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MPS Teacher Encourages Colleagues to Unite

Sharon Dye

"How can a child succeed in a situation like that?" asked Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association member Sharon Dye, a speech teacher at Phillis Wheatley Elementary.

Dye, a 25-year veteran who helps children overcome speech impediments, recently tried to test to a 4th-grade student in a classroom where five light bulbs had been burned out for more than six months. Even though she huddled under one of the remaining bulbs with the student, it was too dark. "We shouldn't have to work like this," she said. "It's totally unacceptable. What has happened to putting children first?"

Dye said that Wheatley is more than 100 years old, and that in some classrooms, the lighting system has not been updated in the last half-century. Staff cannot replace light bulbs on their own. When a bulb burns out, one of the district's 11 engineers must come to the school to fix it, Dye said.

Though she asked her principal and an MPS engineer to fix the lights months ago, no action was taken until Dye threatened legal action and called MTEA Assistant Executive Director Salvadore Gonzales to intervene, she said.

She blames laws like the Qualified Economic Offer and revenue controls for impacting the quality of education she can provide. "Everything is so dependant on the dollar," she said. "If we were adequately funded, we wouldn't have to worry about what we're losing and what we don't have."

Wheatley has lost more than just light bulbs. Last year, two full-time teachers and the guidance counselor were laid off. This year, three more teachers were let go.

"Our students come from single-parent homes where the average income is $11,000" a year, Dye said. "The children need their teachers to bring some stability into their lives. They bonded with these staff members, and now they've been torn away."

The laws have also affected the morale of Wheatley's staff, which hasn't seen a decent raise since the laws were enacted, Dye said. "The QEO has caused divisiveness among the ranks and caused us to question each other's merits. It's an unhealthy work environment where people are pointing fingers at each other. We should be a unified voice that's taking political action to change our situations, not tearing each other down."

This November, WEAC members have the opportunity to be a unified voice by voting for Jim Doyle and Barbara Lawton, she said. "Here's our chance to make up for 16 years of indifference by an administration that didn't make education a top priority."

"If you don't vote, you're left behind and not counted," she said. "How long can we afford to be left behind?"

Dye called Jim Doyle a visionary and a friend of public education. "He sees more than just the budget," she said. "He sees the value of quality education and value in the people who provide it."

In spite of the budget cuts, Dye is doing her best to reach out to Wheatley's students. She gives up her lunch periods as often as possible to mentor children, and discusses things like morals, commitment, and responsibility with them. She also encourages them to set goals for themselves. "You never know where the seed you plant may end up," she said.

She said that she went into the teaching profession to make a difference and to help people. "I have a commitment to these children and my community," she said.

And what would she do if she received a well-deserved raise after onerous laws like the QEO are repealed? "I'd put every cent back into the classroom," she said.

Posted October 11, 2002

Education News