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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Devil it’s Due

It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of our school board. I think they are directly responsible for many of the problems facing the district. If you look at the make up of the school board for the most part it is made up of politicians on their way up or way down or casual observers with tenuous ties to education. When I pick a doctor, I pick someone who has been to medical school, not someone who has a cousin who is a doctor or who has watched three seasons of Grays Anatomy and thinks to themselves, hey I could do that. With that being said, it would be disingenuous of me, not to “give the devil it’s due.”

When superintendent Pratt-Dannals, at the last possible moment, asked the school board to declare financial urgency in order to breech the contract with teachers, three board members voted against it. When it passed teachers were outraged and four members of the school board were sent scrambling to justify their positions. In a way this was also a very rare occurrence, not that teachers aren’t routinely in an up roar about what the school board does and school board members aren’t often scrambling to justify their positions.

What is amazing is that three board members voted against breaking the contract with teachers. If you look back at board votes over the last few years, they usual rubber stamps whatever the superintendent wants. I can’t remember the last time any vote had so many dissenters.
According to the Times Union, board members Betty Burney, Tommy Hazouri and Brenda Priestly Jackson voted against the move because they said the district had not done enough to justify pursuing it. Hazouri said the district should first consider not filling positions or spending money on consultants before breaking the contract.
The other board memebrs despite voting on tens of millions on other projects, including hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel and consultants over the last few months respectfully disagreed. Maybe they voted for breaking the contract because they thought it was a good idea but then again maybe not.

There is a quote from the movie JFK that I like a lot. One actor asks Kevin Costner, “How do you know who your daddy is? It’s because your momma said it was so.” This is pretty relevant because in Duval County because how does the school board know it’s a good idea, because the administration says it so.

Compass Odyssey, Math Investigations, Oncource, along with various other computer programs and learning curriculums that have come and gone, the rotation of the North Side middle schools, the expansions at Ed White and Lee High schools, the creation of a new high school when numerous high schools on the west and north side stand half empty, their students using magnet schools and opportunity scholarships to leave, the pushing of more and more children to take advanced placement tests, tying principals evaluations to suspensions, the hiring of a public relations person and many, many other ideas have had their detractors. In the end however they were all good ideas or so the powers-that-be at 1701 Prudential Drive would have us believe and were ideas either that the school board rubber-stamped or allowed to happen.

For some reason the school board lost it’s way and if you want to know why go reread the first paragraph, it might help you figure it out. They forgot that they don’t just represent one building on the riverfront of the south bank of downtown. They forgot they also represent the students, parent’s, stakeholders and teachers; yes teachers of the district as well.

Some might make the mistake of lumping the teachers in with Duval County School District. On the surface that seems reasonable. Unfortunately when they took away teachers creativity and semi-autonomy, began overloading them with endless tasks, adopted policies that put both teachers and their students at a disadvantage and stopped treating teachers with respect, it forced teachers into a separate camp. So many teachers consider the District and the School Board as opponents not to be trusted. Just nod and take it so many teachers say, in a few years they will be off to do something else new. That’s what happens when people who give so much and sacrifice so much are pushed into a corner and told they are not valued.

Lets face it and be realistic as well. The raises most teachers get are pretty bad. They don’t keep up with cost of living increases and teachers earning power actually decreases for about the first ten years. When I started teaching a decade ago my contract was for 26,000 dollars and I had thousands in savings. Fast-forward 11 years and even though my salary is nearly forty, I like many teachers live paycheck to paycheck in fear of an illness, a car breaking or some other ordinary occurrence.

Furthermore, the raises don’t come anywhere near compensating teachers for all the supplies they buy for their rooms and their children and they don’t nearly cover all the untold hours of over-time that teachers put in. If anything, until you have been teaching for fifteen years or so the raises are largely symbolic, a small gesture that said teachers are noticed and appreciated. Unfortunately four members of the school board and the superintendent have seemingly disagreed about that this year.

Let me at least give the devil, make that the three members of the school board who looked at the same facts and figures as the other four members and the superintendent did and said, our teachers are worth it.

Sadly I am not optimistic about this 4-3 vote even though it seemed to show the first sign of independent thought out of the school board in quite sometime. In a few days it will probably be back to business as usual and sadly if you take teachers morale as an indicator business isn’t that good.

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