Mayoral Academies Jump Another Hurdle
Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee’s plan to start up a mayoral academy in Blackstone Valley received the endorsement of the House Finance Committee last week. After initial opposition, the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools has come on board, the ProJo reports. And support for the plan is growing amongst Democratic politicians:
“It’s time to think outside the box,” said House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox through a spokesman. “As Franklin Roosevelt once said, ‘it is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something!’ I think it’s worth trying this mayoral academy….Based on their desire to recruit the best teachers, engage parents as partners and put student achievement first, I believe it is important to give them the opportunity to develop their plan for ultimate approval by the Board of Regents,” Fox said.
Some of the progressive grassroots are arguing for the idea, including Progreso Latino chief executive officer Ramon Martinez, according to the ProJo. But not everyone is happy, especially the leaders of the teacher’s unions.
Robert A. Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said he was “blindsided” by the proposal.
“We’re kind of in shock,” he said “This is one of those last-minute surprises that you dread in the [budget] process.” Since then, Walsh, a usually powerful voice on Smith Hill, says he’s been unable to get Fox to return his phone calls.
Walsh and the American Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals have blasted what they call McKee’s plan to “experiment with kids,” while “ignoring decades of progress in setting standards for public education,” and sacrificing vital teacher protections that could lead to lower-paying jobs with greater turnover.
“Mayor McKee seems to be motivated by a myth that there’s some magic way to do it better,” Walsh said, “… but a group of mayors that have no background in education,” being given “carte blanche” to build a school is not the answer, he said.
Despite the rhetoric about how these schools could hurt the kids, the real issue for the union leaders is protecting the pay and benefits of their members. That’s fine, that’s what the leadership is paid to do. (As the ProJo story explains, Mayor McKee has called upon some education experts to help him with his plan. Besides, McKee’s idea still has to pass muster with the Board of Regents). However, instead of this apparent knee-jerk opposition, perhaps the unions could join their traditional allies and try to be part of the process going forward. But to join the team, they would have to be willing to make some concessions, especially in the areas of hiring and firing flexibility (management rights) and pay. And if we allow history to be our guide, we know that the teacher unions have a hard time with compromise if it means “losing” anything.
The bill goes to the House for debate tomorrow. Today there will be a rally in support of the measure at the State House.