Showing Up for Public Education

I have served as the chapter leader for the Burlington/Des Moines County Iowans for Public Education (I4PE) for exactly one month. In that month, I have attended three Board of Education BOE) meetings for the Burlington Community School District - one as a community member, and two on behalf of the I4PE group. All of these board meetings have been emotionally charged and significant in the lives of students, teachers and the community. The BOE meeting this past Monday, June 26th, was no exception.

Last Thursday, June 22nd, I received a copy of the board agenda for the June 26th BOE meeting. The agenda dealt almost exclusively with HR items, including the introduction of a new position: School Administrative Manager (SAM). The agenda included a job description (work cooperatively with administration and staff, manage support services, maximize educational experiences), along with job requirements (BA in education or related field, previous K-12 experience). SAM is a position that is a part of a statewide program schools are implementing in Iowa.

Interestingly enough, the Human Resources report at the end of the agenda already had Reggie Shipp, JMEC (James Madison Education Center) Behavior Program Director, recommended to fill the position with a starting salary of $64,000. The requirements fit Reggie’s credentials perfectly: according to his LinkedIn profile, he has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and has worked in an educational setting for less than one year. This position was clearly tailored with him in mind and with no intention to post the opportunity internally.

Knowing there was public interest and outrage regarding the SAM position, I made it a point to attend the BOE meeting Monday night. I became immediately aware of the fact that the BOE agenda had been revised before the meeting. Reggie Shipp was no longer being recommended for the SAM position and the recommended salary had been removed. This provided some interesting debate between board members during the 50 minutes of discussion regarding the new position. The salary was no longer an item to be approved, but it was at one time out there for everyone to see, along with Mr. Shipp’s recommendation.

I was extremely pleased with the questions and concerns Heather Bruek and Darven Kendell voiced during the 50-minute discussion and debate. Their main concerns had to do with what they thought was an unjustified salary and very minimal job requirements. Kendell had clearly done his research and stated that a teacher with an MA wouldn’t reach a base salary of $64,000 without years of experience. Brueck pointed out that it seemed like the job description and salary were written for a specific person, which Pat Coen, superintendent, agreed with. Brueck, with the help of Deb Hattenburg, was successful in suggesting and getting the board to agree to increasing the preferred requirements to include 5 years experience in an educational setting and an MA in education or related field. While not as passionate, Bryan Bross and Dean Vickstrom also spoke out against the salary and job requirements.

Throughout the meeting, Human Resources Director Jeremy Tabor fumbled through information regarding the SAM position and struggled to answer questions without the help of Sharon Detlinger, Curriculum Director for the district. Detlinger assisted Tabor, Coen and Marlis Robbers (BOE President) in trying to explain and justify the position, job requirements and, the salary to the board.

I was very disappointed that Coen, Robberts and Detlinger were not able to justify the $64,000 a year salary and minimal job requirements to the board without degrading teachers and their profession. The BOE made it clear that they were concerned that teachers in the district would have a hard time understanding why this position offered such a high salary. They requested to know what the average salary for the position was statewide. As announced during the meeting, the state average for a SAM position is $46,000/year.

Detlinger attempted to justify the salary by saying, “…it is an admin position. When you’re talking about working with kids, experience isn’t really a concern. You’re expected to work until the job is done, unlike teachers.” BOE members were visibly shocked by this statement, and Kendell spoke up and replied by saying, “ I don’t think teachers stop work after 8 hours. Teachers work just as hard as admins do.”. I was beyond appalled that someone with a background in education is under the assumption that teachers work an 8-hour day. The statement was inaccurate and offensive.

Similar statements were made by Robberts while trying to justify the seemingly bloated salary. At one point, Robberts stated that the salary should be higher because “the position isn’t as warm and fuzzy as a 1st grade teacher. A job with stressors requires more salary.”. Again, inaccurate and very out of touch. The SAM staff member will be dealing with discipline and truancy, something no one wants to deal with. But do you know who ALSO deals with discipline and truancy on a regular basis? Teachers.

Coen was visibly frustrated by the end of the 50-minute discussion. At one point, he asked the board if the SAM position should be flushed and they should just go ahead and hire another assistant principal instead. He and Robberts made it a point to stress that the SAM position would save money (around $22,000/year) by not hiring another assistant principal. The BOE agreed to move forward with the position with the aforementioned amendments to the preferred job requirements. The job will be posted internally for one week, with approval and salary to be discussed at a later date.

Some of the Burlington BOE members showed up to fight for teachers and students Monday night, and it was clear who those members were. Others, such as Coen, Detlinger and Robberts, continue to show just how out of touch they are with teachers both in their district and as a profession. Vickstrom mentioned wanting to tread carefully Monday, “…as not to cause more public irritation after the contracts”. The ball is ALWAYS in the court of those who show up and care the most. Let’s show the district we care and keep showing up for our students and public educators.

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