If you took a poll and asked respondents to name a role model other than a family member, chances are they would cite a teacher. Someone who prodded them to learn, unlocked their potential and taught them lessons — in academics and in life.
Case in point: Shirley Flack taught high school business courses for 23 years in Marietta before retiring last week. The best part of her time teaching, she said at a retirement luncheon, were visits from former students who thanked her for the lessons learned in her class that stayed with them into their adult lives. She was one of the 31 retiring teachers with a combined 635 years of experience receiving well-deserved recognition by the school district last week.
We assign teachers the most critical task of educating our children. Yet for these superheroics, we pay them little, ask them to work long hours, subject them to parental boorishness when Junior doesn’t earn his “A” and make them buy their own classroom supplies. Little wonder educators feel undervalued.
But perhaps there is a sea change afloat. A recent boost in salary goes a long way toward dispelling the notion that those who teach are taken for granted.
While crisscrossing the state of Georgia in his run for governor, Brian Kemp made a campaign promise to teachers. If elected, he’d work to get teachers a $5,000 annual raise.
Like fine china, campaign promises are often and easily broken. Kemp, however, made a substantive down payment on his pledge. The Georgia Legislature passed and Kemp signed House Bill 30 — the state’s 2019 fiscal year budget that called for a $3,000 annual pay raise for teachers.
It’s not complete fulfillment of Kemp’s plan, but it’s a strong start and a good indicator he’ll finish the job at first opportunity.
But there’s more progress.
Local school districts took the governor’s kernel of an idea and grew it into a field of corn.
For the Marietta school system, all certified staff will receive the full $3,000, which represents an average raise of 6%. In addition, Superintendent Grant Rivera said the Marietta system will extend that 6% pay raise to all non-certified staff, including paraprofessionals, bus drivers, maintenance employees and food service workers.
“By giving raises to all certified and non-certified staff, even those not included in the governor’s budget, we are making a value statement about the importance of all employees in the success of our students, schools and community,” the superintendent said.
In the Cobb school district, the pay raise news was even better.
Everyone from teachers to bus drivers to custodians will share the wealth — some getting raises that exceed 12%. It’s the largest raise granted by the district in at least 25 years, according to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale. In addition to the full-time teachers, substitutes will see an 8% pay increase.
While the larger paychecks will be welcomed warmly by those in the teaching ranks, more significant is the message sent to educators across Georgia — your worth has been recognized, your profession is valued and your work is being rewarded.
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Now, let us turn attention to another set of often undervalued public servants — law enforcement officers. Many feel the worth of those who rush toward danger while others flee it has been minimized. That sentiment filled the room at recent county town halls. “Cobb County Police Department in Crisis” screamed a flier handed out at several of the meetings. The linchpin of their cause is the long-suffering staff shortage within the ranks of Cobb police. In 2018, Cobb hired 48 officers, but lost 72, leaving the department about 100 short of the 726 budgeted positions.
Those pushing for higher officer pay direct criticism at county Chairman Mike Boyce and the four district commissioners for kicking the can down the road. While the county opens parks, builds new hiking trails and expands library hours, public safety officers can be found slaving below deck.
It’s not that the county is cash-strapped. Last year’s millage rate increase on top of a rising tax digest filled county coffers. And despite the continued rise in property values, there will be no millage rollback this coming year, Chairman Boyce says. That is, essentially, another tax increase. Add to all that the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park and Battery development. County officials are ecstatic over the taxpayer investment in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Periodic updates glow with revenue numbers far exceeding expectations.
With all this prosperity, what’s the holdup?
People (aka voters) love parks and libraries, but they have equal concern over public safety. In the next budget, compensation adjustments for public safety and rescue personnel need to be front and center. Chairman Boyce and Commissioners Ott, Gambrill, Birrell and Cupid: Fund these measures before anything else.
Things aren’t getting any easier for those who protect and serve. With gangs in every Cobb high school and the opioid crisis turning law-abiding citizens into drug-seeking criminals, the risk police face is as great as ever.
Indications emanating from the third floor of the county building are that some form of increased compensation and benefits is on the horizon, but before Boyce puts specifics in his next budget, he needs to get district commissioners on board.
The commission as a whole needs to commit to keeping Cobb and its citizens safe. No discretionary spending until our officers are compensated. No district largess until police are rewarded. No pet projects until law men and women are given their due.
Chairman Boyce knows there’s a gap. He’s admitted as much in public meetings. It is time, chairman and commissioners, to stop kicking the can down the road and do the right thing.