Buoyed by Newly Enacted School Reform, Kentucky Teachers Demand Salary Hikes
Buoyed by the state's recently enacted package of radical education reforms, teachers in a number of Kentucky districts have begun to demand salary increases as high as 23 percent as well as a share in local decisionmaking.
Since school began two weeks ago, teachers have gone on strike in two Kentucky districts and threatened job actions in several others if officials did not yield to their demands. Striking teachers in Boyd and Floyd counties have gone back to work, while agreements have been reached in Pike and Owsley counties after strikes were threatened. Issues remained unresolved in several other districts as of late last week.
"It's really our first chance to say anything, and hope we won't pay for the rest of our lives," said Michal Adams, president of the Lawrence County Organization of Teachers.
Located in coal-mining territory in eastern Kentucky, the districts are among the poorest in the state. They also lag far behind in most indicators of educational quality. "They would be demographically some of the counties with the worst problems in the nation," said Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens' advocacy group.
With the passage of the landmark education-improvement and revenue package last spring, these half-dozen districts, along with several others, were guaranteed massive infusions of funding to help close the gap between them and wealthier districts. (See Education Week, April 4, 1990.)
Most are so-called "25 percent districts," meaning they will receive that much more money from the state this year than in previous years, according to Gordon Nichols, a spokesman for the state superintendent of public instruction.
In general, these districts this summer offered teachers raises of 10 percent to 12 percent for the current school year. By making such offers, school officials had sought to strike a balance between funding instructional programming, salaries, and other educational needs, said David L. Keller, executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association.
But teachers there--among the lowest paid in the state--balked.
"In eastern Kentucky especially, for the first time there's money on the table over which to negotiate," said David Allen, president of the Kentucky Education Association.
In Boyd County, where the state will provide an additional $9.5 million this year, teachers mounted a two-day strike after the district initially offered only a 3 percent pay hike, said Mr. Allen.
Teachers and school officials in Pike County, which will get $34 million extra from the state this year, negotiated a 23 percent salary increase after teachers there threatened to strike when offered 18 percent.
Floyd County teachers ended a 10-day walkout after the district upped its 15 percent offer to 16.5 percent this year and 13.5 percent next year. Floyd County was one of two districts previously declared academically bankrupt by the state.
"There was much more at stake here than money," said Dolores Smith, secretary of the Floyd County Education Forum, a citizens' advocacy group.
A Role in Decisions
Teachers claim they have been shut out of decision making for years, a situation that is supposed to change under a provision in the state reform package requiring local districts to include teachers in the process. But education and union officials say the distrust runs so deep that teachers want local officials to put their participatory rights in writing.
"Their frustrations are as much about implementation of the law as anything else," said Mr. Allen.
"The notion that teachers in these districts have been shut out has been by and large not true," said Mr. Keller, who portrays the unrest as an attempt by union officials to gain ground by exploiting genuine local disagreements.
Teachers' demands are unlikely to have a direct bearing on reform, said Mr. Sexton, but they potentially can provide ammunition to opponents who might try to undermine future reform measures.
Mr. Keller also noted the possibility of a backlash, particularly after taxpayers begin to notice hefty tax increases to pay for the reform package.
But in Floyd County at least, the community had aligned itself with the teachers, joining them on the picket line, bringing them food, and forming a new school-improvement group, said Mrs. Smith. "It was those people against the good-old-boy network," she said.
Elsewhere in the nation as the school year began, teachers walked off the job in districts in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Michigan, California, and Washington State.
Fremont, Calif., with 1,200 teachers and 23,000 students, was the largest district to strike. That could change in the wake of a strike vote last week by teachers in New Orleans, who have given school officials until Sept. 17 to meet their demands.
Salary grievances are at the heart of most of the strikes. But 1,200 teachers in Lake Washington, Wash., went out Aug. 30 seeking relief for excessive workloads, and Yakima, Wash., teachers stayed out two days in a dispute over management issues. As of late last week, Lake Washington teachers remained out.
Vol. 10, Issue 02, Page 5