Saturday, August 08, 2009

The F-Word

I was with a group of teachers today when the magic F-word came up.


Along with a completely screwed up budget, the State of California also made it legal for school districts to cut the school year by five days, thus potentially saving a district of my size quite the pretty penny.  It would require teachers to miss those five days and not be paid for those five days.  That means that a furlough must pass the muster of the teacher's union, which is not easy to do when neither side trusts one another. 

This became a part of the conversation today, whether or not a furlough should be accepted, and if so, then when should the furlough be instituted.

Furloughs came up in my district last March, and as expected, everyone hated the idea.  It didn't help that it was presented as "take the furlough or you risk young seniority jobs", but I was looking at economic numbers and remember, labor is the top cost.  It could have been worse.  In Willits they threatened to lay everyone on staff off and rehire them at a hair under full time, thus screwing up retirement and pay, if the furlough wasn't considered.  Again, it could have been presented a little more gently.  Hell, I'm striking if my district lays me off and screws me over....and I'm slapping my union executive board for even letting it get that far.

In the end, neither Willits nor Ukiah furloughed last year, but it seems more possible this year and next.  With the group of teachers I was with, the question was more a "when" than an "if".  And look, if the district is financially strapped, and the admins and supers are willing to eat it with the rest of us, and it saves the jobs of good teachers, I'll take the furlough.  It makes sense not only to keep the district afloat, but it also becomes good PR at a time when teachers are not exactly at the top of the national rankings.  Bad schools, huge budgets to education, bad test scores, teachers sleeping with kids, "summers off", we could use a little positive image creation in the community.  Take the furlough and it looks like the schools are sacrificing like the rest of the country for the good of all involved.

And before my union brethren go all up in a tizzy and reach for the pitchfork, I'd like to point you to a recent Economist article that confirms that more and more Americans are sacrificing for the better of everyone involved. 

In a society known for competitive individualism, pay cuts and furloughs are calling forth a spirit of collectivism. Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Micro Devices and FedEx have trimmed rank-and-file pay, but their chief executives have taken 20% pay cuts, says Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement consultancy. Slumping tax collections forced city administrators in Lima, Ohio, to draw up contingencies for a 10% cut in hours for all but emergency workers. But first the city’s eight most senior administrators gave up a 2.5% pay rise.

Obviously the upper management has to buy in or the whole thing won't work.  But if the union says no, we off good young teachers and get the image of petulant children that are trying to be outside of current economic conditions.

Then comes the "when" of the furlough.  Today I was with high school teachers, many of them honors and Advanced Placement teachers.  The answer was pretty unanimous; end the year a week early.  This way students get full time to get ready for STAR testing, Advanced Placement testing, and it works much better for the flow.  That would seem like the most logical choice.  Only teachers aren't always logical.  The following quote was from union meetings last year. 

The only way this community will see how bad things really are, the only way to move the community to act, is to take the week off in the middle of the school year.  Then the parents have to change things because kids are at home and people can see how school budget cuts really negatively effect the community. 

That was a direct quote from another teacher in the union, and many paraphrased similar quotes were uttered as well.  The arrogance really is astonishing, and embarrassing.  As if the community doesn't already feel the impact on the economy, we might as well piss off people because we feel slighted by the current situation.  Yeah, you can count me out of this group of teachers.  Let's see who benefits from shutting the school down in mid-session:

-Not the good teachers, because they still have to prepare kids for content testing in May.

-Not the administration, because they will be dealing with angry parents and angry good teachers that still have to prepare kids for testing.

-Not the public, because most will leave kids alone at home or have to find child care which comes at a substantial cost, and the older kids will just be let loose on the town.

-Not the district, because they are going to get drilled by an angry public and administrators being kicked around by the angry public.

-Not the coaches, because whether they are furloughed or not, other teams will play and practice.

So who does it benefit?  The answer is simple.

Bad teachers.  Teachers that don't have enough to do and teachers whose agenda is not the kids, it's themselves.  And while they address their own agenda, they really don't care who gets nailed to the wall as long as they can show the world that they are irritated.

Thankfully, the teachers I was with today seemed to agree that furloughs suck, but if needed, they should be at the end of the year.  And also thankfully, most of the conversation was centered on teachers being excited about the beginning of the new year, sharing ideas, and planning different methods of collaboration and context.   

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