February 13, 2010

The Union Chooses Firings

Justin Katz

Anybody who's surprised that the teachers' union in Central Falls has chosen to stare down mass firings and do battle rather than submit to some eminently reasonable additional responsibilities should think through the future scenarios of the game.

With administrators now standing firm on key planks that were previously popular political catch phrases, the unions are going to challenge authority way up to the top — to Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and beyond. Their secondary strategy will be to delay significant changes until they have an opportunity to change the players. They've lost no ground in the General Assembly, either in recent elections or in the selection of the new speaker of the house, and they've an opportunity to affect the governor's office, this year, which means access to the Board of Regents, from which the commissioner ultimately derives her authority.

If the unions can delay the mass firings, through friendly labor review authorities and the courts, for even just one year, they'll have time to re-rig the game entirely in their favor. If they lose on questions of authority, they'll use their political clout to turn the top-down model to their favor. In other words, when voters, school committees, and district administrators seek localized, bottom-up reforms, the newly enhanced authority of the state and the education commissioner will be used to squelch the movements before they can begin.

Consider the thoughts of the only Central Falls teacher whom I've seen offer public comment outside of the union channel:

Sheila Lawless-Burke, an English-as-a-Second Language teacher, said teachers are not opposed to working harder — or longer; they simply want the opportunity to negotiate the details of their contract, not have it imposed from above.

"It's all about the politics," she said, "about making Fran Gallo look good. The issue is having the right to negotiate. Once we allow the superintendent to get her foot in the door, where will it stop?"

Even under circumstances of dire failure, the unionists want to assert their rights to drive up costs and usurp management authority. What Lawless-Burke ignores is that politics is the game of figuring out "where it will stop" when differences of opinion negate a hard rule. It will stop when the public decides that the superintendent has exceeded her mandate. That's how politics work.

It's also the reason that local administrations and the state education bureaucracy should devote some of their attention to fostering community-level involvement of additional players. I mean not only extending some budgetary authority for the schools to town councils and mayors, but also opening channels of communication and cooperation from taxpayer groups and the like.

The top-down reforms, in other words, require a complementary bottom-up foundation, not only to solidify local support from the folks who ultimately pay the bills, but also to rope in stakeholders who will cry out when the unions attempt to manipulate the game at the top. The unions may succeed in reversing Commissioner Gist's reform efforts such that the options offered to failing districts all entail additional benefits for union members, but they'll find it much more difficult to silence constituencies who've been allowed into the decision-making process.

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I've said many times that the problem with education is multi-pronged. Not just the teachers, not just the administration, not just the students, not just the parents, not just society. It's all of them. And Gallo/Gist are trying to take on one part of this. A big part of the problem is also with the town's administration. The head of the town is a seemingly corrupt scumbag. If the town has these problems from the top, how in the world can Central Falls ever become a nice town to live in again? I mean, it's all of one square mile, is it that hard to clean it up with just a little effort?

Posted by: Patrick at February 13, 2010 10:04 AM

Time to get my billboard out and plant it in my front yard that abutts busy Post rd.

Posted by: bob at February 13, 2010 10:20 AM

Great letter in today's Projo regarding Gist.

It seems strange that no one has brought up the train wreck called Washington DC's schools.

As for CF, this will end up in the RI Courts and several million dollars later, the Court will rule in favor of the teachers and against CF.. What a joke!

I'm still waiting for someone to answer the question of how they can raise test scores if the students are absent 30% of the time. The other students statistically raise the scores of those who chose not to attend school and participate in the educational system.

When will the parents and students be held accountable?

How do think student who has been absent 40+ days so far this year will score on the state's test? Many of today's students have no reason to perform well on these tests. They have ZERO on any of their grades, so why should they bother?

A.G. Palazzo

PS I an a teacher and in the trenches unlike those of you who are clueless as to the current state of "social" education in our state.

Posted by: Aldo at February 13, 2010 10:44 AM

Mr. Palazzo, I understand the frustration of absenteeism. But your assumption is that the tools for students to succeed are in place, and the kids are simply choosing not to utilize them. Couldn't it also be true that the school is not providing what the students need, and therefore they view it as hopeless? Central Falls High School has a graduation rate of under 50 percent. Clearly what they are providing right now is not working for most kids.

Posted by: mikeinri at February 13, 2010 11:02 AM

What is the status of truancy handling in R.I.,? I know truancy courts were established.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at February 13, 2010 11:06 AM

There is a valid point to be made that teachers face greater challenges attempting to teach children of backgrounds that for social (cultural) and family structure (single parent) reasons do not value education.

