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Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Teacher's View of Mayor Fenty's Takeover Plan

One of the reasons why the American Federation ofTeachers insisted on revising our Constitution was to avoid another disaster like the one that led to our administratorship. The representative assembly amendment was added to give voting power to delegates who represented the voice of teachers in each of the 140 plus DC public schools. The fact that no vote was taken after delegates engaged in a lengthy exchange with Board president Robert Bobb and a previous meeting with Mayor Fenty is cause to be concerned .

When WTU members reflect on a former executive Board that either didn't attend meetings, didn't know waht was going on with the budget and spending or rubber stamped what Bullock and company wanted, they become nervous about one that votes on such a critical issues without a vote from the voting delegates! So much so, in fact, that Nathan Saunders, our current general vice president, cited them in his lawsuit against Bullock et al. I am leary of executive board members who want the power to make such a critical decision fo 4,200 plus teachers based on such a flawed and biased survey. It reminds me of the tactics used by Bullock over the years that cultivated a culture of silence,complacency and passivity among our members.

If executive board members read the Fenty proposal, theywould readily see that it is void of any substance that would improve accountability or academic achievement in our schools. It was quite evident that the individuals who 'briefly' constructed the comparisons of the two plans for the WTU newsletter either did not read the Mayor's proposal or did not comprehend it. How many surveys were collected? In a robo call to members, George Parker indicated that 60% of our members voted for the Mayor's proposal. Did any of the Executive Board members read Colbert King's article about the Mayor's plans after the takover, or the Council of Great City Schools' report on the two proposals? Both could be found at www.washingtonpost. com under Colby King's past editorials.

The fact is that the Mayor's proposal would;

- get rid of an elected school board,
- increase privatization of our public schools
- grow more charter schools to drain DCPS resources,
- change home rule charter,
- add more layers of bureaucracy that would make iteven harder for parents, teachers and students to haveany influence over decisions that affect them,
- dismantle new reforms outlined in the MEP and MFP
- challenge our collective bargaining agreement inways that we can't imagine!
- open the flood gates for aspiring school 'takeover' advocates who are politicians, real estate developers and members of the Federal City Council (which has pushed for gentrification and displacement of DC residents for years.

When we connect the dots in each of the above items,we could conclude that there would be little or no need for a teachers' union or any labor union for that matter. If this is what we want, then by all means, we should support the Mayor's plan. I didn't take the survey. But if I did, I would not have voted for either proposal. None of the teachers I've talked to at my school and others voted in favor of either proposal. Many of them are still asking, "What survey?" delegate at Turner ES informed me that none of theteachers at her school received the survey. Guy rightfully assessed the survey as "flawed". Iwould like to add that the process used to garner theopinion of the 4,200 members on the two proposals was also flawed. I would hope that the WTU executive board would be more interested in fully engaging WTU membersin critical decisions such as this one and less interested in promoting their self-serving, individual opinions. Unfortunately, gone are not the days of leadership without vision beyond the four walls of the executive board room. In closing, the question asked by several members, "Why did we have to support either proposal?", was never answered.

If the WTU leadership believe that the New DC Order is interested in saving the teachers union or any labor union, it had better wake up and smell the stench of a gentrified city and a privatized school system and realize that there is no place in such a system for a teachers' union.

Elizabeth Davis is WTU member and middle school teacher in Washington, DC.