I began working at a private school when I was pretty young. The school had a great philosophy, and there were a lot of excellent teachers there that I learned a lot from. It was successful, had a large population, and was established over thirty years before.
But it was sold and bought again.
First I remember the second grade teacher getting canned...in the middle of the school year. Her class was too small. She had two twin boys who were in the preschool who had to be pulled out. I remember her crying.
Ok--that's a little harsh, but kind of makes sense to save money, we thought. They moved the kids from her class into another.
Then, everyone received 20% pay cuts. I remember teachers talking about how their electricity was shut off, and then a wave of teachers decided to leave, abandoning part of the school right before summer session. They were replaced by new teachers though.
The pay cut didn't affect me or many of my preschool coworkers (except as a freeze on raises), because they couldn't lower my pay by that much, or else they would have violated labor laws--it would have gone down below minimum wage.
They kept saying it was only temporary. Ha.
Then the owner decided to change the policy for employees children--previously employees were able to have their kids come to the school for free as a benefit. This was really the only perk of working there, aside from doing what you believe in, because we already didn't have health insurance or retirement plans. But the new owner changed it to limit only one child. So the teachers who had two children were scrambling to figure out how they could work and also provide a safe, stable place for their children at the same time.
I remember one of my coworkers worried about what to do--but the new owner told her she had to fundraise for her childrens tuition. She and another teacher began setting up tables to fundraise to ask parents and community members to donate money so their kids could go to school there, according to the new owners instructions (new owner was crazy btw--in case it isn't obvious yet).
I just remember thinking--what the actual fuck? And also 'wonderful PR move.' Nothing makes a school look better than having the teachers begging the parents to help them pay for their kids' tuition.
Things calmed down a while, but then the new owner started getting into screaming matches with the other administrators, and one by one they began to leave.
Then she got angry at the groundskeeper--the school had a beautiful garden that the children there got to grow plants in. The whole garden was full of plants that the kids had sprouted from seeds, and had many creative art projects as decorations that the kids had made. I can't explain the beauty of the garden, and how wonderful it was to take the children for walks among the flowers and the vegetables that the other children grew, as well as the redwoods and the landscaping the groundskeeper had planted and maintained for years.
But then, the groundskeeper was fired, and the gardens started to die. There was no one to protect the plants from frost. Teachers still brought the kids out to water, but the grounds were too big to really deal.
Our tree in our yard died, which was a mulberry tree, which we used for feeding the silk worms when it was time to teach about metamorphosis. So we stopped having silk worms as well, and shade.
And then, there was a ridiculous overpopulation of pests...I remember on teacher workweek I took it upon myself to take care of the black widow problem, since the new janitor/groundskeeper wasn't able to handle it all.
I don't like killing animals, and am a little afraid of spiders--I found dozens of blackwidows. I had to crawl under things, and kill so many immature and mature female black widows that when I closed my eyes that night I just saw flashes of spider legs in my mind. Curling legs, that jerk of the web, the various silhouettes of the dozens of spiders I had killed were burned into my eyes.
I'm not kidding--there were over three dozen of them. And I didn't even touch the shed outside the yard. The spiders were just out of control, and none of the other teachers wanted to think about it since we're not exterminators. But I was just worried about what could happen if one of the kids got bitten.
There was a cool mud dobber that moved in at that time, but they only seemed to harvest other types of garden spiders, and not black widows.
Oh--and by this time, the entire elementary school had closed. The garden was now abandoned--with kids names on popsicle sticks, sticking up by the plants they grew, dying in the heat and lack of water. But the kids were all gone now. The previous school head had taken the entire elementary to form a new school.
The elementary school teachers were fed up--so they took the student population to a new site, in order to try to continue. They left all their school supplies behind, but the school was a ghost town. And only the preschool remained.
Many of the elementary school kids had been preschoolers, so I and other teachers had known them for years. The absence of their echoing laughter in the now vacant hallways was deafening. Though, as I said or will say, the popsicle sticks with their names on them, next to aloe vera or native plants they grew, still bleached in the sun in the unkempt gardens, long after they were gone.
