Elshot wants to meet with Jacobs on teachers’ concerns

Claire Elshot

 PHILIPSBURG–President of Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) Claire Elshot is seeking an audience with Education Minister Silveria Jacobs before school reopens for the new academic year, to discuss several burning concerns of educators.

  Elshot said on Wednesday that earlier attempts to meet with the minister did not bear fruit. Among the concerns the union wants to discuss is seeking clarity on what appears to be a new advisory structure for public education, which the union views as a new form of privatisation of public education, which the union is against. Elshot said a presentation was made to teachers and school managers about an advisory committee for public school, which she said sounded like a new form of privatization of public education.

  “The union wants to say no to privatization, but we first need information,” Elshot said. “We were quite surprised because there was no type of consultation on this advisory committee structure for public education. We don’t know who came up with the idea and there was no type of consultation with the workers’ organisation, which is WITU, and no documents were served to the advisory government for civil servants, which is the GOA. The GOA did not receive any documents on this. So I thought it would be logical to sit with the minster to discuss this,” the union president said.

  The union also wants to discuss the concerns of educators over the shortened vacation schedule for the 2017-2018 academic year. According to Elshot, members have expressed concerns about the vacation schedule in which the summer vacation will run from July 9, 2018 to August 14, 2018. Elshot said this would be a shorter summer vacation contrary to what teachers in islands such as Curaçao are getting. She said teachers in Curaçao will resume school much later, on August 22. “A number of teachers in St. Maarten have raised concerns on the shortening of the summer vacation.”

  Another major point of contention for teachers is the freezing of their salaries once they reach step 20 in the salary scale. This has been a long-standing concern of teachers and the union. Elshot said some 200 teachers have already raised concerns on this issue and it needs to be corrected. According to Elshot, once educators reach step 20 in the salary scale, their remuneration is frozen, while the salary scale document of 2008, should have provided mobility for teachers to move vertically and horizontally in the salary scales, but this is not happening.

  “We fought before 2008 against the freezing of teachers’ salaries at the age of 38, but now that we have a new scale, some teachers’ salaries are being frozen before the age of 38. We now have 200 complaints from teachers. Every year, when a teacher reaches scale 20 and their salary is frozen, they complain,” Elshot said, noting that teachers are being told they need a new task for this to change, Elshot said, however, there is little space and not every educator will be able to have a different task. “We need teachers to be promoted in their scale.

  It is time that we have an audience with the minister and let her know that this has to be fixed, so fix it,” the union president said. “We want this to be fixed immediately because WITU is not in favour of freezing teachers’ salaries.”

  The union also wants to urge the minister to have a uniformed policy in place for educators who are sent back to school after a long-term illness, and are required to work 50 or 75 per cent of their work load. Elshot said a clear definition is needed on what working 50 per cent and 75 per cent means. It cannot be, she stressed, that for some teachers it means working a certain number of hours, and it’s different for other teachers. “Clarity is needed so that all teachers island-wide know that when they have to work 50 per cent, they know what times they have to work. A uniformed policy is needed,” Elshot stressed.

  “We would like the meeting to be held before the school reopens, because the school year should reopen with answers and clarity on certain matters and their legal positions.”

  Elshot said she had originally requested a meeting with the minister on June 16. However, the union said it never received a response to this request. A follow-up request was sent on July 17.  In this second request, the union proposed that the meeting be held on July 27, from 10:00am to 12:45pm, which was yesterday. Elshot said she had been off island and returned on the evening of July 26, so since she did not hear back from the minister, she along with the WITU board showed up at the new Government Administration Building expecting to meet with the minister. When they arrived however, the union was told the minister had sent a letter to the union on July 21, informing them that more in-depth information is needed, and the minister also needs information from the various departments before the meeting can be held. The union was also sent a copy of the July 21st letter.

  Elshot, who will be leaving St. Maarten today to attend the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) biennial conference in St. Lucia, said the union was promised that the meeting will be convened between August 7 and 11, before school resumes. Elshot said she will send another letter to the minister in which she will elaborate on the points she wants to discuss with her. 

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/68039-elshot-wants-to-meet-with-jacobs-on-teachers-concerns