Op-ed by Howard Eagle
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or just not paying attention, then you know that over the past few weeks, a great-educational-awakening has occurred. All of a sudden, we’ve witnessed literally hundreds of predominantly white students, parents, teachers, and others emerge from the deeply-entrenched status-quo, relative to general acceptance of the longstanding fact that the Rochester City School District (RCSD) is the worst performing public school district in all of New York State, and in fact, one of the worst performing in the nation:
In recent weeks, the modern-day, political Rip Van Winkles have been consistently and vociferously asserting their new-found concern and love for our overwhelmingly, predominantly Black and brown student population. And they have been bemoaning the fact that, after Christmas break, due to budget cuts, the RCSD will have 109 fewer teachers, including, 20 black teachers, according to the Rochester Teachers Association (RTA).
This may not seem like a lot, but since teachers of color compose less than one-fourth of the total RCSD teacher population, twenty-less is definitely significant, especially in light of conclusive, research-based evidence concerning the fact that Black teachers are absolutely vital regarding significantly increased likelihood of Black students’ academic success in high school and beyond (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2018/11/black_teachers_key_black_students_college_enrollment.html).
In light of the above referenced evidence, and the fact that some RCSD teachers were willing to make concessions in order to help save their colleagues’ jobs, it seems that teachers should be asking why was their leader—RTA President, Adam Urbanski—not willing to do so? He could have saved every teacher’s job (every last one), but chose not to, even though some teachers clearly wanted him to do so ( https://www.whec.com/news/rcsd-teachers-considering-sacrificing-some-benefits-reduce-layoffs-rta-hesitant/5575475/ON?fbclid=IwAR1rPnEBRMxax7hFYSR-dyMR7bqhBW8hosvzBP2QLmOU_HGmvDtiUFVRDQc ).
But, because he’s so use to having his way (so use to winning all the time), he wouldn’t budge. Just think about his arguments. He argued that the Rochester City School District should wait until the end of the school year to make the teacher cuts. So, he obviously felt confident that money would come forth by the end of the year to close the RCSD’s nearly 65 million dollar budget hole, (the existence of which no one has been able to fully explain, in detail, as of yet), which is why RCSD teachers are being let go in the first place, and why the RCSD’s finances are under investigation by both the New York State Comptroller’s Office and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Urbanski could have taken the position at the negotiating table that teachers would concede some of the benefits referenced in the article at the link above, and if/when the district secures funding from the State, the benefits would be restored (in full or partially depending on what the State allocates).
The State will allocate something. There is no way in the world that the State of New York is going to allow the Rochester City School District to go bankrupt. Doing so would have very, very serious ramifications and ripple effects throughout the local and regional economy. It’s not going to happen — period.
It’s difficult, if not impossible to understand why most Black Teachers, and other teachers of color were not visible, nor vocal in demanding that Urbanski make concessions to save their jobs. This is the perfect time for the broader Black community to join with (the operative term is with) Black teachers to demand that the RCSD not back away from efforts to move toward even a semblance of racial equity regarding teachers in our classrooms.
Again, especially in light of the conclusive, research-based evidence cited above, it is beyond time to make a concerted demand that so-called LIFO (Last-in-first-out) laws be amended, if not abolished all together. If black teachers and the broader Black community does not make the demand — we certainly can’t expect that anyone else will: https://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/429-lifo-in-todays-education-climate
Where Black teachers in particular are concerned, one of the biggest problems with this entire fiasco is due to strict seniority laws that dictate the last hired will be the first fired—a scenario that will grossly, disproportionately affect them. A numbers of Black teachers will be sent right back out of the door, into the unemployment lines, while at the same time Rochester City School District officials will continue to wax eloquent about so-called “valuing diversity,” and wanting more Black and other teachers of color.
It can’t be both. They can’t recruit and retain Black teachers, and fire them at the same time. So, we need to talk about changing state law. There are instructive models:https://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-teacher-lawsuit-20140611-story.html.
This is the issue that Black teachers ought to be raising (in conjunction with Black parents and other community members), but of course many of us are straight-up afraid to touch the “forbidden-fruit” issue of Individual, Institutional, and Structural RACISM. WHY???
Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and is now an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport.
(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)