May 26, 2005

The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?

Last week, I emailed this posting to East Greenwich town and school officials, asking that they "ensure the referenced matters were properly investigated and publicly discussed."

East Greenwich School Superintendent Michael Jolin has responded to only one of the matters, making the following comments in this ProJo article:

While the town's teachers are "working to rule" because they lack a contract, some continue private tutoring, and that has drawn criticism from a former School Committee member.

On Friday, Donald Hawthorne, a critic of the teachers' union, sent an e-mail to town and school officials and to the news media directing them to a Web blog he maintains.

On the site, Hawthorne said that "some teachers who refuse to tutor our children before or after school are currently charging money from parents to tutor children outside of school."

"[T]hey are getting paid extra money this year to do what has been a part of their regular job description in past years," he said.

School Committee member Marilyn Friedemann said she asked Supt. Michael W. Jolin to see whether such outside tutoring is a violation of state law.

State law says no public school teacher shall accept payment for tutoring directly from parents of a student under his or her instruction.

In an interview yesterday, Jolin said he interpreted the law to mean that teachers are not allowed to privately tutor students who are in the classes that they teach.

Jolin said that, while he has confirmed that there are teachers who tutor children privately, he has found "no evidence of teachers receiving pay for tutoring students who they are instructing during the regular school day."...

During my time on the School Committee, Superintendent Jolin was masterful at not quite answering questions asked of him and not providing appropriate analyses before major votes - like the previous teachers' union contract extension. This ProJo editorial shares some of my past experiences with and observations of his leadership. So, from a distance, I do not know whether his finding "no evidence" means anything.

More importantly, what I do know is that he neither answered the entire question I asked of town and school officials about tutoring nor did he address other inconsistent actions, highlighted in the same email, all of which have hurt our children.

Remember that no one is disputing that teachers, working under contract compliance, are not helping our children with academic matters in ways like they have done in past years. Nor is anyone disputing that teachers are getting the same salary and benefits that they received last year when they did help our children at that higher level. Also, no one is disputing that gifted children in grade 6 got their field trip but 6th grade children not in the gifted program were denied their annual field trip. They are not disputing that teachers went to a prom which was outside their working hours under contract compliance but they will not help our children with academic needs or field trips outside the same working hours.

So the open question about tutoring remains: Is there MORE paid tutoring going on right now in East Greenwich than in past years due to "work-to-rule?"

In other words, are we/they doing right by our children and, in aggregate, are teachers benefiting economically under contract compliance?

Frankly, investigating that point in greater detail now is a waste of time because, given past performance by the Superintendent, there would be reasons to doubt the reliability of any new information.

Yet an even larger question also remains unanswered and worthy of further public debate: Is it ethical and professional behavior for teachers to selectively work outside formal contract hours by attending a prom but not providing after school help or doing a field trip? By participating in one field trip but not another?

We know this larger question does not bother the teachers' union: Jane Argentieri, the executive director of the union's parent organization, the National Education Association Rhode Island, is quoted in the ProJo article as saying "Contract compliance merely means that they are doing everything required by the contract." To translate that into layman's language, she is saying "Who cares about doing right by the children as long as we get ours and abide by the legal letter of the agreement?" Her highly persuasive comment only reinforces the points about the one-sided imbalance in management rights found in teachers' union contracts - a point made quite clearly in the recent Education Partnership report.

But the larger question does bother the rest of us as parents and as members of the East Greenwich community. We must do right by our children and ensure they get all the help they need to be successful while at the same time ensuring that teachers do not receive any economic reward for problems they created in the first place due to "work-to-rule."

Therefore, what is not a waste of time is ensuring that there are no structural incentives in place that would encourage or reward unfair and undesired outcomes - regardless of whether the issue is formal tutoring, informal after school help, proms, or field trips. And that leads directly back to the question of retroactive pay for teachers, the key focus of both my previous posting and the email to town/school officials.

Retroactive pay is also one of the larger outstanding financial issues in the current contract dispute which I have publicly addressed here:

The issues of retroactive pay and "work-to-rule" are at the heart of the dispute in the East Greenwich NEA teachers union contract dispute. The union expects salaries to be made whole via retroactive pay increases. But if the union believes they will get such pay, then they have no incentive to settle the contract for anything less than their one-sided outrageous demands. Yet, in the meantime, our children will not be made whole retroactively for all the times teachers have, due to "work-to-rule," refused to do the same things for our children that they did in past years. This is an inequitable situation that needs to be rectified.

Therefore, I would like to propose a straightforward settlement offer to the East Greenwich NEA teachers' union contract dispute:

Retroactive pay: Tell the union that retroactive pay is off the table now and forever. Actions have consequences and teachers should not be made whole if our children cannot be made whole. Take away any incentive for the union to continue its refusal to negotiate in good faith and make time their enemy, not ours.

Taking care of our children: Take some or all of the funds originally set aside in the budget for retroactive pay and dedicate those funds to paying for outside help, including tutors, for our children. In other words, let's take control of the situation and make our children whole from this day forward...

Let's focus on doing right by our children and giving them all the support they need.

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A very, very interesting post. Not being an East Greenwich resident, I do find it troubling that teachers are charging parents for afterschool tutoring sessions. The logic flies in the face of public education and the more I read about the teachers' union in Rhode Island, the more I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Having done some student teaching at a RI public school a few years back, it seemed that more than a few out-of-class conversations focused on contracts, pay, and who got what promotion versus curricula, best practices, and "how's Jimmy doing at home?". While I understand the need for teachers to be adequately compensated for their hard work (nationwide 02-03 school year: 7th in avg salary; 19th in beginning salary), I just find it horrific how the unions in Rhode Island are more concerned with pay, benefits, et. al. and not with students.

Another point to consider is this: for communities whose median income doesn't approach that of East Greenwich, what are those parents to do? If affluent municipalities don't have teacher contract practices 'right', how much worse are those within cities such as Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket, and other urban RI communities?

Posted by: don at May 26, 2005 11:14 AM