Tuesday, June 26, 2018

End-Year Reflections, Especially on Paid Parental Leave

On this, the last day of the school year, I want to wish you all a very happy and healthy summer. I hope you have something you love to do, and that you do it. If not, I hope you find that thing you love doing.

This year was revelatory for me in a number of ways. I find myself able to quietly negotiate with a group of people from Unity Caucus, and a little more optimistic that we can push them toward addressing teacher issues. There are a few issues I'm really focused on. (I also found myself very much at odds with people I'd previously thought of as allies. I can only conclude I'm not at the vanguard of the socialist revolution, whatever that is and whenever it's coming.) Here are a few things I'd like to see addressed.

We have to do something to adjust the awful evaluation system, the one that's jackhammering teacher morale to the center of the earth. I thought the Assembly bill to make testing optional was a step in the right direction, and something within our immediate reach. Of course I was wrong. There are other things, like Danielson, removing junk science altogether, and reducing the mandated number of observations. I think we have to be careful that two observations be an option only if they rate the member effective or higher. That not only gives members a chance to do better, but also gives Boy Wonder supervisors an incentive not to indulge their vindictive moronic tendencies. Boy Wonder supervisors tend not to favor extra work for themselves.

Then there's the Class Size Conundrum, the one that's well past its golden anniversary. I'm not expert on negotiations, but it boggles my mind that we have a state law reducing class size that the whole state is ignoring. How is it that we are supposed to negotiate that into our contract? Why on earth would we offer to give back anything whatsoever to get something that's already mandated? And how can self-proclaimed student lobbyist Andy Cuomo sleep at night when he blatantly disregards the C4E ruling?

We also have the Absent Teacher Reserve. Last I heard it was around 800, but that almost certainly doesn't include provisionally placed teachers, many of whom will be returning right back into the ATR in September. I know I'd feel like an ATR if I weren't assured of a position come the fall, whether or not anyone called me that. The glaringly obvious solution is to just place them, whether principals like it or not. If they suck as badly as stereotypes in the press would have us believe, let principals prove it.

There's CR Part 154, which pulls instructional time from my ELLs and replaces it with, well, less than nothing.They have fewer periods of direct English instruction. Not only is it not replaced, but they're supposed to magically acquire English in core subject areas, though they're not given a single extra minute to do that. Instead, the teachers are supposed to figure it out. Good luck with that.

Some of my friends don't agree, but we have an enormous victory in paid parental leave. I find most of the arguments against it to be nonsensical, and addressed the bulk of them here. There are just a few more I'm going to answer.

1. If you take the leave, you're stuck working for another year.

OK, that's true. But if you don't want to keep working for another year, why are you taking the leave? Why don't you just quit right now? Then you'll have all the time in the world to do anything you like. This is not very different from sabbatical requirements. I took half a year off for restoration of health when I had cancer. I suppose if I'd dropped dead I'd have been responsible to pay back my salary. (I'm not expert on the afterlife, but I'd hope to have no need for salary there.) In any case, I was delighted to be back at work. I generally like my job, but even if I didn't, take my word, it would be a whole lot better than where I was for that half year.

2. The six weeks are not pensionable.

What? You mean I'll have to work an entire six weeks to get back to where I was before having taken off six weeks with full pay? First of all, if that's your worst problem, you lead a charmed existence. I doubt that, though, if that's how desperate you are for an argument. But hey, if you're the sort of person who would rather leave your newborn with someone else for the first six weeks of her life, you can always turn down the paid leave and retire on time. It's all about your personal choices.

3. Fathers can't take the CAR time.

That's true, but it was true before this agreement as well. I adopted a child from Colombia and let me tell you. if everyone had to go through what I did, there'd be a lot fewer kids around. Let me add that I find this argument incredibly ironic given the fact that you've just spent a whole column telling me how awful this deal is. Why are you so worried that fathers can't get the deal if it sucks so much? The fact is fathers are eligible for the new part of the agreement, the one the union negotiated that gets six weeks of paid leave, as opposed to nothing.

4. If you have your baby in the summer, you miss out.

If you have your baby in the summer, you aren't required to be at work. Also, you therefore don't miss out on those six pensionable weeks previously deemed as being of pivotal importance. So it's a WIN-WIN!

5. Kids who are seven need as much attention as kids who are six.

That's true, but without this agreement you don't help seven-year-old kids. You simply hurt kids of six, five, four, three, two, one, right up to newborns.

6. We haven't seen the Memorandum of Agreement.

This is the only argument I've seen that bears discussion at all. I'd hope they made a broad agreement and are basing the MOA on said agreement, but I'm not privy to negotiations. I can't really deal with what I don't know. I take positions based on what I see.

For example, when I saw details about the 2014 Contract, I didn't like them. The notion of waiting eleven years to get interest-free back pay did not much appeal to me. The notion of taking a seven year 10% pattern, let alone giving it to my brother and sister unionists, didn't much appeal to me either. A big thing I didn't like about that contract was the vague promise to achieve health care savings. In fact our co-pays exploded as a result of that agreement. Details of that agreement were likely as not made after the MOA came out. I didn't need any further evidence about that deal anyway.

Unless leadership is making outrageous fabrications about this agreement up front, most arguments against it are nonsense. I used to be very upset, years ago, when Unity would say we just tore down everything for no reason. The 2005 Contract was an abomination, and merited every word said and written against it. They were wrong in that case. In this case, unless an enormous shoe is about to drop, they seem to be right.

Paid parental leave is a huge gain, I don't mind giving up a few hundred bucks to support it, and I'm not willing to take a stand against it simply because it's not perfect. Few things are. I mean, there's my dog, there's a song called Morning Has Broken that Cat Stevens sings, and there's that first cup of coffee in the morning.

There are also a lot of people of all ages who make me smile every time I see them, too numerous to mention here. This notwithstanding, I thank each and every one of them. To them, and to all, have a fabulous summer, beginning around three o'clock today.
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