TO: Local Presidents, RC Pres., & PAC
FROM: Matt Jacobs, Regional Staff Dir.
DATE: April 10, 2015
RE: Talking Truth to Legislators_________
Apparently the legislators who voted yes on the budget bill feel they are being wrongly attacked by our members. They pretend to feel wounded and misunderstood. They feign frustration, indignation and bafflement at our inability to understand that they actually did something wonderful for us.
As our members pay visits to legislators demanding to know why they voted yes, they should be prepared to be handed a bunch of half-truths designed to make their vote for the budget bill appear to be a courageous and principled act in support of teachers, children and public education. Please share the following information with any members who are planning to contact their legislators.
Legislators will argue that they succeeded in removing or mitigating the worst aspects of the governor’s reform plan. In truth, the changes they made were cosmetic at best. Here are some examples how legislators will attempt to justify their vote and what members can say in response:
1. “The governor wanted the state test scores to count 50% but we said no to 50%. Instead, we took that decision out of the hands of the politicians and put it into the hands of ‘education experts,’ the Board of Regents and SED.” While it is correct to say that the law does NOT mandate that the state growth measure must count as 50% of a teacher’s APPR rating, there are two basic problems with this statement:
a) Only about half of the Regents have had actual experience as public educators. The rest have no claim to be considered education experts. More importantly, Chancellor Tisch still controls a majority of the Regents and, as we know, Tisch agrees with Cuomo on just about everything.
b) Even if the Regents strongly disagree with the changes imposed by the new law, there’s not much they can do about it because they can’t change the law. Although the law technically gives the Regents and the Commissioner the authority to determine how much weight the state growth measure will have, this has been rendered meaningless by the provision in the law that any teacher who gets an ineffective state growth score CANNOT receive an overall rating of effective or better. So, whether the state growth measure counts 1% or 50%, an ineffective state growth measure really counts 100%.
2. “The legislature preserved local control by maintaining the right to collectively bargain portions of the APPR plan.”This one is almost too silly to deserve an answer.
a) While the old APPR law really did allow 80% of the plan (or much of the 80%) to be collectively bargained, the new law limits collective bargaining to exactly two minor portions of the APPR plan. You can bargain whether or not to have a second state test score as part of the overall rating (but the second test must be chosen from a list of tests approved by SED) and you can bargain who the outside observer will be. In other words, pick your poison. Everything else about the APPR is mandated by law or regulation.
b) The new law removes almost all control over teacher evaluations and tenure from superintendents and boards of education by dictating which teachers may or may not receive tenure, forbidding districts to consider anything other than state growth scores and observations in evaluating teachers, and mandating that districts must bring charges against teachers who receive three consecutive ineffective ratings, no matter how highly they regard those teachers.
c) Rather than providing more resources and training to help low-performing schools improve, the new law mandates that such schools be placed in receivership. This means that the outside receiver gets to call the shots, not the superintendent or the elected board of education. The receiver can fire up to 50% of the teachers, abrogate the collective bargaining agreement and disregard any or all district policies.
3. “If we didn’t meet the April 1st budget deadline, the state constitution would have allowed the governor to force us to choose between accepting his proposal in its entirety and shutting down the government.” The governor is a bully but he’s not an idiot. Surely he remembers how well Newt Gingrich’s forced shutdown of the federal government went in 1994. Forcing a government shutdown would have sent his already sagging poll numbers plummeting through the floor. Cuomo’s enormous political vanity very much wanted a fifth consecutive on-time budget, but if the legislature had had the courage to stand up for what was right, he would have been forced to sit down and bargain a real compromise.
4. “The new law preserves tenure and due process rights for teachers.” Technically, tenure and due process have not been abolished altogether, but they have been so contorted as to be almost unrecognizable and meaningless. Two consecutive ineffective ratings are considered presumptive evidence of incompetence and a teacher who is brought up on 3020-a charges after receiving two consecutive ineffective ratings must prove herself/himself competent. How exactly does one do that before an impartial hearing officer who has no firsthand knowledge of that teacher’s performance? And the only permissible defense for a teacher who has been mandatorily brought up on charges after receiving a third consecutive ineffective rating is to prove fraud or mistaken identity. This is a form of due process Vladimir Putin would feel right at home with!