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December 16, 2006



Is this the appropriate response when 96% of the teachers in the district vote that they do not have confidence in the leadership?

"We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it." -Marcia Cohn-Lyle

Is this the proper response for an elected leader of the school district?

Sticking your head in the sand and hoping that the problem will go away is not solving the problem. The teachers have been pushed to an extreme level in order for them to even take this vote. Getting a 96% support of the No Confidence vote is a clear indication that the troops have no faith in the leaders.

Cohn-Lyle claims that "The vote came partly in response to recent layoffs and an impasse in contract negotiations between the district and the teachers." The list of grievances by the teachers against the district goes far beyond these issues.

The Articles of No Confidence were developed over a 6 week period when teachers from all schools met to collect evidence of misconduct. After the articles were drafted, the teachers conducted a closed ballot vote at each school site. Members were given a draft of the articles and allowed to vote in private. A total of 94% of all teachers in the district (450?) cast votes on this measure. There was no coercion.

As stated at the board meeting, the teachers had to LIMIT the articles of no conficendence because they had so many that they would not fit on the page. The association also limited the infractions to those actions that had a widespread impact upon teachers.

Ignoring a vote of this size clearly indicates that the board is not in step with the district.


Schools in hands of private business?
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An independent commission's report that demands drastic changes in public education and six- figure salaries for teachers may seem startling to some, but some area administrators agree some change is necesary.

Made up of such luminaries as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and funded by the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce was a bipartisan effort to shake up public education from top to bottom.

Watervliet City School District Superintendent Paul Padalino views the creation of Tech Valley High School, which is geared toward students interested in hands-on math, science or technology-related studies, as a positive step for the future of public education.

Tech Valley High, which is also supported by the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to be built in Rensselaer County.

'When looking at change ... look at what we're trying with Tech Valley High,' Padalino said. 'These are phenomenal ideas that I believe all school districts will learn from and adopt on some level.'

The 170-page commission report calls for paying teachers about $100,000 a year. Saratoga Springs City School District Superintendent John E. MacFadden, who had read the report, saw some validity in that.

'I think the operative thing there is 'year-round,' ' MacFadden said. 'If the theme here is that we are falling behind in a competitive race educationally, than we need to have a longer school year and I do think they're on to something. Achievements increase over a longer period of time. A two-month shut down (in school) is like a two-month shutdown mentally. It's not good preparation for the working world and colleges are guilty of this as well,' he said.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the average teacher salary in 2005 was estimated at $46,597. Under the proposal, beginning teachers would get a raise from $20,000 to $45,000 and experienced teachers who work year-round would be paid $110,000.

MacFadden said pensions are imposed by state law and would require an act of congress to change. He said it would be a hard sell and thinks that salaries would have to be sufficiently high enough for teachers to want to change or eliminate the pension system.

Considering how important it is to attract the best and brightest to educate the nation's next generation, neither superintendent could argue against the idea of higher salaries.

'In other cultures teachers are revered, whereas in our culture they aren't held in as high regard in the public eye,' Padalino said. 'Teachers should absolutely earn more money.'

Other more controversial recommendations include allowing school districts to negotiate contracts with private companies to run schools, which would be similar to how charter schools are set up.

That way, the administration could be fired if it didn't live up to the requirements of the contract.

'There's always been a skeptical view of it: Is the school being run for the stockholders? Or is it being run for the parents and students -- which is not to say it couldn't be successful in certain circumstances. I think there may be a place for it, but to nationalize it might be counterproductive,' MacFadden said. 'You also have to ask if they're cherry picking the students. Public schools take all students from those with extreme handicaps and disabilities to students in a high accelerated range and we serve them all.'

The report also calls for increasing early childhood programs. Saratoga Springs has a pre-K program already.

The report also stresses enrolling some students, who might have the ability, in college after the 10th grade.

'That's a European model,' MacFadden said. 'It's not a bad idea. I think some students in 11th grade could complete enough work to be eligible for college entry,' although he said there have been steps implemented locally to make junior and senior year an educational experience for students who have already completed the majority of their coursework.

'In Saratoga, there are 14 college level courses,' said MacFadden, explaining what is being done to combat the so-called 'senioritis' malaise. 'We offer a very strong AP program. You could come out of here and already have a great start in college.'

Leaders of the commission estimate it would cost around $60 million to implement all of the report's recommendations.

Officials from the NYS School Board Association could not be contacted for comment, but the national arm of the association opposed most the report's proposals and stated it would only add to the cost of education.

Although he agrees that changes are necessary for the educational system to be successful well into 21st century and beyond, MacFadden doesn't view the public school system as broken.

'We have universal education in this country, and for many youngsters it's the greatest opportunity in the world,' he said. 'That's not to say private schooling hasn't been successful, but public education has been the pride of this country for many years.'


When faced with the 96% Vote of No Confidence by the teachers (432/450?) against the District Administration outgoing school board president Marcia Cohn-Lyle stated, "We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it."

