As a UC Berkeley graduate, I’ve seen more than a few protests in my day. Coming from San Francisco, land of the professional activist, to Miami, land of the professional club goer and bikini model, I was not surprised by the lack of turnout for the class size protest. Who has time to protest when you need to go the gym, get spray tanned, Brazilian waxed, botoxed, a mani pedi, and a keratin hair treatment just to go to the grocery store? Blame it on the weather. San Francisco’s harsh Pacific wind and misty fog breeds a certain level outrage all year round. Miami’s tropical breezes and blazing sun leave one more inclined to sip a Cuba Libre in a hammock under a mango tree rather than actually attend a protest to free Cuba. Nevertheless, enough committed souls did attend the rally outside of the School Board meeting to get themselves and the district’s class size violations on the six o’clock news. http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Teachers-and-Parents-Voice-Concerns-on-Classroom-Overcrowding-299996631.html The real action was going on inside the School Board auditorium, where a few dozen dissidents did a whole lot of damage. Combined with a Miami Herald article that ran the same morning about district intimidation of teachers and parents that speak at School Board meetings, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article18527573.html the MDCPS district had a very bad day.
Here is a quick recap of an epic School Board meeting filled with one damned good speech after the next. I’ll try my best to capture the spirit of their speeches even though I couldn’t catch every word. People speak really fast when they only have three minutes! Not to mention the fact that my son was rolling around on the floor demanding I wrap him in blankets because he is obsessed with turning into a butterfly, my daughter kept singing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” to rehearse for the end of the year show at her school, and my husband was threatening to divorce me if I didn’t “Turn that sh*t off.”
If you did catch the School Board meeting today, if you learned nothing else, you learned that one cannot use anyone’s name while speaking at a School Board meeting, especially the Superintendent’s! I’m not sure where this bizarre rule came from, but out of respect for the Board I will attempt to use code names. See if you can figure out who is who.
Feeling some heat from the Herald story, the Board wanted to make it clear how much they respect and enjoy working with parents. One male Board member praised his PTA for their open lines of communication and how they offered solutions rather than just “running to the media.” The Board does not like those types of parents. The parent pleasing propaganda continued as the Superintendent announced they were lifting the minimum homework requirement. Hallelujah! Praise God Almighty! My daughter has been coming home crying every day from first grade because of her thick homework packets filled with spelling words. The Superintendent said he would use “the all mighty power of social media” (tell me about it Bro) to Tweet to students that they would be freed from the oppression of unreasonable homework assignments.
The celebration did not last long as the Superintendent went into his monthly ritual of the doom and gloom budget talks with warnings of apocalyptic health care costs. This is an actual quote, “Every year we are able to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but the hat has shrunk and the rabbit has died.” That would be a really sh*tty magic trick. “Bureaucratic hocus pocus” gone amuck. He followed this with “I am an eternal optimistic.”
While the budget talk continued, a very misleading visual appeared on the screen (previously I have only listened to School Board meetings on the radio), the video antics provided a whole new level of disbelief. The low budget Word document of a visual read “Legislative Priorities.” Much to my surprise, “class size reduction” was one of the School Board’s legislative priorities! But when it came time to discuss “class size reduction” they were talking about SB 818, the bill that will kill the Florida class size amendment. Maybe it was a typo, and someone edited out the more accurate the description of the Board’s legislative priority, “class size reduction and elimination of all fines for failure to comply with the class size amendment.”
The Superintendent then went on to spell out what a $60 million shortfall because of the failure to collect taxes would mean for the district. “$60 million would pay for two steps for teachers or 1,000 teachers.” This is code for you will get a $150 half step increase next January. Consider yourself lucky you still have a job.
He then went on to boast about the many bills being sponsored by Miami Dade County that are sailing through Tallahassee (SB 818 being one of them). The Superintendent lamented that he had not heard a ground swell of support for the Governor’s highest budget and that those in the community that care for public education need to send emails.
Next up, UTD. Is that the UTD President in the house? My God, it is. The UTD President has attended a School Board meeting! He has probably been cursing me and my blog the whole time for calling them out for not attending School Board meetings and now he has to sit through this sh*t and actually prepare a speech. It went something like this, “We want to present a unified message between parents, the school board and the union. Thank you for your continuing support of music in Dade County schools. HB 7069 improves the testing situation and gives the district latitude in providing a sensible solution in testing. All well-rounded education is inclusive of arts, electives and vocational classes. We believe our students learn better in smaller classes (OMG! UTD is actually saying something about class size. The code of silence has been broken!). Just because the legislature has watered down class size does not mean our students don’t deserve lower class size. “ Then he said something about being actively involved in social media (don’t mind if I do thanks).
