I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tenure: Needed Now More Than Ever

A few tales from Mike Bloomberg's NYC:
At Fordham School of the Arts in the Bronx, Principal Iris Blige was found by the DOE’s Office of Special Investigation to have ordered her assistant principals to rate teachers unsatisfactory before their teaching was observed, in at least one case because the teacher participated in union activities. Unfortunately for many of the teachers and APs involved, many had not yet received tenure and permanently lost any hope of a job in the New York City school system. (Blige was fined a small amount and remains in her position.)
Independence High School UFT chapter leader Michael McPherrin was smeared by his principal after making a series of recommendations about the direction of the school. In return for his professional input and acting in the best interest of his students and staff, the principal turned around and tried to fire him, charging him with “unprofessional conduct.” Without the tenure protections, a strong advocate for teachers and students like McPherrin would have been removed at a whim.
Chapter leader Kimani Brown was removed from the classroom after he blew the whistle on special education practices at his school, Frederick Douglas Academy IV in Brooklyn. He was eventually cleared of all of the trumped up charges (except one — calling his principal a liar).
And at Opportunity Charter School in Manhattan, where teachers are not automatically part of the UFT, more than a dozen teachers were fired this year after they tried to unionize, showing what can happen without tenure protection.
Tenure also provides protection against other forms of discrimination, beyond attacks on whistleblowers and union activists. Homophobic students accused Stuyvesant High School librarian Chris Asch of inappropriate touching, a charge that a judge recently dismissed, saying that Asch’s suspension was the product of discrimination. The false accusations caused Asch a three-year legal nightmare that included being called “pervert” in the press. But if Asch had not had tenure rights, they would have cost him his job and pension immediately. Without those due process rights, the protections of antidiscrimination law are often meaningless because few are willing or able to go through lengthy court battles after their jobs have already been taken away.
And, of course, in Elizabeth: 
The Elizabeth Board of Education, with more than 23,000 students and a $402 million budget largely subsidized by Trenton and another $20.5 million in federal aid, is one of the New Jersey's largest and, to some, a top urban school district.
But a four-month investigation by The Star-Ledger, drawing on interviews, lawsuits and internal documents, shows it can also be a relentless political machine fueled by nepotism, patronage, money and favors, using its nearly 4,000 employees as a ready-made fundraising base.
Internal documents show friends and relatives of board members scattered through the payroll.
Teachers and other employees, who kick in tens of thousands of dollars in donations, say they feel pressured by supervisors and board members to buy tickets to fundraisers. They say they are reminded that attending campaign events is in their best career interest.
Testimonial dinners are held to honor the superintendent and president of the board of education — not to raise money for scholarships or education, but to funnel more into campaign coffers.
Meanwhile, in Seattle:
Though Goodloe-Johnson was apparently not directly involved in the fraud scandal  which brought her down (and lost our district at least $1.8 million and is currently under criminal investigation), she knew about the problem and failed to act on it and apparently kept the information from the school board.
And though our school board was cowed into firing her “without cause,” there were in fact numerous other potentially fireable offenses that she could have been called out for. The “Pottergate” fraud scandal was merely the final straw.
Goodloe-Johnson was also cited for an Ethics violation/Conflict of interest by the state auditor in 2010 for failing to disclose she was on the board of directors of test vendor Northwest Evaluation Association at the time Seattle purchased its MAP test product in a no-bid contract. (She was subsequently forced to step down from the NWEA board.) She was also cited by the auditor along with the school board for mismanaging district resources. And it was revealed that she threw a $7,000 party complete with carving station on the district credit card (which is not allowed), at the same time she was taking an axe to our kids’ schools and teaching staff,citing budget crisis. A lot of us thought that was pretty questionable judgment on her part, to say the least. More significantly, she earned a near-unanimous vote of No Confidence from our teachers and a number of our schools in 2010. And she helped perpetuate a false number which grossly under-reported our high school graduates’ college readiness. (This “data,” by the way, was produced by yet another person trained by the pervasive Broad Foundation.) She also only managed to achieve 4 out of 17 performance goals yet received a bonus, in a farcical  display of  “performance pay.”
Down in St. Petersburg:
A lot of capable teachers are without jobs in this economy, yet the Pinellas County School District bent over backward to try to keep a teacher of questionable competence and character. The reason was classic cronyism: Jason Pafundi's parents have influential positions in the school district and persuaded district officials to employ their son when all objective evidence indicated he had no business in a classroom or serving as a role model. At the last minute Tuesday, a high school principal poised to give Pafundi a full-time teaching job withdrew the offer. It never should have gotten that far.
Pafundi, 31, began teaching in 2003 and soon demonstrated he doesn't belong in a classroom. At Lakewood High School, he slept in class while his students played cards. He was investigated over an inappropriate personal website. He resigned in late 2004, then was arrested in 2005 after an investigation determined that money he had collected as yearbook adviser had disappeared. Pafundi first claimed he didn't take the money and but lost track of it when school duties overwhelmed him. His father came to his rescue and paid Lakewood High $2,475 to settle up.
Two years ago, Pafundi's parents appealed directly to then-Superintendent Clayton Wilcox to give their son a second chance. Pafundi's father is an administrator in the district's human resources department. His mother is a teacher and the teachers' union representative at Palm Harbor University High. Wilcox listened to them because they were district insiders, and Pafundi was allowed to return as a substitute teacher.
Dallas, Texas:
A Dallas Morning News review of public records and databases found nepotism in charter schools across Texas, along with many administrators earning six-figure salaries to run charter schools with only a few hundred or a couple of thousand students. For instance:
•Sherwin Allen's family, including two brothers, his wife and their two children, earned nearly $700,000 last year working for Children First Academy campuses in Dallas and Houston, according to Texas Education Agency records. The campuses enrolled a total of 750 students.
At the top, Allen's reported salary was $193,875 as superintendent of the Houston campus. His brother earned $159,955 as head of the Dallas campus. The brothers also serve on the charter holder's board, along with Allen's daughter.
Allen said the actual salaries were lower than what TEA shows. He also noted that the charters are rated "exemplary" and received top ratings from the state comptroller for efficient spending and high student achievement.
"I'm real, real, real proud of what we do," he said.
•The Purcell family has brought in about a half million dollars a year running Faith Family Academy, with campuses in Oak Cliff and Waxahachie. The two campuses enrolled just over 1,500 students last year.
Superintendents of traditional districts that size earn about $115,000. Superintendent Ted Purcell made $200,000 last school year, TEA records show. His daughter earned $115,000 as assistant superintendent and his son-in-law $162,720 as technology director.
Purcell's wife, Charlotte Purcell, made $82,500 as a program director and, according to her husband, retired in March. Charlotte Purcell's sister and brother-in-law serve on Faith Family's board.
Purcell said he works longer hours than his traditional-school peers.
"I'll defend my salary any time when you talk about the time I put in, the things I do and the things I'm responsible for," he said.
He said his family members are certified for their jobs and got the charter running.
For the last few years, Mayor Richard Daley has been accepting kudos for education reforms that followed his takeover of the city's schools. But it turns out that his takeover also allowed political favoritism to work its way into the school system, and Chicago taxpayers are the poorer for it.
A Tribune investigation revealed Wednesday that Crandall's firm, already under fire for skirting competitive bidding procedures on other city contracts, pulled out of a contract for work at Earhart School on the Southeast Side because the firm found it had made a mistake in figuring its bid. After being paid more than $500,000 for a few months work, G.F. Structures paid Chicago Public Schools $22,000 to rebid the project and walked off scot-free.
But wait a minute . . . aren't contractors usually required to post a performance bond, a kind of insurance policy to ensure the work is completed according to the contract? Sure they are, and G.F. Structures was bonded, but the school board never tried to collect on the bond. Could that be because the bonding agent on the deal was John Daley, the mayor's brother? 
I'd continue but I'm starting to throw up in my mouth...

Imagine all of these stories - and the hundreds more I could Google - taking place in districts without tenure. Schools are run by elected officials. Elected officials are, by definition, political. Politics means influence, and influence can lead to corruption.

We need to keep politics out of classrooms. Tenure is the last, best firewall teachers, students, and taxpayers have against the corruption that often rears its ugly head in political endeavors. We can't have free, open, and accountable schools without it.

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