Friday, February 24, 2012

HB 576/RTD Cattle Excrement/Response and Rally At the Beach

The following editorial ran in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch. It made it hard to enjoy my coffee and Cheerios this morning.

Education: Primary concerns (RTD Editorial)

Public school teachers across Virginia wore black last week to protest what they say is an attack on public education from Richmond. But there is scant evidence for the outlandish claim, which is based on faulty arguments about money and tenure.
"Money is not being invested in public education," one VEA rep told a reporter the other day. Let's hope she's not a math teacher. Gov. Bob McDonnell's budget would increase spending on K-12 education by nearly a half-billion dollars. A House money committee has proposed adding $136 million on top of that; the Senate would raise the amount by $165 million.

If teachers want to argue the state should be spending even more, fine. There's a reasonable discussion to be had about that. But to suggest the state is continuing to slash education funding is simply wrong.

Skeptics of McDonnell's plan grumble that much of his K-12 spending increase would be used for pensions rather than classroom instruction. Yet at the same time, teachers are complaining changes to the Virginia Retirement System could make them pay more into the system, leaving them with less take-home pay. But if the latter complaint is valid then the former is not. Contributions to pensions are either a legitimate metric of state support for education or they aren't.

Educators also are upset over McDonnell's proposal — now sidelined — to replace continuing contracts with periodic teacher evaluations, to make it easier for school systems to let bad teachers go. The Virginia Education Association calls this a threat to teachers' job security; some instructors also evidently consider it a sign of disrespect. This must sound extremely odd to many Virginians who work in the private sector, where few believe an employee should keep his job no matter how poorly he does it. That a significant number of teachers bristle at the idea of having their performance evaluated may be an indication an evaluation system is long overdue.

The demonstration of solidarity on Black Friday did not impress Del. Dickie Bell, sponsor of the teacher-evaluation legislation. He scoffed at the VEA's "grade-school antics" and suggested that "play[ing] dress-up" was not an approach calculated to make teachers look like the professionals they claim to be. Combined with the aggrieved rhetoric about "attacks," it also conveys an unattractive undercurrent of entitlement that we hope does not carry over into the classroom.

President Boitnott’s Response

With regard to the February 24th editorial on teachers wearing black last week, I am sorry to see that the RTD has chosen to adopt the same air of disrespect, disdain and disregard for Virginia’s hard working teachers that our legislators have recently displayed. When you don’t care for the facts, I suppose the next best tactic is to simply mock those with whom you don’t agree.

Thousands of teachers and supporters wore black on VEA-designated “Black Friday” because they know that support for schools from officeholders is declining, while disrespect for the work they do is growing.

It is only partly about the money. It is disingenuous on the part of the editorial board to only call attention to this Governor’s K-12 budget while ignoring the fact that SOQ (Standards of Quality) funding for K-12 schools has been reduced by $1.4 billion, and that permanent changes in the formula have undercut teachers’ ability to do their job. The state’s per-pupil support for public education was at $5,277 in 2009. The governor’s budget would bring it to only $4,730 by 2014. That’s a 12% cut.

Class sizes in Virginia, once very low, now rank us 41st in the nation. This is not the level of support needed to prepare students for a competitive economy.

More than the money issues, however, our teachers and support professionals are upset by the general tone of disrespect that is coming out of Richmond’s legislators and now has been piled upon by the Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board.

Teachers really don’t ask for much, and most of them expect even less. They have, in many cases, dedicated half of their lives to children other than their own because they had a calling and felt a need to make a difference. Most of them struggle to make ends meet, but they never expected to “get rich” doing what they chose to do.

What has shocked and disappointed them, however, is they have now been labeled by some politicians as “greedy, entitled, and lazy.” The last straw was the most recent attack on continuing contract, which is not tenure. Teachers in Virginia do not have tenure and never have. The suggestion that teachers have lifetime jobs with “irrevocable lifetime security” is bogus. This needless and unwarranted attack on their professionalism and dedication to their chosen profession is simply the last straw.

We’ll wear black every Friday if it gets people’s attention and causes the citizen of Virginia to take note of what is happening to our students and those who work in schools.

So, mock if you will, but unlike this editorial board, we know what the real issues are.

Dr. Kitty J. Boitnott
President, Virginia Education Association

The final vote on the teacher contract bill, HB 576, should be early this week. Please call your senator and urge them to vote against this bill which will deny future teachers of a fair dismissal process. Click here to get the senator’s phone numbers.

Yesterday, I provided information regarding the March 3rd rally in Charlottesville. Here is the information regarding the rally on the same day in Virginia Beach. I hope those of you east of Richmond will make your best effort to attend.

VEA’s Rally to Restore Public Education Funding
Mount Trashmore
310 Edwin Drive, Virginia Beach 23452
10:30 a.m.
For more information call the VBEA Office at (757) 486-0202, or email