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HomeNewsArchivesTAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT TALKS WITH TEACHERS

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT TALKS WITH TEACHERS

In its editorial of Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2000, The Daily News came out squarely in support of AFT members who voted recently to reject a tentative wage agreement endorsed by union leaders and the V.I. Government's chief negotiator.
Although the editorial was specifically directed at the tentative wage agreement reached, it spoke only to the concerns of teachers, and not of the paraprofessionals and other support staff also represented by AFT and also invaluable to the delivery of instructional services.
Were this the paper's only inaccuracy or distortion, no response would be required. Needless to say, this was only the first of many inaccuracies and otherwise superficial and specious comments contained in the editorial found on page 31.
The paper made a reference to the $8.6 million identified to fund salary increases and quickly supplied the figure of $122.2 million, the Department of Education's annual budget (plus federal funding) in order to diminish the significance of the amount identified for increases.
In fact, what the paper needed to point out is that of that $122.2 million budget, $120 million was allotted and $73.5 million already is allocated for salaries of those filled positions represented by the AFT. The budget for the new fiscal year 2001 will be less than the $122.2 million previously referenced. If the proposed salary increases totaling approximately $8.6 million were to be implemented, that would mean that a full $82.1 million of the Department's budget would be salaries for existing members of the AFT. All other personnel costs of the Department amount to $19.8 million to include school administrators and coordinators, maintenance employees, food service workers and school monitors.
The paper then goes on to suggest, and to do so with the utmost irresponsibility, that another $8.6 million could "easily" be found to fund additional increases. It suggests that this can be done by selling cars, shutting off cell phones, cutting travel, unloading the unused or unusable facilities and deploying other "administrators and other bureaucrats" to the classroom.
Certainly, not even Alice in Wonderland could believe that the sales proposed by the Daily News could "easily" net another $8.6 million. Deployment of administrators and other bureaucrats to the classroom is merely a shifting of costs. The paper's suggestion also assumes that such persons will meet teaching requirements set by the Virgin Islands Board of Education. The paper should note that there has been and will continue to be some shifting of persons within the Department to meet its overall needs. However, the administration also has taken active steps to reduce personnel costs in general. Last fiscal year, the Governor mandated a 5 percent reduction in personal services by every department and agency. Similarly, this fiscal year, in the Department of Education, another $1 million worth of vacant positions was eliminated.
The paper also makes reference to the starting salary of $25,000 entirely in a vacuum without noting that the national average beginning salary for school year 1998-1999 was $26,639. The figures for school year 1999-2000 have not yet been released. In addition, the Daily News missed an even more relevant comparison–that of the average salary. For the 1998-1999 school year, the national average salary for a teacher with 16 years of experience was $40,574. Such a person working for the Virgin Islands Department of Education would have earned $40,634 on the present salary schedule. The information regarding national averages was supplied through a press release issued by the national American Federation of Teachers. A copy of that release is attached for your reference. Further, it is meaningless to compare us with mainland jurisdictions, most of which are experiencing major budget surpluses.
With regard to other fiscal matters concerning the Department of Education, it should be pointed out that the current administration this year identified $15 million for major structural and other improvements to many of the territory's schools. This effort to upgrade the facilities for both our students and for education professionals is unprecedented.
Lastly, the paper suggests separating out retroactive pay from the salary issue. The two are inseparable. It would be terribly irresponsible for a government sinking in debt to even consider salary increases to its employees without seeking some sort of tradeoff.
The Virgin Islands Government has pledged to numerous federal entities: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Justice Department, the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury that it will address mounting debt and deficits. We must convince these agencies that we are serious.
The Daily News is, of course, free to take whatever position it may on the issue, but the paper can do so without suggesting that the task before Government leaders is an easy one. The paper should also endeavor to provide a more accurate picture of the circumstances in which the affected persons must make informed decisions.
The tentative wage agreement reached by the AFT leadership and the Government of the Virgin Islands was not arrived at lightly, but rather, was the result of much negotiation and many long hours. Given the dire financial condition of this Government, it is our best offer. I am, therefore, asking the AFT members to ratify the wage agreement (which is separate and apart from any language issues), so that we can move forward.
Karen Andrews
Chief Negotiator

