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The Sentinel Gets it Wrong

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By Jerry Waxman

“All I know is what I read in the papers………………………” Will Rogers

So, what else is new? They recently published two articles on the current contract negotiations between the Orange County School Board (OCPS) and the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) with misguided slanted statements as well as with oversimplified rhetoric which is designed to sway public opinion against the teachers and marginalize their professional standing.

When you have an organization that that has made a fiasco out of well meaning collective bargaining over the recent years, reducing the level of professionalism in teachers and support staff, what’s your next move? That’s easy. Let the Orlando Sentinel take positions with facts from only one side and use generalizations to gloss over the true story. The first sentence of each of the recent articles seeks to vilify the CTA. The last we knew it took two sides to bargain. If one side is intransigent on a policy or a contract language, and it takes at least 2 sides to bargain, then bargaining cannot take place. The CTA has learned a lesson over time and it now takes contract language very seriously, as the spirit of the agreement has been broken by OCPS many times over the last 4 years devastating many teachers economically. One result is that CTA plans on tracking the number of teachers who have to rely on public assistance during employment and shortly after retirement. Yes, it is important to work together, but it needs to be done fairly, out in the open and collaboratively.

The point is did the reporter write the articles exactly as they appeared, or did the editor change the tone and nature of them? Quoting from the April 4 article:

The union wasn’t objecting to the raises, per se, but to other elements of the proposed settlement. In many cases, the objections are over language that union leaders contend would reduce teachers’ bargaining power.

They also objected to a middle ground on health care benefits. The district wanted to pass on health care cost increases largely to employees. The union wanted the district to pay the full cost of health insurance premiums for employees opting for higher-benefit plans. The magistrate recommended that the district pay the first 8 percent of any premium cost increases, with any additional costs split between the employees and district.

The union also wanted language that would have forbidden the district from using “directives,” which are written clarifications of expectations, against the employee. The magistrate, M. Scott Milinski, wrote that he couldn’t recommend that change, since directives are intended to improve employee performance.

The latest action by the union appears to be sowing some discord among teachers. Carl Howard, a teacher who has long butted heads with union president Diana Moore, wrote her a letter Thursday demanding that she poll union members — or at least school-level union leaders — on what they want done. “A reasonable person would have settled long ago,” wrote Howard, who is a union representative at Princeton Elementary.

The rejection comes amid a contentious union election, with observers from the Florida Education Association threatening to withdraw oversight.

Had the reporter or the editor properly vetted the people they talked to they would have found Carl Howard a completely unreliable source. True, he and current CTA head Diana Moore are at odds with each other, but that’s been his history for years. He showed the same opposition to past CTA head Mike Cahill and in the process angered mostly everyone in union leadership. In case the Sentinel had forgotten, this is the same Carl Howard, who was a sitting Water & Soil commissioner when he was arrested for shoplifting about $800.00 worth of marking pens a few years ago. Howard is also behind the recall petition for Moore which has pitifully few signatures. Howard has also been using the OCPS e-mail system to push his agenda which is both unethical and not intended for that purpose, which could have the school board take corrective action against the union. Moore has said that she has received a multitude of phone calls and messages from teachers complaining about Howard and his tactics

Then on April 5 The Sentinel again published an article focusing on Moore’s leadership. Here are some excerpts from that article:

The focus of the campaign is Diana Moore, who has brought a combative, aggressive style to the union presidency since she emerged victorious from a contentious election two years ago.

“She’s made enemies of the people we need to be working with,” said Teresa Yates, a West Orange High School teacher who has thrown her support behind Glyniss Hudson, a colleague running against Moore.

Still, Moore has many backers.

“I think she’s done a lot to revitalize the union,” said Vincent Johnston, a teacher at Rolling Hills Elementary who thinks the district has tried to undermine Moore.

Moore has headed the union with a strong hand and little interest in compromise. The school district agreed last month to a proposed settlement that would give 99 percent of Orange teachers a raise of at least $2,475 but also require performance pay.

The union on Wednesday rejected elements of that ruling, which was brokered by a special magistrate.

