A PUBLICATION OF THE PLAINVIEW-OLD BETPAGE CONGRESS OF TEACHERS
Volume XXXV, No. 10 Feb. 3, 1997
LOOKING FOR NUMBER ONE
by Morty Rosenfeld
A football receiver makes a diving catch of a pass in the end zone, pulls himself up from a pile of tacklers, struts a few steps and raises his index finger in the air. "We're number one," he says, in the sign language known to all of the spectators. The home crowd roars with appreciation. For a moment, at least, they are transported from their mundane existences to a world of heroes - a world above that of mere mortals, with all of their weaknesses and imperfections. To be number one - to be distinguished from all of the other suckers of this world, how we Americans thirst for the feelings of superiority that come with being recognized as unequaled. Otherwise law abiding citizens of cities with championship professional sports teams have been known to go on drunken rampages following their team's victory, celebrating their "oneness" with lawless acts, demonstrating like the heroes of Greek myth that they are not to be bound by the rules of mere mortals.
The call to be number one speaks to something primitive in our natures. It resonates, perhaps, in a portion of our brains evolved for the world of tooth and claw - the Darwinian world of the survival of the fittest.
How curious it is to hear this call of the battlefield, ancient or modern, used to exhort a school district staff to be number one. What does such a call mean in the context of a public school district? What combat are we being roused to wage? Who is the enemy? What does an "us vs. them" mentality have to do with the condition of public education in the State of New York?
This competition- run- amuck, aided and abetted by the state's new school reportcard, seems to have everyone in our school district unhinged, in no small measure due to the lack of articulation of any vision of what being numero uno means. It clearly doesn't mean raising our standards of excellence, or how are we to explain the continuing pressures to pass students whose performance doesn't merit passing. Neither do we seem to be developing curricula that are more challenging and academically demanding.
Being number one can't possibly mean developing programs to address the needs of increasing numbers of students from dysfunctional families who come to school with psycho-social baggage that interferes with their ability to learn. No one in authority seems to want to talk about this.
Being number one appears to have little, if anything, to do with creating a culturally rich educational environment to counter the cultural void that is sub-urban living - the culture of work and shop. How can it be that the New York City elementary school I attended almost fifty years ago did a better job of teaching kids like me to love serious music, art and literature than we do.
No, the current call to be number one is devoid of anything that can seriously be called education. To the extent that it has any meaning, it is a call to higher scores on tests that grow easier each year. I does not spring from any notion of the educated person.
K-CENTER ON EDGE
Half the school year is almost over, but the problems that have afflicted the Kindergarten Center have remained mostly unresolved. Supplies have not ben provided, schedules have not been equitably developed, necessary construction has not been done and the center's administration has been unable and/or unwilling to work with the staff to develop a coherent approach to early childhood education.
What should have been a showpiece of a new spirit of cooperation in the District has become mired in rancor. All may not be lost, however. After a series of meetings between PCT representatives with Central and building administration, we appear to have reached consensus on the issues, and even as this article is written, concrete steps are being taken to ameliorate conditions in the K-Center. Hopefully, a more relaxed atmosphere can now develop in which the creative energies of the staff are freed to make the K-Center what it should have been from the beginning.
NEW YORK TAX REFORM?
In a brilliant political move designed to launch his campaign for reelection, Governor Pataki has announced his plan for the reduction of local property taxes in the State of New York. The Governor's tax reduction plan is embedded in 1997-98 budget presented to the Legislature last week. Touted as containing a $302 million increase for elementary and secondary education, the Governor's budget fails to meet the $430 that would be necessary to cover the increased costs statewide due to inflation.
Governor Pataki's School Tax Relief program (STAR) is intended to be phased in over a five year period. In year one, senior citizens will receive a $10,000 exemption from the full value assessment of their homes. This figure will rise over the five year phase-in to $50,000. Other homeowners will eventually receive up to a $30,000 exemption phased in over four years. How this would work here on Long Island where we don't have full-value assessment remains to be determined.
The Pataki budget proposal has a few very ominous quirks to it. Under it, local school districts would be rewarded for freezing property taxes with a bonus in state aid. Additional state aid will be given to districts that reduce property taxes. The proposal as it is currently understood, however, does not insure that these bonuses would equal local reductions.
Also proposed is a legislative cap on property tax increases. Districts would be legally prevented from raising taxes beyond 4% or the amount of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. Furthermore, any school tax increase would have to be approved by two thirds of those voting on a local school budget.
Also of concern in the Governor's budget are some proposed changes in the funding of Special Education. In general, the goal is to provide financial incentives to encourage the placement of Special Ed students in the regular education setting.
Currently the state provides Excess Cost Aid, the revenue stream for Special Education, on the basis of the number of students enrolled in Special Education programs. The Pataki plan would change state aid to Special Education by making it a flat grant tied to the statewide average of students requiring Special Education services. To a district like Plainview with its Special Ed program that has attracted many people to our community, the Pataki plan could have very grave consequences.
