2011-01-21 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

An Attack On Public Employees: Demonizing Those Who Serve Us
Commentary By Howard Schwach

For years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his minions have been demonizing public workers, trying to convince the general public that those who work for the city and state and their large salaries and pensions are the problem – the reason for the large budget deficits that loom over the horizon.

He certainly has been successful in demonizing teachers, blaming the UFT and its work rules for all the problems faced by the school system. In his pursuit of “breaking” the UFT, something he promised nine years ago, he has formed and funded a number of non-profit organizations that pushed for mayoral control of the schools, charter schools and for senior teachers being fired before new teachers.

If you think that Bloomberg is not behind the move for public teacher report cards, you better get some new, realistic glasses to look through. It is pure Bloomberg — use invalid data to prove something that is not true.

If you don’t believe that invalid data is used to prove Bloomberg’s worthiness, look at the test score fiasco.

Bloomberg promised that he would improve the school system. The proof that he did that would be improved test scores on the high-stakes ELA and Mathematics tests.

The mayor and the state contrived to raise the scores above all believability by reducing the cut score – the number of items a student must get correct to reach Level 3, the level considered “proficient.”

The state’s success on raising test scores brought more funds from the federal government. The city’s success in raising test scores brought Bloomberg approbation, continued control over the public school system and an undeserved third term.

Then, the state was embarrassed by education experts who pointed out that the rise in test scores was impossible under any conditions other than cooking the books and set out to prove it. Those investigators looked first at the cut scores each year and began to laugh.

Don’t raise the bridge, lower the river.

The state quickly put the cut scores back the way they were eight years ago, and the test scores fell as well, proving that the gains made by the mayor and his chancellor were all smoke and mirrors.

Now, the mayor and his new minion, Cathie Black, want to use those invalid test scores to prove that older, more-experience, costlier teachers are lousy and that new teachers are wonderful.

And, he wants to take it one step further. He wants to do away with Civil Service requirements altogether.

He says he wants to change the work rules and seniority rules that tie his hands in hiring and firing.

What he really wants is to do away with the merit system that has existed for 127 years and was brought into being simply because without it, politicians like the mayor hired only cronies and fired only those who would not do the politician’s bidding.

Bloomberg says that he only wants to “modernize” the rules, but he wants to make it easier to lay off municipal workers outside the seniority system and to end the Civil Service Commission’s authority over the city’s hiring practice.

Under present rules, those who want to work for the city have to take a test or series of tests and score high enough on the Civil Service list to get a job.

Under those same rules, once a worker has seniority, he or she cannot be laid off without cause before a worker with less seniority.

It has worked for 127 years, but it doesn’t work for Bloomberg because he wants to get rid of the workers who cost the city more in order to hire more workers that cost the city less.

For example, a teacher with 15 or 20 years of experience and an advanced degree earns about $96,000 a year. A new teacher comes in around $45,000. If you can fire a senior teacher, you can hire two new teachers in his or her place.

Does it matter to Bloomberg that the senior teacher has lots of experience and is probably a better teacher? Not at all. It’s the money, honey.

You can see a preview of the problem that would be caused by looking at the present teacher reserve problem – all of Bloomberg’s making, although he blames it on the union and its rules.

Bloomberg’s minions close a school rather than help it get better.

Half of the teachers are excessed to the teacher reserve. They are generally the most experience teachers, not because they are the worst teachers, but because they cost more.

When principals have slots for teachers, who do they hire? Do they go for the most experienced teachers? No, they go for the cheapest, so the senior teachers languish in the reserve until they retire or die, whichever comes first.

Bloomberg wants to fire them because no principal wants them and must therefore be lousy teachers. The rules don’t allow him to do that, and now he wants to do away with those rules.

You get the picture?

Bloomberg wants to hire and fire not on merit, but on who he wants to hire and who he wants to fire.

Particularly in education, Bloomberg wants principals to be able to hire and fire whomever they want, regardless of merit.

What, you say, principals know best who deserves to be fired?

You obviously have not been paying attention to what’s been happening. Principals are no longer ex-teachers and ex-assistant principals, knowledgeable about the profession and their schools.

They are drones from the Tweed Academy, inculcated with Bloomberg’s creed that workers don’t deserve any rights at all and are interchangeable. It is the test scores that count, and only the test scores. That’s Bloomberg’s version of accountability and anybody who doesn’t believe it can just go away.

The state legislature has to approve any changes in the Civil Service program, and it is unlikely that state legislators will challenge the unions on that issue.

Bloomberg, however, has proved before that his billions can work wonders when it comes to bribing legislators. Just ask Jimmy Sanders. He knows.

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