Rain, shine or furlough, teachers get the job done

And I used to think Roy Barnes was bad.

Six years ago, I was one of a loud and vocal group of irate Georgia school teachers who were upset at the perception that Roy Barnes didn't really appreciate the job Georgia educators were trying to do in the classroom. Gov. Barnes seemed to think, in our estimation, that teachers were to blame for the myriad problems that most of us believed could be attributed to factors outside our control.

A large number of teachers across the state made their voices heard at the ballot box and helped Sonny Perdue turn Barnes into a one-term governor. Quite frankly, most of us believed that we would be treated a lot better with a new sheriff in town - or at least a new chief administrator under the Gold Dome.

Sadly, it hasn't worked out that way. Gov. Perdue has been a lot of things, but a friend to education is not one of them. I am sure that he would beg to differ. Politicians always do. Every governor that has served this state in my lifetime has claimed to be the "Education Governor." Only two have put the state's money where their mouths were.

When Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia, he awarded school teachers four consecutive 6 percent pay raises. When Zell Miller was governor of Georgia, he did the same thing.

In the past six years, raises for Georgia school teachers have been few and far between. State money has been slashed for a number of programs, many of which are mandated by state and federal law, leaving local school systems with the burden of figuring out how to fund the programs. There have been increases in the cost of certain benefits, like health care, which have been passed along to the teachers. The bottom line is that when I get my next paycheck, I will bring home less money than I did in the month before Sonny Perdue took office six years ago.

I'm glad he was going to be the friend of Georgia educators. I'd hate to see what would have happened to my paycheck if he had sworn to be our enemy.

As I am sure you have already heard, Gov. Perdue issued an edict last Tuesday that all Georgia teachers be "furloughed" for three days before the end of the year. Furlough, of course, at least in this case, is an eight-letter word that means sent home without pay. Never mind the fact that we all signed contracts stating that we'd work 190 days and be paid for those 190 days.

I know, I know, I know. Times are hard. The state coffers are empty. The tax digest is down. The money is not there. It's not just the teachers. All state employees have to bite the bullet.

And this is my own personal favorite. Teachers should just be glad they have a job at all - which is exactly what a great majority of Georgians probably think, apparently, including the governor. And that is one of the primary reasons that Georgia is consistently ranked toward the bottom among the 50 states when people start talking about things like test scores and graduation rates.

Most teachers will lose in the neighborhood of $1,000 in pay divided among the last five pay periods of the year - about $200 a month, before taxes. The impact on younger teachers who are not as high on the pay scale or who don't have advanced degrees will be somewhat less. That is a significant amount of money for most of us, but really and truly, it is not the money that has most of us upset. The thing that bothers me is the cavalier way in which school systems were told to find a way to have teachers stay at home for three days between now and December.

The decree came about a week before most metro area schools were scheduled to start back. And the edict also said that systems should keep teachers at home on days that would have the least impact on instruction. So all over, state administrators were scrambling, trying to figure out which days would be canceled. The whole process reminded me of the old line about "non-essential government employees" staying home during a budget crunch. We shouldn't have non-essential government employees, and we shouldn't have non-essential work days for school teachers, either.

But you see, here's the thing. Sonny Perdue knows, even though it appears that he doesn't know or care, that the vast majority of teachers in our state are professionals who will do whatever it takes to get the job done in their classrooms. He knows that if teachers are told to stay home without pay during staff development days or work days, the work that needs doing will still get done.

Teachers will work at home. Teachers will stay late on other days. Teachers don't work by the hour and most teachers don't work for the paycheck - so life will go on and the Great Furlough of 2009 will pass into history without so much as a whimper and 2010 will come and go without additional raises for educators and people will still say that we should just be glad we have a job.

Oh, well. Maybe we can take our furlough days and fish Georgia. There still seems to be plenty of money for that.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.