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In its editorial of Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2000, The Daily News came out squarely in support of AFT members who voted recently to reject a tentative wage agreement endorsed by union leaders and the V.I. Government's chief negotiator.
Although the editorial was specifically directed at the tentative wage agreement reached, it spoke only to the concerns of teachers, and not of the paraprofessionals and other support staff also represented by AFT and also invaluable to the delivery of instructional services.
Were this the paper's only inaccuracy or distortion, no response would be required. Needless to say, this was only the first of many inaccuracies and otherwise superficial and specious comments contained in the editorial found on page 31.
The paper made a reference to the $8.6 million identified to fund salary increases and quickly supplied the figure of $122.2 million, the Department of Education's annual budget (plus federal funding) in order to diminish the significance of the amount identified for increases.
In fact, what the paper needed to point out is that of that $122.2 million budget, $120 million was allotted and $73.5 million already is allocated for salaries of those filled positions represented by the AFT. The budget for the new fiscal year 2001 will be less than the $122.2 million previously referenced. If the proposed salary increases totaling approximately $8.6 million were to be implemented, that would mean that a full $82.1 million of the Department's budget would be salaries for existing members of the AFT. All other personnel costs of the Department amount to $19.8 million to include school administrators and coordinators, maintenance employees, food service workers and school monitors.
The paper then goes on to suggest, and to do so with the utmost irresponsibility, that another $8.6 million could "easily" be found to fund additional increases. It suggests that this can be done by selling cars, shutting off cell phones, cutting travel, unloading the unused or unusable facilities and deploying other "administrators and other bureaucrats" to the classroom.
Certainly, not even Alice in Wonderland could believe that the sales proposed by the Daily News could "easily" net another $8.6 million. Deployment of administrators and other bureaucrats to the classroom is merely a shifting of costs. The paper's suggestion also assumes that such persons will meet teaching requirements set by the Virgin Islands Board of Education. The paper should note that there has been and will continue to be some shifting of persons within the Department to meet its overall needs. However, the administration also has taken active steps to reduce personnel costs in general. Last fiscal year, the Governor mandated a 5 percent reduction in personal services by every department and agency. Similarly, this fiscal year, in the Department of Education, another $1 million worth of vacant positions was eliminated.
The paper also makes reference to the starting salary of $25,000 entirely in a vacuum without noting that the national average beginning salary for school year 1998-1999 was $26,639. The figures for school year 1999-2000 have not yet been released. In addition, the Daily News missed an even more relevant comparison--that of the average salary. For the 1998-1999 school year, the national average salary for a teacher with 16 years of experience was $40,574. Such a person working for the Virgin Islands Department of Education would have earned $40,634 on the present salary schedule. The information regarding national averages was supplied through a press release issued by the national American Federation of Teachers. A copy of that release is attached for your reference. Further, it is meaningless to compare us with mainland jurisdictions, most of which are experiencing major budget surpluses.
With regard to other fiscal matters concerning the Department of Education, it should be pointed out that the current administration this year identified $15 million for major structural and other improvements to many of the territory's schools. This effort to upgrade the facilities for both our students and for education professionals is unprecedented.
Lastly, the paper suggests separating out retroactive pay from the salary issue. The two are inseparable. It would be terribly irresponsible for a government sinking in debt to even consider salary increases to its employees without seeking some sort of tradeoff.
The Virgin Islands Government has pledged to numerous federal entities: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Justice Department, the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury that it will address mounting debt and deficits. We must convince these agencies that we are serious.
The Daily News is, of course, free to take whatever position it may on the issue, but the paper can do so without suggesting that the task before Government leaders is an easy one. The paper should also endeavor to provide a more accurate picture of the circumstances in which the affected persons must make informed decisions.
The tentative wage agreement reached by the AFT leadership and the Government of the Virgin Islands was not arrived at lightly, but rather, was the result of much negotiation and many long hours. Given the dire financial condition of this Government, it is our best offer. I am, therefore, asking the AFT members to ratify the wage agreement (which is separate and apart from any language issues), so that we can move forward.
Karen Andrews
Chief Negotiator