To this degree, classroom teachers (not the unions) are also victims of the Poverty Institute and their ilk whose unspoken mission is to perpetuate poverty (through amongst other things) inculcating a "you're a victim" mentality and denigration of the concept of upward mobility and individual responsibility and individual choice (lest we be "judgmental"). This serves the PI's purposes for it keeps the poverty inventory and pipeline filled.

The teachers union leadership is MIA on advocating for classroom teachers in this regard, for all of the (useless) ESL and special ed teachers keep the NEA / AFT dues payer inventory and pipeline filled as well.

That said, either these children can be helped, or they can't. If they can't, then there's no need to keep throwing money at them -- we can hire some less expensive daycare workers to mind them until they reach dropout age.

Conversely, if they can be helped, then the current system, including the classroom teachers, is not doing the job.

So which is it?

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 13, 2010 11:08 AM

I haven't seen any comment on the logistics of doing this in the middle of the year. It is true that this was done right before the February break, but will there really be no teachers when the students come in Monday the 22nd? How will any teaching and learning get done then? Or is the intent that the process of selective rehiring and new hiring will all be accomplished in a single week? That seems potentially difficult.

Posted by: James Kabala at February 13, 2010 11:19 AM


Districts are required by law to give teachers notice that they may be let go well in advance. (I think the deadline's next week.) It's not unusual for districts to send out a lot of pink slips just to keep their options open, with the expectation that most of them will be recalled.

In this case, the superintendent is making it clear that it's not just option-keeping. The teachers will finish out the year, but they won't be asked back for September.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 13, 2010 11:27 AM

Aldo asked:
"I'm still waiting for someone to answer the question of how they can raise test scores if the students are absent 30% of the time."

Maybe those students also skipped school on the days of the exam? Thus they didn't affect the scores at all and then the overall score accurately shows what the students in attendance are capable of.

Posted by: Patrick at February 13, 2010 11:53 AM

Oh, so they WILL finish out the year. I somehow missed that important detail in the articles I read on the subject. My apologies.

Posted by: James Kabala at February 13, 2010 12:00 PM

"I'm still waiting for someone to answer the question of how they can raise test scores if the students are absent 30% of the time."

Maybe those students also skipped school on the days of the exam? Thus they didn't affect the scores at all and then the overall score accurately shows what the students in attendance are capable of.

Wrong, the students are usually rounded up to make up the missed state testing...

The School is "scored" if they take the State Test or if they missed it.

There is a formula that takes BOTH options into consideration. Thus the district is dammed if they do or dammed if they don't. It is a no win situation....

I know at my school they are "tracked down" by the Administration and required to take the test... Thus missing even more classroom time due to state testing requirements...

In addition to mandates testing in English, Math and soon Science, there is also a requirement for the SALT Survey. All these things take up classroom time.

Anyone see something wrong with this picture?

And as I mentioned before, the students have absolutely ZERO stake in the outcome.

If you really want to do some "research" visit the RI Department of Education during the day and tell me me how many of these people are actually there AND working?

What happened to the Big Audit?

Posted by: Aldo at February 13, 2010 12:39 PM

Patrick, if a student is absent for the NECAP exam their score is counted as a 0. The score is still counted toward the schools proficiency percentage and undoubtedly pulls down the results.

Posted by: Scott at February 13, 2010 12:46 PM

Hello, Rhode Islander, have you ever set foot on a special education classroom. Just where is it that you would like the special education students to go. I currently work in a class that specializes in teaching kids with varrying levels of autism. Much of our time is spent teaching them life skills that they will need to some day live as indepently as possible. Perhaps you would like to come in and visit the students and parents to see if they are worth your tax dollars. That being said, they have as much of a right to a public education as your child or mine.

Posted by: Ragin special Ed teacher [AR codenamed: Assigned Pest] at February 13, 2010 1:44 PM

Back in 1991, the Chelsea MA schools were so bad, then Gov Weld put the school system into receivership. The schools were for several years managed by Boston University. Today they are doing well.

Should Carcieri do the same in CF?

Posted by: Bob Washburn at February 13, 2010 1:58 PM

Dear Ragin special Ed teacher:

I agree to a point.

But with RI classifying students as "special ed" at what, something like twice the national average, what is occurring in this state is payroll padding (and so union dues income to NEA / AFT padding), not helping children who need it.

In fact, what it's doing is diverting resources from the youth that could benefit from it, e.g., gifted programs, and into the hands of unnecessary personnel and union coffers.

