School has just opened and you’re sitting in a cold classroom. You look around and see few resources” some six year-old computers, a little of this and that, and some supplies you bought with your own money. You are prepared to start your day. You’ve done your planning as you always do, and you anxiously and gladly await the arrival of your students. In short, you’re ready to do your job, as you always are. Your colleagues are ready to do their jobs. It’s the city leaders who have not done theirs.
Today’s Globe reports that the Superintendent will propose tonight that perhaps a dozen schools will be closed or merged. Principals and headmasters at these schools were notified yesterday. Some got the news and cried. They’ve been let down, too. Some of the principals hightailed it out of Court St. after hearing the news, and told their staffs right away. The sudden run away from Court St. is symbolic as well. These leaders felt a special obligation to notify their staff of the news, as these schools are the embodiment of good teamwork. Now they have another battle to fight: keeping their schools open.
Other principals will or have met with their staff and told them that the cause is helpless, that the Superintendent will not change her mind. These people are not good leaders. They are apologists, disrespecting the good work their staff has done day in and day out. What they ought to be telling their staff is that the Superintendent’s plan is not an educational plan, and the school ought to mobilize to fight the closing “ even if it is an uphill battle. Truth is, there can be no pretense that the Superintendent’s proposal is an educational plan. It is an economic plan, plain and simple, to drive out small schools whether the schools are working well or not, whether they have made progress or not. Principals and headmasters who are real leaders will support their staff in trying to keep their schools open.
Yesterday’s Globe had an editorial that in essence told the Superintendent to close schools or her own job was at stake. It was a harsh editorial. The Globe speaks for the power structure in Boston, a power structure that cares more about money than supporting a quality public education.
Closings Financial not Educational
Why the school closings? Finances. The city leaders supported the so-called Ed Reform package last winter and it’s costing them big time. City-housed charter schools currently drain $60 million annually from our school budget. Our city leaders supported the legislation even though it will double the number of charter schools over the next three years. The loss of $60 million will become a loss of $70+ million or so next year, and a loss of $110 in three years. The primary reason the Superintendent says she needs to close a dozen schools is to help offset the growing financial gap caused by the steady expansion of charter schools.
If the school closings plan is accomplished, the City will now have surplus space to dispose of. (Think of the concept of ‘surplus space” as you observe your colleagues providing services in every nook, cranny, and closet in your school.) In a cruel irony, don’t be surprised to see the charters lease buildings that are today viable, Boston schools. In fact, you can bet that charter school entrepreneurs are salivating at this prospect this morning just as we are lamenting our possible loss. The Globe story this AM affirms that.
Health Insurance Changes Proposed
Yesterday we awoke to other bad news as well: The mayor has filed a home rule petition to take our health insurance, and that of all city employees, out of collective bargaining. The city’s panel would set all co-pays, deductibles, and all out-of-pocket expenses, This proposal will cost the typical city employee anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per year. The proposal was egged on by the Boston Foundation. (See here.) This proposal will be fought at City Council and the legislature (we are joining later this AM with other city unions in a coalition to fight it), and we will keep you informed. We will need your help in working against this proposal, and we will be in contact.
Today as you look around and talk about the issues of school closings and medical care, remember that we have been let down by our city leaders. Instead of advocating for more funding and improved resources, it appears that they have given up on us and our needs. We will not give up.
What Could Our City Leaders Do to Help?
What could our city leaders do? Instead of closing more schools, our leaders could tell the state at next week’s charter school hearing (City Hall, Tuesday, 12/7) that the City needs more resources and until the charter school reimbursement formula is corrected, no more Boston-based charters ought to be opened. Courageous city leaders in Revere did just that the other day.
What else could our city leaders do? Instead of closing more schools, our leaders could ask the large non-profits to pay for their fair share of resources. Simply, there is no excuse for Northeastern to pay just $30,000 (not a typo) in lieu of property taxes. That’s inexcusable. Instead of giving the city money to pay for the funding of services its students use, NU gave the city some used football equipment this year. Thanks, but we need actual dollars. (A new national report, by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, details how many tens of millions of revenue is lost in Boston annually because of the nonprofits’ failure to assume any responsibility to pay their fair share.)
Boston’s UP Academy Cherry-Picks its Students
Lastly, on the issue of charters…charters do not educate all students. We do, and we do so proudly. We know that charters cherry pick their students. It is shameful that our leaders have allowed them to do so. We have little control over what the independent charters do. But we ought to have some control over what UP Academy,the school that was granted a no-bid contract to take over the Gavin, does. And UP has begin to cherry pick students from 5th grade Advanced Work Classes. A letter has gone out to select 5th grade AWC students asking them if they wish to enroll at UP Academy. It’s one thing to give these folks a no-bid contract, but it’s quite another to allow them to cherry pick our students from right under our own noses.
By cherry picking our students, the charters are creating a dual system of schools, what the Boston Phoenix called an apartheid-like system of schools. We are moving in that direction in Boston: We have one school system for those who can choose to go a system of schools that tolerates no breach of discipline and that demands parental involvement without having to educate any SPED of ELL students. And then we have the Boston Schools which have to worry each and every day if there’s enough heat in their classrooms.
The school closing issue is tied to the issue of health insurance. Both are tied to the issue of adequate funding and the growth of charters. We are determined to fight all of these issues. Our schools are suffering and our children are suffering. And our city leaders have let us down.
There’s a school committee meeting tonight, next Wednesday, 12/8, and a final vote on 12/5. All meetings are at English High School at 6:00 PM.
Boston Teachers Union