Friday, August 19, 2011

PEP POP III: Diary of a Mad Parent


I'm outta here…once again amazed at politics in NYC. I think I'll look for a bar. There's a reality at the bottom of a glass that makes more sense than this.
Posted by a parent activist on the NYCEd listserve, it captures the PEP ambiance perfectly:

530 PM on August 17: streets crowded with Verizon workers in red shirts; police, lined up, hands on hips, staring into the crowd, whistles and loud speakers, honking car horns, disgruntled pedestrians…New York in the midst of a strike. It looked like Lindsey era turmoil. This time though, the strikers have a lot more to lose. This is an era of big business that would make Gould, Carnegie and Rockefeller bust the buttons of the vests over their very prosperous bellies. New barons wear LL Bean or $2000.00 suits

We walked along Pearl Street, past barricades and protesters to Murry Bergtraum High School, yet another high school shrouded in scaffolding and netting… like a widow staring stoically off into space while a beloved was buried. It was time for the PEP meeting. Jeez Louise, these meetings have become so depressing!

Getting into the auditorium took a bit of maneuvering; we went up a few steps to go down a flight of stairs. I couldn't help but think of Dante's inferno..which level would we be at when we stopped? The place was a sea of red shirts…for a moment I thought St. John's was holding a B-ball rally. But no, once the chanting began I knew we weren't at a college campus rally. Organizers handed out flyers, independently people began chants….Verizon sucks!. The people united will never be divided!….Do the right thing! Kids were there, some so young their mothers carried them in their arms. Workers were there. Parents were there.

The air was electric, but the PEP wasn't. Half of them weren't there yet and DOE staff was milling around on the stage…putting out water bottles seemed to be the most that anyone was doing. More security stared out at the crowd. I am not sure what was funnier, their stares or the crowds chants.

It's 6:20 and the PEP comes to order. We begin, as usual with the Chancellor's report. The Chancellor swings into action….grabbing a mike and jumping into the well of the auditorium. It would have been impressive except for one thing….he's being ignored. He starts his report with the opening day of school, September 8th, and the place erupts. People are shouting "We know that!" Unperturbed, he moves on to sex education producing cat calls and laughter from the audience. ELA and Math scores were next. A giant screen with facts and figures hung above the audience. Shael Suransky began to intone the DOE mantra…we had an increase. ELA 1.5%. Math 3.3% The house came down! Whistles, hoots, hollers, sneers, you name it people used it. Everyone in that room knew that these numbers were a sham and a shame. Fingers were pointed at the PEP. Shouts of "Shame on you" were long and loud. Suransky's presentation, such as it was, was drowned out in the ruckus.

The PEP Sec'y droned on and on. There were changes to Chancellor's regs 670 and 755
The crowd waited expectantly. Robert Jackson of City Council was already at one mike. Others had lined up at a second mike. Signs came up. People shifted and shuffled. And then bang, there is was: the proposal to okay the estimated budget. A wave of noise swept over the audience There were 14 items in the budget proposal. Jackson wanted to know which item was the Verizon proposal? Where was the proposal? Did anyone see it? Read it? Understand it? Other speakers had questions and comments.
The contracts included money for consultants, technology and testing. Why not revise your spending priorities and put the money back into the schools? 250 principals have appealed their proposed budgets. They are facing teaching staff cuts, program cuts. Why are we paying for consultants when students are going without teachers?

The Special Investigator had found Verizon to be guilty of swindling the DOE out of millions, yet a Verizon spokesman had written to the DOE insisting that Verizon was not part of the theft committed while Willard Lanham was a tech consultant for the DOE. Verizon made millions and was accused of stealing more and now the DOE should pay them? Why not call it a wash? Verizon provides the DOE with the service, the DOE doesn't go after them for over 120 million in suspected thefts? Shouts of "Raise test scores not corporate profits" were coming fast and furious.

The noise was overwhelming the speakers. PEP members were unable to hear the budget presentation. The Manhattan Boro President rep wanted a postponement. The Queens' rep agreed. The Verizon contract which had expired in January was never rescinded by Verizon. Yet, as the Manhattan rep pointed out, Verizon could back out of the contract if the strike prevented them from acting in accordance with the agreement. So, here we are, agreeing to pay money to an organization under federal investigation for theft. Is this crazy? You bet! Is it even crazier that the PEP voted to accept this contract? Nope. Insanity means you have lost your ability to recognize reality. The mayoral appointees, all of whom voted for the contracts, were adept at ignoring reality and acting politically. They were never supposed to be real, just vote. I wonder where they keep their rubber stamps?

I'm outta here…once again amazed at politics in NYC. I think I'll look for a bar. There's a reality at the bottom of a glass that makes more sense than this.


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