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Chester County Press

A different opinion about teachers' unions

03/05/2014 01:27PM ● By Acl

Letter to the Editor:

After reading Mr. Iler’s letter titled “Free Our Teachers,” (Feb. 26 issue of the Chester County Press) I felt the need to provide some balance to his critique. I respect Mr. Iler’s opinions, as well as others who do not think kindly of teacher unions. However, I am saddened to read comments that seem to indirectly undermine public school education. I commend Mr. Iler’s civic spirit in his past attempts at running for Oxford School Board. Mr. Iler is a good man, but we have a difference of opinion on teachers' unions and on their benefit to Oxford. I will attempt to counter Mr. Iler’s argument in a way to provide some balance. For the sake of being open, I will tell you I am a teacher in a neighboring school district, and I happen to be part of a teacher union. I am an Oxford Borough resident and taxpayer.

  1.  1. “I have not found any benefit from the Oxford teacher’s union. My property taxes continue to rise to pay union benefits.”

Response: As taxpayers we have benefited from the Oxford Teachers Association. I do not observe hostile behavior from the union in the form of work stoppages and outrageous salary demands. I see Oxford teachers working for some of the lowest salaries in Chester County and that is a benefit to the taxpayer. I see the union advocating for smaller class sizes and full-day kindergarten. As for our property taxes continuing to rise, I remind everyone that Governor Corbett has dramatically cut education funding so our local school board is forced to make up the difference.

  1.  2. “Oxford School District is not a Top 10 School District in Pennsylvania, so where is the  benefit?” 

Response: I’m curious to know what Top 10 list is being discussed. Oxford School District is a Top 10 school district and the benefits are that of the diversity we possess. Our district has a blend of political views, cultural backgrounds and experiences that all deserve to be celebrated.

  1.  3. “Teacher’s who excel at educating are not compensated for excellence”

Response: In the short run you are correct. Teachers make less than others with similar college backgrounds. However, if teachers are fortunate enough to stay in the profession their entire career, they are compensated with an excellent pension that many would like to take away. If the pension is taken away, then the comments about compensation are especially true. 

  1.  4. “Good teachers get the same pay as incompetent educators and we can’t fire teachers for being incompetent.”

Response: Can’t we say the same about other professions? I’m going to guess there was many a time in a Chester County Press reader’s life when he or she was paid the same amount of money as an incompetent co-worker. Teachers are fired for being incompetent. Oxford has had teachers dismissed (fired).  If Mr. Iler knows of incompetence, he should report it. I have never personally met an incompetent Oxford School District teacher.  I know many outstanding, hard working teachers in the district.  I am proud they teach our children and I wish more people would acknowledge their excellence.

  1.  5. “If being a union member is a benefit, why must the union extort funds from the teachers?”

Response: I do not see the Oxford Teachers Association as extorting funds from the teachers. I see them arguing on behalf of public school education in Harrisburg. If not for the teachers' union, who else will argue for the teachers, students and parents? I don’t see the poorest people in our district having the money to compete with big money individuals who would love to privatize all schools. If not for the Oxford Teachers'  Association and other unions, public schools would vanish and each school would be privatized with the wealthiest sending their children to the best-funded schools, and every other child would suffer.

  1.  6. “I am unable to recall the last time the teachers' union offered to donate funding back to the district.”

Response: We already mentioned that Oxford teachers’ salaries are some of the lowest in Chester County and this is even after many of the surrounding school districts have frozen or cut their teacher salaries. I don’t think Oxford teachers are getting paid enough to give any funding back to the district. 

My point being, we need to have balanced arguments. I don’t always agree with the decisions of teachers' unions. I do know unions are arguing on behalf of public education, teachers, and our children more than anyone else. The teachers' union plays an important role in reforming and improving public education. I argue that they are fighting for our taxpayers as well. If our public schools start to fail, our home values drop since nobody with kids will want to move into that particular district. Mr. Iler presented some arguments against the Oxford Teachers’ Union. I attempted to balance those arguments with my own. I do not think Mr. Iler’s arguments should be ignored, but I also don't think that the Oxford teachers' union’s opinions should be ignored. I believe that the union has a right to exist. People on both sides of this debate need to be able to agree to work together so that we can have a balanced approach. Oxford School District has a proud and distinguished history. Oxford has economic and cultural diversity. Oxford has loving parents. Oxford has intelligent and caring students who give back to their community. Oxford has teachers who believe in their community and have spurned higher paying districts. Oxford has an outpouring number of volunteers who do wonders in tutoring and in mentoring our children. I am a proud parent and taxpayer in the Oxford School District. I ask that in the future we would continue to be balanced in our arguments. For example, we need to bring more businesses to Oxford to increase the tax base. That’s a different discussion though. 

Andrew Atkinson