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You have earned the right to be respected

Chris Galgay, President MEAby Chris Galgay, President MEA

Welcome to the start of a new school year and thank you for your decision to be a member of this Association.

The beginning of the school year is always an exciting time for educators as it is full of hope and expectation. Throughout the state, teachers, support professionals, and those in higher education, have plans and aspiration for our students and their future, and we have prepared as best we can to create a great public schools for every Maine student.

That being said, I am painfully aware of the roadblocks and hindrances in our path. Rarely has our profession or public education been so beset by problems and challenges. Mandates are increasing, criticism is rampant, funding is scarce, and educators are disrespected.

Maine’s educators just endured a painful legislation session in which bills were passed undermining public education; and a budget was adopted that ignores the sacred promise made to us for a retirement with dignity in order to fund tax cuts for Maine wealthiest families.

Since the legislature adjourned, I have talked with many MEA members who expressed their frustration and confusion as to why so many of these negative bills were enacted. The most common question members have asked is: "What were these folks thinking?"

There are no simple answers. What I can say is that we do not deserve this abuse. The pay is low, the demands are great, and our pension benefit plans are not gold-plated. The Maine Public Employee Retirement System provides an average benefit of less than $20,000 per year making it less expensive to fund than Social Security.

Even this modest pension, a promise for many years of service, was unjustifiably slashed. It was more important to Governor LePage to provide tax cuts for the rich than to keep the state’s commitment to those who struggle to get by in retirement on a meager fixed income.

In addition to the pension changes and reduction of the state’s contribution to retirees health insurance, we also witnessed a Charter School bill rammed through without a proper hearing, the passage of an evaluation bill that stripped away the teacher’s voice and other bills that will directly affect the promise of public education through policy and reduced funding.

I am deeply troubled by what appears a well-orchestrated assault on public education and all of us who have chosen to spend our working lives in public education. What ever happened to the respect the public once had for educators?

It appears that too many voters and legislators have bought into the radical right’s propaganda that our schools are failing. Of course, that is NOT TRUE, and we have the responsibility to refute it.

A few days ago I posted on the MEA’s Facebook page the results of a study that found teachers in the United States ranked 22nd out of 27 industrialized countries for compensation. Within an hour someone posted this terse comment: "Please, MEA teachers get paid what they get paid. Live within your means."

Comments like this remind me of a question I hear a lot from fellow educators, "When did I become the enemy?" Usually when you earn respect, people will give it to you, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

Educators, you have earned and deserve to be respected; the time has come to demand it.

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