Defend Parkrose schools — it’s about time

March 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm 2 comments

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PARKROSE school board has not shifted its contract offer once in more than ten months. The Parkrose teachers’ union, the PFA, has made five significant moves to try to get an agreement on the teachers’ contract.

Now the board and superintendent have declared an impasse. Unless negotiations produce a settlement in the next few weeks, the board can unilaterally impose its final offer any time after Wednesday 11 April. Update: The board has issued a letter of intent saying it will impose its contract on Tuesday 17 April and PFA members have voted by more than 90% to give the authority for a strike Wednesday 25 April onwards.

The board’s contract will mean up to $1,200 a month less in teachers pay for the next six months plus between $300 and $600 less each month after that.

Of course, teachers are worried about such punitive pay cuts. They have families too. But the real fears are about how they can continue to do their jobs well and the future of education in Parkrose. Teachers’ working conditions are the learning conditions for students.

For the teachers it’s about time.

This year teachers agreed to a new schedule that increased their hours in the classroom by nearly 15% — nearly three weeks extra teaching time a year. The number of students teachers now see each day has more than doubled, up to 240 each day for some teachers. Class sizes have soared, some are now as high as 40+.

And time for daily preparation was cut in half, to less than 50 minutes.

On average teachers now have 56 seconds for each student each week in prep time. That to cover lesson prep, assessment, grading.

Because these schedules and prep cuts were imposed in September, the superintendent and board disingenuously and loudly claim their imposed contract will not affect teacher’s time. It’s only about greedy and selfish teachers wanting to take more cash they say.

Teachers’ workloads have gone up to make up for almost two dozen teacher jobs lost. Without the remaining teachers picking up that loss, many students could not now accrue the classes and credits needed for graduation. Teachers are more than doing their bit.

This year’s incoming freshpeople are going to struggle to graduate, simply by virtue of the fact that there are too few teachers to teach too few courses for them to get the requisite 26 credits. The arts and foreign languages have been particularly hard hit.

All this is causing serious stress inside the schools… for students as well as teachers.

The teachers’ union, PFA, wants to discuss workload issues. The teachers are particularly resentful of the increased form-filling bureaucracy insisted on by the superintendent, which seems more about the superintendent imposing her inflexible managerial will rather than helping teachers use valuable time efficiently.

Arrogant and pompous lectures by board members — particularly the board chair — about how to be a good teacher just exacerbate teacher frustration. Board members have barely spent hours let alone, days, weeks, months and years in the classroom.

The board and superintendent refuse to even talk about such issues, issues which seriously impact students. Ask your own student.

Teachers know school budgets are tight. That’s why last year the teachers agreed to ten unpaid furlough days — a 5% cut in pay — in a bid to keep teachers jobs. But the district still pink-slipped 13 teachers, including gutting another six from the high school.

This year teachers have offered a package that cuts their pay by up to $200 a month, with five days furlough this year and another six next year as well as changes to benefits packages.

But this is not good enough for the board and superintendent.

They also want to be able to tear up the contract any time and demand more cuts from the teachers… most likely more cuts in the school year next year but not excluding more pay and benefits cuts.

They claim there is no spare cash, period. But the audit and small print show there is enough to fund the difference between the board’s proposed punitive pay cut for teachers and what would still be a substantial pay cut for teachers, but a pay cut that teachers and their families can survive.

More than $2.2 million in the budget is unassigned. A further staggering $0.5 million is assigned to teacher early retirement, to cover the unlikely event that all those who could qualify for early retirement will all apply in one go. And there appear to be bits and pieces salted away in other budget heads. And for the past years the board has always spent short of its budget as every final audit — including this year’s — shows.

Teachers are not saying those sums should be assigned to their pay, far from it: but it is possible for the board to negotiate and move to make bearable the pay cut the teachers have said they will take. $400,000 is the difference between the survivable pay cut put forward by the teachers and the punitive pay cut demanded by the board and superintendent.

After all, there is enough money to fund a $7,000 rise for the superintendent, taking her total package to some $170,000 a year, $30,000 more than that of Sam Adams, mayor of the city of Portland.

And while teachers jobs have gone from the Parkrose classrooms — 23 in the past three years — jobs have been added in the superintendent’s district office.

This rigid and vindictive attitude by the superintendent and her board seems to indicate there is more to this year’s negotiations than meets the eye.

The reality is the school board and superintendent are exploiting the budget crisis to go much further than just balancing a budget. They are using the budget crisis, shock-and-awe, to destroy the teachers as a collective body, destroy their union. Inevitably this must undermine teaching and real education for school students in Parkrose.

What the board wins now, it has no intention of giving back later. Its proposed cuts and imposed working conditions — for students as well as teachers — inside the schools will be permanent.

When school funding eases the school board will not come back, saying words to the effect of, hey guys, thanks, let’s talk.

As the board chair angrily told PFA negotiators — when no members of the public were present — the board simply thinks teachers are overpaid. And that’s what it’s about. Cutting teachers down to low-paid classroom operatives. The result will be a dumbing down of public education in Parkrose, lessons and student support reduced to the lowest rote common denominator.

This is about cynically using a real budget crisis to tear apart teachers’ pay and working conditions, and emasculate the union as a credible negotiating partner. For ever… or, at least the next decade.

There are clear signs that the board is working in collusion with the neighboring Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds school boards to undermine all teachers across the East County. The aim appears to be to gut the Oregon Education Association in the East County area.

Gresham-Barlow school board has voted to impose its teacher-busting contract on 22 March and Reynolds is expected to declare impasse shortly. The three boards are coordinating their timetables to weaken the impact of any teacher strikes. Teachers need to give ten days notice of strike action.

Whether or not it is the intention of individual board members, their version of the contract will further reduce the student experience in Parkrose to the lowest test-based production line. The actions of the board and superintendent will make teaching in Parkrose become a low-low middle class job, not even a profession. And the result will be to make education even more a mechanical chore for the students.

Planned creative lessons will give way to whatever can be scrambled together, focusing on test needs. If senior experienced teachers retire early, so what? After all, there’s lots of young, eager new graduates willing to take low-paid jobs. Why pay experienced teachers? Why, even, encourage or help young teachers become experienced teachers?

Gresham-Barlow is imposing a contract that allows it to get rid of experienced teachers in favor of lower-paid, inexperienced teachers.

The boards just need cheap, licensed warm bodies to stand at the front of overcrowded classrooms teaching to the test. It’s the test numbers they follow. And when they go up — which they have — the Parkrose board passes a resolution congratulating… itself!

The Parkrose board clearly signaled its attitude when it slashed the working hours and conditions of the Parkrose classified staff — custodians, educational assistants, admin staff — cutting benefits and pay to poverty levels. And leaving the most vulnerable students without the full support needed.

The superintendent’s increasingly outdated autocratic, mechanical and bureaucratic management style — modeling her much-touted need for collaboration by refusing to collaborate with her own staff — points to a fundamental lack of inspirational vision, a future of Parkrose schools staffed by low-paid teachers working at a level barely above test-prep crammers.

Large class sizes, rote lessons, little support, oppressive demoralizing management, teaching to the bureaucratic form and mechanical decree, all-important tests, bewildered and uninspired students. Factories, not schools.

Please show support by liking Parkrose Faculty Association on facebook.

The PFA web site is at parkrose-faculty.org

Follow twitter.com/parkroseteacher for updates of teacher actions

Follow me on twitter.com/pifactory

 

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