Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Truth or Rhetoric?

This morning I received a copy of a flyer that was prepared by the Swanton Education Association (translation: our teachers' union) and distributed by teacher volunteers to people who came to the Open House sessions last night at Park and Crestwood schools. It makes some pretty strong statements against the Board of Education. Are these statements true? Is it worth our effort to examine them? I think we should take a closer look at what is printed on this flyer, because it is common for false or skewed perceptions to be taken as fact, with the result that the perception becomes "truth" to those who hold that false perception.

So let's look more closely at what is printed on this flyer, and let's take the statements and claims one at a time.

1st statement: Swanton teachers are in favor of restoring programs within the school district, like a drug education program and the Honors program.
Response: Those of you who read our first Board newsletter are already familiar with high school principal Steve Gfell's approach to improving our high school curriculum, and the sound reasoning behind it. In addition, this school district has several drug, alcohol, and tobacco education programs already in place - for example, we have partnered with the SACC in establishing the SEED (Students Encouraging Educated Decisions) program, and some of our other programs begin as early as grade school, such as the D.A.R.E. program. There are other things in progress to help our kids in these areas as well. One successful program from years back (our Youth-to-Youth program) is in the planning stages for a return performance, although all of the details have not been finalized as of this writing.

2nd statement: As a result of practices currently in place, including failure to offer and support solid programs to prepare students for college . . .
Response: Our high school curriculum is the best ever, with the changes implemented by Mr Gfell. He would welcome any resident to call and talk with him about it - please feel free to do so!

3rd statement: . . . unusual hiring practices . . .
Response: The SEA was involved with all of our hiring of administrators, etc. so I'm unsure to what they refer here.

4th statement: . . . failure to support community-led efforts to improve the safety and well-being of your children . . .
Response: hmmm .... Again, it's not clear to what they are referring, but if it's the most recent grant from the Department of Education that we rejected, our residents know full well why we turned that particular grant down. The refusal of one grant certainly does not diminish in any way all of the other things we do in support of our kids!

5th statement: . . . many students leave the area for other schools, and experienced teachers are leaving for other school districts where they can get better pay and benefits.
Response: Wow! There's a mouthful! We did have 2 teachers leave our district to work closer to where they currently live. I honestly do not know what their new wage and benefit package contains, although they would be hard pressed to beat the health insurance plan we have in our district. One of our new teachers left a teaching job in another district to teach in our district because it is closer to his home. As to students 'leaving the area for other schools, I would be interested in the research behind this statement. We have many kids who choose Penta for the last part of their high school years, which is a great option for those who want it. We have kids who live in our district who attend private school or are home-schooled. All districts have these situations.

6th statement: The Swanton Education Association has been bargaining with the school board since April to reach a fair settlement in contract negotiations, but there has been little progress.
Response: That there has been little progress is a TRUE statement. Unfortunately, the SEA set their demands in stone and have refused to budge. Last Friday, we requested that they take our offer to their members for consideration - they refused to do so. With the nature of union negotiations being what they are, I am not at liberty to give any details - but if anyone reading this is a teacher, I urge you to ask your SEA representatives for the facts and numbers. They represent YOU as a teacher, and you have the right to ask them these things. Find out what they are demanding on your behalf.

7th statement: There is money available for a fair settlement, but we see this refusal to be reasonable as just another example of the school board's failure to understand and serve the needs of its community.
Response: Well, I guess it depends on what your definition of "fair" happens to be, right? We have offered a fair settlement in our opinion, but it is not what the SEA has demanded. Again - if you are a teacher, ask your representatives for the details.

8th statement: Just like you have been given many false promises by the school board, so too have the teachers been promised a return to levels and standards set years ago and have not managed to get anything fair in return for their hard work and sacrifice.
Response: Does anyone know what promises they're talking about? I have no idea what prior boards may or may not have 'promised' - but this board has only pledged to reduce the income tax, and that's what we are doing with the levy in November. As to 'returning to levels' from years ago, I sure hope they aren't talking about going back to the fiscal irresponsibility of the past, because this district got itself into serious financial difficulties years ago, and nobody is interested in doing that again! And, again - how do they define, "fair" ? I am hard pressed to figure out what they're angry about!

9th statement: . . . contact your board members and ask them to settle the contract quickly
Response: Please feel free to contact your board members with any question or concern you may have about the district. We welcome your input and participation toward the goal of giving our kids the best educational tools they need to succeed as productive adults in our society.

As to settling the teachers' contract, it takes 2 to tango! The Board cannot force the SEA to accept our offer, no matter how good it is. At the very least, we wish they would take our offer to their membership for a vote - but, thus far, they have refused to do so. Please do not hesitate to let either group - the Board of Education or the SEA - know your views on the matter!

(Oh - one more thing. As you read of the SEA statements that "a unanimous vote" has been taken, please understand that doesn't automatically mean that all teachers were in attendance to vote. A mere 5 people, all voting the same, could qualify as "a unanimous vote" - but clearly it would not reflect the sentiments of the entire teaching staff . . . just something to remember!)

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