Parent’s union. Galvanized by a five-day teacher strike in February, a coalition of parent groups wants to form a parents’ “union” that would play a key role in teacher contract negotiations, according to the Mar. 13 issue of Education Week.
“Parents are not at the table in key areas of decision making,” said Walter Kudumu, director of the Center for Parent Involvement in Education, whose five children attended city schools. “There is a strong sense that parents districtwide are disenfranchised.”
Kudumu said that 13 of the 20 items under dispute during the strike were items that parents “had a right and a responsibility to speak on.”
What reportedly alarmed parents most was the union’s bid to win contract language guaranteeing them half the seats on governance teams at each of the district’s 160 schools. The union lost on that issue; individual schools will continue to determine the makeup of their own teams.
Though the union lost, parent groups note that the tentative agreement gives a committee that has no parent members the power to referee disagreements over shared decision making. Also, half the seats on a new task force that will study shared decision making and make recommendations on improvements must be reserved for union members.
“When they put in the contract certain agendas that affect parents and we didn’t sit at the table, they have put up a barrier against our inherent right to participate,” said Judith R. Williams, president of the San Diego Unified Council of PTAs. “They have devalued our voice, and they are saying we don’t count.”
President William Crane of the San Diego Teachers Association counters, “We are not interested in abdicating the contract authority to a group of parents, many of whom owe no allegiance to anybody but themselves. Most no longer have kids in schools. These are professional-parent people.”
Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education, told Education Week that giving parents a seat at the bargaining table “is an issue that needs a lot of public discussion. But they could have some kind of review, nearing the end of a contract period, so that the board is aware of what the community wants.”
Although School Board members maintain that they sought to preserve parents’ rights by fighting the union’s bid for more power on the governance teams, parent groups said they lost confidence in the board during the strike.
Still, for many parents, poor academic performance of many African-American and Hispanic students is the core issue. “The bottom line is parents want accountability, academically and fiscally,” said Les Pierres Streater, a parent activist running for a board seat.
A month after the strike ended, the union and board were still haggling over details of the new contract. However, teachers won raises totaling 14.7 percent over three years. Teachers at the top of the pay scale will get additional annual bonuses—$1,500 for teachers with 19 to 22 years of experience and $3,000 for those with 23 years of service or more. Average San Diego teachers’ pay is $40,500.
NEW YORK STATE
Suspensions by teachers. The New York State United Teachers and Republican Gov. George Pataki have battled each other over most educational issues, but they have joined forces to give teachers the authority to suspend students, according to the Mar. 13 Education Week.
The New York State Senate has passed a bill granting that authority, by a 55-to-3 vote; the State Assembly is expected to take a vote on a similar version soon. Meanwhile, a poll conducted for the teachers union last year found that 70 percent of New York voters support such a measure.
Critics, however, say that teachers will act in the heat of the moment and may suspend minority and special education students without sufficient cause. Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, likens the plan to giving crime witnesses the right to prosecute suspects and hand down sentences. “We have to make certain that the person making the accusations is not also the judge,” Grumet said.
Under Pataki’s proposal, principals would have the authority to overturn suspensions they deem unwarranted.
NEW YORK CITY
No more testing. A long-standing practice of testing all students with Hispanic surnames for English proficiency is being scrapped in New York City, according to the Mar. 6 issue of Education Week.
The School Board voted unanimously to drop the practice—widely criticized by educators and Hispanic parents—for a year while the system tries to devise an alternative screening process. Critics pointed out that children from other ethnic groups were not automatically tested and that the practice had led to some students being placed in bilingual classes unnecessarily.
Ironically, the practice stemmed from a 1974 lawsuit by an Hispanic advocacy group and was intended as a safeguard to keep students in need of bilingual services from going unidentified.