March 17, 2011- Jeri-Lynn Betts, an early childhood teacher in the Watertown, Wisconsin, school district, died on March 8 of an apparent suicide.
A colleague says she was “very distraught” over Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on public sector workers and public education.
Betts, 56, was a dedicated teacher who was admired in the Watertown community.
“She was an amazing person,” says the Rev. Terry Larson of the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Watertown, where she was a member. “She really put her heart and soul in her work,” adds Larson, who officiated at her memorial service on March 15.
“She was one of the good guys,” says Karen Stefonek, who used to teach with Betts. “She was very, very dedicated, and worked so well with the little special needs children. She just was very, very good with them, and very well respected in the district.”
In the days after Betts’s death, two members of the school district contacted The Progressive about her death, calling it a suicide and saying it was connected, at least in part, to the policies that Walker has proposed. He has demanded that public workers, including teachers, contribute a significant amount of their salaries to health care and pensions. And in his budget, he proposed taking $900 million out of the public schools, imposing a freeze on property taxes so local governments can’t chip in more for education, and allowing any student, regardless of income, to go to a private school with a taxpayer subsidy.
“She was definitely very distraught about it,” said one of her co-workers, who requested anonymity. “She was feeling a lot of stress about the legislation that was going through.”
“She was concerned about the cuts teachers would have to take,” said another, who also requested anonymity. This co-worker added that Betts’s colleagues acknowledged her anguish about the governor’s policies in their discussions after her death.