February 27, 2010

Rhode Island Statewide Coalition Winter Meeting 2010

Justin Katz

RISC's winter meeting is as well attended as usual, with all the usual participants, with the addition, this year of Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo, who got a standing ovation upon introduction.

The only media at the press table are me, a local paper publisher, and another blogger from Rhode Island, Michelle Girasole, who's twittering away. What was the middle period of dinosaurs? I suppose that's me.

9:30 a.m.

Here's the room:

Here's Harry:

And here's Supt. Gallo:

John DePetro is up, making the round of acknowledgments.

9:33 a.m.

I'm happy to see that John has shaved since last night:

9:35 a.m.

As could have been expected, John is railing against special interests and talking about bringing jobs into Rhode Island so that families can remain together within the state. "Selfishness and greed has really taken over and hijacked Rhode Island in the last few years."

"I'm not a destroyer of unions; I'm a liberator of union workers!" He then said we need a Reagan-like union moment. He's going through all of the ways that towns and school districts are cutting supports claiming that they've got no money while giving raises and hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused sick time and so forth.

9:42 a.m.

John made some great, hopeful points about the sorts of events that we should be pursuing, two examples were having an America's Cup-type competition whether or not America's Cup comes here and leveraging the Tennis Hall of Fame. Those are limited examples, but John's point was that, if we could jettison our excessive cost of operations (meaning government expenditures in labor and special interests), we could make Rhode Island a regional, national, and international beacon.

Incidentally, I should mention that RISC has found somebody who will comb all proposed legislation, which is excellent and absolutely necessary. The first find that I've seen was the reintroduction of binding arbitration legislation, which I'll be looking into at first opportunity.

9:52 a.m.

Supt. Gallo is giving an unannounced speech (eat your heart out, old media).

She's really excellent. This'll be a YouTube video to watch, because she's really laying out her point of view in a degree that I haven't heard.

She noted that she's from a family of teachers and most definitely did not seek this role, as the superintendent of the smallest town in the smallest state. No vote was ever taken by the teachers. They never had a chance, because the unions said, "No. This is the way we're going. No. She'll never do it. No. We don't agree with the rules that she's following."

The union says parents don't care: 97% of parents attended parent/teacher conferences at the school.

The union says children don't care: We now have 89-90% attendance at our high school.

Somehow the teachers have lost their voice. "Teachers are leaders. They need a backbone. They need more courage than anybody in the universe."

She's citing that the deluge of attention spurred in part by union advertising and activism has made it such that she can't use her own phone, making mediation impossible. And the calls are 100 to 1 against the unions.

10:01 a.m.

Blogger note: with the craziness of my schedule, I failed to delete files off my camera. Luckily, I spotted the draining minutes of available files and was able to delete something during a thematic lull in Gallo's speech. Sorry, folks, but it shouldn't be that big a loss.

10:04 a.m.

Gallo just spoke about her embarrassment at all of the attention. She used to think she got hate mail when a student sent a note that he wished she weren't superintendent, now she gets this sort of thing: "I wish cancer on your family and you live to see them suffer and die. And I cry, and I pray, and I pray for them who could write such things."

Really an inspiring speech.

10:11 a.m.

Apologies to Jim Beale. I was checking to see whether, in my panic to delete old files I deleted the first part of Gallo's speech (I didn't), and I missed the beginning of his introduction of RISC Business Network leader Jeff Deckman.

10:16 a.m.

Deckman is essentially describing the business network and its purpose to counterbalance union interests at the State House.

By way of acknowledgment (since I mentioned the absence of old-media types, Neil Downing, business writer for the Projo, just arrived. Betcha Julia Steiny wishes she'd come. (Not to worry; as I assured Neil, Gallo's speech will be available on Anchor Rising this afternoon... except for the glitch that tripped me up as I've run a construction jobsite all day and been a new media guy most of the evening and in the predawn hours.)

10:26 a.m.

