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A State of Acrimony

Recently, the San Jose Mercury News blamed “acrimony” for the Evergreen Teachers

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Association’s recent discussion with its members on the potential for calling a strike. While the relationship between the board and its members is certainly acrimonious, acrimony is not the reason that a strike is looming.

It’s exhaustion.

Teachers in the state of California are exhausted. The state plays a shell game with financing, depriving students of equitable educational resources and those who educate them of consistent access to a professional wage. The state then turns around and demands accountability in a broken assessment system that consistently produces poor results from our most poorly-funded and overcrowded schools. If these schools struggle to do well, there is no support, only punishment from the federal government.

And when schools perform well — as they have in Evergreen — educators often get the message that they are still not good enough; not good enough for dental or health insurance for their dependents; not good enough for a competitive wage in a valley where a starting engineer might make six figures, and the teacher who taught her calculus will likely work 30 years before coming anywhere close.

It’s not acrimony to say that teachers have shouldered the burden of our broken education system, and we just can’t shoulder the burden anymore. We won’t. Someone has to draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough. We go no further.”  Does that strategy always work? No. Does it seem dramatic or unfair or extreme? Maybe to some. But at what point does someone besides the teachers or nurses or counselors or support staff or secretaries or aides shoulder the burden as well? Who is fighting for them?

Right now the only thing standing between the members of the Evergreen School District and yet another cost of living setback is the Evergreen Teachers Association. To say tempers are running high is a gross understatement, but that miserable cliché hints at the desperation and exhaustion and frustration. What we can also surmise is this: Teachers are exhausted; they feel unsupported, and the union of these issues has consequences.

The question is always the larger one. In these times, can a district say, “Okay. You’ve heard us. We are worried about spending our reserves. We are worried about declining enrollment and the loss of revenues. We are worried about unfunded mandates from the state and the federal government. We are worried about an uncertain financial future that pits us against each other. Now know that we hear you.  We will spend every penny we can of our reserves to treat our employees fairly before we let an uncertain future skew our values. We respect our employees and what they do for our children. We will face the crisis, and we will face it together.”

It could happen, but it would take a tremendous amount of strength and courage and a willingness to breathe deep into an uncertain future, with only the partnerships forged in trust and respect for support.  It’s possible, but is anyone willing?

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