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VEA News & Advocacy

MCEA Faces Privatization Challenge

The rumblings were in Montgomery County, but Lori Walls doesn’t blame her local school board or board of supervisors for causing them. She pins the blame for the fact that the local boards considered privatizing some school services, beginning with custodial work, on another source.

“The problem is in Richmond,” says Walls, an administrative assistant in the guidance department at Blacksburg Middle School. “The state has cut funds so much, and school systems have to pay for it, one way or another.”

Thinking it might help save money, Montgomery officials asked outside companies to offer proposals for providing custodial service, which would endanger about 100 jobs, and also planned to look into outsourcing bus transportation, cafeteria services and school nursing care.

When they heard that proposals were being sought, Montgomery County Education Association members got busy. “At first, it may look like outsourcing saves money,” says Robbie Jones, MCEA vice president and head custodian at Christiansburg Middle School, “but there are often hidden costs. It’s smoke and mirrors.”

MCEA prepared information packets for the school board and members were able to have some productive conversations with officials. “We’ve always maintained open communication with the board and have a good rapport with them,” says Walls, who chairs the statewide VEA Education Support Professionals (ESP) Committee. “I think a lot of that comes from the leadership training we’ve gotten through VEA.”

In the end, the school board decided that it had other, more important matters to discuss and chose not to pursue any privatization options at this time.
 
MCEA members believe that was the right choice because there are solid arguments against the outsourcing of school services—and school employee jobs. Here are some, compiled by the National Education Association:

School System Employees are Connected
• We interact with students every day. We know our students and they know us. More than 77 percent of us live within our school districts.
• On average, we have been employed more than 12 years; 82 percent of us plan to stay in our profession; and 67 percent plan to stay with our current jobs until we retire.
• Some 61 percent give money out of our own pockets to help students with things such as classroom materials, field trips and class projects.
• Contractor employees, with less time on the job and less connection to the community, cannot match our commitment or the quality of our work.
• Our allegiance is to the school district and to our students, not to a contractor. We are motivated by serving our school and community, not by helping a contractor make a profit.
• We are dedicated professionals, not high-turnover, low-wage employees.
• ESPs are required to pass background checks. High-turnover, private sector workers may not be on the job long enough for their background checks to be completed. 

Privatization Leads to Loss of Control
• When school workers work for a private company rather than the school division, there can be confusion over accountability. There are multiple chains of command and lots of ways to pass the buck, which means that when parents, teachers or administrators have concerns, it is hard to communicate them and get action taken.
• Contracts are frequently based on incomplete or inaccurate job descriptions. Any work that is not specifically spelled out in the contract is not likely to get it done, even though certain tasks had been done in the past by district employees.
• Contractors often underestimate or “low-ball” initial bids to get a contract, then raise fees in later years. 

Privatization Hurts the Local Economy
• School districts are more likely to deal with local businesses when purchasing goods and supplies; large, multinational contractors typically use their own supply chains, which do not help the local economy.
• Few companies that are in the contracting business are small, locally-owned businesses. That means profits earned by the contractor represent additional funds that are taken out of the local economy.

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A Message from VEA President Meg Gruber


Give Our Students What They Need!


I recently testified before the Virginia Board of Education about funding the Standards of Quality (SOQ). Here’s part of what I shared with them:
 
As I think about the students I’ve taught in more than 30 years in the classroom, and the more than 1 million others in our state’s public schools, I urge you—Please do not sell them short. Please do everything in your power to make sure our children are afforded the opportunities they so richly deserve.

Right now, our Commonwealth is actually decreasing its investment in public schools. Consider these facts:

• Direct aid to schools through the General Fund is still below the levels of 2007, even though student enrollments are up.

• Because of the recession, our General Assembly made many arbitrary, budget-driven cuts to SOQ funding in the 2009 through 2012 legislative sessions. That cut deeply into our ability to educate children.

• Virginia has the resources to do what’s right for kids. We’re the 9th wealthiest state, as measured by per-capita income. But we’re $941 below the national average in state-provided funding, per-pupil. That’s about a $28,000 deficit in the average classroom! Think what a difference that could make in the lives of those students.

Local school divisions have reduced staff and course offerings, increased class sizes, and deferred purchases of buses, textbooks and technology.
               
These cuts hurt kids and undermine our future. We must do better.

One of the hallmarks of public education is that it’s a means by which all students have opportunities to excel. But the way we fund schools doesn’t match that vision. The Standards of Quality, the minimum foundation program in Virginia, set a very low required level of support. It’s generally agreed that divisions cannot meet the challenges of the Standards of Learning and federal mandates with the funding provided by the state. The average locality in Virginia exceeded required SOQ funding by 81 percent in 2010-11.
               
