2009-06-12 / Columnists

School Scope

'You Mean He Would Tape A Meeting?' - A Termination Hearing Experience
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott You hear a lot about how hard it is to terminate a tenured teacher and how much it costs. You only get the horror stories from the perspective of the anti-tenure crowd.

What is often neglected is the issue of why a school system would choose to terminate in spite of the costs when the performance as a classroom teacher is not in question.

The David Pakter case is a prime exhibit. I dropped in on David's 3020a hearing on June 2 and 8, just two days out of a scheduled twelve. Or more. You could write a book. There were the lawyers - NYSUT for David and lawyer from the DOE. The arbitrator had to come down from upstate at hundreds of dollars a day, plus expenses. And the principal, who had to be pulled from the school for days. At least. Maybe more. All to fire a teacher who has been in the system for 40 years. And not one word has ever been uttered negatively about his teaching.

What was it all about? David had given watches from his watch company to students as an incentive for getting 90 averages on their report cards. Five watches. And one to a school aide for assisting him. That makes six.

David certainly knows how to get noticed.

He started at the school on October 18, 2006 upon release from slavery in the rubber room for years (again not having anything to do with his teaching ability) and was sent back to the rubber room on November 25. Mostly over the watches. (There were more charges for which he was exonerated by the investigators.) That they are going forth with 3020a hearing despite extraordinary expenses to terminate him is bizarre, bizarre, bizarre. When I left the hearing on June 2, they hadn't even gotten to the plants he brought as a donation to the school and placed in front of the auditorium. (I'll write about that aspect next time.)

There was lots of discussion on the visit UFT's NY Teacher reporter Jim Callaghan made to the school when he was writing an article on David. And David's offer of a $10,000 donation to the school. (David is a well-known artist and owns watch companies and he is not doing any of this for the money.) The key questioning in a superb cross examination of the principal by the NYSUT attorney was about a meeting held on November 3, 2006 to discuss the issue.

The principal's memory was sketchy. But on direct examination she indicated that David was trying to market his watches in the classes he taught by giving out catalogues and his web site. On cross it came out that he was giving the kids a place to go to choose the watches they wanted.

The arbitrator, one of the most respected, perked up. Not marketing, but offering choices of watches. An ahha moment.

There came a point when after repeated questioning about the details of the things that were said at the November 3 meeting — things that David said there that would go a long way towards exonerating him - the principal said, "It seems like you are reading from a transcript."

The NYSUT attorney smiled and nodded. Another ah-ha moment. The principal issued a gasp. "He taped the meeting," she said incredulously.

"Why would he tape an innocuous meeting called to discuss the issue?" she asked, in shock. The NYSUT attorney smiled and said, "Well, we are at a 3020 hearing looking to terminate, aren't we?" The DOE attorney quickly asked for a few minutes to discuss the issue outside.

My advice to any teacher entering into what appears to be innocuous meetings with a supervisor: Invest, invest, invest - in a quality digital recorder that is easy to hide.

Ramifications of the Intermediate School 278 Victory

My last column reported on the battle at Marine Park MS over the attempt to install the Hebrew Language Academy charter school in the building as over a thousand people came out to protest at the public hearing on May 26. Three days later, HLA withdrew its application, one of the few times a school community has successfully fought off the handing off of space in a public school building over to private interests. There are a lot of angles to study in victory. There were certainly some unique circumstances. The ability to pull out a thousand people, the politicians jumping on board, including Anthony Weiner and Bill Thompson, and the fact the community is mostly white (and Irish Catholic.)

It is rare that charter schools are inserted into schools in white communities. Many speakers pointed to the fact that the charter school law calls for them to be placed in areas where there are "failing" schools and that in that context the Hebrew Language Academy charter school makes no sense. I mean, don't expect HLA to go to Bed-Stuy, despite the fact that there are thousands of parents who want their kids to learn Hebrew.

But you know something, if they did place it there, they would learn Hebrew, as people would line up for the two teachers in the room, the small class sizes and the other goodies. But we know they would never put HLA in Bed-Stuy because the true purpose of HLA was to serve the Russian Jewish population in southern Brooklyn and the so-called diversity their speakers bragged about was not in evidence, other than some token speakers. HLA has been unwilling to provide exact figures on diversity.

There were enough speakers who went beyond the charter school issue to attack the mayor's control of the school system in a community that he counts on for votes and support. That is a warning sign to BloomKlein that even after they get mayoral control renewed there will be another sunset provision and the battle will continue.

Then again, that may be in doubt, given the laughing stock of the State Legislature, with our own Malcolm Smith playing a major role in turning us into a banana republic.

Norm Scott blogs daily on the web at http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/

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