Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Thoughts on the Eve of a School Strike

There is no money for education in the Great State of California. As a matter of fact, Our Governor (who has never been a teacher, but once played a cop playing a teacher on TV) took multiple billions of dollars from the state's education funds last year to pay elsewhere. And the San Francisco Unified School District is only just recovering from years of financial, um, mismanagement (Arlene Ackerman, the outgoing Superintendent, is loved by some and hated by others, but no one disputes that the money problems got cleaned up under her aegis) so there is no extra cash there. And the SEIU workers--the support staff, the cafeteria workers and janitors and other unsung non-instructional, non-administrative staff--are threatening to strike on Thursday. And if they do, the teachers--who are in the queue right behind SEIU for contract negotiations--will refuse to cross the picket lines. According to the SFUSD, school will go on--administrators will teach, and parent volunteers will help, and somehow the kids will all get educated. Or not.

I don't blame the SEIU or the teachers; it's reasonable to want a raise every couple of years. It's reasonable to want to hold on to, or improve, your health benefits. I don't entirely blame the school district--I wish their finances were more transparent so that when they say there is no more money it could be demonstrated to one and all that this is the case, but given what I do know about education funding in this state, I'm inclined to believe that they're cash poor. The District has offered a small raise, with a little more money next year; once they settle with SEIU they'll have to negotiate with the teachers, and that'll cost some money too.

The real problem, the problem that makes me crazy, is that we don't value people who teach and care for children in this country. I'm as guilty as the next man: when we had babysitters (I refuse to say "nanny," which sounds far too, um, nannyish) we paid them whatever we could, but we couldn't afford to pay them as well as they deserved. But we expect the people who teach our children to love them, keep them safe, stuff them full of learning, socialize them, mark their papers, supervise their play time, know and appreciate them. And not just one or two kids: a couple of dozen of them at least.

We had a parent-teacher conference this morning. YG's teacher clearly thinks she's the bee's knees, and she reciprocates. And he has an eye on her social interactions as well as her schoolwork. She's one of his students identified as gifted, so he has to make sure she's adequately challenged. Of course, he has to do this for 28 kids--some of whom are gifted, many of whom are English-language learners, some of whom require remediation. He's got 28 plates spinning in the air, and he keeps them in the air, and they love him. Multiply this one guy by hundreds in the city, hundreds of thousands in the nation. All of whom deserve to make a living wage. So when I hear the odd screed about the selfishness of teachers and school workers it makes me crazy. What, they should pay me for the privilege of working with my kids? They're wonderful children, but I don't kid myself that the honor of working with them is sufficient payment...

Will striking help the SEIU workers and teachers get what they want? The principal at YG's school, who has been through some strikes over her 40-year tenure in the SFUSD, says that strikes are generally divisive and leave the school community with all sorts of resentments and anger.

In the meantime I've got two kids who the Districts says should be at school on Thursday, come hell or high water. They will have to cross the picket lines, and that could get nasty. I have all sorts of mixed feelings: keep them home and honor the picket lines? Sarcasm Girl notes that most of the kids who are "honoring the picket lines" are doing so to avoid going to school. Send them through the lines to school (so that, quite selfishly, I can get some work done?)

According to the local news reports there's a "last minute scramble to avoid a strike." That'd be good. I certainly don't know how to solve this problem, but it seems to me that honoring our teachers and school workers would be a good start.


Blogger Sethery said...

I must say that would be a tough call. Teachers, Law enforcement, and all other public servants should get the cash they deserve, but in our media driven society it is only those who can bring in the advertising that see any cash.

Maybe if they made a televison reality show about teaching school...

5:51 AM  
Blogger Janni said...

I wonder if SG and/or YG could honor the picket lines, but instead of just hanging out at home do something to support the strike, even if it's just going through the neighborhood or gathering other kids and parents togethern so that they understand why the teachers are striking--or even just doing some personal research on their own to better understand the issues involved.

My Mom's president of her Teamster's local, so not surprisingly, I tend to have sympathy for striking workers. (She's also the first to say that in an ideal universe, you treat your workers well enough that they don't need to strike.)

8:05 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

The strike (at least the SEIU strike) has been averted. For now. The membership still needs to ratify the agreement, but apparently at 3am the massed forces of SEIU, the school board, the mayor's education advisor Hydra Mendoza (formerly of Parents for Public Schools) and others managed to pull things back from the edge of the precipice. A grateful sigh is heard, and we don't have to make the nasty choice between honoring the picket line and honoring the school day.

Sethery, the idea has a certain appeal, except that it would inevitably pander to the lowest ideas of what education/teaching was about. It wouldn't be The White Shadow or Welcome Back, Kotter, it would be Airplane with SATs. The horror...

8:18 AM  

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