Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Open Letter to Our Membership

There are precious few times in the history of the NBEA where action on the part of the entire membership has been requested. We do not take this action lightly and want to preface this letter with that knowledge upfront.

For the past year we have worked to keep you informed of the danger of co-locating Innovation Schools within our district. You should consider this appeal to be a final opportunity to have a voice in your own future and all the benefits it holds or loses should four New Bedford School Committee members accept the Innovation plans after March 27.

The contract you work under and the protection it provides you was forged by hundreds of New Bedford teachers, some of whom were arrested and jailed for their convictions and loyalty to our family of teachers. We have been told time and again, by fellow educators in communities near and far, that our contract is the best. They would give anything to have the specific delineation of duties, workload, seniority, transfer language and a plethora of other vitally important pieces that you have. You need to understand, no one GAVE us this contract. Teachers from across the hall and across the city walked away from their families, missed birthday parties, sat in angry silence while city lawyers berated them for their demands of fair, equitable treatment. Negotiation after negotiation, they walked away with exactly the same contract you did. When was the last time you were asked to reciprocate?

Let’s put this a slightly different way…

In the absolute mess that the School Department finds itself embroiled in, you can hardly afford to be polite, timid, standoffish, cautious, shy. There are twelve-hundred of you who will be impacted by Innovation schools. Their very proposals call for them to be “RIF”-proof. In other words, you pay for their mistakes. They get their money no matter what. You get what’s left. Sound familiar? Hundreds of Elementary teachers expected to be paid for additional planning time activities. What happened? Those people responsible for oversight of school monies had a bad day. You paid the price. Our contract, ratified by some five hundred members in October still sits waiting for a series of signatures because the elected body assumed there was money. You pay the price daily. Two teams submit proposals to take your money for their Innovation parachutes and you will pay the price.

Let’s be frightfully honest here… We can’t afford to be silent on this issue! Our students depend on us. We depend on each other. What message do you think we will send if we remain silent on this issue? We need to understand that our strength comes from our collective. If we don’t rise up for what is right, what will our silence communicate to our students, our colleagues, and to the public? Silence can be deafening. Silence can be weakening.

What kind of negotiations await your colleagues when we begin this process later this year?

There is no Union, no Association, no Family of Teachers without you. If you put yourself on the sidelines and take no action you will find your landscape forever changed. Please turn the page for a clearer vision…

If you have worked with our Family of Teachers for ten years or less, you’re a Newbie, despite your dislike for the word. You have anywhere from 25 – 30 years left. Your college loans have suffocated many of you and you dearly hope that your future raises will help pay them off. Most of you will marry and want a family, a home, a comfortable life that allows you to live a dream that a fractured membership will make nearly impossible. If you walk away from our decades of work, or simply ignore our call, you will lose protections, work longer hours, more days and for less dollars than you earn today. Some of you might even leave this profession due to its increasing demands and have to begin anew. Or… you could stand up for yourselves…

More than 10 years? Less than 25? Welcome to the Middlin’s. You’re not going anywhere. Every town and city is having budgetary problems. They can’t afford you. You’re capable, smart, hitting your stride and… too expensive. Your career is here with us. But if you believe that the next 15 to 25 years are going to be easy for you, we need to have a long chat. You’ll have a far more difficult time watching your kids play soccer, saving for their college costs and having those long discussions with your spouse about your workload. Innovation Schools and their Charter-like demands will stress what remains of your system and you’ll wish for the good old days of 2013… Ignore the wolf at the door and your family will pay a very high price in the future. Moreover, if the Charter and Innovation school people take away a larger share of your students and the Newbies leave the field, your retirement system begins to crumble. Or… you could rise up and find your voice…

Nearly done? Welcome to the Lifers. It’s a different reality than when you began, isn’t it? You could probably ride this one out, presuming you’re fine with 80% of what you’re making, at least for a while. Being quiet or grumbling isn’t going to help you in your Golden Years. If the Retirement System erodes because there is a constant turnover of Newbies contributing 11% of their entry-level salaries or the Middlin’s don’t find their voices in future negotiations, your future could easily be interrupted by a call or telegram informing you that Retirement will need to adjust your monthly. Don’t believe me? It’s already happened in Rhode Island and elsewhere. It’s pretty simple math, really. Less in, less out. Stay quiet and watch the money flow…away from you. Or you could take matters in your hands this one time…

Which is not to say that it’s too late. In fact, the time is ripe. Ripe for you to take your place alongside hundreds, yes hundreds, of your colleagues and say ENOUGH. For the last year a small band of your Family of Teachers has railed against three of your own colleagues whose proposal gives them unprecedented control over a school within a school. Railed against three people from God-knows-where who want to take over the second floor of Roosevelt and mix Kindergarteners with 8th graders. They’ve done so to help you keep what’s yours. Along the way they’ve asked you, pleaded with you, to join them in fighting for what’s ours. Complacency will not serve our students.

We need your voice, added to your colleagues, in this last push before it is too late and you live with the results of silence. Turn for the last word…

Two nights are scheduled for a final conversation on the subject of the Innovation schools. OnWednesday evening, March 20 there will be a special meeting of the School Committee to publicly question the design teams of the Renaissance and Esperanza schools. We’d love to have a place at the table that night, but it won’t happen. We worry that it will be a series of softball questions, even though our team presented a list of more than 50 legal concerns to every member of the School Committee and the Interim Superintendent.

One week later, on Wednesday evening, March 27 you will need to decide which reality you want to be your legacy. On that evening there is a Public Forum for comment on the inclusion of the two innovation schools. Open door, open floor policy, just like America. This is the night you choose to let four people determine your fate or take your fate in your own hands. It’s political. It gets messy sometimes. Democracy is like that. Ask anyone who lives in North Korea, Egypt, Syria or the People’s Republic of China.

This is a night to TiVo “American Idol”. It’s a night to apologize to the kids for being out. This is a one-time call to send a clear message that the teachers of the New Bedford Public School system are worthy of all the letters that follow their names. It is a night of conscience and a night for clarity. To that end, we understand that there are among you, people who have no problems speaking before a group of students but come up short on such a grand stage. We’ve got that covered, too… Here’s your statement, made clear for all to hear… Add to it all you want, but begin with this…

IF you are a New Bedford teacher, educated outside our system and living outside city limits:

My name is __________. I am a New Bedford teacher and I do NOT agree with the establishment of Innovation schools in my system.

That’s it, move along… IF you are a New Bedford teacher, educated within our system but living outside city limits:

My name is __________. I am a former New Bedford student/graduate and a New Bedford teacher and I do NOT agree with the establishment of Innovation schools in my system.

Move along and thank you. IF you are New Bedford teacher, living within city limits:

My name is____________. I am a New Bedford teacher and a city resident. I do NOT agree with the establishment of Innovation Schools in my system AND… I VOTE.

Thank you for your help, well said. Finally, the Tour de Force…

My name is ____________. I am a New Bedford teacher, a former student/graduate of New Bedford schools, a resident of New Bedford. I do NOT agree with the establishment of Innovation schools in my system AND… I VOTE.


NBEA Board of Directors


Anonymous said...

Don't forget to add....parent of a child in the New Bedford Public Schools!

Anonymous said...

Amen to that. I will be there with plenty to say. We all need to be at the meeting on the 27th.