On Tuesday, July 23, I read with great interest how, even though the city of Chattanooga is facing a $125 million shortfall in the Chattanooga Fire and Police Pension Fund, Mayor Andy Berke is creating a task force and hiring an outside consultant to look for ways to reform and replenish the city employee retirement plan. Also, Mayor Berke has begun to reverse former Mayor Ron Littlefield's policy and has eased the take-home police car policy. Mayor Berke is to be applauded because these civil servants work tirelessly to serve and to protect the citizenry of Chattanooga. I know firsthand the professionalism and commitment that the firefighters and police officers have rendered to Chattanooga.
While all of these steps are effective measures designed to help the fire and police departments, I have to wonder who is speaking out on behalf of the teachers. Recently the Hamilton County school board voted to give the superintendent, Rick Smith, a $25,000 pay raise. To justify the huge pay raise one of the school board members said that "hard work should be rewarded," and I agree. Shouldn't that same principle be applied to hard-working teachers? Did that school board member not believe that the teachers were working hard?
The teachers are not getting a raise, and they have not gotten a pay raise since 2005. That is unacceptable. If we hope to revitalize our education system, we must first start by ensuring that our teachers are well taken care of in and out of the classroom. We must recruit an army of teachers, we must stock our classrooms with 21st century technology, and we must make sure that no kid is left behind; that is the only way we will make substantive progress as a county and as a nation.
When I think about strong leadership I think about the person who cares about the status of those who serve under them. I would believe that the strong leader would be aware of the morale and the general well-being of employees on the front line of educating our children. I wish that Rick Smith's response to the school board had been "thanks but no thanks." At the very least I wish that he would have accepted a much smaller increase.
I have been in countless schools in Hamilton County and I can tell you first hand that teachers are making a difference in the lives of the students. It is astonishing the situations that teachers encounter in helping their young students prepare for the world ahead of them. The stress that the teachers are under is tremendous. After devoting years of their lives to acquire the degrees and credentials to teach, the teachers have been let down in so many ways -- their benefits limited, they are expected to show test gains for students who come to school hungry, distraught and in other ways not ready to learn.
Over 50 percent of their evaluations are based on their students' test scores. Many of these same teachers are cursed, threatened and even struck by their students. And so often when they have tried to get the principals and supervisors to discipline the students, very little has come of it. Since the other students witness no repercussions for bad behavior, they, too, are more inclined to act erratically
My comments are a call for support from parents, politicians and others to step up and give the teachers some considerations. As the world's economy becomes more interconnected, it is imperative that our students receive a high-quality education. How can teachers do their best work if they don't feel supported or appreciated and they are ignored when it comes to being compensated fairly or appropriately? I, for one, give the teachers a big thank you, and I ask that everyone show the teachers respect and support so that they stay in the profession and continue doing the best job they can! My sole purpose of serving on the County Commission is to help promote job creation. If we are to attract companies and industry into our community, it is important that we produce a trainable workforce. Let our actions reflect that as a priority we properly educate our youth.
Warren Mackey is a Hamilton County commissioner representing District 4.
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