Next up is the UTD Queen Waiting to be Crowned. God help us. I can’t remember anything she said. I got bored and immediately stopped listening.
Then the public hearing begins. Generally, the public hearing begins around 5:30. That’s where the School Board meetings get juicy and actually amusing. So if you’re pressed for time, start watching around 5:30. Shockingly, the Superintendent does not leave the stage when the public hearing begins. The Divine Ms. P politely calls the Audacious Lady to the stand. To quote my students, “Sh*t just got real!”
Audacious Lady: “I decided to speak at this month’s Board Meeting because I read the blog from Kafkateach (FML, if the Supe didn’t know about my blog before he certainly does now) and heard how other teachers also had issues after speaking at the board. According to the Miami Herald article this morning, the “Wicked Witch of the School District’s Public Relations Department” said people who speak out are all complainers. I should be making $60,000 and I have terrible healthcare. The one thing we should have is respect. We speak out because we are here for the benefit of our children. I can handle all the retaliation for everything that is done to me, other people can’t. There is a teacher with 40 students in her class at Riverside Elementary but they don’t speak up because they are afraid of retaliation. I don’t know who this “Wicked Witch of the School District’s PR department” is, but if you want to quote teachers as being complainers, you might want to know why we complain so much.”
Next up is the Math Stud teacher who also has a way with words.
Math Stud: “I’d like to continue my speech from last time. My classes are overfilled with students. Last time a Board member stated, “If we are breaking the law, why aren’t we in jail?” It doesn’t require a jail sentence to violate the class size amendment but it’s still against the law. The class size amendment was voted upon twice. It is important that class size be at the class size level. The legislature let’s districts assume responsibility. After my speech last month, a region superintendent spoke harshly to my Principal and asked for my data and how long have I been teaching. I complained that I couldn’t walk through rows of desks and he said I should rearrange my room to accommodate more students. I shouldn’t have to rearrange my room so the district can violate the law.”
Mr. Don’t Mess with Tallahassee is up next. “Speaking about the class size amendment! This is a state law, it’s in the state constitution. You can’t just come out with “Schools of Choice”. It’s a gimmick. My classes are over the limit but adjustments were not made because my Principal did not receive enough money from the district. I have 30 more students than I should. I have 5 classes over the limit. This is not just a Miami Beach High problem. I have a lot of ESOL and ESE students. These kids are struggling, they may not graduate. I’m asking you for the school year coming up to use the additional $276 increase per pupil spending to alleviate class size. Please think of those teachers and kids in overcrowded classrooms.”
The Divine Ms. P calls up Mr. Trouble. She saw him coming from a mile away.
Mr. Trouble: “The lady is passing out a copy of what I would like to share. I would like to title my speech, “A Question of Contempt.” I’m here because I read online about feedback from teachers and parents trying to express concerns. Contempt felt for trying to improve the educational system. Why do they show contempt for the two most knowledgeable experts-parents and teachers? It shows contempt when board members leave the stage when teachers and parents speak. It shows contempt when the district dismisses teachers who speak as “complainers.” It shows contempt when enforced curriculum changes with little input from faculty are imposed on schools as with the Gradual Release model. I am calling for resignation of the Wicked Witch of the School District PR Department for her callous statements about teachers who speak at Board meetings.”
The Divine Ms. P wants to make it clear that we do not use names during Board meetings. She then seems extra flustered when Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL), asks for 12 minutes to speak because 3 people donated their time to her. Then the Board wastes 8 minutes debating over whether Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL) is entitled to two extra minutes.
The Mayor in Waiting decides to throw a pity party, “I want to be clear, we’ve been here since 9 am. It’s a long day. If you could do it in 10 minutes that would be great. We’ve spent all day listening to people (just wait until your mayor honey). The Herald article keeps coming up. That one quote does not encompass everything that was said. We need to stop slandering the Wicked Witch of the District’s PR Department.”
The Lady in Red jumps into the fray, “I’ve heard the speaker ask for minutes from the other speakers. Is this something the board understands, what happened to the other two minutes?”
