schools a day at a time is showing no signs of a cure.
If anything, tensions may be escalating. Glen Smith, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, said late Thursday he will be filing a complaint Friday before the Public Employees Relations Board, charging the government with unfair labor practices for attempting to dock teachers for time out.
"We are countersuing them," he said, referring to the government's charge of unfair labor practices against the teachers.
Smith charged that the administration used Territorial Court by bringing an action against the unions, then withdrawing it once it got a restraining order
"They didn't want to argue their case," he said.
"Sickness is not limited only to the physical," said Cecil Benjamin, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers. No one should be docked for time off the past few weeks "until and unless the government can substantiate that that was a job action."
The unions continue to say the sickouts are not sanctioned or organized.
The round-robin nature of the action - teachers failing to show up at just one or a few schools for any given day - has several effects.
For one thing, it lengthens the action and maximizes the publicity. For another, it keeps the administration off-guard.
"We will keep the schools open," said Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds, since there has been no official job action declared.
One positive effect of the rotating actions is that students have not lost as much classroom time as in a traditional strike.
Basically, "it's been one day for each school," Simmonds said.
Neither Simmonds nor the union leaders were prepared yesterday to talk about make-up days.
"We haven't discussed it," Simmonds said, but added that the administration would need to "sit with the unions" to go over the issue.
"I want to see the commissioner sit down with the unions on some other issue," Smith said. "I do not see that as a major issue right now . . . We need to focus on the bigger picture. When there's a fire, you have to think about the firemen, too, not just the house and the people in it."
He said 40 to 50 teachers have left the public schools, and the territory, in the past year because of low pay and poor working conditions. Another 80 to 100 educators have retired early.
"The people are really down and they're desperate," Benjamin said, noting they haven't received salary increases in six years. "They're paid at a '93 level, and they have to pay bills at '99 prices."
Simmonds, herself a former teacher active in the union, said teachers are "very unhappy," but "I have a responsibility for the integrity of the department."
Reports of recent hiring of education administrators clearly have added to the teachers' anger. Simmonds defended the hirings, saying many were promotions that actually consolidated two jobs into one and saved the department the second salary.
For instance she said, Dr. Noreen Michael is now assistant commissioner but she continues to do the work she did as director of planning, research and evaluation. The government is saving the $50,000 she made under her old title.
The same thing happened in the public relations department, Simmonds said, when June Archibald became director; no one was hired in her old job and no one is getting her old salary of $30,0OO.
Moreover, some of the promotions didn't cost much, she said. The new insular superintendents are earning just $200 more per year than they made as school principals. "That's no raise."
"No raise" is what has angered teachers, and no one seems to know how long they will continue to take turns staying out of the schools.
"I would not try to second-guess them," said Simmonds.
"Those who know don't say and those who say don't know," said Smith.