By Jerry Waxman
The Orange County School Board meets on Tuesday afternoons and discusses its business supposedly in public. It has all the trappings of being public. The only thing missing is the public. Why, you ask? Simple…The board meets at times when most of the working public is either still working or in transit after a hard day at the office or the factory or school. School, you ask? Of course! Teachers don’t leave when the bell rings. Aside from those who coach, or tutor, or advise clubs there is still a lot of work to do getting ready for tomorrow’s classes, or brushing up on curriculum changes or any one of a thousand other things that teachers of past generations never had to experience. Today’s teachers are better educated, better prepared and better equipped than their predecessors, trained by mentors from my generation and my parents generation, yet they are treated by the system as domestic help or even worse. No other professionals such as lawyers, doctors or CPAs would put up with such treatment. Even bad financial advisors with lousy track records get better treatment and a lot more money. Most of the people who show up for board meetings are people directly connected to or working for the board or have proposals (use your imagination here) to present to the board. So, you get the picture; the real public is nowhere to be found. The people whose taxes actually pay the salaries of these officials are absent, and that’s completely by design. After all, why would a body elected by the people want to have anything to do with people? It interferes with business.
The School Board and the teachers have been in contract negotiations since early in the year and there is no resolution in sight. Back in September the Board’s negotiating team declared negotiations at an impasse, which means that a special magistrate has to resolve the dispute as part of the process. The process has been delayed partially because of the government shutdown and there has been no meaningful dialog to reach a settlement. Recently, the board sent a letter to CTA union president Diana Moore which urged the teachers to accept the offer on the table. Moore and the CTA felt that the suggestions and terms violated more NLRB rules than previously. The CTA official position is that they’ll wait for the magistrate’s decision. It’s as much a protest on their treatment and lack of respect as it is about the money.
At Tuesday night’s meeting the teachers held a rally outside the Board’s building on Amelia Street at 5:00. They had planned to register to speak, not on contract matters but on the teacher evaluation system which completely disrespects their professionalism, during the public comment period of the meeting. After all, they may be OCPS employees, but they are also members of the public who have every right to speak at these meetings. The Board knew better and in their published agenda declared that there would be no public comment at this meeting. They did, however, deign to allow Moore to address them in their private meeting for a whole five minutes prior to the public meeting. Moore, showing her frustration, came out to the crowd and handed out adhesive bandages to the assembled to signify the silencing of teachers’ voices as well as the public’s voice. Teachers as taxpayers are asking to be heard. Sandy Stenoff, a parent commented on the fact that parents are not aware if what teachers are dealing with and asked them to share with parents, or taxpayers about the problems with this flawed system. This battle is far from being over and the taxpayer funded School Board has given itself yet another black eye. That’s what should be bandaged.