The Wizard of Oz voice from behind the screen, “Board rule is ten minutes per person.” (Funny, ya’ll just wasted 8 minutes discussing this). Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL) goes into a data backed tirade about everything wrong with corporate education reform in ten minutes. I cannot possibly do her speech justice. We are working on getting it on youtube.
She starts with a quote from George Orwell, “In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. “ Teachers who speak are bullied. Teachers felt intimidated by Superintendent “insert actual name that must never, ever be mentioned in public.”
The Divine Ms. P interjects, “I would appreciate it if you don’t say names.”
Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL): “This isn’t a dialogue. I want to say Superintendent “insert actual name” so I am not accused of saying something else. Last I checked I he worked for the tax payers. I am holding up our frozen step chart. We have a lack of adjustments for cost of living. Medical expenses keep increasing. 3% of our paychecks is taken out for our pensions. Teachers today are actually making $12,000 less than nine years ago. Florida is the 44th worst state for teacher salaries. My friend would like to be here but she can’t because she has to tutor. The opportunity to speak out publicly has become a luxury for teachers. UTD? Are you one of those teachers paying $800 a year in union fees. The Union declared our last contract a victory. What a joke! Teachers were misled and voted “yes.” Teachers actually got a pay cut. Let me illustrate with hard data. Teachers received a pay cut of $369. The UTD President saw a pay increase of $8,000 in five years. You are paying union dues for six figure salaries of people who don’t care. Solutions, sale of public lands should be used to give teachers a raise. Stop using public dollars for charter schools. FSA and VAM are all connected. It’s part of a plan to pay teachers even less. If a student fails, so do teachers. It frees up more tax dollars for public charter schools. The VAM determines performance pay. Easy, pass a law, create a business.” She then calls out Miami representative Erik Fresen and the Divine Ms. P makes a feeble attempt to silence her. “Charters equal Big money and little oversight. Solution: scrap performance pay, scrap public charters, scrap VAM, public charters should be given to the public. Job of local School Board is to run the schools. I actually practiced several times. This is the first time my friend has attended a school board meeting. She said there are more pressing issues than dance, how about we discuss some of those. Many teachers have other obligations. Even if they weren’t scared to come here, there are many voices who feel the same way I do. It would be awesome if teachers did not have to fear visits from regional superintendents. After I spoke the last time, the regional superintendent specifically asked for me. Not a coincidence.”
The Divine Ms. P, “No need to say names. You can wrap it up.”
Ms. Opt Out is the next to take the stage, “I’m very concerned. At one point when Hurricane Andrew tore up our district when our schools were destroyed we had to house other students. My administrator said, “I know we’re dealing with a compromised situation, however I’m going to keep our core classes at a minimum. Now I have 178 students. I’m one person. How do you get everything graded? How do you take time to provide the feedback? Even though the state has allowed the school choice, we still have to think about assessments. I haven’t been able to provide feedback with all the interruptions from constant assessments. We have to start thinking with a moral conscience and using our own sense of integrity to make decisions.”
Next the Lady in Red gets presented with an award on behalf of parents and children by the Lady inYellow. The Lady in Yellow called out the rest of the Board, “It would be appreciated if the school board and superintendent did more to reach out to parents.”
Retired teacher #1 takes the stand: “I want to talk about salaries. The Superintendent and the Board have gone to Tallahassee to procure more funding. I passed out a handout of EOC test data. Look at the data for students who did not pass. Look at the absences. 34 students with 50-80 absences. This excludes absences due to sports, assemblies and visits with counselors. I had 14 level 1 ESOL students. I had 11th graders with 5th grade reading levels. How is a teacher to be held accountable when students are not present? How is a teacher held accountable when they don’t speak English? How are teachers held accountable for students who can’t read at grade level? What would happen if you transferred all of Coral Reef’s teaching staff to a lower income school?“ (Excellent question!).
Retired teacher #2: “I’m retired. Everyday is Saturday. I’m going to defer my time to my friend.”
Retired teacher #3: “I taught ballroom dancing on Miami Beach. Merengue, Cha-Cha. Did a lot of things that teachers can no longer do. Large classrooms with 110 students in auditorium with and a TV. I spoke before this board 15 years ago and I got a Dade county ruling changed in less than ten seconds! I apologize, I mentioned names. I was having lunch with my friend Doug, oops I mentioned his name and the name of the restaurant.”