But localities without sufficient resources aren’t able to bridge the gap between what the state demands and what’s required to offer students the opportunities they deserve. This is educational malpractice, as well as being immoral: We must not force students in high poverty urban and rural schools to bear the cost of lost opportunities when we have the resources necessary to do the right thing.

I hear almost every day from teachers who say that they’re striving to help their students reach new standards—but the funding and programs that would permit them to do so are being cut.

The Board of Education has continued to increase the levels of student achievement required for school accreditation and for graduation. These are worthy goals. But the state has held back on the resources that would allow us to meet these new requirements. Our students deserve better and our professionals deserve the tools they need to get the job done.

Please share this with everyone you know – only with all of us working together can we ensure a quality education for every child in Virginia.

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Educators Get a Shot at the Limelight

Nominations are open for the several highly-regarded awards bestowed each year by the VEA and its Fitz Turner Commission for Human Relations and Civil Rights. The awards are:

• Fitz Turner Award for Outstanding Contributions in Intergroup Relations. Named for the president of the Virginia Teachers Association, the predominantly black organization which merged with VEA in 1967, this honors an individual or organization for outstanding leadership and for contributions which have enhanced the respect for human and civil rights in Virginia.  The award is not limited to educators or local associations.

• Mary Hatwood Futrell Award for Distinguished Leadership in Education. This award recognizes a VEA member whose activities have fostered equality of educational opportunities and furthered the achievement of equity and excellence in education. It is named for the former VEA and NEA president.

• Youth Award for Human Relations and Civil Rights. This award, the Commission’s newest, honors a K-12 public school student or student organization whose achievements and activities have promoted positive intergroup relations and enhanced the dignity and esteem of others.

The awards will be presented at VEA’s convention in Hampton in April.

Deadline for submitting nominations and supporting documentation is close of business Friday, February 8, 2013.

VEA also presents the Award for Teaching Excellence, which honors an individual who shows creativity in the classroom, is student-focused, and is outstanding in a variety of ways. The winner of this award receives $500 and becomes VEA’s nominee for the NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence. Deadline is February 1, 2013.

For further information, visit the VEA website at www.veanea.org/home/grants-and-awards.htm.

Virginia Educators’ Missteps on Social Media Sites

You’ve probably been warned more than once about the risks of social media when you’re a public educator, but just as a reminder to be cautious, here are a few cases from our own VEA UniServ Directors’ files (yes, these happened here):

• One high school teacher took an interest in a student, believing that this particular student (who was of the opposite sex) would benefit from a little extra individual attention. Unfortunately, while the intentions may have been good, the follow-through was not. Contact began as a Facebook chat, which led to numerous instant message exchanges and then to a steady stream of text messages. The student’s parents discovered some of the online messages, which grew in familiarity and began using the teacher’s first name, printed them out and shared them with school administrators. The teacher resigned under pressure and no longer works in a K-12 setting.

• Another high school teacher found himself having an enjoyable chat on an online dating site, only to discover well into the conversation that the person on the other end of the keyboard was, in fact, one of his students. The conversation became much tamer then, but the student later printed out the entire conversation and showed it to her parents. They showed school authorities; the teacher was forced to resign.

• An educator posted photos of herself wearing a skimpy bathing suit on a password-protected site. Tech-savvy students somehow discovered the photos and found a way to pass around a link that somehow bypassed the password. This teacher kept her job, but only after a difficult investigation.

Your Best Plates
Don’t forget about the new VEA license plate—we have until January 1 to collect at least 450 pre-paid applications in order to make it a reality. On the road, this plate is your chance to show both your support for our public schools and your pride in your professional community. Standard plates are just $10; personalized are $20.

Getting the Party Started

Next year marks the VEA’s 150th anniversary! That’s a century-and-a-half, beginning in 1863, of proud advocacy and hard work on behalf of public education in the Commonwealth and the people who make it happen.

There will be observances and celebrations throughout 2013, beginning with an Open House at VEA headquarters in Richmond on January 28. This is also VEA’s annual Lobby Day, on which many members from across Virginia travel to the State Capitol to talk education issues with their legislators.

Light refreshments will be served throughout the afternoon of the 28th, and all Association members are welcome.

Watch VEA publications and the website (www.veanea.org) for upcoming anniversary events, and come be a part of the festivities!

 


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