Militant Journalism

Dallas teachers show up in force to demand fair pay for staff

On June 23, Dallas Independent School District staff and supporters made a large, red appearance at the school district’s last meeting of the 2021-22 school year. Several dozen people, led by the Alliance/American Federation of Teachers union, attended the meeting wearing red “ask me about our union” t-shirts. As a new superintendent was being inaugurated, unionists filled nearly every seat of the room and gave speeches in support of a $15 minimum wage for support staff, as well as other needed improvements to education. 

The school board was prepared for a “business as usual” vote on the budget with a hastily prepared slide show referencing only vague “increases in pay.” The board then took a 40-minute recess, swearing in the new superintendent in a closed session. Long recesses are a tactic used by council and board meetings to drain the energy from mass mobilizations. Instead, the union members and their supporters used the time to network and learn more about each others’ struggles.

Teachers flooded the board meeting in red shirts. Liberation photo

When the board returned, dozens of different speakers lined up to comment, grilling the trustees on their poor management of schools. Some shared their experiences teaching during COVID. Texas schools have notoriously lied about COVID safety in order to force children and teachers back into classrooms. Other supporters spoke about systematic racism and underfunding. Speakers were overwhelmingly in support of a $15 minimum wage for all workers in DISD. It was said again and again that without counselors, bus drivers, janitors, counselors, substitutes and so on, schools would not function.

Many teachers also railed against the cut-throat, divisive Teacher Excellence Initiative. Under the TEI, teachers are made to compete for higher salaries and are placed on a bell curve. Teachers with higher student test scores, student survey results and teacher performance ratings are given more money than teachers who cannot show the correct metrics. The standards for “teacher performance” are arbitrary and subjective. They also contribute to a feedback loop where schools with the best funding — typically more affluent, whiter schools — can use those resources to help rig the system, thus making more money for teachers and the school, while already underfunded schools suffer even more.

The burning issues felt across the entire room were inflation, being underfunded, and being understaffed. Even if a teacher’s salary is increased by an expected eight percent, the inflation rate has remained at eight to nine percent, meaning that teachers are still taking a pay cut. In addition to invasive school district initiatives like the TEI, pay issues have left many feeling like the profession is not worth it, and not what they signed up for.

Even if the battle for funding continues, the sea of red — union members and their supporters ready to fight — was a needed psychological victory. Capitalist profiteers have been gunning for the public school system for decades, pointing to faulty, subjective “standards” to show failing schools, then siphoning off the funding to private charter schools. At the same time, they attempt to make work conditions miserable for teachers and staff in an attack against unions and collective power. Unionists and the community showed up to demonstrate that they’re not backing down. The fight is just beginning!

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