Reality hits home for educators too

Most of us have someone in our lives who was pivotal in our personal and professional development. For many of us, that person was a teacher.

For me, it was Ophelia Nelson, my seventh grade English teacher, who nurtured my interest in reading and writing and, in doing so, greatly enriched my life.

I’m sure you know a teacher who made a difference in your life. Like you, I wish we could afford to pay our excellent public school teachers what they are worth, which is much more than most earn now. Sadly, today’s economy means that’s not possible. Most of us in the last several years have had to make very painful sacrifices to make ends meet, to remain employed, to continue to have some level of health and retirement benefits.

Last week, Shelby County native and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley presented his plans for a budget, which if enacted would require no teacher layoffs, would not increase class sizes, would not reduce the number of contract days for teachers and support personnel.

Bentley’s proposed budget also would protect a number of important education programs, like the Alabama Reading Initiative, among others.

His budget would require that Alabama’s public school teachers pay more for their health care and for their own retirement.

Some of Alabama’s democratic lawmakers quickly reacted, saying things like, “You can’t balance the state budget on the backs of teachers and state employees,” and “He’ll have a difficult time getting this through the legislature.”

Maybe those things are true. However, the cost of health care benefits has skyrocketed and most everyone else who works has been forced to contribute more – much more – in the last several years just to be able to keep some level of benefits.

It is not unreasonable to ask Alabama’s teachers to join the rest of us and pay a little more for these benefits.

As Bentley said, nothing is being asked of teachers and state employees that isn’t the reality now for the vast majority of the rest of us.

Surely, this opinion will not be popular among our teachers. That’s understood.

The reality is, it’s time for Alabama’s leaders to make some very difficult decisions, and this is one of them.

Nobody wants to balance the state’s budget on the backs of teachers and state employees. Asking those groups to pay a little more for their benefits is fair and reasonable.

Jan Griffey is the editor for the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 36 or by e-mail at jan.griffey@shelbycountyreporter.com.