It's funny. Last night's Follies were definitely front-heavy. Patrick Kennedy's top 10 list should have been the mystery guest presentation. Let Mayor Fung prance around the stage in a racial cliché while people are still poking at their desserts. Well, this morning, Deckman's essentially giving a sales pitch and dry explanation of the RISC business network after a warm-up speech by fire-starter John DePetro and the newsmaking surprise speech by Supt. Gallo.

It's a necessary presentation, to be sure, but it's a lesson for all of us who are somewhat new to planning political events. The necessary, but dry, stuff will inevitably be challenging to convey in a way that maintains attention. When it's immediately contrasted with an edge-of-your-seat, emotional, politically hot speech, it's a bit like jumping in a cold pool after being in the jacuzzi; all you really notice is that you're cold.

10:39 a.m.

Governor Carcieri is up:

Pointing to the people in the room: "You are representative of what's going on in this state."

Now he's talking about the need to inform the public, noting John DePetro's show as an important way to do so. "Part of the problem we have is getting information out." Not for nothing, gov., but that might be a place to slip a nod to Anchor Rising into the presentation. Just sayin'. It's pretty much entirely volunteer on our end.

10:46 a.m.

Carcieri's talking about events in Central Falls, particularly mentioning the hate mail and the contrast between the teachers qua teachers and the union. Anecdote from last night: As everybody was leaving, Pat Crowley strolled over to the right-hand side of the room to say something to RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicionne. Crowley brought over a union guy who's appeared in notes on Anchor Rising now and then. Said he: "Hey, it's the teabaggers. I hate you guys."

Now, I don't care what people say to me. I'll smile and pat them on the head, as necessary, but that's the mentality. That's the soul of the union to which everybody objects, not the members, who are mostly professionals trying to do a job, probably not with much enthusiasm for all of the activist stuff.

By the way, it occurs to me to note that Carcieri's tone is much more serious than at just about every speech I've seen him give.

10:54 a.m.

The governor told an anecdote about a teacher friend of his, who'd been teaching some 25-30 years, at the time of the story: She'd been going over some strategies with a young teacher, and the latter stopped her, at one point, and said, "You can't do that. It's not in the contract."

The older teacher replied, "No. I don't have to do it, but I want to."

Carcieri: "The sad thing is that the teachers unions are making the teachers themselves look terrible."

Two thoughts: First, the story is indicative of an expansion of the union mentality that makes "don't have to" into "can't" and, in the opposite direction, "should, under ideal circumstances" into "must, under any circumstances." Second, I think there's a cultural shift with respect to people's attitude toward work. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but those negotiating contracts and such have to realize that they can no longer rely on a cultural perspective that takes work inherently as vocation. In a practical sense, that just means adding "and other activities as required" and some form of merit and assessment with which workers must contend as they put in their time.

By the way, the governor's back to his list of successes, and his presentation has shifted toward a more familiar, less deadly-serious tone.

11:02 a.m.

An important point that the governor just made: If the legislature allows Rhode Island at least to maintain its flat-tax and hold down all other taxes, our state's rankings in taxes and business climate will improve by contrast with our neighbors and the country. I'd add: Imagine what could happen if we took the shackles off of the state's economy!

"States are not going to get back to the 2008 level of revenue until 2014."

11:11 a.m.

The governor says he told Jeff Deckman to include four criteria in the business network's review of candidates. He called it the Compact for Rhode Island:

  1. Got to continue to reduce the size of government, particularly at the cities and towns, which spend 2/3 of the expense of government in RI.
  2. Public sector pensions and benefits, which make up most of the spending.
  3. Improve the climate for business. "There's going to be an assault in the General Assembly on the tax front." He cited New Hampshire; "Is it any wonder people in Massachusetts are moving north rather than south." "We've got to be tax competitive."
  4. We've got to sustain what Fran Gallo started.

11:17 a.m.

"We're the canary in the coal mine for what people fear is the direction in which the nation is heading."

11:20 a.m.

Another surprise speech, by RI Board of Regents member Angus Davis.

