State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, is taking heat for a Facebook post in which she tells teachers to pick a different profession if they have a problem with their pay.
“Congratulations on enjoying your last day of the school year,” Pike wrote in her open letter to public schoolteachers. “If I had the opportunity to choose my career all over, I would have opted to get the necessary degree and teaching certificate so that I too could enjoy summertime off with my children, spring break vacations, Christmas break vacations, paid holidays, a generous pension and health insurance benefits.
“Instead,” continued Pike, an elected official and advertising consultant, “I chose to work a career in private sector business so that I could be one of those taxpayers who funds your salaries and benefits as a state employee in a local school district.”
Pike, who serves on the House Education Committee, said she wrote the post on Friday after several teachers asked her to support cost-of-living wage increases for teachers as state lawmakers negotiate a budget deal. This year’s budget negotiations have been especially challenging. Lawmakers, who are in their second special session of the year, are trying to comply with a court mandate to put more money into the state’s K-12 education system.
On Monday, Pike declined to comment further on the topic, saying her Facebook post speaks for itself.
In it, Pike blamed teachers’ unions for the state of the nation’s public education system.
“The big difference between the U.S. public education system and others in the world is that we have unions that only care about the adults in the system,” Pike wrote. “Since the rise of teachers unions in this nation, our public education system has deteriorated.”
Educators sounded off on Monday, saying Pike’s post lacked tact.
“It’s disheartening that she’d take such a dim view of teachers. It shows such a disrespect for the teaching profession,” said Jamie Hurly, a social studies teacher at Battle Ground High School. “To imply that we only work by the clock, we don’t. We work outside of our school day. At Battle Ground, we start at 7:30 a.m. There are many teachers who are there by 6 or 6:30 a.m. every day to prepare for their day. Not too many people would do this for the money. Teachers work hard to prepare our young people for the future.”
Summer, evening work
Pike also said teachers grumbling about their pay should look to their friends in the private sector, many of whom also don’t get raises.
Teachers in Washington have not had a raise in at least two years. Across the state, classified and certificated school employees, including teachers, took a 1.9 percent pay cut during the last two years. A year before that, in order to prevent cutting any staff positions, all employees in the Battle Ground district took a 2 percent pay cut. The previous year, they took a 4 percent pay cut, said Ellen Joslen, president of the Battle Ground Education Association.
“The 1.9 percent cut that the state made these last two years came out in furlough in our district,” Joslen said. “The state cut our pay by 1.9 percent, and the district wasn’t able to pay us for those days. So the district cut our year by three and a half days — called state-cut furlough days — or nine three-hour early releases to make up the 1.9 percent.”
“Some of our beginning teachers are making less money now than when they started teaching,” Joslen said.
She added that the state requires teachers to take 150 additional hours of job training every five years in order to renew their teaching certificates.
“That typically happens in the summers and the evenings,” Joslen said.
In her letter to educators, Pike wrote: “Furthermore, teachers who are dissatisfied with their pay and benefits should look for work elsewhere so that someone who is inspired to greatness can take their place in the classroom. Our children deserve an exceptional and inspired teacher in every classroom. Don’t you agree?”
Rick Wilson, executive director of the Vancouver Education Association, said he represents 1,300 school workers in his district. Students were released for the summer last Tuesday.
“Frankly, some of the teachers are still in their classrooms cleaning up,” Wilson said.
He added that because legislators haven’t passed a state budget yet, school districts don’t have their budgets and teachers haven’t been assigned what subjects or grades they’ll be teaching in the fall.
“Most of our teachers have master’s degrees or higher. They work very hard. They get extra training in the summers. They’re here because they want to make a difference in the lives of children. And they do,” Wilson said. “Teachers are easy targets. Attacking teachers’ benefits and salaries — that’s a sad reflection of what our society values.”
Pike described herself as a lawmaker who values smaller government, and she also told teachers that there simply isn’t enough government money to go around. She said she was open about her political positions during her 2012 campaign, so her Facebook post should come as no surprise.
Her letter ended on an upbeat note to educators: “Thank you for the great work you are doing in our classrooms. Enjoy your summer!”
Carla Gish, a Battle Ground primary teacher who retired last week after 37 years and teaching 925 students, said Pike needs to educate herself about the teaching profession.
“It’s so frustrating because there’s so much misinformation out there,” Gish said. “She kind of made herself a target today. She should spend some time with teachers and possibly come into classrooms to see what our job entails.”