Why is it that a woman who is steadfast in holding the line is viewed by this local media as combative, yet a man would be seen as being strong? Why is it that a woman who shows leadership is aggressive and a man demonstrating leadership is in control? The issue of demeanor aside, the two recent articles fail to connect the dots in tracking just how much of the governor’s money will not reach the teachers for personal budgeting. It may be as high as 33 Million dollars. The union lost out four years ago on the contract talks because of weak leadership with no negotiating skills, and as a result only came away with $500.00 bonuses for all teachers. The union was determined not to let that happen again. They were much better this time and it was because of stronger, more focused leadership. They made some mistakes but you only learn by going through this kind of experience.

The real culprit here is a lack of understanding the budgeting process by almost every member of the board itself, none more clueless than former chair Joie Cadle. She’s the main reason the teachers did not get raises four years ago, and she’s part of the reason that they are in that situation now. Another part of today’s problem is Chairman Bill Sublette, the only elected official in this entire country with two votes. Sublette is a former state legislator who would never question the state’s directives on VAM scores. Every other county in Central Florida, as well as all large counties in the state seemed OK without using VAM scores to settle, but not OCPS. A third part of the equation is Superintendant Barbara Jenkins. Jenkins is a graduate of the Broad Academy, which is notorious for school reform along with the Gates and Walton Foundations, which are dedicated to rigid testing, vouchers, mislabeled school choice and devaluation of teachers in general. It’s no wonder that OCPS schools are up for the Broad Prize, which was just announced on April 9. Barbara Jenkins needs to share her philosophy on union-management partnerships and the process of collective bargaining. Both the teachers and the public would like to know if Superintendent Barbara Jenkins is anti-union.

Most importantly did the Sentinel research the backgrounds of the candidates that have made comments in those articles that show an appearance to be biased in favor of one side? Is the Orlando Sentinel attempting to influence the CTA’s leadership in the upcoming election that will be held on April 11? Collective bargaining cannot properly occur with a board that begins and ends with the philosophy of “take it, leave it or lump it”. On the other hand, “advanced” public school districts with the highest scores from state to state on national tests also have the most productive union-management partnerships with true collective bargaining. They keep their word on agreements made avoided twisting terminology and false claims of legality. The issue here is what’s best for the children? This current school board has shown time and again that the 187,000 children in the system don’t matter to them. Obviously Jeb Bush’s education policies along with the Broad Foundation’s headlong attempt to destroy public education as we know it mean much more to them. The only people who actually do care about the children are the teachers. That’s why they teach. It’s certainly not to get rich.

It is the vision of CTA President, Diana Moore and her supporters to walk the narrow line through negotiations for a win-win result and a stronger contract to guide the growth of students, parents and teacher professionalism in Orange County Schools.

But Wait!!! There’s More—This just in!

In the April 5 Sentinel the article stated:

In a harshly-worded statement, FEA president Andy Ford wrote that the local committee overseeing the Orange CTA election “has no prior experience or expertise in conducting an election and that some members do not have the required neutrality to administer a complex elections process.” He said that the FEA would not continue to help oversee the election without specific direction from the CTA about what the expected role of FEA staff is.

Apparently, the Sentinel had gotten hold of an e-mail sent to Moore and others on her board expressing FEA’s concerns. When questioned by the Sentinel, Ford expressed confidence that the elections will be fair. Of course, when you read the article that statement wasn’t there. At 10:38 AM on April 9 Ford sent word to Moore that after several exchanges with union representatives he was rescinding his withdrawal of support, and at the same time he bemoaned the fact that the Sentinel chose to be deliberately misleading. Here are portions of the e-mail he sent to Moore:

Following thoughtful messages and requests from several committee members, I am rescinding my withdrawal of support for the election. The Chief of Staff has directed Tom Fackender and Aaron Hilligas to once again provide active support to the Elections and Surveys Committee, although they have continued to provide requested support to the co-chairs since last Wednesday because they knew the committee required that help.

Based on the work of the Committee and our staff, we believe that a foundation now exists for that purpose going forward.

I am aware that my email last week was provided to the press. That is an unfortunate occurrence most likely the result of someone forwarding a copy to the reporter, a likely symptom of the atmosphere that now exists in your local. We had no role in that release. When asked for comment by the Sentinel reporter, we told them that we were completely confident that the election was being conducted in a fair and legal manner and that our differences were related to lines of responsibility only. The Sentinel chose not to report our comments.

Stay tuned for further developments. There’s more to come.