Much as I was happy to see that John had shaved, I'm happy to see that Angus didn't wear the pink pants he wore for the summer meeting. He's run through some of the actions of the Board of Regents and is offering his perspective on the context of the Central Falls matter.

11:25 a.m.

He shares the frustration of those who are excited at the fight-back against the unions, but he's urging us to remember that teachers must ultimately be the ones to implement education. "Let us not celebrate the firing of the teachers in Central Falls, but let us celebrate the rehiring of the 50% of the very best who will be rehired and the new teachers who will be hired."

11:28 a.m.

Boy, Angus is fired up about some of the people who may break the link of support running almost untouched from Gallo to Obama. He cited a letter from Patrick Lynch tending toward union favoritism and mentioned an email from Linc Chafee, who was seeking to clarify the "100% job security" comment by Gallo, citing that as the "basic question" of the controversy. Said Angus, pounding the podium with his finger: "What kind of leadership thinks the basic question in a school [with such horrible education success rates] is job security for its adults rather than the educational outcomes for its children."

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Justin the press table is empty because it's too early in the morning for liberals to be out of bed nevermind actually working.

Posted by: Tim at February 27, 2010 9:33 AM

An organization that gives John Dipetro credibility is doomed.

Posted by: michael at February 27, 2010 10:29 AM


Posted by: Justin Katz at February 27, 2010 10:35 AM

Were any of the folks there brave enough to question Mr DePetro, about
the Arbitron Ratings Scandal ?

Or how a "Family Values" guy like Depetro, could throw his wife under the bus ?

Posted by: Jeff at February 27, 2010 11:52 AM

Why does John Drpetro have even an ounce of credibility with any group. this group calls for transparency and honesty and then invites this heel to speak. Not only did he lie about the ratings but then he threw his wife under the bus in a sad attempt to save his credibility.

Posted by: mywifeblamesmeforeverything [AR codenamed: Assigned Pest] at February 27, 2010 12:19 PM

Great work, Justin, great work! I'm not sure if you have noticed but there has been an interesting discussion over on the lefty blog about Crowley claiming the teachers never had a chance. I generally take everything he says with a ton of salt, but this time it seemed like he might have been on to something. But ultimately it seems that the union kept the teachers in the dark and now are crying that the administrators are to blame.

I have hope that this incident can transform how unions deal with administrators and from your accounts at this morning's meeting it seems that Supt. Gallo and others are finally saying enough is enough.

This was some inspiring stuff.

Posted by: donroach at February 27, 2010 12:40 PM

I'd just like to say thank you to Justin for attending these events and reporting on them with such detail and enthusiasm. It doesn't get said enough. If you didn't do it, I would never know what goes on at these events.

Posted by: Dan at February 27, 2010 2:27 PM

Don't bother with DePetro. He isn't even a side story. Focus on what was said by the others. I hope that Central Falls can pull it off. And I'm heartened that Gallo gave the lie to lack of interest on the part of parents and kids.

Posted by: chuckR at February 27, 2010 2:40 PM

"What kind of leadership thinks the basic question in a school [with such horrible education success rates] is job security for its adults rather than the educational outcomes for its children."

Great question.

The same sort of "adults-first" leadership that has given us teacher compensation in the top 20% nationally and academic achievement in the bottom 20%

Posted by: Monique at February 27, 2010 8:19 PM

I give Dr. Gallo alot of credit for showing "moxie" against the AFT union. They stuffed a knife in her back with their underhanded methods and threw their own members under the bus. The big disconnect with this union is the administration's plan to reform this school came from the US Dept. of Education. That is their party boys in Washington who is promoting this. What's the matter, they can't handle the "Obama Change"? If the AFT union in Providence approved the plan to get the $125 Million dollar grant for RI, why did the AFT in Central Falls vote against it? It's all about them! The teachers in CF need to smarten up and vote that union out. They are betraying them.

Posted by: Govtstench at February 27, 2010 9:13 PM
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