Communication is key

Published: Monday, September 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 31, 2003 at 11:21 p.m.

This is not another angry teacher letter. I'm a reasonable person who prefers to work things out rationally.

I have taught in this district for six years and the biggest problem I've noticed between the board and the employees is poor communication.

The recent salary offer of Aug. 21 was met with so much outcry from the teachers and career service employees largely because the board does not offer a reasonable explanation for why teacher salaries are not budgeted first.

To offer a mere $400,000 (that's about $200 more per year, or about $8 per paycheck!) to one of the most highly educated, hard-working group of educators in the state of Florida . . . how can it not be insulting, especially if it is not backed up with a reasonable explanation?

When communication is lacking, the norm is to assume or infer to fill in the gaps. This is what leads to miscommunication. Since I've never been given a good reason why teacher salaries aren't budgeted first (our county's weak tax base has nothing to do with budget priority), I have to assume why.

Assumptions tend to run the range from internal incompetence to full-blown corruption. Usually, if some embarrassing behavior is not explained (and a $400,000 offer, I hope, is embarrassing to the board), it is because there is something going on internally that is even more embarrassing.

For example, let's say Administrator A made an incompetent judgment on a contract (not maliciously - maybe because he or she just didn't fully understand what he or she was doing), and now the district is stuck with an expensive, contractually obligated situation. In order to explain to employees why they can't budget their salaries first, they'd have to admit that they goofed and are stuck with Administrator A's mistake.

Well, even School Board members are human and will naturally try to avoid embarrassing admissions like that. So what do they do? They simply don't explain it and hope that the tried-and-true excuse of "we just don't have the money" will suffice and hold off the employees for one more year.

Let me be the first to say that I don't know why things are the way they are. I recognize that these are assumptions and nothing more. If it sounds like I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, that I am totally in the dark about how this all works and why things are the way they are, then I have made my point perfectly.

We must have better communication. And sometimes that means explaining something that is uncomfortable.

My 7-year-old daughter once colored on her stuffed animal with a marker. I was sure she'd done it, but she wouldn't admit to it. It was embarrassing for her! She did it for no good reason and she knew that.

When I established a level of trust with her, she finally admitted it and I didn't punish her. Her courage to finally own up to her mistake was so rewarding to me that I could overlook the trifle of the marked toy. We communicated.

The toy was still messed up, but we got along better and we trusted each other.

That's what I want for our School Board and our employees.

Wayne Eury is a teacher at Gainesville High School.

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