Saturday, May 17, 2008

Last night was a Shabbat service honoring our religious school teachers...and, in honor of the occasion, I was subjected to a phone survey on the state of New Orleans education, with bonus questions concerning the Hornets, shortly before my attendance at the service. When one of the first questions concerns what I think New Orleans needs the most and my first impulse is to say, "Where do I start???"... I initially thought this survey was gonna be a farce. In a way, it was, but not in the way I thought it would be.

The number that appeared on the caller ID was from Hudson, Florida - and I want to try calling it back to see exactly which organization was conducting this survey. The queries began with what I thought about various local politicians and other notorious notables (Bobby Jindal, Hizzoner the Walking Id, Mary Landrieu, RSD superintendent Paul Vallas, BESE bigwig Paul Pastorek, and George Shinn) and I had to answer in a multiple choice fashion ranging from favorable to unfavorable, with "somewhat"s inbetween. "Most of the people named can go to hell" was not an option, sadly. It was where most of my answers lay - but instead, with the exception of Landrieu, most of the people named got "unfavorable"s from li'l ol' me. Yeah, I had to settle.

Then the questions about the charter schools came. The survey deviated from the norm because I was able to engage the surveyor in some conversation about the questions he was asking me. The man himself had a son who was invited to attend a charter school in the Florida area - though it was a good school, he had some reservations concerning the elitism of a system that professed to educate all, yet to do it "better" under the guise of this system of having a board of directors in charge and semi-autonomous sponsorship from outside the traditional public school system. To put that "equality" in perspective, I was asked about the fairness of this sponsorship and whether or not it really contributed to the rebuilding of the New Orleans public schools - and elicited some information concerning the added wrench in the works of grants from the Walton Family Foundation. 1500 scholarships are out there for families of K-3rd grade students who want to use them to head to greener pastures at private and parochial schools in the area, with more grants in the works for students in older grades to be added each year. This, coupled with consideration for school vouchers, coupled with the recent money woes for the RSD, makes for an unequal playing field for students that hasn't been all that level to begin with (unfortunately, Cliff and some other parents I have been talking with know this all too well). It also makes for a rocky road for a school system that was broken a long time ago - and , if recent trends continue, will have an extremely hard time getting off it knees and on its own two feet.

In this way, a ten-minute survey was drawn out to twenty-plus minutes. I thank the surveyor who shared his own misgivings and opinions with me as I shared mine with him.

For other possible partners in this effort to make school choice a choice stacked against recovering traditional public schools, go here.

For evidence that programs to throw new teachers into this lion's den of sketchily supported schools are simply NOT working, head to G-Bitch (another hint can be found here). A key quote from her post:

And locally, the uncertainty about benefits for long-term Orleans teachers now in charter schools may have a temporary reprieve–HB 718 has made it out of the Education Committee and will give Orleans teachers a 5 year leave of absence, 2 more years to figure out the retirement benefit issue.

puts my recent answer to a query on a recent post of mine into a slightly different light.

...the charter for my son's school says that the teachers will not be tenured, sick leave policies from the OPSD will not be grandfathered in, but "accumulated sick leave can be converted into pension compensation in the Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana upon retirement. Provisions will be made for health insurance including short and long term disability.

"Individuals who were employed by the local public school system, and who are on a leave of absence, may continue their participation in the Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana or elect a 401K. Newly hired teachers will be offered the 401K only. We are investigating a 403(b) retirement plan for employees...."

My son's school "will not be participating in the United Teachers of New Orleans collective bargaining agreement with New Orleans Public Schools."

Their salaries are a 2-3% increase over the OPSB salary ranges, for my son's school, which means they must stay in the approx. $30k-$48K range, but they cannot pay more than that.

Because the OPSD was not the greatest at taking care of their teachers, I have to wonder whether the teachers in the schools here will keep this up for much longer before they start looking around for places where costs of living aren't going to be galloping ahead of their salaries and benefits. Yes, this is a nationwide problem that needs to be seriously addressed and soon, but it isn't usually coupled with trying to rebuild a ruined city in the bargain.

Increasing the three-year "leave of absence" to five years for the OPSD teachers, under the current conditions I have described above, is delaying an inevitable decision on the part of the teaching staff of the schools here to leave for greener pastures elsewhere - whether it be schools in other parishes or in other parts of the country.

Students and parents can only suffer educationally and monetarily in this scenario.


Anonymous said...

I recieved the same phone call, and I asked the surveyor where they were.

Florida, but she said her company is based out of TExas and they have no idea who commmisions the calls.

She thought some of the questions were misleading and ridiculous as well.

Anonymous said...

Don't you find it ironic that the Walton Family Foundation which has created a monolith which siphons off money from local entities which chokes the funding of local public schools would engage at this level?

Somewhere in this concept is a parable of irony.

Leigh C. said...

It's all driving me nuts. Especially since I learned about this tidbit of information from the Gambit this morning:

I think I'm gonna just shoot myself now.