Friday, February 28, 2014

Rich DeColibus on The Cleveland Plan: fallacies many US school districts can identify with

Rich DeColibus to Kathie Bracy 
February 28, 2014
"THE PLAN in this case is the Cleveland Plan, conceived by business interests, Mayor Jackson, and some foundation people who operate on the premise 'The teacher is never right.' Lena Pogrebinsky is a Building Chair running against David Quolke, the current CTU President.  She asked me to give her my thoughts about the Cleveland Plan and I was happy to do so.  My guess is you'll find it amusing and feel free to spread it around so the rest of the state isn't bedazzled by the media BS."
February 25, 2014 
Dear Ms. Pogrebinsky, 
I obtained the 14-page summary of the Cleveland Plan and read it through.  A few things seem to stand out.  For example, it reads like it was written by the Koch brothers.  An early quote says, "Public education has been shackled by so much - by legal restrictions, bureaucracy, work rules, traditions and the influence of our shared experience growing up in an America not yet attuned to the intensity of global competition."  While I'm not sure which "legal restrictions" with reference to public education are so awful, my understanding is they prevented bad things from happening and insisted good things do happen, like operating within a balanced budget, mandating so many school days per year, and the like.  Why this is all considered evil I do not understand. 
The Plan, to put it simply, is a grandiose and extensive expansion of the old attack phrase "If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught."  According to the Plan, everything bad is the teacher's fault, and unless and until we take away every benefit and basic right of teachers to be considered professionals, and treated as such, student performance will continue to be unsatisfactory.  Only when teachers are viewed as worthless serfs, denied any input into the terms and conditions of their working lives, will students suddenly bloom and prosper (it's MAGIC) and achieve great academic success.  The fact this claim runs counter to all human psychology, not to mention common sense, seems to have been missed in the self-congratulatory attitude:  This is THE PLAN and isn't it grand!  For a similar claim, Google "cold fusion." 
But the real intent is elegantly hidden in plain sight:  The use of the term "work rules."  This is coded talk to attack the CTU in particular, and unions in general.  Unions have an Agreement with management which defines what management can and cannot do with respect to wages and the terms and conditions of employment.  Management hates the Agreement, and doesn't think much more of unions; they are tolerated because unions can decide not to go to work one day if they don't like the terms of a newly proposed Agreement.  It's called a strike.  Without that threat of action, why would they even talk to anyone from a union?   Correct, they wouldn't.  Management's ability to self-convince itself it is omniscient rarely encourages a reality check. 
There is nothing wrong with some of the schools the Plan envisions; an Urban Cooperative School, a Residential Boarding School, a Career Technical Academy or an English Immersion School are all fine concepts.  Whether they ever get funded or not remains to be seen.  More to the point, none of them needs the Agreement to be modified in any negative way for them to be successful. 
The Plan also indulges in a lot of rhetorical comments which do not ring true.  It states, "Fundamentally, schools in Cleveland must break the one-size-fits-all premise of today's education system."  Really?  Maybe things have changed in the last ten years, but in the 35 years I spent as part of Cleveland Public Schools (or whichever name it is this year), nobody thought one size fitted all.  We had magnets, specialty schools, vocational schools, every high school had it's own ambience and atmosphere, and elementaries were as different as the principals running them.  Apparently, one must create a straw man before attacking it with unbridled enthusiastic vigor. 
Especially interesting was page 5's assertion students are essentially "victims" and the fact some of them come from really bad and violent neighborhoods, or live in homes where the parent has made some disturbingly unhealthy and unwise choices about whom s/he associates with, are mere "challenges," to be swept away with a wave of the hand.  A lot of Cleveland's students are indeed victims, but the school isn't doing the victimizing, it's the rest of the student's life which derails the individual.  The math is simple.  A student spends about 30 hours a week in school, and 138 hours a week someplace else, except in summer when, for most students, all hours in a week are someplace else.  Put another way, the student spends about one-fifth of his time in school, and four-fifths of his time elsewhere.  Schools should, indeed, do all they can to make education a positive experience, but it defies reality to pretend those other hours do not exist or they don't matter. 
While I read the newly-bargained CTU-CPS Agreement, I lack the specific knowledge of how some items will work operationally.  However, nothing struck me as being favorable to CTU members or improved their ability to be successful in the classroom.  Actually, it mostly looked like a big reversal of the protections the CTU spent fifty years putting into the Agreement in the first place.  No point in dwelling on it, what's done is done; there are other upcoming disasters on the radar screen, like Student Based Budgeting (SBB), another attempt to eviscerate the Agreement to the equivalent of toilet paper. 
What the Plan really signifies is a state-wide attack on all teacher unions and associations, using the Cleveland Plan as the perfect school-reform model.  The fact the Plan will do very little, if anything, to improve student performance will not be allowed to impede the sacred task of rendering all teacher unions in the state de minimus.  And, it gets better.  In January of 2015, there's going to be a concerted push by conservative Republicans to enact right to work legislation in the state; the proof of this is in the repeated denials that, "Right to work is not on our agenda."  It isn't, that's true, but only because they're not past the November elections yet.  See, it's not just teacher unions they dislike; they are intent on attacking all unions in the state.  And, yes, they won't make the Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 mistake again; the legislation will be crafted in such a way that a citizen petition and election referendum on it will not be possible.  The goal is to become the new Mississippi; Cleveland just gets to be first in the new world order.  Lucky you. 
Rich DeColibus
Rich DeColibus is a retired teacher from the Cleveland Public Schools and former president of the Cleveland Teachers Union.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

