A Tale of Two States: Oklahoma Schools Versus New York’s West Genesee Schools
Everywhere you turn these days the public education sytem and its teachers are under attack. We’ve seen it in Wisconsin, it’s happening in Ohio and New Jersey, I’ve told you what’s happening in Providence, Rhode Island, and here’s more bad news out of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Mary Fallin endorsed a bill that was approved by the Senate Education Committee which makes it easier to fire school teachers at the same time as it helps expand charter schools. Under this new bill, teachers would be unable to appeal their firing to a district court called “trial de novo”, something they have been able to do in the past in this state.
Some Democrats from this panel feel that the legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, is trying to weaken public schools and shift their support to charter or private schools. “This is a direct assault in the state of Oklahoma on public education as we know it,” said Democratic Senator Richard Lerblance. “They don’t want the teachers to have the ability to have their day in court. That’s all it is — a frontal assault on public education.”
Chairman of the committee, Republican Senator John Ford spoke for the new bill: “You have a locally elected school board. They have the authority to hire a teacher, and if that teacher, for whatever reason throughout their career, isn’t performing adequately, the board needs to be able to terminate that teacher.” And Ford wants to push through another bill which would increase the reasons for firing a teacher to include insubordination or failure to comply with a “reasonable directive from administration.”
But Joel Robison who is a lobbyist for Oklahoma’s largest teachers union, points out that teachers’ careers should not be determined by school boards, which are political by nature. He reemphasizes the need for some appeals process that would give teachers a voice if they are fired.
Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, the list goes on. Distrust and demoralization abound because politicians seem hell-bent on demonizing hard-working public education teachers and ripping the public education system apart at the seams. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Take a school system in Upper New York State for example…
On February 21, CNN Live reported on the West Genesee school district which is being applauded by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for an agreement, reached through a sense of trust and open communication, which reduces the number of teachers who will lose their jobs by half. How did they do it?
Well, first and foremost, no politicians were involved in this decision; no legislation forced them to lose their hard-earned rights. Instead, in a spirit of trust and in an effort to keep as many teachers as possible in spite of their $5.5 million deficit, Jon Christian, President of the West Genesee Teacher Association, met with his teachers and with Superintendent Dr. Chris Brown until they hammered out a deal they could all live with; for teachers to take a pay freeze instead of their upcoming raises. And, while Christian said it was gut-wrenching to know that it was going to be hard on the teachers who were anticipating these raises in order to pay their bills, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make since it would save jobs.
When asked by CNN Live what advice he would give to Wisconsin, Dr. Brown said, “I think through diplomacy that maybe some of these things could be resolved. We’ve got to probably get some people in a room and figure out where the actual sides are and try to meet somewhere in the middle so that everyone can return to work, that the government can run, and that maybe we can work on a way that can help us forge into the future during these different economic times.”
Rational words. Uplifting words. Words that build up rather than tear down. Nonpolitical, nonpartisan words. Words of honesty and trust. Words that solve problems rather than creating chaos.
What teacher among us doesn’t wish they were teaching in this kind of environment where a school district’s problems could be handled within the school district by those who understand the problems; the administration and teachers working together with the backing of the teachers union, rather than by our government officials who have no understanding of the individual issues each district faces? How did we ever allow politicians to dictate what happens in our schools? What a dark day that was for public education!
And darker days to come, my friends. Get ready for the ride of your life!