When people are entrenched in their jobs, not their work
Larry Buck was a tall, very smart heavy equipment operator. He and I worked together building the Strontia Springs water tunnel south of Denver in Waterton Canyon in 1981.
He was my loader operator, and I ran the concrete batch plant. His job was to keep my plant full of sand and rock as I mixed wet concrete to pour into railroad cars that went into the tunnel for a slip form. The slip form shaped the concrete into the hole so it would be smooth and not leak when it was filled with water. The tunnel took water from the Strontia Springs dam through the mountain to the Foothills Water Treatment Plant.
Larry was a good man. He was a hard worker, loved his job and loved his family. He really appreciated the opportunity to work – to work anywhere, to work doing anything. He was the salt of the earth and someone you enjoyed knowing as a friend.
Somehow the work ethic Larry had has been lost.
Ben Gelt, in a letter to the editor of Westword last week, commented that employees are “entrenched in their jobs and not their work.” That is my point exactly.
Case in point: The recent St. Vrain School District financial debacle.
The school district somehow spent more money than it had. It went to the voters to float a bond issue. The voters approved the measure and it looked like things would work out.
Unfortunately, the district did not have enough cash to make it through the end of the year for payroll. It asked the state for a loan. State Treasurer Mike Coffman checked into it and agreed to give a loan if the district would voluntarily tighten its fiscal belt. It agreed. Wonderful.
Not so wonderful. The school administrators said the budget constraints were fine for everyone but them. They felt they were exempt and expected to receive their expected raises and keep their salaries. Coffman said “no.” The administrators finally caved in and agreed.
The teachers came back and said they expected to keep their salaries and raises also, and that it would negatively affect the quality of education if they did not get their money. Whine. Whine. Whine.
Goodness! I thought we were all in this together.
Having a job is not a right. Getting a salary is not a right. Having great benefits is not a right. Being a teacher is a public service.
Larry would say, “You might end up kicking rocks down the road as you leave.”
In case you might think I am insensitive, I was a school administrator with Jefferson County schools from 1972-76. I am married to a teacher, her mother and father were teachers, her sister is a teacher and my youngest daughter is a teacher. Being a teacher is a calling and a privilege. The people I have admired the most in my life have been teachers. What is going on? How selfish can people be? I have always felt that when one part of a group bleeds, we all bleed.
On the TV news, the teachers were saying that if they did not get their way, they would quit. Quality education? Quit and leave the kids without a classroom teacher? Where is the ethics in all of this?
Now the schools in the Elizabeth district are going through the same thing. I think the cause of the problem in Elizabeth is more poor management and maybe criminal behavior, while St. Vrain was a simple case of fiscal stupidity.
Now, before all the teachers in the world sharpen their pencils to write letters to the editor, no, I do not believe the teachers or kids should suffer because the administrators and school boards screwed up.
But, when there is no money, you have to deal with it. It is not as if the school districts can manufacture money. Tough times make for tough decisions.
I can imagine Larry Buck in that situation. He would roll up his sleeves and get back to work. He might mutter some choice words about the foreman in the process, but the next morning he would be back at it. Larry would be thanking God he had a job in the first place and not complaining it was not just right or perfect. Having a job, getting a paycheck, having benefits is a privilege. It is not an entitlement.
Columnist Gary Lindstrom pours his mental labors into this space every Thursday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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