Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vetoed again

Our locally-endorsed, Education Minnesota-sponsored Statewide Health Insurance for School Employees bill was vetoed again. The excuses were even weaker this year than the last.

Consider that Education Minnesota took last year's veto letter and spent the entire year addressing his concerns line by line. Several discussions with the Governor's office took place. Phone calls and conversations with the Commerce Department were made. The plan was redesigned to match the solutions to the Governor's concerns in every instance.

Our state union Education Minnesota negotiated in good faith.

Our state union worked repeatedly throughout the session to try to schedule conversations with the Governor and his staff to check in on our progress to address his concerns.

And he has the nerve to say "the structure of the pool was changed late in the session" as if that is our fault?!

Our own St. Paul School District was quoted in a newspaper as stating the cost of our health insurance in St. Paul increased by $21 million in a 4 year time span. An increase. That's not even the budget. That's just the increase.

And he has the nerve to say "It does not make sense for the state to mandate that school districts obtain health insurance from a health insurance pool if participating school districts do not achieve significant savings," as if significant savings hasn't been the point of this bill since its inception?!

He boasted at the beginning of the session that he was going to be happy to get a lot of use out of his "taxpayer protection pen" but Tim Pawlenty is clearly wrong here.

Larger pools save money. They mitigate the effects of unforeseen catastrophic care. They spread the risk. They do everything a good insurance pool should do.

Tim Pawlenty has left taxpayers in every school district extremely vulnerable with this veto.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rule of 92?! MUCH better than nothing

I have some exciting news to share with you, and an opportunity for action (of course!). Late last night the pension bill, which previously had absolutely no benefit improvement for active teachers, was amended by Paul Thissen to include a very healthy compromise. While his amendment is not the “true” Rule of 90, it is a significant improvement and deserves to move forward.

Representative Thissen’s amendment includes a few very important things:
1. It lowers the normal retirement age from 66 to 65
2. Provides a new 2.0 multiplier (improved from 1.7)
3. Permits retirement with no penalty if a teacher has 30 years of service and is 62 years old

I need you to encourage members of the House to pass this amended pension bill (House File 3082 including amendment 920) and send it to the conference committee. Please contact your House member. Tell them how excited you are that we have the opportunity to see a real pension benefit for active teachers. I have included the addresses and phone numbers of St. Paul House members as a start.

DO NOT USE YOUR SCHOOL EMAIL ACCOUNT OR YOUR SCHOOL PHONE TO CONTACT THEM. PLEASE USE YOUR PERSONAL EMAIL AND A PERSONAL PHONE. (Sorry if it seems like I yelled that part, it’s just really, really important. Thanks.)

House members can be reached by email with the following formula:

Happy 30th Anniversary!

Thirty years ago this week the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers began officially representing educational assistants. May 12, 1978 was the date of the first contract recognized for educational assistants in St. Paul Public Schools.

Happy 30th Anniversary!

In that time the role of an educational assistant has evolved from a nebulous, newly classified assistant to a true education support professional.

Educational assistants often work alongside teachers aiding our most vulnerable students: Our students in crisis, our students with disabilities, our students experiencing rage or profound grief. Our educational assistants are critical links into communities that otherwise might experience isolation because language would be a barrier. Educational assistants are a building's first responders: standing as sentinels at the door, watching over the cafeteria, or patrolling the hallways for safety. So much of our school communities run smoothly because of the myriad of jobs held by our educational assistants.

Thank you for your work and dedication to education in St. Paul Public Schools.

Let's celebrate together!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Thank a school nurse

Happy School Nurse Appreciation Day!

School nurses are full partners in the education of our students. When I think of a the difference that having a school nurse in the building means to my students, I find myself simultaneously grateful for their work and furious at how we have to squeeze a budget to within an inch of its life to afford that access.

Today I want to make sure that everyone appreciates the work they do, including:

  • Oftentimes being the primary care provider for all the medical issues for many of our students and their families.
  • Working as a team with social workers and counselors to identify the needs of students. They then can be taken care of and stay in my classroom where I can meet the academic needs they have.
  • Educating students to meet their own, often chronic, medical needs so students leave class less often so I can meet the academic needs they have.
Every child needs a school nurse.

Every school nurse needs to be appreciated.

Thank you for your work, nurses. I literally couldn't do it without you.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Time to turn up the heat on the Legislature

Local presidents across Minnesota received a note from Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher earlier tonight requesting urgent action before the end of this legislative session.

There are many, many legislators who self-identify as education-friendly. In screenings and meetings they listen to our priorities.

However, we need them to actually act on our priorities.

School funding increase. There is not a building or program in St. Paul Public Schools that does not intimately understand our desperate funding situation. We have all sat through enough extremely painful conversations, site counsel meetings, or budget surveys in the last 8 years, and especially 8 weeks, to know that we are sick and tired of hoping students don't get sick 3 days a week because we can only afford a nurse 2 days a week. Hoping students don't want to check out books or teachers don't need support with information literacy instruction because we can't afford a licensed librarian. Hoping our students can afford their own extracurricular activities because we can neither pay for the licensed physical education teacher nor the after school programs for our students.

