But if state education budget cuts continue to worsen, he will soon have little choice.
“I could take my math degree and be making $75,000 a year at the Anniston Army Depot,” Fink said.
Fink was one of approximately 70 area teachers who attended a public forum at Oxford High School Monday to pose questions and express their concerns to Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, on topics ranging from the potential for teacher pay cuts to the proposed removal of tenure for educators.
Alabama Education Association UniServ director Teresa Noell organized the forum. According to the AEA website, UniServ directors are directly involved in helping members at the local level.
All Calhoun County legislators, including Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, were invited to the forum. Only Brown and Wood agreed to attend.
Fink said he and his wife, who is also a teacher, would likely be unable to survive on decreased salaries along with increased insurance costs, especially after 2012, when state budget cuts are expected to increase once federal stimulus funds run out.
Gov. Robert Bentley recently enacted 3 percent proration on the state’s education budget due to lack of revenue. The state had 9.5 percent proration last year.
“I’ll have to walk away from my profession,” Fink said.
Noell asked Wood if he and other legislators would work to protect teacher salaries, referring to the proposed idea in the Legislature that teacher work days each year be reduced by a few days to save money.
“That is a pay cut,” Noell said. “You need to find ways to do things without pay cuts.”
Alabama teachers currently have 185 scheduled work days each year, Noell said.
Katy Cox, who has been a fifth grade teacher for four years in the Talladega County school system, expressed similar concerns that her career would soon not financially sustain her. Cox said a drop in teacher work days would force her to consider changing careers.
“Talladega County is a great school system … but my next move will be not to go to college to get a degree for another pay raise –- my next move is to go back to college to work in another field,” Cox said.
One teacher asked Brown and Wood if they would support a proposed bill that, if passed, would considerably weaken tenure for state educators. Under the bill, proposed by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, teachers could be fired for failure to perform their duties in a satisfying manner, including “having a consistent or pervasive record of inadequate student achievement or performance.” A teacher could also be fired for incompetence, insubordination, neglect of duty or immorality under the bill.
Neither representative said they were ready to vote for or against the bill.
“I don’t know what the bill is going to look like so I can’t say if I’ll vote for the tenure bill,” Brown said.
Wood said, however, that he expected that any acceptable bill to remove tenure would grandfather in current teachers.
“If anything was to be done, lets at least grandfather in teachers already tenured,” Wood said.
To ease teachers’ concerns about pay cuts, Wood indicated that more revenue could soon come into the education budget from the closing of business tax loopholes.
“We’re not going to balance the budget on your backs,” Wood told the teachers.
Bentley recently proposed a change in tax rules that would generate $30 million annually. The proposal would change the way multi-state businesses are able to deduct federal taxes paid from their state income taxes.
“I don’t think anyone (in the Senate) does not support the governor on the loophole thing,” Wood said. “That’s something that needs to be fixed.”
Wood also said money could be saved for teacher salaries through cutting certain education programs – such as high school graduation exams – a move many teachers at the forum appeared to support.
“The exit exam costs millions of dollars each year … some of these programs were great once, but now they’ve got to go,” Wood said. “We need to get back to the basics – just reading, writing and arithmetic.”
Wood said, however, that he would not support changing the state Constitution to alter where school systems receive the majority of their funding. Currently, the Alabama education budget is funded primarily by sales taxes, which means school funding fluctuates considerably, depending on the state of the economy.
“I will never support changing the Constitution because then special interests will get in there and make things worse,” Wood said.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.