In response to the March 3, 2005 advice of Assistant Superintendent of Business Robert Arnold that the district should build up its reserves to a level of 5 percent to 7 percent to prepare for a yet unforeseen economic downturn, "We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it."

In response to the fact that the Sequoia district began making $1.5 million in adjustments and cuts in December (2006) shortly after the first tax rebate notice and the fact that the Sequoia district began the 2005-2006 school year with $7 million in its reserve just shy of a 9 percent reserve, well above the required 3 percent, "We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it."

In response to the numerous labor and contract violations by the district against the teachers' Association, "We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it."

In response to the hours of community speakers at two community board meeting (at San Mateo and Capuchino) who implored the board to listen to the facts, "We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it."

What is this SMUHSD School Board going to listen to? Nothing!

With the exception of Linda Lees Dwyer, this board is the group that hired Sam Johnson, gave him a lucrative extended contract, and failed to act as an independent body when it approved multiple budgets based upon deficit spending and a budget with .25% reserve. How can they fire Sam and Ethel when they may just as culpable in this financial fiasco as the district leaders themselves.

This Board is now pushing the teachers to actions that the teachers don't want to take, but may be forced into to protect their salaries and benefits.

The Teachers were forced into taking a Vote of No Confidence against the District Leadership because the board failed to pay any attention to the actions carried out by these leaders.

The Association leadership twice rejected the vote of No Confidence earlier in the year in order to give the board an opportunity to rectify the situation. The situation has ony gotten worse.

What is the board going to do when the teachers go on strike?

"We're ignoring it. We don't agree with it."

IF the teachers strike, does anyone know what the game plan would be.....Is the school year extended for the missed days? And what about AP classes that have a test date that cannot be changed? Would kids go in unprepared?

Just curious.....


The Teachers and the District are in impasse a mandated process that brings a state mediator in to do one thing... get a settlement between the two parties. Here is one catch. The teachers current contract is better than the one that the district is offering, as long as the teachers don't sign the new one, the old contract is the legal contract. Why would the teaches trade a good contract for a bad one?

If impasse fails, and there is a strike, substitutes will be brought in to teach classes. There is no extension and the school will continue to operate.

Teachers care about their students and curriculum. They do not want to go through this process or entertain the thought of a strike, but they are being forced into this process by a district that has mismanaged its funds and is now using its fiscal crisis to leverage a contract with the teachers.

To answer your question... if there is a strike, students will go unprepared and the SAT, AP, and college admissions processes will continue without the SMUHSD. The disttict is hoping that guilt will bring the teaches to sign a new contract. How much is guilt worth? If a teacher is losing a few thousand dollars in salary and out of pocket expenses for benefits, then guilt has a high price.

This district can settle this one today if they wish.

Mac (the knife)

This mess could be one big cost-cutting conspiracy. If working conditions become such that experienced teachers leave SMUHSD, the district can hire less expensive, more compliant replacements to serve the current administration's agenda.

YACM  (yet another csea member)

"We're growing out of this and we'll continue to grow out of it," McManus said. "But it's extraordinarily painful."

Yes, but painful for Administrators, Asst. Superintendents, and "He-Who-Should-Resign".

It's always our pain (staff and faculty) that is most tolerable, not their own.
My personal suggestion.
Fire the Supertintendent 3 times, and we'll make up the 600,000.
Oh, maybe we should just fire the entire administration. After all they all want to "take responsibility".
That would give them a chance to actually do something positive for the district.

YACM  (yet another csea member)

"We're growing out of this and we'll continue to grow out of it," McManus said. "But it's extraordinarily painful."

Yes, but NOT painful for Administrators, Asst. Superintendents, and "He-Who-Should-Resign".

It's always our pain (staff and faculty) that is most tolerable, not their own.
My personal suggestion.
Fire the Supertintendent 3 times, and we'll make up the 600,000.
Oh, maybe we should just fire the entire administration. After all they all want to "take responsibility".
That would give them a chance to actually do something positive for the district.

Mac (the knife)

If one is head of the school board and over 90% of the teachers vote no confidence for ANYTHING, one might not agree with it, but one sure as hell better not ignore it.


MAC is on to a good point. In the real world, older airlines (like United) are saddled with high cost payments to pension plans that reduce the profitability of the airline. The airlines have discovered that if they go bankrupt a judge will allow them to break these pension contracts in order to become profitable again. Once the airline is up and running, the pension payments never re-start but the profits keep flowing.

The Administration is using this fiscal crisis to break the unions on benefits and salary and the board is going along with it. $298 million for new buildings and not a dime for classroom instruction. The district had an option for a parcel tax for expanded instruction but went for the building instead. Structure over substance. We already have new libraries but no librarians. What is next?


Creating facades seems to be what this administration does best. Unity among teachers and classified staff in the district will supercede any power the administration or school board has... eventually the good of the whole will defeat the agenda of a few.

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