Monday, May 18, 2009

Gilberto Rivera of the Boston Teachers Union explains some things

While I have been campaigning I have had the good fortune of meeting many, many people who are working hard to make Boston a better place. One of those is Boston school teacher Gilberto Rivera, a music teacher who is running for office in the Boston Teachers Union. I got an email blast from him today which includes something he wrote about the School Committee which I will post below.

I couldn't agree with him more. I believe that we need to have at least two of the members of the school committee elected so that they will actually do what educators are supposed to: ask questions, look for solutions, and weigh all the possible options. My experience in going to the school committee hearings, testifying about alternative revenue sources, and the importance of not cutting the school budget has not only gone on deaf ears, but even worse they don't even pretend to want to understand the fiscal issues facing the city. They clearly have their marching orders from Mayor Menino to do nothing except push for a meals tax increase and a wage freeze. Such lack of inquiry from a city that prides itself on being an "intellectual" city is disappointing. Maybe this is one of the reasons our schools have such poor performance results, when they get this type of leadership at the top.

Here are Mr. Rivera's comments:

Appointed School Committee Lectures BTU on Democracy Then Demands Wage Freeze

I have been attending school committee meetings for over a year now. I observe, listen and sometimes comment on the manipulative tactics they have employed to distort the image of the BTU. The meeting on March 25, 2009 was the most telling meeting of all. Claudio Martinez and Michael O’Neil as well as Rev. Dr. Gregory Groover called for the BTU to hold an election on the wage freeze. Mr. Martinez went as far as saying; "New teachers need to get involved in the BTU to make it the democratic process it should be." These comments came in closing statements before the unanimous vote to accept the balanced budget, which includes 212 teaching position lay offs including vacancies.

These comments are being made by members of a school committee that are not elected by the citizens of Boston. The parents, students, teachers and community activists implored the school committee to join the fight in finding new sources of revenue and asked them not to accept a budget that would cut teaching positions. The lack of open democracy in the school committee is apparent when one sees that it has only had one vote that was NOT unanimous in 7 years. Concern showed by parents and others during public comment are mostly ignored.

Is this the same school committee that publicly lectures the BTU about what a democracy should be?

For the new teachers, we the BTU- elect our officers, staff, executive board members, delegates and building representatives. We don’t always agree but we hold debates and vote on every issue. Most importantly we collectively bargain our contract and vote to accept it as a membership. The BTU is not separate from the professionals it represents. Each individual member makes up the Boston Teachers’ Union. We are the essence of a democratic process. The school committee needs to respect and learn from this process.

Let's address the issue of the wage freeze for a moment. We should never open up a legally binding contract without having all relevant and accurate information before us. The February 4, 2009 budget proposal had the school department absorbing $107 Million (76%) of the cities $140 Million deficit. We only make up 34% of the total city budget. How could we blindly accept a wage freeze given those figures? The budget that was finally presented at the time of the vote on March 25, 2009 was closer to the actual proportionate numbers. Our leadership can look at cost saving alternatives and additional revenue sources that will save all teaching jobs when true information is provided. At present, the number of lay-offs keeps dropping without a wage freeze.

It is worth mentioning that, while we were losing 393 teaching positions in that February 4 budget proposal, the academic portion of the budget proposed 160 new hires. Questioning revealed that the Teach for America (TFA) contract was being honored as well as the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) program. The BTR contract has long-term sustainability and benefits for our children. The TFA contract does not.

The wage freeze issue also poses an unnecessary dilemma for teachers to bail each other out. The federal government can bail out greedy corporate executives but it is up to teachers to fend for themselves? This is not an equitable trend. That is why we have a contract. We need to lobby legislatures for additional revenue sources and equitable allocations of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding.

The last but not least important issue concerns our senior staff in the retirement window. A wage freeze adversely affects these members who stand to lose a significant amount of money every month for the rest of their lives. This on top of any money they may have lost in their retirement savings due to the economic crash. The offer made by the city of a one time 8% non-retirement worthy incentive is not acceptable.

The school committee presented the wage freeze issue as a shared sacrifice and one of the only options to save the initial 900 jobs. I spoke out on this issue at the Blackstone and McCormack budget hearings. I told the committee that BTU members graciously sacrifice personal spending on their classrooms for misc. supplies everyday (every year) in ever on-going budget shortfalls. I polled forty colleagues at my school. The average out of pocket spending this year was $1,500. Our wage increase would average $3,200.00 next year. Do other city employees including the mayor buy their own equipment and supplies?

Gilberto Rivera is a teacher at the Edwards Middle School and candidate for Secretary Treasurer of the BTU

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