With 34 years in Idaho education, Jacque Lowry is a strong voice for teachers who are tired of being underpaid and underappreciated in the hotbed of growth that is the Meridian School District. As president of the Meridian Education Association, Lowry leads a team of teachers who negotiate issues affecting schools in the 360-square-mile area served by the district--including the recently rejected contract, only the second in almost two decades the MEA has voted down.
BW: How has the negotiation process changed in the 18 years you've been involved?
JL: When I first began negotiating, the process centered around collective bargaining. I've been very fortunate to witness a complete evolution. We work in teams; everyone speaks at the table; we rotate facilitators and are extremely in touch with our membership.
What is the biggest challenge facing public schools today?
There is a funding crisis in public education. Until that crisis is addressed properly, teacher pay will continue to fall below other professional watermarks. Public education welcomes all students. It is imperative that programs be fully funded to meet the needs and demands of those students.
Does making a safe place require that standards be lowered to accommodate everyone?
Absolutely not! Our expectations for students have always been high. Educators should be allowed to gauge student success on growth; there is no such thing in public education as "one size fits all." Standards must be reasonable for each student, and individual accomplishments must be praised and rejoiced.
It seems like the same issues come up every year with contracts. Why did this particular draft get rejected?
Meridian teachers have been very accepting of the needs of a growing district. Now is the time for them to say, "Enough is enough." They are firm in their convictions and believe now is the time to be recognized for their hours of dedication and commitment. Six out of 10 teachers hold second jobs to try to make ends meet. This is not a "gimme, gimme" issue at all. It's about "let's be equitable, let's be fair."
Is there a lot of hostility?
We are very united, but certainly not militant. And this is not an "us" vs. "them" issue. It's not personal. Educators want to be valued, but not just in words. Not that we want the district to stop saying they appreciate us; we just want that to extend to the financial sphere. Our salaries are the lowest of any of the large districts in the state. Meridian is in the top 100 growing cities in the nation, and we have to believe that one of the great things about this area is the school system, but it's only as good as the educators.
Are you optimistic?
Ultimately, the members of the bargaining unit will decide when the contract is settled. I know the contract will be settled at some point, but it must be equitable for the educators in the Meridian School District.