Rally urges keeping teachers based on ability, not seniority
Share with others:
With an unprecedented number of teacher layoffs expected in Pittsburgh Public Schools, A+ Schools -- along with support from nine other community organizations -- led a rally Tuesday demanding: Keep Pittsburgh's best teachers.
A+ Schools called on the school district and the teachers union, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, to come up with a plan that would consider teacher effectiveness, not just seniority, in deciding which teachers get laid off.
The rally at Schenley Plaza in Oakland attracted about 100 people. The crowd chanted, "Put kids first."
As is the case in every school district across Pennsylvania, the current teacher contract provides for teachers to be laid off based on seniority and certification area.
The district estimates 350 to 360 classroom teaching positions will be eliminated this fall, and, when paraprofessionals, secretaries and other school-based staff are added, the total is above 500. The actual number of layoffs is expected to be smaller because of resignations and retirements.
Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, said her organization is continuing to fight for more state money for education, but the "harsh reality" of impending layoffs can't be ignored.
If seniority alone is used to determine the layoffs, she said, some great teachers will be lost.
Through its Empowering Effective Teachers plan, the district and teachers have been developing together, Ms. Harris believes the district has enough data to consider effectiveness.
That plan -- which received $40 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as other foundation and government grants -- includes the development of a more rigorous teacher evaluation system.
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis maintains that seniority is the only fair way to furlough teachers, saying in a phone interview that it protects against "favoritism, nepotism, racism, ageism, and we fought really hard for those rights."
She added, "What we should really be rallying against is what I call the funding charade in Harrisburg."
School board President Sherry Hazuda listened off to the side of the rally. Afterwards, she said the organizers had done a "really good job of getting people more up-to-date on some of the issues," but "we need to take a break and sit down at the table. Between the board, the administration and the union, we're going to work this out.
"It's challenging right now," she said, saying she thinks there is room for a solution between only seniority and no seniority.
"We've built a strong history of collaboration," she said.
At the rally, Kendre Crawford-Blue, a student at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12, also known as University Prep, and a member of the TeenBloc of A+ Schools, said, "We're going to be robbed of our education if things don't change."
Eli Boninger, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, praised his instrumental music teacher, Brian Lee, who is at risk of being laid off due to seniority, saying many consider him to be their best teacher ever.
By using seniority only, Eli said, "We will surely lose many of our Mr. Lees."
Mr. Lee, who is in his eighth year in Pittsburgh Public Schools, said he has received a displacement notice from Allderdice because the number of music teachers is being reduced from two to 11/2. He does not yet know whether he will be furloughed from the district.
At the rally, he said the battle for seniority is not about him or other teachers but is "for the students of Pittsburgh. Our students deserve the best teachers."
While he said seniority is important, he said, "It can't be just seniority."
The Rev. William Curtis, senior pastor of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer, said, "Excellence is not restricted to those with seniority. The job of teaching is too important to risk losing teachers who do it well."
Effectiveness "should be the major factor in making these difficult decisions," said Wanda Henderson, founding member of Advocates for African-American Students in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Lutual Love Sr., first vice president of the Pittsburgh Mifflin PreK-8 parent-teacher group, said he is pro-teacher, pro-school district and pro-union, but he was at the rally because he is also pro-children.
Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, said using seniority only could have "devastating consequences" in some of the most vulnerable schools where a disproportionate number of teachers have low seniority.
The executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund, Saleem Ghubril, said a promise was made to students to provide the best education.
"This is not the time to settle for self-preservation," he said.
Tracy Reed-Armant, vice president of the board of A+ Schools, said the district has enough data on teacher effectiveness, saying using seniority was "putting our heads in the sand."
In addition to A+ Schools, groups listed as partners at the rally include the Advocates for African American Students in Pittsburgh Public Schools, Black Political Empowerment Project, Communities for Teaching Excellence, Communities in Schools, Hill District Education Council, Project Destiny, the Center that CARES, the Pittsburgh Promise and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.
One of the many speakers at Tuesday's rally, James Forgarty, is the Pittsburgh community organizer for Communities for Teaching Excellence, which is a project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
He urged the union and district to meet. "If they don't start talking now, they'll never get to a solution," he said.
First Published May 16, 2012 12:00 am