In Newark, Every Teacher Is Sacred

Every sperm is sacred.

Every sperm is great.

If a sperm is wasted,

God gets quite irate.

Does anyone else  remember that ditty “Every Sperm is Sacred” from the Monty Python movie called “The Meaning of Life”? When I’m feeling most foul about teacher tenure laws, this song becomes my earworm.

And Monday was one of those days because I read Leslie Brody’s coverage in the Wall Street Journal about chronic teacher absenteeism in Newark. This long-suffering district, recently on the rise, is afflicted with an infestation of teachers who abuse an overly-generous clause in their current contract regarding sick days and personal days.

From the Newark Teachers Union FAQ sheet on the contract settled last Spring:

How many sick and personal days will I have under this new contract?

12 sick days and 5 personal days. Personal days have more flexibility around when they can be taken than sick days. In addition, for the first time, staff will be able to take 1/2 personal days, as long as they are approved at least two days in advance by their principal.

In other words, teachers have the right to take 17 days off during their newly-shortened school year, which the contract reduces from 191 teacher days and 185 student days to 188 teacher days and 182 student days.

But that’s not all…

From the Journal:

District officials say 21% of teachers at Newark’s traditional public schools missed at least 20 days in the 2016-2017 school year—roughly one out of every 10 work days. Some were excused for jury duty or other reasons, but in most cases, they called in sick or took personal time allowed by their union contract.

And 48 percent missed at least 13 days.

For context, the average American teacher misses 8 days a year (fewer in charter schools).

But that’s not all…

Brody queried NTU President John Abeigon about reasons for the district’s  disproportionate  rate of teachers suffering from immunosuppression. Answered Abeigon,  it’s the fault of Newark parents and their children. “Poor parents who lack child care,” he earnestly explained, “often send sick children to school and spread germs to staff.” He also “blamed many absences on low morale due to the district’s pay-for-performance system and use of achievement data as part of teacher ratings. Going to work ‘shouldn’t be stressful to the point where it’s making you sick between anxiety and paranoia,’ he said.”

Let’s get this straight. According to Abeigon, Newark parents disproportionately send sick children to school because they’re poor. Newark teachers suffer disproportionately from low morale because their contract grants them a $5,000 bonus if they are evaluated as “highly effective” and the extra cash leads to anxiety and paranoia. (Luckily the new contract reduces co-pays on generic drugs, including psychopharmaceuticals, to $0.)

Therefore, twenty-one percent of teachers are absent more than twenty days per year, in violation of their generous contract.

Why doesn’t Newark dismiss those teachers who disrupt student learning and cost the district, according to Superintendent Chris Cerf, “more than $8.5 million yearly in substitutes”?

Because in Newark every teacher’s job is sacred. NPS Administrator Larisa Shambaugh, explains,“under New Jersey’s tenure law it is difficult for the district to win dismissal cases in court that hinge on excessive absenteeism.”

Maybe I’m jealous. I work in the non-profit sector. If  I was chronically absent I wouldn’t have a job (although I wouldn’t want to work in a public education arena that devalues schoolchildren and privileges adults).  Or maybe I’m feeling cynical: As Michael Kinsley said, “the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.” 

Nah. I’m just feeling foul.


What do you think?

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