STRS benefits recipients, you knew this one was coming, didn't you?

From John Curry, February 25, 2014

STRS’ funding letter doesn't satisfy pension-board chairman
The Columbus Dispatch
February 25, 2014
Managers of the State Teachers Retirement System submitted a letter — not a plan — with possible ways they could pay off unfunded pension liabilities within 30 years, and that’s a violation of state law, according to Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, chairman of the panel that oversees the state’s five pension funds.
But system administrators, who managed the system’s payout of $6.5 billion in benefits to about 149,000 retired teachers last year, say they beat the 90-day deadline by submitting the letter to the Ohio Retirement Council on Friday and complied with the law.
Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon, said he wants a plan to reach the 30-year requirement, which he says the letter does not provide.
The council can question the legality of the move by the retirement system’s board but cannot force it to adopt a funding plan. Only the legislature can do that.
Nick Treneff, communication director for the teachers retirement system, said the letter meets state law because it is progressing toward and considering ways to meet the 30-year rule.
That rule, stipulated by the Ohio Revised Code, is often likened to paying off a mortgage, where the system pays down its debt in installments.
“I think this is a very unexpected and unprofessional response,” Wachtmann said. “The (system’s) director himself knew exactly what the expectations were.”
The letter cites pension reform that the system implemented last year, which reduced the time it would take the system to pay off its unfunded pension debt from infinity to 40.2 years.
The letter also details recent discussion by the board about reaching the 30-year requirement, including temporarily shifting $100 million annually from the system’s health-care fund to its pension fund, which would reduce the funding period by four years. The letter also says that strong investment performance so far in this fiscal year could shave off four more years.
“We’re pretty close to 30, and we’re going to stay the course and stick with our pension-reform plan,” Treneff said yesterday.
Not all council members agree with Wachtmann. Rep. Dan Ramos of Lorain, the ranking Democrat on the council, said he believes the system needs to have more time to implement its “ once-in-a-generation” pension-reform plan.
“The fact that we’ve gone from infinity to 40 years, although obviously not there yet, is an incredible first step,” Ramos said.
Wachtmann, whose council does not meet until mid-March, a week or so before the next meeting of the retirement-system board, said he will raise his concerns with House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Duke Snider: What business is it of STRS whether retirees have a second income or not?

Duke Snider to STRS, February 24, 2014

From February Board News, 2/24/14:
More than nine out of 10 retiree households have at least once source of income in addition to their STRS Ohio pension, and on average, STRS Ohio provides about 58% of retirees’ income.
.....and it isn't just the price of gasoline; have you noticed lately what's happening to your grocery bill? KBB
What business is it of STRS whether retirees have a second income or not?  Retirees’ COLA  has been reduced to 0% for one year then to 2% thereafter!!  Now gas is $3.60 a gallon yet we retirees have to absorb that cost, although some people says the cost of living hasn't gone up.  What rock are they living under?
By the way, I never received any survey.  I wish I did.  And STRS is still with Segal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Duke Snider
Sardinia, Ohio
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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