2003-11-21 / Columnists

School Scope

By Norman Scott
School Scope By Norman Scott

Yeah, Children First!

"I have a duty to ask the hard questions about whether these rules are always in the interests of kids." Thus speaks Eva Moskowitz. Yeah, Eva, we know. The interests of the kids. And Bloomberg & Klein (BloomKlein) are for "Children First." Four days of hearings which amount to moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Yeah, Children First!

Hours of hearings on how  600 teachers who take seniority transfers is the reason why  the DOE can’t change the schools. It took Moskowitz (I am just asking for a "Yes" or "No") a long time to get UFT leader Randi Weingarten to actually admit that principals have to have one of these transferees "forced down their throats." What  a revelation! Principals have had teachers forced down their thoats by the DOE,  the old BOE, and the old districts and yes, even by politicians getting their buddies jobs. Yeah, Children First!

When questioning Randi Weingarten, Moskowitz said "But if my child was in one of the classes receiving one of these teachers." Oops! she caught  herself. But everyone knew what she was  saying. She was making the common assumption that teachers who get these transfers (which are under all sorts of restictions that Moskowitz apparently knew about but didn’t bother bringing up) are somehow incompetent. Weingarten picked up on it right way and Moskowitz backtracked.

When Joel Klein testified a few days later, he complained that poorly performing schools are saddled with inexperienced teachers because senior teachers can transfer to better schools.  Those "incompetent" teachers being forced down the throats of principals in schools they were transferring to were miraculously transformed  into much valued teachers in the schools they were transferring from. Moskowitz, Klein, etal. have found a work rule that damages both the school the teacher is transferring to and the school the teacher is leaving. Nice trick! Yeah, Children First!

BloomKlein also want the right to transfer any teacher anywhere at any time. So what if you put in 20 years building professional relationships with colleagues and community? We should try that with the City Council. Let’s transfer Moskowitz to a district in the South Bronx. Yeah, Children First!

A lot of time was spent at the hearing talking about how much money it costs and how long it takes (up to 2 years they claim) to get rid of an incompetent teacher. Has  anyone held hearings on how expensive it is and how long it takes to get rid of an incompetent City Council member? Or an incompetent governor? No one from the DOE seemed to have an idea how many incompetent teachers there are or where they are, but they know they are there. Almost sounds like a Jackie Mason routine. Another excuse they can use when their "reforms" turn out to be more of the same old thing. Yeah, Children First!

There were a lot of complaints about how long it takes to go through that "horrible" 4-step grievance procedure. Yeah, horrible for teachers, who have been complaining about it for 30 years because it is so unfair to them. No one at the hearing mentioned that Step1 (principal) Step 2 (District level) Step 3 DOE level are all decided by DOE hirees and not by teachers. The DOE are also the ones that schedule the hearings and violate time limits all the time with no penalty.

If anything, most teachers think the UFT doesn’t do enough to enforce a contract which is violated all the time and has so many loopholes you could drive a Tweed office building through it.

But the biggest problem BloomKlein seem to have with the work rules is with the onerous Circular 6, which relieves teachers from a number of duties. When added to the contract in 1995, Rudolph Giuliani hailed it as a major productivity gain for the city because teachers would have to do more teaching. We’ll get into the complexities of this issue at another time but we will say that in almost every school where the principal treats teachers like human beings instead of a piece of dirt you would scrape off your shoe, teachers have shown a willingness to work around these rules though negotiations with the principal. But BloomKlein and Moskowitz  are not happy with that. After all, why should a principal have to demean him or herself by actually compromising with teachers? Let ‘em eat Jamaican beef patties, preferably while doing lunch duty. How about hiring loads of school aides to do this job just like they hire security guards (maybe teachers should do that too)? Do they think it is cheaper to pay a teacher to stand in the lunchroom than to do something related to education? Klein testified how wonderful it is for children to be able to get to know their teachers through informal chats in the lunchroom. Right. I loved those informal chats I used to have while picking broccoli off the walls. I sentence  Klein to engage in contract  negotiaions in a school lunchroom. While the kids are eating lunch. Yeah, Children First!

The idea that teachers might have a say in anything led Mayor Mike to compare the teachers contract to communism, "The Soviets tried that. They tried to have organizations where every single thing was voted on by every worker and management had no prerogatives." Mike really knows history. Sure! Joe Stalin had no prerogatives. He let everyone vote on everything. I sentence Mike to take a history class in any high school run by the DOE. And by the way, Mike. Stalin at least had 5 year plans. Your DOE has 5 day plans. Sometimes 5 hour plans. And Mike wants to  totally take away the union rights of  anyone to have a chance to defend themselves. Sort of like his corporation where anyone can be fired any time without cause. Mike, Uncle Joe would be proud of you.

And how about BloomKleins’ total shutdown of information flowing from the DOE and the schools?  Have they brought in the entire unemployed KGB to make sure no one tells the press anything of any relevance? DOE employees have been silenced for fear of being sent to a gulag in the South Bronx. Has anyone in the City Council or the press thought this shutdown in information might be because they are HIDING SOMETHING?  Hey, Moskowitz, hold a hearing on that!  Yeah, Children First!

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