Island educators share priorities

Teachers seek competitive pay, quality programming and support for vulnerable students.

  • Wednesday, March 27, 2019 1:21pm
  • Opinion
Stephanie Detwiler (Courtesy Photo).

Stephanie Detwiler (Courtesy Photo).

The teachers of Vashon Island School District and the Vashon Education Association would like to express their gratitude to all of the members of our school community who have attended recent school board meetings in support of the district’s students.

VISD’s original budget proposal raised tremendous concern for those of us who work closely with the children in our schools. As teachers, we believe strongly in prioritizing the needs of our students and recognize that only the concerted efforts of a dedicated team of educators will allow the district to achieve its mission of “equipping every student to engage, thrive, and contribute in an ever-changing world.”

To that end, we would like to share our priorities in the budgeting process. First, we are committed to the district’s goal of reducing gaps in achievement for our most vulnerable students. This means that we must maintain adequate support in all three buildings, and at Student/FamilyLink, for those children and families with the greatest social, emotional and academic needs.

Collectively, we place a high priority on ensuring access for students to the skilled and dedicated counselors, interventionists and special education professionals working among us. These individuals, who serve the children who are most in need of support, make the job of educating the rest of our student population possible. They do exhausting, difficult and important work, and too many of them will be leaving our district at the end of this school year. We would like the district to prioritize the provision of adequate support services and the retention of these highly-skilled educators in their budgeting process.

Our second priority is to continue to build and maintain quality academic programs for all of the young people in our care. This is a particular challenge in a small district, where student choice is limited by a number of factors, including staffing. Our community values a strong core academic program, enriched with meaningful opportunities for students to explore interests and develop skills in career and technical education, languages and the arts. We value our student clubs, our athletic programs and our libraries for the opportunities they provide. As a teaching faculty, we are dedicated to providing both access to advanced coursework and support for those with learning differences. We ask that district budget revisions prioritize the maintenance and support of enriched academic programming in each of our schools.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we place extreme value on attracting and retaining highly-qualified, professional educators. Compensation for educators on Vashon, which has always been lower than in many of its surrounding districts, now lags even farther behind, at a time when housing and transportation costs, especially on the island, have increased significantly.

The success of Vashon’s schools is inextricably linked to its commitment to engaging and supporting a capable, experienced and passionate professional workforce. But educators are struggling to live on or within commuting distance of our schools. In early February, nearly 10 percent of our teaching faculty gave notice of their resignations, and additional departures have been announced in the weeks since then. More will undoubtedly occur before the start of the next school year. While compensation and cost of living have not been the only factors in these decisions, they have been significant issues for most. Fewer and fewer among us can afford to forgo compensation that allows us to support our families for the privilege of remaining on the island. This is an actual crisis for our schools and should be a top priority for the district as it works to revise its budget proposals.

Essentially, budget priorities are a matter of choice. We believe the district revealed its priorities in its original proposal for cuts, with significant reductions in student support and much smaller adjustments to the staffing of the central office and to building administration. Despite the budgeting difficulties created by the McCleary decision, however, the district actually received more money from the state last year than it ever had before, and is likely to receive even more at the end of the current legislative session. It is unclear to many of us that there is a financial crisis at hand.

Whether or not such a crisis exists, we ask that the Vashon Island School District and its board of directors revise its budget proposal to address the concerns of the district’s professional educators: competitive pay, quality programming, and support for our most vulnerable students.

— Stephanie Detwiler is an eighth-grade teacher at McMurray Middle School.

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