Gist, Education Consultants & Skeptical Radio Anchors
This morning, I listened as the new WPRO Morning News team of Tara Granahan and Andrew Gobeil went after Education Commissioner Deborah Gist for her proposal to hire up to 50 retired educators (teachers, principals, etc.) as 90 day consultants to help implement the programs funded via Race to the Top. Earlier, Granahan and Gobeil–apparently taking their cue from a ProJo story–interviewed Warwick Rep. Joe McNamara, who sponsored the legislation. I missed that part of the interview, but apparently McNamara basically explained that it was Commissioner Gist’s idea. It was apparent that Gobeil and Granahan were particularly bothered by the fact that the bill would allow retired educators to make up to $500/day while still collecting a pension.
Commissioner Gist then called in to try to clear things up, but Granahan and Gobeil took a hard line on paying retired, pension collecting educators $500 a day to consult. The commissioner explained that, basically, $60-70/hr is the going rate for the expertise offered by “master educators” and that she wanted to be able to hire Rhode Island educators and this legislation enabled that. Gobeil and Granahan weren’t buying it and pounded away on how $500/day seemed like an awful lot in these tough times. Further, Granahan asked Gist if the consulting fees would be subject to Governor Chafee’s new 6% tax (like other consulting fees), to which Gist basically replied, “Of course.”
Nowhere was the distinction made (though I think Gist may have assumed this was known) that the money to pay for these consultants was part of the Race to the Top funds. In essence, the bill was a mechanism to allow the Department of Education to hire Rhode Island based educators to perform the consulting. As Gist said, with or without the bill, she will hire the consultants–from another state if necessary–and the going rate is $500/day. I don’t think she changed the minds of Gobeil and Granahan, but I’m not sure if they really “got” that the money was earmarked for that specific purpose.
I know $500/day seems like a lot, but professional consultants in all sorts of industries make that and more. I don’t doubt that Gist is correct and that’s the going rate (at the least!). And while Republicans like Joe Trillo oppose the measure, I think that its more of a knee-jerk reaction than anything else. One other thing: the teachers’ unions apparently oppose the legislation:
Several union leaders voiced concerns again Wednesday, saying it was bad fiscal policy to have retirees drawing down the pension fund while working.
“This is bad for the pension system … and it’s bad employment practice when hundreds of teachers are out of work,” said Maureen Martin, political director for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers. “We want them to use local teachers already in the school system.”
But Gist isn’t looking for regular educators, she’s looking for experienced and special ones. Not just the most senior ones left on the laid off list or new hires with lower pay (as Trillo suggested). She needs top-of-the-line folks to implement RTtT (like it or not). As reported by the Brown Daily Herald:
Gist encouraged available teachers to apply for the positions, but emphasized that the plan “can’t be a program for jobs.”
“This is not going to resolve employment,” she said. “We have to make the decisions that are best for our students.”
But back to the interview itself. On the surface, it seemed like Gobeil and Granahan (in particular) were aggressive and skeptical of the Ed. Commissioner’s motives because they were trying to safeguard taxpayer money. That may have been the case and, while there are important, technical reasons why their apparent watchdoggedness, in my opinion, was misplaced (the money is earmarked for a particular purpose, etc.), I won’t fault them for that. (Plus, to the benefit of WPRO, they successfully turned it into a “newsmakers” moment and have been covering it in the news breaks all morning).
Yet, then I remembered their interview last week with new Warwick School Committee member Gene Nadeau. Nadeau had gotten some publicity for his statement that state education dollars were going disproportionally to Providence, Central Falls and other urban core cities and he was ostensibly on the show to talk about that, which he did. Then Granahan went off-topic and asked Nadeau, to paraphrase, “Is it true that they are going to close a high school in Warwick?” Nadeau was obviously surprised by the question and explained he hasn’t heard any discussion of that during his time on the School Committee. Granahan wouldn’t let him off that easy and re-phrased the question a couple times. It was clear to me that Granahan, who grew up and has family in Warwick, was skeptical of Nadeau and didn’t believe him.
Taken together, the Nadeau and Gist interviews have left me with the impression that Granahan in particular is, at the least, skeptical of local and statewide education administrators. Yes, “twice is a coincidence” and all that. But that’s two times in two weeks I’ve heard an education administrator interviewed and given a tough time by Granahan. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s interesting to see the perspectives and biases of supposedly “straight news” personalities slowly revealed.