Quolke's Corner 2/29/12

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“If you are not at the table, then you are probably on the menu”


Never has a quote been truer than when describing the Mayor’s Plan for the Cleveland Schools.  Each time I write words the Mayor’s Plan I accidentally type the word education, so it says the Mayor’s Education Plan, but that is a mistake.  This is not a plan to educate children in Cleveland; rather this is a plan to blame unions and fire teachers.


Under Mayor Jackson’s direction the plan was crafted by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, Breakthrough Charter Schools, The Cleveland Foundation, and The Gund Foundation.  There was absolutely no input from the Cleveland Teachers Union, other educators, parents, students or the community. The plan was created behind closed doors, gives few specifics, and includes many of the Senate Bill 5 components that Ohioans rejected in November.   Eliminating seniority, decimating collective bargaining for all unions, eliminating continuing contracts, blaming the teachers, expanding charters, and relinquishing control of the school district to an appointed corporation of outsiders are what this plan touts as the cure for what ails our public school system.  Not one legislative change is designed to educate students in a new or better way.  For all of you that have dedicated your lives to education and the children of Cleveland, despite all of your hard work and commitment I must warn you, you are not simply on the menu – you are the main course. 


It is pretty clear the Mayor and the Greater Cleveland Partnership have been creating this plan for the better part of 6 months.  Take a look this timeline of events.


June 20, 2011 - The Mayor, the Board Chair, and the CEO write a letter to the Ohio Legislature asking for Senate Bill 5 provisions to be put into HB 153 (the budget bill).  The Republican-led Ohio General Assembly and Governor Kasich add some provisions to House Bill 153 which leads to changes in seniority, evaluation, and differentiated compensation for all teachers in Ohio.  The Legislature also adds a Cleveland only provision that allows the Mayor to convert any current CMSD public school into a charter school.


November 8, 2011 - Issue 2 is defeated – Senate Bill 5 is repealed.  On November 14, 2011, Joe Roman, President of GCP, states in Crain’s Business “Our greatest priority still is teacher seniority and teacher accountability measures that we think are absolutely critical for the Cleveland school system and other school systems.  We were involved in (those issues) before they turned into Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2, and we’re going to get right back to it.”


January 12, 2012 – Plain Dealer reports Governor Kasich swooning over Mayor Frank Jackson.  Kasich tells the editorial board of the Plain Dealer that if Mayor Jackson comes up with a plan that is robust enough and significant enough the governor would “spend every breath I have to get that done.”


February 6, 2012 – Mayor Jackson unveils his plan to representatives of the CTU and law makers that represent the city of Cleveland.  Later that night all CMSD employees are emailed a 16 page document outlining the plan.  The document is long on words, but short on details.


February 7, 2012 – In a long and often rambling State of the State address, Governor Kasich gives a shout out to Mayor Jackson’s Plan, promising to go door to door to help the Mayor convince lawmakers to vote for the requested legislative changes.


Let me be clear – the CTU is not opposed to this entire plan.  There are things in this plan that we agree with and have been advocating for years.  Those include providing all children in Cleveland access to our high-quality preschool programs, strengthening programs that prepare our students for college and careers, and recognizing that charter schools must be held accountable to children, families, and taxpayers.  Educators are committed more than anyone to ensure that all of our public school students receive a great education and that all Cleveland families have a multitude of great schools from which to choose.


On the other hand there are many things about the Mayor’s Plan that are beyond disturbing:


  • This is not an education plan, but instead a plan to fire and sort teachers.  This plan focuses on seniority, tenure, decimating collective bargaining, handing control of public schools over to the business community, and blaming the teachers and principals in low performing schools for the student test scores.
  • This plan created by charter operators, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and the foundations re-introduces components of Senate Bill 5.  This plan is a Senate Bill 5 restart.  Some parts of the plan are actually far worse than what was in Senate Bill 5.
  • The Cleveland Teachers Union, educators, parents, and other education stakeholders were excluded from the creation of this plan.  It does not make sense - educators and parents are not bystanders in our schools. They are on the front lines of making sure our young people succeed.
  • Clevelanders are sick and tired of back-room deals and top-down edicts in which corporations and big foundations call all the shots. 


The Cleveland Teachers Union is not going to stand by and allow the Mayor, the Governor, the GCP, or the foundations to hijack our public education system.  The union and its members who work to educate children everyday are the ones ensuring that there is a free, fair, and quality education for ALL children.  Public education is a right and a democratic principle that must be protected.  While we have asked our members to be patient and hold action until the legislation is dropped, the CTU has begun putting our member mobilization strategy that was so effective in the Issue 2 campaign back in motion.  CTU officers have already met with State Representatives and State Senators, OFT, OEA and AFL-CIO leadership, faith based community leaders, city council members and business leaders. 


Right now the Mayor’s Plan is in what I call a concept phase.  The Mayor has a concept of what he wants and that must be translated into language that goes to the Ohio General Assembly to be turned into law.  The devil is in the details.  We know that this could get ugly and we know that this legislation could mirror Senate Bill 5 and be a direct attack on dedicated and conscientious educators.  When the time comes we will all need to spring into action together to help educate lawmakers from Cleveland to Dayton and Toledo to Steubenville that this is not an education plan. 


I will leave you with my favorite quote that I often use to describe solidarity, and it is so true today…


“You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire.  Once the flame begins to catch, the wind will blow it higher”   


It is clear that the GCP’s and Mayor’s strategy is to target one labor union, one group at a time.  We all know the Governor hopes to use this as a template for education “reform” across the state.  Once again, we need to prove we are not a candle to be extinguished but a fire that is not easily put out. 


In Union,