(This opinion piece originally ran March 6, 2007)

The Del Norte Teachers Association believes that teachers have worked with the district to keep the district budget solvent for many years (andquot;Teacher's protest,andquot; March 3). We have every intention to continue supporting a balanced, sensible district budget.

Over the past four years, the association has agreed to restructure teacher retirement programs to alleviate this cost to the district. We have agreed to implement cost saving measures for our health insurance plan by paying more of the insurance premium and paying higher co-pays out of pocket. Due to these cost-containment measures, we have managed to keep the district's cost for our benefits under control.

Teachers received 0 percent Cost of Living Adjustments for the 2001-02, 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years. During that same period of time, the district received a 4 percent C.O.L.A. Once again, teachers aided the district in remaining solvent during lean budget years.

I would like to clarify a term that is frequently used by the district when discussing teacher salaries. The district focuses on andquot;average teacherandquot; compensation without noting that an andquot;average teacherandquot; in Del Norte County Unified School District just happens to have at least 15 years of teaching experience, a bachelor's, a fifth year for a teaching credential and 45 or more graduate level units beyond their credential. Our district is very fortunate to have highly qualified teachers, unlike many districts in central and Southern California.

A school board member has been comparing top-end teacher salaries to the Del Norte County District Attorney's salary stating that the highest paid teacher makes more than the D.A. I spoke with the D.A. and learned that a first- year elected D.A. makes $14,000 more than the highest paid teacher. In order to get to the top, a teacher needs to have taught for 24 years and have a bachelor's degree plus 75 additional graduate level units or a master's degree. Teachers pay for these units out of pocket and spend countless hours attending college courses to earn an incremental step on the salary schedule. It is unrealistic to compare salaries unless all the criteria involved are evaluated.

Another area of contention is the cost of living increase that teachers received in the 2005-06 school year. The district believes that last year's 6 percent salary increase should be paid out of this year's cost of living adjustment. Yet, during negotiations last year, teachers agree to come back to the table only if the cost of living adjustment the district received for 2006-07 was 3.5 percent or higher. It was higher - to the tune of 7.32 percent. We made it clear that we would be back to re-open salary talks to help teachers make up for four years of 0 percent increases.

Del Norte Teachers Association represents the teachers of Del Norte County. We are negotiating for the teachers even though the district continues to insinuate that we do not represent our members. We have just completed a survey of our membership that dealt with teachers' participation in union activities and negotiations. Ninety-six percent of our tenured members responded that they have participated in union activities while 84 percent indicated that they would continue to participate in union activities.

We want to come to a fair conclusion in negotiations. It has always been the intent of our members to work with the district for the betterment of our schools and our students. We have given our time and our personal resources to help our schools and our students achieve success.

Personally, I love teaching children. I feel a teacher's job is to motivate and energize children with the love of learning. We teach much more than the basics. Teachers are social workers, parent advisors and educators. Association members are counselors, psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, regular education teachers, alternative education teachers, coaches, nurses, advisors, GATE facilitators, literacy coordinators, reading recovery teachers and music teachers.

Educators in Del Norte County have earned and deserve a 4 percent cost of living adjustment this year. The school administration and the school board know that they can afford to pay teachers more, but do they value teachers enough to do so?