Thursday, May 18, 2017

East Ramapo Comes to Lawrence, Long Island

You've probably read or heard about East Ramapo, where a bunch of private school parents took over the public school board and essentially decided to strangle the public schools to death, or drown them in a bathtub or something. They just had their budget rescinded by the state because they planned private school busing on days public school doesn't meet.

I had no idea this sort of thing was happening 20 minutes from where I live.  UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus asked if I would come out and stand with the Lawrence teachers, who've now gone over six years without a contract, and I did. I've been a UFT member since 1984, and I certainly remember various times we went years without a contract. So of course I sympathize. But after speaking to teachers on the picket line I realized this was more than just waiting on a hostile mayor.

Evidently the Lawrence school board is now populated entirely by parents who send their kids to yeshivas, private religious schools. And these religious parents appear to have determined that the needs of their children supersede the needs of the rest of the riff raff living there. So why not close down a few of those useless public schools and save a few bucks?

As for the teachers, the last time they got a contract, they had friends on the board. But those days are gone. I mean, a contract usually entails more money, and why should the current board give a dime for community? That would mean, you know, paying taxes and stuff. Do you have any idea how much it costs to maintain even a modestly sized McMansion nowadays?

One of the stumbling blocks to reaching an agreement is class size. A teacher told me the new board wants to raise it. Evidently they can't waste time even pretending to care about the children of their neighbors. The teacher told me that once they raised the class sizes they could then fire all the teachers they didn't need, which would leave more money to bus their own children and provide more services to the yeshivas, wherever they may be located.

Randi Weingarten got up and gave a speech about how basic tenets of Judaism entailed caring for members of our communities. I'm not very religious, but that's certainly a value I share. I respect people who are religious in general, but I'd deem people who say, "I've got mine, screw everyone else," to fail the spiritual litmus test, whatever it may be. I don't know what the school board members would've said to Randi's speech, but I also don't know how they sit in temples and expect God to respect them. In fact, I don't even know how they sleep at night.

I had another question, though, and this one bothered me even more. How on earth could this be going on maybe 15 miles from where I live without my even having heard about it? Why isn't this story plastered all over our local rag Newsday? Why isn't there an op-ed in the Times about it?

This is an outrage, and word has not really gotten out. Please consider this to be word one. I'm hoping to see more words about it elsewhere. I saw reps from unions all over the island today. I think it's a good start but it's not enough.

I'm more than happy to support my union when we do the right thing, and I was glad to be there. That's me with that big UFT banner, wearing red for public ed. For Lawrence teachers to get a contract, we're gonna have to do more than wear the correct-colored shirt. We're gonna have to drag that miserable school board into the limelight and let the whole world know what they're doing.

I'll let you know right here if they take another action, and maybe we'll call our friends in the press and let them know too. Nothing disinfects quite like sunlight. Honest to God, I haven't got the faintest understanding how anyone could consider themselves religious and treat their own community like garbage.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but at least he doesn't pretend to be interested when he has to go to church. He states his concerns openly--chocolate cake, ogling his adult daughter, and pussy-grabbing. When he talks about the bible, or values it's hard to imagine even his supporters not recognizing that as empty lip service. But who knows? As Lily Tomlin said, "No matter how cynical you get, you just can't keep up."

Despicable people tend to remain that way no matter how frequently they sit in church, or temple, and pretend to be otherwise. If there's anyone around my neighborhood rivaling the "ethics-shmethics" level of Donald Trump, it's the Lawrence school board.
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