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No, really, I wasn’t attacking teachers

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I think I’m just going to make up a template response rather than writing individual replies every time a teacher accuses me of attacking teachers.

I assume this letter came in response to Saturday’s big package on school board elections, in which I did the pundit thing about teachers’ contracts being the elephant in the room for school trustee candidates.

Here’s what the teacher wrote:

"Rather than launch into a lengthy essay about all that is wrong with our school system and its negative impact upon educators, I’ll cut straight to the chase in regard to the teacher salary issue; teachers are university educated and work incredibly hard (this, by the way, is not the opinion of a faint-hearted soul lacking a work ethic — I always possessed at least two jobs prior to my career as a teacher). Are you aware that the average teacher spends 60 hours per week at her job (in my department, it is often more than that) under increasingly demanding circumstances? Perhaps the media should gather some authentic data before it continues to fuel the public’s often ill-founded perception of what it is we do, how many hours we work, and what we face on a daily basis. We could truly use and would greatly appreciate the support."

And here’s how I responded to that teacher, which is pretty much what I’ve said to all the teachers before her........

I’d like you to show me where I’ve ever written that teachers don’t deserve the salaries they’re making. I’ve written numerous times about the workload and qualifications issues you’ve raised.

The points I keep making about salaries are, to a lesser degree, the extraordinary situation we have now, with only one division having teachers under contract; and to a far greater degree, the situation that the math just doesn’t work to sustain the current situation.

The province increased operating grants by 2.95 per cent, including tax incentive grants. Even if we say very generously that the province funds 60 per cent of operating costs, that’s a 1.77 per cent increase in overall revenue for school divisions that accept the TIG and agree to freeze taxes.

Teachers’ wages and benefits make up about 64 per cent of operating budgets, and all employees make up 85 per cent. You can’t have two-thirds of your budget go up by a base of three per cent and as high as 4.82 per cent, plus cash bonuses up to $550, plus increments, while freezing taxes and getting by on revenue increases of less than two per cent, without reducing the number of people on the payroll.

If the province insists on spending controls and tax freezes, then teachers either get lower or no increases, or fewer teachers are on the payroll. Either option may be unacceptable to parents. Those are the points I’m making.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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