A Letter to the Editor of the Telegraph

As the threat of a teacher’s strikes looms; I feel compelled to respond to the impending crisis facing the students and families of the Dixon Public School (DPS) system and so I write this letter to the editor.  I’ll get straight to my point. Here’s what we know. There are two sides, the Board (including the Administration of the DPS) and the teachers. We also know there is money designated for the purposes of educating EVERY child in the DPS. We also know that sports are not mandated; but, free and appropriate public education is. So, it’s safe to assume that educating the children of this community is our number one priority, correct?  On this we can all agree, right?

So, the real issue at the heart of this disagreement is money.  We’ve already agreed our priority is the students of the DPS; obviously the disagreement before us as a community is HOW the money will be spent!  We’re not disagreeing money is VERY tight! We live in the state of Illinois! Seems like there are differing opinions as to HOW MUCH money there really is and in what funds the money exists; but, the bottom line is our priority. HOW will be the money be spent educating the students of DPS? How we spend money speaks our priorities.  If we look at our personal finances; we’d see where our personal priorities lie. How we spend our district’s money speaks our district’s priorities!

Let’s look at what appear to be the Board and Administration’s priorities for the students of DPS.  The Board prioritizes spending money on 4.78% raises for district administrators (including a 4 year, 6% raise each year for the Superintendent). The Board prioritizes buying land (after ignoring the Marshall’s land donation). The Board prioritizes building a sports complex as well as a new K-12 campus.

Now, let’s look at what appears to be the teacher’s union’s priorities. The Union prioritizes spending money on the staff who teaches our students. The reduction of 25 staff has resulted in significantly increased class sizes.  The teacher’s union prioritizes meeting the needs of all students including student with special needs who need more and not less individualized and specialized instruction and/or support.  The teacher’s union prioritizes having adequate and appropriate teaching tools including textbooks and supplies; and, up-to-date technology for the district’s students. The teacher’s union prioritizes adequate supervision for DPS student’s safety. The teacher’s union prioritizes being insured so they are healthy to teach. And, the teacher’s union prioritizes fair compensation for their efforts which led them to previously agree to a soft-salary freeze. The teacher’s prioritized the financial needs of the district.

What does this all say? I believe we need to question our Board’s priorities.  I’ll admit to a biased perspective. June, 2012 I retired as a 32 veteran Speech/Language Pathologist for Lee County Special Education Association (LCSEA). DPS is the primary consumer of LCSEA’s services.  I served the majority of my teaching career meeting the communication needs of Dixon preschoolers with special needs. You should also know; I retired three years early at a significant cost to my lifetime earnings and retirement benefits. I sought and paid for the early retirement option because I questioned the priorities of the Dixon Board of Education and its impact on the programs and services of LCSEA.

When I became a Speech/Language Pathologist; I chose to work in the public schools because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with communication challenges. For the first 29 years of my career; I believe I did that. Up until that time, I taught approximately 40 students each year.  My 30th year of teaching I went from teaching around 40 students to teaching around 60 students. (A Speech/Language Pathologist retired that year; she was one of the 25 teachers not replaced. Her students were divided between me and another Speech/Language Pathologist, Kathy Mayer who no longer works for the DPS).  That same year, Mr. Juenger became the Superintendent of DPS.

I spoke my concern to the administration at that time. I spoke my priorities. I spoke about meeting the needs of the children with special needs that I served. I was told; “you will teach 60 children” and I did; but I did so at a cost to my students and their families. There was simply no way I could do what I’d done for 40 students when I had 60 students.  I believed the students suffered; hence, my decision to retire early. I could no longer be a part of a system that was not prioritizing its students!

I know my teaching circumstances have not been the only teaching circumstances that have changed in the last 4 years and those changes have negatively impacted our students.  As a result; I have serious concern for all of the students of our community. I’m not the only teacher whose teaching and supervision responsibilities increased dramatically in these last four years. I’m not the only certified educator who was expected to do considerably more with considerably less staff, assistance, materials, and support.  Simply put; our teachers are being asked to do much more with much less!  So, I ask you, Dixon community. What are your priorities?  Highly paid administrators and a sports complex or our student’s education? How we spend our money speaks our priorities!

Cheri Stewart,

Former LCSEA Speech/Language Pathologist & Speech/Language Supervisor (1980-2012) and current Pastor of Prophetstown United Methodist Church

“Working hard for our STUDENTS”

Dixon Students Need and Deserve:

-Their individual, academic, and social needs met

*Smaller class sizes
*Smaller special education caseloads
*Varied instruction that addresses all skill levels

-Current, consistent, and student-centered curriculum

*Textbooks
*Technology
*Teacher training

-Solutions to under-staffed classrooms and under-supported programs

*Replacement of retiring teachers
*Competitive compensation to attract quality teachers
*Adequate supervision for a safe learning environment

 

Working hard for a fair contract

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