As teachers for the Yukon School District entered their fifth day of a walkout in support of additional funding for education, questions about how long the process will last linger.
The Yukon Review sat down with Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth to discuss some of the issues the district is facing because of the walkout. The following is an edited version of the interview.
Yukon Review: Does this walkout make a difference?
Simeroth: I think it does. Even if they don’t come up with additional funding this year, I think spending this week at the Capitol will reinforce the teachers’ emphasis on continuing this educational funding through the next few years. They (teachers) are going to ask that they (legislators) continue to fund education over the next several years to get funding up to a competitive level in everything. I’ve never seen teachers in it like this. You’ve seen small rallies and other things, but I have never seen the cohesiveness that I’ve seen this year.
YR: At what point is enough enough?
JS: We have that discussion daily, (Yukon Professional Educators Association President) Vicki (Bonny) and I, about where we are going and when we think teachers will come back. Each day, we make a new calendar based on what we know for the remainder of the school year. … I can share with them the information I get and the information they need to make that decision going forward.
Ultimately, we’re going to make that decision together. They are going to have to decide, along with our support, what is the right time. Ultimately, they come back or they don’t.
Some superintendents across the state have said ‘we need to tell them to come back.’ You don’t want to lose your staff and you don’t want to lose your community, so it has to be a combination of doing the right thing at the right time.
YR: At what point does it become a hindrance for the teachers to be at the Capitol?
JS: That’s a good question. Whenever we talk, I am providing them with the information I hear and what my best judgment is. We sit down together and come up with a time. As I’ve told them, at what point do you reach a point of diminishing returns.
YR: Are you frustrated?
JS: Everyone is frustrated. Even they (teachers) are frustrated that they are not in the classroom. But they feel they need to make this point right now. Our teachers have done a really good job of being very clear that they are there to support education as a whole and they have been very professional about their dealings with our representatives and our senators. I am proud of the things they have stood up for. Again, I don’t know the date. I don’t know the date. I really don’t. I can’t and I wouldn’t force that on anybody. That’s going to be a decision we make together. We’re doing the best we can as a team to come up with these solutions.
YR: Up until now, the district has utilized unused snow days. What happens now?
JS: We are taking April 20, if approved at next week’s school board meeting. We will make it an instructional day. We will add two days to the end of the year, May 24 and May 25. We will continue to add days at the end of the year. Right now, it is very fluid.
YR: Is there a point where you call the teachers back and send representatives?
JS: That’s very possible. That is one of the things we will discuss with them. That is a viable option.
YR: Are students being hurt by this?
JS: Not being in class is never the best thing, but we will be able to make up the instructional time when they come back. We will make sure the students are taught the things we are mandated to teach them in the year, and more.
We always go above and beyond, and we will still do that.
YR: Are the kids being punished?
JS: Strikes are hard. They just are. The whole point of a walkout is to inconvenience people to the point of taking action. That is what it was designed to do — draw attention to the educators’ plight, to force the Legislature to take action, to have parents take action. I think it has been successful to this point.