September 28, 2007

The Hostage's Objection

Justin Katz

In a letter to the Sakonnet Times, Class of '09 Tiverton High School student Lexy Halpen expresses her frustration with the ongoing contract negotiations of those responsible for her education:

... Not only is it ridiculous that the school committee won't fix this problem, but myself and my classmates are losing out on everything until they stop arguing. There won't be a homecoming dance, any proms for the juniors and seniors, no after school activities that aren't graded, nothing. ...

The thing that bothers me the most is that they're canceling math team, National Honor Society, and mock trial in the new contracts. Once again, why should the students suffer by losing these things when they try hard enough to win them? Mock trial is my road to college. Without mock trial, I don't get any scholarships or accepted to colleges I need to go to. Without mock trial, I can kiss college goodbye...

This contract had better be fixed. This whole situation needs to be looked at from the students' point of view. Let us have a say. The least they could do is allow students in to represent themselves.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but inasmuch as none of the activities for which Ms. Halpen argues are explicitly included in the union's previous contract (PDF), it would seem more likely that the loss of her groups isn't part of the new contract (which, after all, hasn't been settled on, much less implemented, yet), but a casualty of the current work to rule strategy. In other words, she ought to direct her ire at the teachers and their "maneuverings", even those whom she believes are "trying their hardest to get [their activities] back":

As one move to put pressure on the school committee, the teachers last Thursday voted to begin what is called "contract compliance," which Patrick Crowley, assistant executive Director of NEA Rhode Island, said "means that teachers will only perform duties officially called for in the current union contract."

Amy Mullen, president of Tiverton's union local and its lead negotiator said "contract compliance" as a practical matter meant that teachers would not be volunteering for activities.

For example, she said, guidance counselors will not be volunteering for the college fair in October. Teachers will not be volunteering for the school improvement meetings in the evenings, or paying for school supplies for students out of their own pockets, or volunteering for field trips (except for those already scheduled and paid for by students).

Mike Burk, co-chairman of the school committee said the "contract compliance" actions by students are beginning to hurt students, for instance he's hearing that seniors aren't getting college letters of recommendation written by teachers.

Mr. Burk said that not everything a teacher does as a professional can be written into the contract. The teachers counter by saying that if a time-consuming task isn't specifically written into the contract, and they aren't compensated for doing it, they should not be required to do it.

As "an active student at THS," Lexy is many times over being made a pawn by a unionized workforce that — despite allowing the percentage of students with math proficiency, as measured by state standardized tests, to drop 8.7% — "continue[s] with their demand for a salary increase of 3.75 percent in each of the next years." That's 25% more than the annual raises (compounded by step increases) in the previous contract.

I only caught the tail end of A Lively Experiment yesterday evening, but during a closing discussion on improving the state's circumstances NEARI's Bob Walsh asserted that organized labor unions "aren't going anywhere." Judging from the statewide test results, I'd say that much is obvious (albeit taken differently than intended). Be that as it may, it's unconscionable that teachers would seek to leverage students' anxieties that they won't be going anywhere unless the townspeople cough up the demanded ransom.

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Lexy Halpen. Another victim of the union grape juice.

Posted by: Greg at September 28, 2007 8:32 AM

Really we deserve what we get by voting in this progressive scum year after year after year.
We need to fold the Republican party into a new Taxpayer Party with SPECIFIC Prop. 13 style tax limitations and spending/payroll cuts on its agenda. Other states have cut teachers, cut police and fire, cut pensions and benefits, gutted social welfare and the sky hasn't collapsed. In this state even the so called Republicans are afraid and/or bought out. Avedesian? Machtley? Almond? Don't make me laugh.

Posted by: Mike at September 28, 2007 10:08 AM

This girl from Tiverton High School is what public schools make students out to be: Pawns for the government. Anyone who thinks for themselves (or thinks) can see it's the union, not the school committee that is to blame for "work to rule", or as I put it, "refuse to work and rule". Judging by the latest standardized test scores, this girl is typical of a public High School student. They're taught to obey, not to think.

Posted by: Neitzsche at September 28, 2007 10:42 AM

The kids need to make some more noise on the issue and not accept being stuck in the corner because the adults on one side of the issue don't like their opinion. If the School Committee wants to make its case to the kids, let them do it, explain to them why they're taking this stand, instead of simply telling them to sit down and shut up.
Perhaps the kids taking action and doing something crazy will be the only way to break the impasse.

Posted by: rhody at September 28, 2007 11:02 AM

This is not knock on Lexy's intelligence, diligence or desire to succeed. She needs to pick up a copy of Strunk's Elements of Style. The cost is $3.90 from Amazon. She will find it useful and it may help her avoid wasting a course slot in college on English fundamentals. What were her 4th to 9th grade teachers doing when they taught English? They were not teaching the fundamentals of grammar and style. We are not getting a good value for our money, even in districts like Tiverton.

Posted by: chuckR at September 28, 2007 11:02 AM

Actually, a review of the tape shows I said "labor is not going away." Much harder to twist.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at October 1, 2007 5:31 PM

Hmmm. Well, I don't have a tape to review, but I didn't think I changed your wording. (You rephrased mid-sentence, as I recall, so maybe I took the phrase you abandoned.)

At any rate, I admitted to twisting.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 1, 2007 7:46 PM

Labor isn't going away, but the gold-plated benefits are.

Posted by: Greg at October 2, 2007 9:49 AM