The owner was irate and preoccupied with revenge, and it became a regular occurrence that someone's check would bounce. Every pay period someone would end up having a bounced pay check.
I remember people getting fed up with it, so asking the owner to pay them in cash. One day I went in to get her to cash my work check with money, and she pulled out a huge wad of 1$ bills. She flipped through them, and she told me she'd have to pay me with 1$ bills. I told her I'd just wait till the money was in the bank.
Of course, all the while we are doing what we're supposed to do--what we are meant to do, which is to care for the children there--but the amount of stress and insecurity was bubbling up everywhere. We were just there for the kids, in the ghost town full of wonderful memories of what should be.
For a while the teachers watered the gardens to keep them alive, but then we were told not to use the water to preserve money. The redwoods that had grown there for probably decades were also dying.
One day the owner said she was going to get a loan--she traveled all the way to some other state to get it. She had to pay a bunch of money for it. And her sleezy lawyer--I remember his face. He would literally leer and glance at my boobs. It was uncomfortable to be in the same room with him. We wondered, how come she can't even get us our minimum wage paychecks on time, but she can pay that guy who knows how much?
She called me one day, in class. She asked if I knew anyone (this is the owner of the school) who could loan her 20,000$. She wanted me to ask my older coworker if she could loan 20,000$. I did not ask. The owner knew how much she was paying us--it was ridiculous of her to ask that, and then just feed it to whatever con men she was dealing with.
Not long after, we heard from a friend of a friend that 'something will happen' according to their sheriff friend.
Anxiety was high, but we kept taking care of the kids--focusing on the children. It's literally all we are supposed to do, and what can you do?
Then one day I was driving to work and I got a text. The sheriff was outside--the school was shut down, and evicted. The owner had not been paying rent on the property for over two years. She had been served an eviction notice, but never bothered to tell us, or any of the parents. Actually, she'd been trying to get the parents to pay up front, and many of them later had to sue her to try to get the money back.
We went inside, got the kids stuff out of the classrooms, and we called parents, and we handed their diapers and spare clothes to them.
The sheriff put a lock on the gates, and we stood outside and tried to comfort the parents.
When I went to file for unemployment, I found that the owner hadn't ever payed unemployment insurance, and that there was no record for the five years I worked full time there, and the other three I worked part time.
So despite the abrupt ending of my job due to school closing, and having given five years of service there, I had no unemployment benefits.
The only solace, and I still hate to think of that campus and all the amazing and wonderful gardens of the past, the art classes, the music room, the amazing educators there, and most of all the children who made the memories of the school, was that when we came back to 'get our stuff' I found a student's favorite toy and I brought it out to send to that student.
But eventually her father called me asking me if I could help watch her and he lived in another town. I asked him what he was thinking about paying, and he told me 'well, ideally you'd just do it out of the goodness of your heart.'
That was probably not the best answer for me.
I told him 14$ an hour (five dollars above what I made at the school). I loved that student, and I did want to see them. But I was just over it. It was too much to deal with at that time, and I'll be honest, that guy had a good job with benefits, and a good salary. I didn't feel like being pressured by him to continue to be giving when I was totally drained, tired, and also still shocked.
He told me 'what? I could have my wife stay home--it would be a better investment!'
Ok then--fine with me.
That guy was a fucking jerk. His child is amazing, but I was done working for assholes for a while.
Turns out he had been shorting other unemployed teachers, deducting 'lunch breaks' when they had nothing to do but continue to watch the child, and then being late to return home, making them late for their engagements. My old coworker worked out she was actually getting paid less than minimum wage with him.
So it was a good call on my part to just say 'no' to him, even though I would have preferred to be in the classroom taking care of his kid--I mean, even to just see my old students. That really was a beautiful school. It was so sad to see it fall apart under bad ownership.
Really really sad how much was lost.