Then again, perhaps Rhode Islanders are far more "special needs" than average, that would explain their repetitive return to office of the politically disabled to the General Assembly.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 13, 2010 2:12 PM

Ragin rhody do you know that it is not teachers who qualify children for special Ed but a school psych in most cases. Most kids are in inclusion classes but those in self -contained are there not only for the good of the special needs student but also for the good if the learning environment of the rest of the population. Where is it that you would have these children educated?not everything is some unionist plot to line our pockets. Somethings, such as special Ed are mandated by the state and federal gov and are in fact civil rights.

I also invite you to my class to observe and come up with solutions as to where the special
needs kids can be best educated.

Posted by: Felcher [AR codenamed: Assigned Pest] at February 13, 2010 3:10 PM

I heard the smarmy, disingenuous radio ad by the AFT today. "the tools we need, like smaller class sizes and better resources." What kind of meaningless drivel is that? The entire ad is based on emotion, I suppose because the AFT hasn't a fact to stand on.

I'm not anti-union, but antics like this could easily turn me.

I am anti-union monopoly, and that is why I advocate re-writing Title 28 to create a right-to-work regime in RI for both private and public employers. The unions need competition instead of the state-mandated monopoly they lord over us now.

Posted by: BobN at February 13, 2010 5:32 PM

I watched Newsmakers today. Parisi isn't concerned with education, just what he can put in the pocket of his seasonal workers. Unreal!

Posted by: kathy at February 14, 2010 1:43 PM

I just found it strange that in this economy the union leaders have the gall to demand $90.00 per hour for the extra time the teachers would have to put in. I mean, seriously, $90.00????????

Posted by: Chris at February 14, 2010 7:25 PM

The $90 per hour was an error. The per hour rate is $30. The amount of time I believe is an extra 1.5 hours so there's where the $90.

Posted by: Scott B at February 16, 2010 6:39 PM

You're not a math teacher, I hope.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 16, 2010 8:39 PM

Sorry. The original deal was 1.5 hours twice a week.

Posted by: Scott B at February 16, 2010 9:40 PM

The CF school system is and has been legitimately bankrupt. The state merely has to force them into Chapter 9 to void the existing teacher contracts.

Thats not the real issue though. The issue is that the community and these kids are unable to read, write, spell, add subtract etc. 25 minutes a day will not change that. This conversation is on the wrong track altogether.

The kids that have any potential need to be bussed to out of the area schools and after 7th grade those that are not on track need to be moved to a 100% vocational training environment. Things they can grasp and use in the real world. We are simply creating an ever larger population of 'my babys daddys' and 'my babys mommas' by sticking to this losing college prep formula. It is nothing but a failure in the inner cities but its a way to keep the entrenched system in place so their answer is more money and a half hour a day.

Hope HS which has been touted as having some type of improvement with their program that they are so upset about losing has about the same test scores as CFHS as do Central HS, Feinstein HS, and Mt Pleasant (actualy Mt Pleasant and Central are worse) while Shea is close behind.

BTW the average pay for the extra time would be more like $82 a hour. Every school system figures the hourly rate of each teacher by total pay including any extras so that teachers can be paid for extra time at mandatory meetings and such. The providence teachers union details all this on their website where the very top pay with tenure and 25 years plus a Phd is about $90/hour. Since the average pay at CFHS is about $73k the figure is easy to find by dividing the 180 day schedule by the 5 working hours per day and its about $82 an hour. $30 was what Gallo proposed for the extra time.

The entire community of Central Falls is on welfare. They pay nothing towards the $44 million yearly budget which already bestows the highest per student spending in the state at $15k a year and they only pay 3% in property taxes towards the building bonds of $25 million the state has issued for them.
Further with a median household income of 23k you and I both know they aren't paying anything net towards those bills through state income tax or federal income tax either as the whole area is likely tax negative.

50% of ALL students are failing 100% of their classes. 52% drop out. 48% graduate, meaning if they stay and breath they graduate. 96% of the students get free lunches and breakfats meaning the families receive welfare or section 8 etc because even if illegal the kids qualify for aid as citizens.

We are being over run by hoards of illiterates who do not wish to learn English or even bother coming to class. You have to be truant to fail phys ed.

I'll bet they know how to apply for aid with a social worker though.

Train them to do anything before they become another generation of bills.

(everything I wrote here is verifiable online)

Posted by: doughboys at February 20, 2010 12:10 AM
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