Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jersey City Union Prez Gets it Wrong on Race To The Top

Ron Greco, President of the Jersey City, is featured in a story in today’s NJ Spotlight on the latest district-specific round of the federal education grant initiative Race To The Top. This time there’s $400 million available. Three-hundred seventy districts applied from around the country, 21 from New Jersey.

Jersey City Public Schools intended to be one of the hopefuls with a bid for $40 million, but the union there refused to sign off, a new requirement for RTTT applicants.  Mr. Greco then issued an open letter to his members, which closes with the salute “In solidarity” and a little picture of Diane Ravitch.

Mr. Greco’s objections are many: not enough time to vet the application; Bret Schundler’s rocky connection with RTTT (Schundler is a former JC mayor and charter school advocate, not to mention ex-NJ Ed. Comm.); intentions to implement  a form of merit pay and a  longer school year; hiring new administrator. Then there’s this:
The budget in the grant has the $40 million down to the penny. Not one cent is dedicated to negotiation of a new contract. Not one single cent. The grant would be our new contract. It has spelled out the extended day, extended week and extended year. These are negotiable items.
Of course, plenty of cents are “dedicated to negotiation of a new contract.” It’s just that this the grant money would be distributed based on classroom effectiveness. And the RTTT application cannot overrule union contracts, nor preclude union-district agreements for salary increases.

For example, when RTTT was state-based, New Jersey submitted a successful application that incorporated the provisions laid out in the Opportunity Scholarship Act and a rewrite of charter school laws. It also included the elimination of seniority-based lay-offs. But these items were not automatically enacted. That would take an act of legislation, which never happened. Applications are not legally binding. They’re visionary, not contractual.

So Jersey City lost a chance for up to $40 million in extra funds based on the union president’s flawed understanding of RTTT applications. That’s too bad for JC’s kids ((and, for a little context regarding their needs, check out this presentation from JC Superintendent Marcia Lyles).  It’s too bad for the union constituents as well, who might have benefited from opportunities to increase compensation from sources other than negotiated salary increases.

2 comments:

Ellen Simon said...

I tried to post these comments on Diane Ravitch's blog, after a commenter there said JC schools needed "more supplies."

I live in Jersey City. My child goes to a Jersey City public school. I’m laughing at your contention that “more supplies” will help. There’s a book room full of discarded books in the basement of my son’s school. When I went through it, I found many books that were new, including three unopened boxes of new dictionaries. There were at least four “Reader’s Theater” treasure boxes. There were children’s books still in their wrappers. After seeing this in the spring, I went back when school started to pull some books for my son’s class. But I couldn’t find any, because a new layer of discarded books had been added.

There’s also a former swimming pool in the basement of his school. What’s it used for now? Storage. It’s full of boxes. At the end of the school year, there was literally a 20-foot wall stacked with boxes of copy paper. Please don’t send us more supplies. When the head of facilities was asked how he handles purchasing in a district where enrollment is thousands of pupils lower than a decade ago, he said he orders the same thing he did last year. How long that’s been going on, I can’t say.

Yes, there are some great teachers. There are also teachers who hightail it out of their buildings every day at 2:30, when class ends. The word among parents is that the contract stipulates they can’t stay past three. Some seem to take that quite seriously. In any event, a six-hour day is a short day in a district where 70 percent of children are so poor they qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many of these children could benefit from an extended day, especially because the after-care program consists of …. nothing. No structure. Nothing. Teachers who work after care make $40 an hour. I wouldn’t begrudge them a penny of that money, if our children had anything to show for it. They don’t.

Jersey City has not been under full state control for about a decade. The district has control of curriculum for instance, and has, in the past, changed the curriculum every four years. So teachers get a new set of books and have to make new lesson plans. Sometimes the books arrive before school starts, but usually they don’t. There’s usually no training for teachers.

The state is not the problem in Jersey City. The district is. And its long cozy relationship with the union hasn’t helped,
“Where is the attitude change in parents and students?” you ask. Our new superintendent just gave a presentation about what she’s seen in her first 60 days on the job. One of her findings: A school with 970 students, almost all of whom are African-American, has exactly four who are in AP classes. Where are the teachers pushing children to push themselves? Not at that school.

I, and other parents, would love to see the union work with new leadership to remedy the long-term problems that have festered in this district, under both state and our current partially local control. The answer isn’t more bravado from the union. The answer is a willingness, on the part of everyone, to spend money wisely and to be open to anything that would benefit children.

My child goes to public school in Jersey City and I am not cheering for Ronnie Greco.

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