Tuesday, 5-21-2002

Dancing with the DFT

Dear Political Diary,

Until Three O'clock this afternoon I had no intention of supporting the flawed DFT proposal to save the seve- period-day. I wanted to support an agreement much like last year's but the DFT had no intention of repeating their gesture from the year before. Instead they crafted an unacceptable proposal and led the teachers and public believe it was just duckie because it quacked. But....... at Three O'clock I reversed gears and pulled out my recipe book. I wanted to read the instructions for cooking duck la orange.

I'm not entirely sure why I changed my mind. In part, I had the palpable sense that the DFT might be trying to maneuver the School Board into making an unpopular decision.  It wasn't just that. Early on I told many students and parents that if the teachers repeated their generous offer of the previous year I would go along with it. I was pretty sure a majority of the School Board would agree with me. I didn't want to disappoint anyone.

Unfortunately, it had become apparent that the DFT wasn't interested in repeating the previous year's offer. Certainly the March  memo sent to teacher union leaders made this clear. I could understand the teacher's reluctance to make the same offer a second year in a row. The staff training money helps teachers climb up the pay scale. They had every right to use staff development funds for their own benefit. Had the teachers chosen not to make the offer I would not have objected. I did, however, object to a bait and switch offer. The Board's dilemma was trying to explain that the teacher's offer wasn't the same as before.

One of the things that had steeled my resolve to turn down the new proposal was the complete disregard of the DFT to work with our administrators to craft a suitable proposal. Instead the DFT came up with a take-it-or-leave it proposal. After the teachers voted to accept the one-sided proposal the union sent the School Board members an argumentative and menacing letter. The letter was brazen in its admission of the use of the proposal to win the upper hand in contract negotiations by achieving public popularity for the teachers at the School Board's expense. The letter had the affect of pushing me in the opposite direction toward a less cooperative attitude. The letter had the same affect on other Board members.

On the other hand, the inflexible and calculating posture of the letter did not reflect the feelings of the teachers I'd talked to. These teachers sincerely wanted to restore educational opportunities for kids even if only for a single year. I had no desire to deny the teachers a chance to give something to our students. Neither did I have any desire to be portrayed by the union leadership as an uncaring villain. My position was very complicated and defied simple explanation by sound bite. 

So, when my second thoughts kicked in I made some calls to other board members to see what they thought about adopting the teacher's plan. I also called administrators to get a simple explanation of the things we would have to sacrifice if we accepted the additional half million dollars in spending changes the teacher's plan would require. After hearing the arguments and weighing my options I edged closer to voting "yes."

The School Board meeting got off to an unexpectedly difficult start when the recent problems of Central were brought up. We spent an hour and a half testily complaining among ourselves about why these problems had broken out and wondering whether the District was doing all that it could. I appreciated it when Julio mentioned that I had gone up to Central shortly after the problems to take stock of the situation. I had wanted to see for myself what was going on. I found a lot of adults patrolling the commons. While I was talked to the principal a worried young woman told her about rumors which were flying around the hallways. Rumors seemed to be half the problem. Thus has it ever been in the Central Hillside.

After this discussion and the Superintendent's report we were well behind on the agenda. Most of the television stations ended up leaving by 9:45 well before we got to our discussion on the teacher's proposal which they had planned on covering on the ten o'clock news.

By the time we finally got to the proposal I had made up my mind to support it. I  wrote a resolution to accept the teacher's offer so that there would be no doubt about where I stood. To my great surprise my proposal was waylaid.

Immediately after I made my motion Mary Glass-Leblanc seconded it for the purpose of discussion.  However, before the conversation began Julio called on our legal counsel to explain that it was not permissible to consider my resolution. Beth Storsaali concluded that my motion was an "action" item whereas the agenda only listed the proposal as an item for "discussion." According to our policy agenda changes on the day of a meeting can only be made with a unanimous board vote. I was dumbfounded by this argument and pointed out that the issue was on our agenda and that we frequently wrote resolutions on the day of a meeting. I also said that was not prepared to challenge our own counsel's interpretation of state law.  

The subsequent vote to consider my resolution fell two votes short of unanimous. This vote meant that the earliest we could bring the teacher's proposal back was at our June meeting by which time registration for class would have to wait until the fall. As terrible as a fall reenrollment would be I was not prepared to rule it out. I felt snookered.

After the failure of my motion we discussed it.  I composed myself and asked that there be no recriminations against board members who had cast "nay votes." Then I read the last paragraph of the Union letter out loud with its implied threat. I complained that the DFT's effort to help kids had taken on a decidedly menacing tone. I pointed out that this was hardly in the spirit of cooperation and blamed the DFT leadership for its unwillingness to find a compromise palatable to the Administration or the School Board. Then I attempted to explain why the Administration was troubled by the teacher's proposal.

First, I pointed out that while the teacher's proposal was very generous they were being generous with $300,000 of training money intended for our 1,000 non teaching employees. Its easy to be generous with other people's things.

Second, I pointed out that the plan given to us would force us to end the training of teachers for elementary reading and math, two areas where we have strived mightily to help our elementary students and in which we've achieved significant success.

Third, I pointed out that the plan given to us would force us to get rid of the technology workers who train teachers in the use of the computers and software that we have spent so much money to develop in recent years.

When my peroration ended several other the Board members joined me in criticizing the tone of the letter and the inflexibility of the union in dealing with us. These included some of the most teacher friendly members of the Board.

It was pretty clear that, notwithstanding the vote against voting on my resolution, a majority of the School Board supported the teacher's offer.  Ironically, it was no longer clear whether it would be practical for us to implement the proposal because we were going to miss a re-registration before the end of the school year.

We didn't adjourn until shortly before midnight. I couldn't remember when we'd had a later meeting. As I stood talking to Garry Krause outside the CAB Chris Havens, the Trib's reporter, sprinted for his car. He only had ten minutes to meet his deadline.

Old Central's bells were chiming midnight as Chris was hightailing it to his car. "You'll turn into a pumpkin if you don't get out of here," I yelled at him. Krause piped up that the rude comments had come from Welty not him. I hollered back that Krause was the real loudmouth.

Tonight I was the loudmouth! I expect that the teachers will be discussing my little speech in the teacher's lounges tomorrow.