The Divine Ms.P: “You can mention the name of restaurants.”
“I published a book. (holds up book). I sent it to board members and the Superintendent. I didn’t expect anybody to read it. Somebody complained I published a dirty joke. They wouldn’t mention who said it. I’d like to read it to you, but I’m not going to because I won’t put you in that position. Can I have an extra 30 seconds? 15? Thank you. I’m going to step away when this meeting is over, when we’re off the air. And if you think I published a dirty joke, say it to my face!!”
If you’ve never tuned in to a School Board meeting it can turn into the Theater of the Absurd. No wonder they try to prevent people from speaking.
Not-so Tiny Tim is up next: “I have never had a problem until my assistant Principal yelled at me for making her look bad when I wanted students to be removed from gradebook who weren’t mine. This is fraud. Ever since then her actions showed retaliation. I had to drive to another school to teach a subject I don’t teach. She said not walking around the classroom is effecting my teaching. Maybe they don’t want to be exposed for having a teacher who is teaching gifted who isn’t gifted endorsed and for having a teacher that isn’t ESOL endorsed teaching ESOL.”
The next speaker is the reason why you need to watch Board meetings on TV instead of listening to the radio. A lot of the theatrics are visual. This teacher nailed it! She was holding up a sign with what her salary should have been while wearing a T-shirt with a blackboard on it that stated her actual salary. I gotta get me one of those!
Ms. Overworked and Underpaid takes the stand, “I am an overworked and underpaid public school teacher. I know this number I am holding up is attractive to a 22 year old. I took five years off because it is not possible to pay for childcare on a teacher’s salary (Amen sister!). Each year for 4 years my position was terminated. Some loop hole prevented me from getting unemployment. The starting salary is $40,000, after 21 years I’m making $43,350. Only in Common Core math does 21-5 equal 12! Nowadays I spend most of my time apologizing to students for the ridiculous amount of testing. The only thing common about Common Core is the nationwide failure rate.”
A beautiful 12 year old girl takes the podium next: “I want to speak to the frustrations of an average 12 year old. I have perfect attendance. Recently I missed three days for science field trip. With these accomplishments you would think school was a breeze for me. When I was out for three days, I missed a lot work. I had to miss more class because I missed the FSA. We did not have enough computers to take the test. Why does the state require us to take a test on computers when we don’t enough computers? My critical thinking teacher was never given a curriculum, and doesn’t know what to prepare. Why do we need so many tests?”
Mr. Do the Right Thing is up. “The reason I’m hear to speak is because I spoke about class size in November and about the violation of the class size amendment because of the “School of Choice” loophole. Increasingly large class sizes impede our students. As a result of speaking out we feel we have felt retaliation and intimidation. I was labeled an “ineffective” teacher soon after speaking to the Board. I was placed on support dialogue twice. I was criticized for reviewing an AP human geography exam. Due to my union activity, I face hostile activity. I was accused of sending an email about sick out last week even though I had nothing to do with it. My wife is in graduate school. I cannot afford to lose my job because I speak out. My Principal threatened the student that speaking at the Board would have consequences for the student and myself. The article today in the Miami Herald said we always complain about everything. You should thank us, not mock us. We want the will of the Florida voters to be respected. Why do you insist on packing classes? We should care more about our students’ learning environment than saving money?”
Another student speaker takes the podium: “We know yesterday our governor signed a revised testing law. We want to ask that you meet and review changes to this law.”
The Black Mold Lady Wearing Black takes the stand and makes the mistake of using the Superintendent’s name. The Divine Ms. P cuts off the Black Mold lady because of a pending lawsuit. Black Mold Lady manages to recall the Superintendent’s tweet when the story of mold in the juice boxes ran a few months ago, “Nobody should ever be retaliated against for speaking out, not on my watch.”
The Divine Ms. P breathes a sigh of relief, “This ends the public hearing portion to of the School Board meeting. We listened and we’ve been doing what we’re supposed to do. Listening to what people have to stay to us.”
Let it be known that on tax day, April 15th 2015 the MDCPS School Board meeting became a showcase of dissent. The Board was forced to listen to the people. May there be many more just like them.
***Kafkateach will be working to get video clips of the speeches added to this blog when they become available. My transcription cannot do the amazing job done by these speakers today any justice.***