Other notable facets of the Governor's education budget proposal include a call for Charter Schools, the abolition of funding for teacher centers, cuts in financial aid for students of the State University system as well as the elimination of a state program to supplement teacher salaries in the state's "big 5" school districts.
The Governor's budget proposal is sure to make education a focus of this session of the legislature. The PCT will be working with NEA/New York in a lobbying effort to see to it that we get what is necessary to preserve our academic program. One thing is certain, this will be an important political action year for our union.
DENIED GRADUATE/IN-SERVICE CREDIT?
Members will recall that upon the completion of our negotiations in September, there were some difficulties with the implementation of the new clause concerning graduate and in-service credits.
The PCT wants to be sure that this clause is being implemented properly and equitably. If you have been denied permission to take any course for salary advancement or if you have been discouraged by your supervisor from even applying to take a course, we need to hear from you. Keeping such information to yourself is a disservice to yourself and to your colleagues in that it potentially establishes a practice as to how the contract is to be interpreted.
Please let the PCT Office know if you have had any problems.
TENURE: A PILLAR OF EDUCATION - PART 2
by John Norman
Our first article in this series dealt with forms of attack on teacher tenure and on the hidden agendas of those who attack tenure. With this article, we begin to give actual illustrations of such attacks and the motives behind them.
We'll start with one well-known historical example far from Plainview and a more recent home grown case. In the 1920's, biology teacher John Scopes was teaching then scientifically accepted truth about evolution to his public high school students in Tennessee. For teaching the science he was hired to teach, Scopes was summarily fired because some people wanted religion, not science, taught in his classroom. Tennessee did not have tenure and Scopes had no tenure tights. Had he had those rights, Scopes would have been entitled to a hearing to defend his teaching of science. And had his tenure hearing been conducted by an impartial arbitrator, there is a good chance Scopes would have been reinstated.
More recently (maybe 1980 or so) in Plainview, a teacher was called into the principal's office regarding his teaching of the conflicts of the Middle East. The teacher was told that an influential local religious leader did not like what the teacher was teaching. The teacher, knowing he was protected by tenure, told the principal that the views of at least three different sides in the Middle East disputes were presented and discussed in class so that students can learn about, and learn to evaluate each of them. It was not, said the teacher, his job to give only one side's view. Therefore, the teacher told the principal, if the religious leader wanted to discuss good educational practice, he would have contacted the teacher first and the teacher would have been pleased to discuss it with him.
Imagine the very different response if that teacher did not have tenure. The teacher might have taught a very biased lesson to protect his job or might have avoided teaching about the subject altogether. Neither would be in the best interests of the students. The teacher, John Norman, never heard about the matter again, probably because the principal and the religious leader both knew that tenure protects a teacher's right to fairly present a controversial subject to students. Tenure is the pillar that protects quality education.
In every social group, there are always those who would repress the free exchange of ideas. If those people win, society is not safe for minorities, for dissident voices that often speak truth, or even for democracy. Tenure protects the free flow of ideas in our schools. We cannot do without it.
There must be, as we said earlier, a thousand stories among Plainview's teachers regarding the importance of tenure in protecting good educational practices that serve students' needs. We want to publish your stories in order to counter those who attack tenure saying that it harms education. We will protect the anonymity of those who desire it, although the point will be better served if teachers stand up to be counted individually as well as collectively through our union. Please share your story with your colleagues in later editions of this column, "Tenure: A Pillar of Quality Education." Send us a brief synopsis of your experience. We'll then contact you to get the more complete story and hopefully be able to publish it is a future edition of the PCT Pledge. Send your synopsis to the Editor of the PCT Pledge at the PCT office. Let's defend tenure. Let's defend good education!
SITE-BASED DILEMMA RESOLVED
With the opening this year of the Kindergarten Center, a question arose as to how site-based decision making was to operate in a building housing two school programs, Kindergarten and 1-4. The PCT took the position that there should be one site-based decision making committee for the building composed of representatives from both programs. The parents, administrator and the Superintendent proposed that there be two independent committees, one for each program.
After two meetings of the District-wide Site-based Committee, a resolution of this dispute was reached. The agreement calls for each program to have its own site-based team. The two teams will meet jointly unless either individual team chooses by consensus to meet separately on an issue solely related to its program. Individual teams are precluded from implementing any decision until such time as the other individual team has had an opportunity to review it and consider an objection. When there is such an objection, it is to be brought before the joint committee for resolution.
Most active members of the PCT are probably unaware that our union publishes a separate edition of this newspaper for the retiree membership of our organization.
Recently, we have had a few requests from active members who are in a pre-retirement mode to receive copies of the retiree edition of the Pledge. If you would like to receive the retiree edition of the Pledge, simply drop a note to the PCT Office.
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