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Austin Teachers Union Says Higher Respect Will Lead To Lower Turnover

Gabriel C. Pérez

As teachers around the country strike for better pay, teachers in Austin – who don't have the option of striking – are taking a different approach for better working conditions.

Education Austin, the local teachers union, kicked off a campaign this month called Respect Now. President Ken Zarifis said teachers understand the district doesn't have money in the budget for large raises, so they're asking for something else.

"Respect is a form of compensation that the district could engage with," he said. It "wouldn't cost them a dollar, but would certainly increase people's satisfaction at work." 

Zarifis said the idea is to open up a dialogue between teachers, principals and district administrators so employees feel more respected.

The union also wants to see a bullying policy put in place for school district employees. Zarifis said he often hears about teachers being dismissed or not valued. Education Austin wants teachers to be able to file bullying complaints.

While low pay is one reason teachers leave the profession, Zarifis said he knows many leave because they feel their work isn't valued and more respect could fix that.

"We firmly believe it would decrease turnover," he said. "If a person believes that they are truly respected on their terms, they will stick around.”

But that doesn't mean they aren't also seeking better pay.

A new report from the National Education Association finds that the national average for teacher salaries during the 2016-2017 school year was $59,660. In Texas, the state with the most teachers, the average salary was $55,743. Austin's average salary is slightly above that.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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