Friday, October 10, 2008

There are some nice words from new school board members this morning. Folks such as Ira Thomas, Brett Bonin, and Thomas Robichaux seem to have a good eye and ear for what is really happening around the OPSD and RSD:

Attorney Brett Bonin, a new member, said he also supports charters but wants to see a balance between open enrollment and charters with admission criteria.

"There have been a lot of great charters. They've done a great job, " he said. "They're many problems that have to be addressed."

Among the new members, only (Ira) Thomas staunchly supports the United Teachers of New Orleans, saying the union is needed to protect worker rights. The union backed Thomas and incumbent Cynthia Cade, who won re-election. The union also supported three unsuccessful candidates.

The union and the board are in the midst of "ongoing negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement, " said board Chief Financial Officer Stan Smith.

New member Thomas Robichaux said he probably won't support an immediate return to collective bargaining, particularly without contract provisions that make it easier to fire bad teachers.

"The teachers union in New Orleans has got a black eye, " he said. "They are kind of labeled as obstructionists when it comes to reform."

I would ask the mostly new school board and the BESE to take a look at a publication that has been a slight bane for me in the past, but hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Specifically, the article in this October's issue on pages 46-47 by Dawn Ruth on teachers' lost benefits:

Take Janice Cullen, for example.

She retired in 1985 from the Orleans Parish School system after teaching American history and Spanish for 20 years. All went well for a while. With a $750 benefit, she found she could easily make up the difference in her $23,000 salary by picking up part-time employment. She didn't need a job that offered health benefits because it came with her teacher retirement as long as she paid a lump sum premium every six months.

For a while, she paid for an American Association of Retired Persons policy but when she turned 65, the age at which most people get Medicare benefits, the AARP dropped the policy. During the time she worked for the Orleans Parish School Board teachers didn't pay Medicare taxes so she wasn't entitled to those benefits either. Now she's 66 years old with no health insurance and no way to get it.

"That wasn't right. I was a person who paid into it for over 20 years," Cullen says. "That just proves that education doesn't have as good of benefits as people think."

Many recently retired teachers are suffering, too, for a variety of reasons, mostly connected to Hurricane Katrina. When the state fired 8,600 teachers after the storm, many weren't hired back. Some went to work for quasi-independent charter schools but their health insurance didn't follow them because the New Orleans school system had a self-insured program.

Many face losing their health benefits because of the same irrevocable rule that snared Cullen back in the late 1980's. The state is still considering working solutions for the working charter teachers but many retired teachers have fallen into Cullen's quagmire.

Take note, new members. The problem of how to replace the many numbers of teachers who are about to retire was brought up by newly reelected board member Lourdes Moran a few weeks ago. You're gonna have an even harder time counting on long-term replacements unless the problem of teacher benefits gets solved, among many other problems involving teacher salaries and, of course, accountability.

The one sour note in today's Times-Picayune article:

Overwhelmingly, the new members are in favor of returning the schools to local governance at some point. New member Woody Koppel, a real estate investor, said he would consider chartering schools as they return to the system.

"There wouldn't be a high number of people wanting to go to charters if they weren't successful in some right, " said Koppel, who also wants to look into selling long-vacant board properties to help pay down the debt. "They don't have all the type of scores we would like to have, but they're going in the right direction."

Yep, it's leaning towards the "go charter and save your school building" plan. If it ain't occupied, we can count on Koppel to be the one staunch advocate for selling it off - which is another reason why public input into the School Facilities Master Plan is so important. Get it in at masterplan@rsdla.net before October 17th.

1 comment:

G Bitch said...

"There wouldn't be a high number of people wanting to go to charters if they weren't successful in some right, " said Koppel, who also wants to look into selling long-vacant board properties to help pay down the debt. "They don't have all the type of scores we would like to have, but they're going in the right direction."

Koppel is bad at logic, like most people. The charters in NO opened without any kind of local track record. Parents sent their kids to charters because at first they were the only ones open. It took the RSD time to open non-charter, open-admission schools and by then, they were truly last resorts. The enrollment of a school does not necessarily or automatically equal success. The management of a school doesn't automatically or necessarily mean success. If Koppel did any homework, which it's clear he didn't, he would know that there are charters in our city that are as unsuccessful and plagued by problems as the public schools they replaced. More needs to change in a school than the name and who allegedly manages it. It's 'great minds' like these that will kill our city. Because if there are no teachers or schools, what the fuck do you do?