Best Teacher Movies? Where’s My Favorite?!

NEA has a visitor poll on its web site on the best movies about teachers. There are five nominees in each of nine categories and no, there is no ideological bias. Arnold in Kindergarten Cop, Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me and Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver are all there.

But where is EIA’s favorite movie teacher? There has to be a special award for Tom Berenger in The Substitute!

“I’m in charge of this classroom. I’m the warrior chief, the merciless god who stirs anything in its path. You f*** with me, and you will suffer my wrath.”

Now that’s classroom management.

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Something in the Water at Pittsburgh Area Schools?

Surely it’s coincidental, but school districts in the vicinity of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, appear to be competing for a permanent gig on the Jerry Springer show. The area seems to possess a disturbing convergence of strange sexual relationships, employee misconduct, and the politics of public education disciplinary hearings.

Today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that McKeesport fourth-grade teachers Patrick Collins (described as a former teachers’ union president) and Angela DiBattista were placed on paid leave while the district decides whether to fire them for having sex in a classroom and a school bathroom several times between 1999 and 2001. Two other teachers, Michael Cherepko and Nicole Lundberg, acted as lookouts for Collins and DiBattista during these encounters, standing outside the door, ready to yell “Cheese it!” They, too, are facing disciplinary action.

But, as it turns out, this is only the most recent episode of the McKeesport telenovela. You may be asking: Why did district officials take so long to act? You see, the district actually fired Collins in September 2004. Why? Because DiBattista claimed that Collins was harassing and stalking her. But if he was fired, how could Collins now be on paid leave? Because he contested his dismissal, and an arbitrator reinstated him with back pay in August 2005. Then how did the district find out about the classroom sex? Because Collins, in his arbitration defense, disclosed the consensual sexual liaisons with DiBattista as evidence that he wasn’t stalking or harassing her. Brilliant!

“Normally, you don’t have someone admitting to a possible violation of the Public School Code during an arbitration hearing,” said school solicitor Jack Cambest.

The union response to all this will not surprise you. “It was a personal matter between two teachers that had no effect on students, that had no effect on their ability to teach,” said union attorney Robert Abraham.

The McKeesport story comes on the heels of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District “Mad Baker” story, and a quick scan of the EIA archives brings us the Avonworth incident (see item #4 of this communique’).

But, to be fair to western Pennsylvania, we also have the Wayne Nadeau scandal in Vermont (item #2).

UPDATE: Cherepko denies any involvement or knowledge in McKeesport scandal.

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NEA Response Focuses on WSJ Mistakes, But Omits Its Own

The first response from the National Education Association to the January 3 Wall Street Journal editorial, “Teachers’ Pets,” is filtering down through its activist network and the gist of it goes like this:

* “The $65 million figure was the total amount the NEA spent on grants and contributions. Of that, $64.2 million — about 98 percent — went straight to our state and local affiliates for education programs and member services.”

The Wall Street Journal was wrong to portray the $65 million in the contributions category as a total amount distributed to liberal political groups. UniServ grants are included in that category, which is money used to subsidize the salaries of UniServ directors in each of NEA’s state affiliates. UniServ directors have a broad range of responsibilities, including coming to California from all over the country last November to fight Gov. Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives.

However, NEA’s contributions to political advocacy groups do not reside solely in the “contributions, gifts, and grants” category. As EIA’s December 19 report plainly shows, sums like $25,000 for the National Coalition of Health Care and $40,000 for the Consortium for Educational Change were listed by NEA in the “representational activities” category, the $51,200 donation to People for the American Way, among many others, was listed in the “union administration” category — all of these outside the “political activities and lobbying” category, which by NEA’s admission constitutes $25 million.

While WSJ’s total figures were incorrectly applied, NEA’s claim of $800,000 in advocacy contributions is laughably low-balled. NEA gave $2.5 million to Communities for Quality Education alone.

* “The editorial also grossly exaggerated President Weaver’s salary. Worse yet, it counts funds used for President Weaver’s travel as he meets with members all across the country as part of his salary.”

Again, the WSJ was wrong to include Weaver’s travel expenses as part of his salary. However, you judge for yourself what constitutes a gross exaggeration. EIA’s December 12 report explains the compensation of Weaver and the other executive officers clearly and fairly: “Topping that list is NEA President Reg Weaver, who received a base salary of $272,170, plus allowances for benefits and living expenses of $98,258, for a total pay of $370,428. These cash allowances for NEA’s three executive officers are meant to compensate them for the cost of maintaining two homes, plus the fact that they do not receive retirement benefits from NEA during their union tenure.”

* “The Journal and Bill O’Reilly would like the public to believe that the NEA is hiding information from the public or advancing a hidden agenda: it makes it easier for them to push their own political agenda.”

Sure. That’s why you’re reading all this information in NEA Today, viewing it on the NEA web site, hearing about it on all those NEA-sponsored television and radio ads, and receiving it in your NEA direct mail.

Even the NEA Representative Assembly — according to the union “the largest democratic deliberative body in the world,” and made up of its most devoted activists — voice votes up or down on the total union budget, which contains only line-item descriptions such as: “Collaborative relationships supportive of quality public education developed, maintained, expanded, and tracked among labor, civic, civil rights, minority, religious, family and parent, community, and public policy advocacy organizations.”

I don’t see anything about the Council on Foreign Relations in that paragraph.

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A Victory for Uniformity

* The decision of the Florida Supreme Court today to strike down the state’s voucher system cannot be considered a major surprise, but the rationale certainly was. The court avoided the problematic history of the state’s Blaine Amendment and ruled instead that the program violated the Florida Constitution’s uniformity clause, which calls for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

Holy cow. If the regular public schools weren’t violating the “efficiency” and “high quality” clauses of that same sentence, parents wouldn’t need or want vehicles to leave them.

It seems to me the ruling effectively handcuffs the school choice movement in Florida. Who wants to go into court and argue that the alternatives offered by the school choice program are in uniformity with the regular public schools?

* EIA’s latest Contract Hits notes that, in accordance with the teacher contract in Providence, Rhode Island, a teacher can be on a paid leave of absence and still work as a paid substitute teacher in the district. So, technically, you can substitute for yourself and get paid twice — which is an arrangement strangely analogous to this one.

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The Next Big Thing?

Nevada Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons voiced his support for the breakup of the Clark County School District, one of the fastest growing districts in the country. Gibbons is “the GOP’s front-runner for governor,” according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Breaking up large school districts is an issue that comes along in cycles (see these EIA stories: third item in both January 2000 and March 2003), but placing it in the midst of a 2006 gubernatorial race will give it new national exposure.

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