2000-12-09 / Columnists

School Scope

Mayor Giuliani and his minions are either in denial or they are stupid. It may be that they are more venal than stupid. I am never sure.

In any case, it is clear that they hate teachers, they hate administrators and they hate school boards. Perhaps the word "hate" is not strong enough. Perhaps "detest" is the word I am looking for.

There is probably a good reason for the way Giuliani and his henchmen feel about the public school system and those who work within it. None of them ever use it.

All of the people in city government, particularly in Giuliani’s close circle, send their kids to parochial schools or to private schools. They believe fervently that their constituents do not send their kids to public schools. Those that do, the mantra goes, do so because they can’t afford to send them anyplace else – hence charter schools and vouchers.

The mayor values such city workers as police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers because he and his minions believe that they serve a purpose to those who really count. They keep the law, put out fires and pick up the garbage. He continually praises those groups even while he fights to keep their salary low.

Teachers, on the other hand, are never up for praise. They do not, after all, provide a service to those who count. Those who count send their kids elsewhere.

That is why you get asinine and incorrect statements coming from Gracie Mansion and City Hall.

"There is no teacher shortage," the mayor says. How can he not know that the majority of the schools have at least one vacancy at present and will have several more next semester, when teachers with more than 25 years of service who are 55 years of age will be able to leave with a full pension?

It has been reported to me that one school in this district has five openings right now and will have six more in February. A shortage of 11 teachers might not mean a teacher shortage to the mayor, but it certainly does to the teachers who have to pick up the slack each day by covering those classes and the parents whose children have no regular teacher.

If the system can’t find the candidates to fill 100 or 150 positions now, how will it fill 25,000 positions in February or in September? The mayor seems not to care. Much like an alcoholic who thinks that he is just a social drinker, the mayor refuses to admit that there is a problem that needs to be solved and solved quickly.

The mayor puts stories about a shortage to "contract negotiations."

Now comes a new report that the mayor will probably deny as well. The head of the principal’s union (The CSA), says that "as many as 500 veteran principals are expected to retire or to quit at the end of this school year, creating a massive leadership void in the city’s schools."

It should be noted that the principals just got a large raise in return for giving up tenure. They are not in contract negotiations. Even Board of Ed President William Thompson admitted that there is a problem and called on the mayor to do something about it.

"When is the last time you heard the mayor say something positive about public education," Thompson asked. "Public education bashing has created a huge moral problem."

Thompson added that there were several hundred assistant principal positions that have yet to be filled this year even though we are four months into the school year.

The mayor’s office responded in a typical way.

"Thompson is lying down with the unions," Deputy Mayor Tony Coles said. "He wants to win votes at the expense of the city’s kids."

"Our experience has been that union predictions – particularly when teacher’s or administrator’s contracts are up for renewal – are usually wrong," Coles added.

In this case, the union predictions are not wrong. In fact, the may be low because they are based on people getting ready to retire. That does not even take into account all of the teachers with less than five years of service who are preparing their resumes for submission to surrounding school districts where the pay is much higher and the working conditions are much better.

In one school alone this year several of the top, experienced teachers have left. Two took UFT transfers to "better" schools. Two left for jobs in Nassau County. One left the district when she could not get a job as a guidance counselor in a district school. Her first interview with a school in another district earned her a job. She was a good teacher and will be a good guidance counselor. Others left to become mentors or to work in a UFT Teacher Center.

Each of those "defections" left a void that had to be filled. Some of them have yet to be filled.

And the mayor and his deputy say there is no teacher shortage. Talk about having your head in the sand!

Every teacher in the city knows that there will soon be a massive teacher shortage. Every administrator in the city knows that there will soon be both a teacher and an administrator shortage. Even the school-bashing media knows that there will soon be a shortage of both teachers and administrators.

How can the mayor and his deputies not know?

The answer has to be that they do know, but they do not care and that they plan to use the shortage to some political advantage.

It is clear that Giuliani is trading the education of those who do attend city schools for the chance in saying in some future election that he was tough on teachers and that he tamed the UFT.

That may earn him some votes Upstate or in Nassau County, but it will not do much for those who will be left behind with a massive teacher and administrative shortage.

It is a waste of time for the UFT to negotiate a contract with Giuliani and his administration. He loathes us that much.

Those who talk about a strike against Giuliani if he does not give us a contract have not lived through a strike.

What we need to do is wait him out. He and his administration will be gone a year from January. We can thank term limits for out good luck.

We will then have a new administration. It will probably be somebody who does not hate us quite as much. It will probably (and hopefully) be somebody with some compassion for public education.

A month or two to negotiate a new deal after the inauguration and we could have a new contract by March or April of 2002. We have waited longer for a contract a number of times in the past.

The only way we will get a contract with Giuliani is to give in to his demands for merit pay and for more charter schools. The longer day is not much of an issue, because many teachers agree that it is necessary. They want, however, to be paid for it while the mayor just wants to tack it on for nothing.

I cannot see the union giving in to those demands because they will not work.

It is clear that the word "negotiation" is not in the mayor’s glossary. With Giuliani, it is "my way or the highway." Can we live with that? I don’t think so. It is a long uphill fight for the city’s schools to dig itself out of the hole dug by the mayor and the media (and, admittedly, by itself). In my opinion, it will not start until the mayor is gone. We all have to live with the fact that you cannot negotiate with a person who wants only to destroy you.

Israel found that out, and so will the UFT.

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