On September 5, 2017, the Ames Progressive Alliance held an Ames School Board Forum at the Ames Public Library. Each candidate was given three questions to answer via email. Below are each candidate’s answer to question 1. The answers to the questions are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
Question 1: Teachers are a very important component to the academic success of our students, however other school staff members are critical as well. Teachers’ assistants and educational assistants are valuable resources in the classroom, but are seemingly underpaid. When the current collectively bargained contract expires, how will the Board make decisions on wages and salaries for school personnel of all kinds?
Monic Behnken: I would recommend a collaborative approach that involves ongoing dialogue between the board, administrators, and representatives from the Ames Education Association, teachers, staff, and other interested parties. These decisions should not be made in a vacuum. Input from diverse perspectives will help ensure that any policy does not have unintended consequences or otherwise undermine the goal of providing a competitive wage for our teachers and staff. We should work to ensure that our teachers and staff are well paid for the job that they do. They deserve to be able to care for themselves and their families as well as they care for our children. Doing this will increase teacher retention, work place satisfaction, and create the stability that we need in our schools to tackle the serious challenges facing our district. But mostly, it will show our teachers and staff that we respect them, their expertise, and truly value their service to our children and what happens to them at the end of the school day.
Jamet Colton: We have amazing, dedicated teachers in the Ames district. They are on the front lines and are our most valuable resource. If I am on the school board, I will have their back. They should have a say in their benefits, and it will be one of my priorities to make sure that happens and that our teachers continue to feel valued and heard.
As an educational assistant, I know we also play an important part. Educational aides, secretaries, and custodians are also on the front lines, and they fill in to serve essential support roles. I know we need to retain the skilled, talented, and caring staff we currently have to support our teachers. To do so, we need to pay them what they’re worth, and give them the flexibility they need.
Through my years of experience, I’ve seen a very high turnover. Every time we lose someone with experience, we start over. The previous knowledge is lost. I’ve known Educational Assistants who have suffered and triumphed through the tasks they’ve faced, and we need to credit them for their dedication and hard work. We must respect and acknowledge their contributions.
Gina Perez: I am currently employed by the state, and I am very familiar with the collective bargaining changes. With the changes in benefits and the removal of overtime for several classifications within the state, they just can’t keep up and be competitive with the private sector. For what a teacher’s assistant or educational assistant is currently paid, the same person can go to a big box store and get paid the same, if not more, for less required education. If we do not become competitive, we will lose our skilled employees who care about everyone’s children.
When it is time for a new contract, I would like to see the board look at the current one and use it as a baseline. Nothing less than that should be accepted, and we need to look at other school districts, both in and outside of the state of Iowa. A good way to be competitive is to look at both the private sector wages for comparable jobs, as well as other districts. If our pay and benefits do not align, then changes must be made in order to keep employees.
We also need to keep in mind budgetary constraints, when the state and federal government have been making consistent cuts to educational funding. This can be a very delicate balance, but I am very good at thinking outside of the box, and we may be able to identify ways to make employees feel valued and secure.
Tim Rasmussen: The collective bargaining situation is not something that any school district welcomed. It was thrust on us and we need to take steps to protect the best interests of our teachers. We have a great staff in Ames and we want to keep them employed in our schools.
Having served on the negotiations team at two different school districts, I believe I will bring an experience level into negotiations if the Board decides to become part of the active negotiations. Ames has had a long standing approach to have the superintendent and union representatives negotiate the contract. Given the major upheaval to collective bargaining, we may need to rethink how we approach negotiations in order to make a district that keeps all staff feeling secure and welcome.