We need a school funding increase. Call your legislator and tell them we need a school funding increase. Tell them how many teachers and EAs you cut from your building, too. Tell them how those professionals served your students.

Go to and click under "Take Action."

Statewide health insurance pool for school employees. Speaking of being sick and tired, I am at email 400 and counting on your response to my health insurance and wellness questions. We must do something to contain the rising cost of our health insurance. It is clear to me that you want access to high quality health insurance. It is also abundantly clear that the cost of that health care is crippling your already modest budgets. Many of you opened up to share that you are no longer one health disaster away from big financial trouble, you are already there. Large pools of people buying health insurance together spreads the risk. It helps contain the cost of health care. That's why huge Fortune 500 companies like 3M and General Mills and Wells Fargo do it.

We need the statewide health insurance pool for school employees. Call your legislator and tell them. Tell them how much your health insurance costs, too. Tell them that we want our health insurance pool to have the buying power that their health insurance pool has.

Go to and click under "Take Action."

Rule of 90. In 1989 the state legislature took away the Rule of 90 for anyone hired after 1989. (In the interest of full disclosure, this includes me.) Now that means that those of us hired after 1989 must work about 7 years longer to get the retirement benefit of someone who can retire under the Rule of 90. For example, my dad retired at age 59 under the Rule of 90. I will work until I am at least 66 for the same retirement benefit. This needs to be fixed. I am happy to talk to anyone who does not understand that active members like me take this issue very, very seriously, and it is not just because my 8th graders already thought I was old when I started teaching at 23 so who knows what they will think of me at 66.

We need the Rule of 90. Call your legislator and tell them that we all need the Rule of 90 and there is no time like the present to fix it.

Go to and click under "Take Action."

When you are finished, cap it off with a quick call to the Governor telling him that these bills are on their way to him and that you would be very grateful if he would sign them. Then drop me a line telling me how easy it was.

Go to and click under "Take Action."

Inspiring perspective

We are part of a worldwide community working to leave the world better than the way we found it through education. Being a teacher in a free and democratic public education system puts you in solidarity with teachers around the world who have the same goals you have. Please know that the work you do is absolutely vital to the well-being of our local community and our global community.

As you got ready for work today wondering how you were going to help that student who lost a loved one, know that there are teachers in Iraq getting up today wondering the same thing. You would be inspired by how determined they are to breathe life into their educational system and you need to know that our work on behalf of public education inspires them, too.

As you brainstorm with the school social worker how to get extra uniforms for your students, know that teachers in Indonesia are doing the same thing. Here uniforms are a part of school choice. In Indonesia, no uniform means that a girl has no choice for any school. You need to know that our work on behalf of all students inspires them.

You steel your nerves, gather your courage, and speak from the heart of your expertise at a meeting, fully expecting the brunt of retaliation that may be coming. Know that there are teachers in detention in China for doing the same thing who are inspired by our organizing work.

You may decide at the end of the day to stand up for public education, stand up for your students, to stand up for your colleagues as your way of standing up for a free and democratic public education despite some vague threat of intimidation. Know that teachers in Zimbabwe stood up with you in the name of democracy as they acted as election poll watchers across their country and they are inspired by our activism.

Your work and the work of teachers across the world must continue for our future to have the promise it is supposed to have. We have much work to do to make that happen. Please continue to stand together with me as a member of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers to do it.

Thank you!

Monday, May 5, 2008

True Teacher Appreciation

Teacher appreciation day is celebrated at roughly the same time of year in South Korea as it is here. When I taught in Seoul in 1997-98 I experienced the most lavish teacher appreciation day ever. By the end of the day I had more candy, make-up, lovely hankies, homemade jewelry and pillows than I knew what to do with. Despite my luggage restrictions however, at the end of my teaching experience there everything I couldn't eat made it home with me.

I found myself wondering if Teacher Appreciation Day could ever be that way in the United States, and if it could, would I want it to be?

Having had the opportunity to attend a few recognition and retirement dinners, I have heard 2 things over and over from retiring teachers. First, that those notes and mementos we get from students are often the only things we pack up and take home at the end of our careers, and second that the best appreciation gift we could get would be respect for what it takes to dedicate your life to teaching.

Over the years it is obvious that there are students we connect with, students who found us valuable. The notes they grace us with make it obvious that our students don't necessarily care when Teacher Appreciation Day falls on the calendar. In fact, it is often the extemporaneous, impetuous thank you that brings us to tears.

I am determined to see true teacher appreciation recognized someday in policy. It seems I can come up with a laundry list of how NOT to feel appreciated: PLCs prescribed to the minute, administrators who announce to a specific teacher at a staff meeting "You do know the voluntary transfer pool is open, don't you?", a promising statewide insurance pool idea stuck in neutral at the state capitol, jaw-dropping-eye-popping-hip-hopping-technology expectations that aren't paid for, and more mandates for license renewal yet more back doors into the profession.

I am thankful for that drawer full of notes, the homemade jewelry, and such. Those messages, especially, can do wonders at the end of a day filled with standardized tests, stolen computers, and stink-eyes. But it is time for a more vocal and permanent message that will endure in this profession long after we have taken our notes home with us and our profession is inherited by the next wave of bright and brave souls.

It is time for that message of respect.