Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Excellent editorial on democracy and the public schools in St Louis (Susan Turk, from the St. Louis American)

Original source: http://www.stlamerican.com/news/columnists/guest_columnists/article_e840a6a2-df17-11e5-bd29-c3bac4e128fe.html

I endorse this editorial.  I have added a few highlighted comments –– Bret Gustafson

Why the SAB is not good for SLPS

By Susan Turk Guest columnist | Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016 1:24 pm
It was interesting to read State Board of Education member Mike Jones’ assessment of how St. Louis Public Schools got into its current state of affairs. He laid the blame at those running SLPS between 2002 and 2006, along with area business and political leaders. The four-member slate that won the 2003 school board election was endorsed by The St. Louis American. Publisher and Executive Editor Donald M. Suggs was complicit in their selection. 
[Yes. Let's say this once more: Mr. Jones is critiquing the same interests who would again seize control after the state takeover.  These are interests who were supported on both occasions by the St Louis American and its Executive Editor.  This is true. Apparently Mr. Suggs and Mr. Jones rely on people to have fuzzy memories. --BG.]
District parents were unhappy with district governance at that time, so they organized and ran parents for seats on the school board. The intent was for parents to exercise oversight of our schools just like in the successful suburban school districts.
It was in specific response to the success that parents began to have in getting elected in 2006 that the business and political leaders went to Governor Blunt and asked for the state to take over SLPS. The Special Administrative Board (SAB) was instituted to prevent a loss of power, not to improve education. [Yes:  This is when the corporate-backed elites sought to undermine the grassroots resurgence, most threatening because it allied black and white activists not controlled by the St. Louis political machine. -- BG]
While Jones may be correct that there is no inherent right to elected governance [the jury is still out on this one.  Who decides inherent rights, Mr. Jones? Rights are decided in political struggle.-- BG] elected governance is the way public school districts have been run since their inception during the 19th century up until very recently. Alternatives to elected governance have been imposed only since the end of federally mandated desegregation in primarily African-American school districts. Jones admitted that many citizens communicated with him and their overwhelming consensus was to return governance to the elected board, yet he ignored them.
The state board of education, of which he is a member, is an appointed board. There isn’t anything we mere plebes can do about them. The members aren’t even term-limited. Jones is utterly convinced of his own rightness, and he doesn’t have to account to anybody for it. He never has to face voters.  [Yes.  Ms. Turk is pointing out how our democracy is being slowly dismantled and eroded.  Let's be clear about this.--BG]
His justification for ignoring the consensus was that no one argued that returning the elected board would improve educational outcomes. Well, continuing the SAB sure won’t! For the eight years they’ve been in power, achievement has either dropped or clawed its way back up to where it was before they took over. [Yes. So true, despite what reporters and corporate advocates continue to say.  Little to no improvement.-BG]
To make matters worse, SLPS has the lowest-paid teachers, with the least experience and the fewest master’s degrees, compared to 18 of their closest competing districts in St. Louis County. Even Normandy and Riverview Gardens teachers are paid better, have more longevity in the classroom and have a higher percentage of teachers with master’s degrees. [Oh yes.  The pay of administration has gone up, while pay has stagnated and the pension board refuses to grant cost of living increases to retirees.  The admin and contractors are sucking money out of labor, to be clear, and out of the public good.  I would add here that there has been an underwhelming response by the teachers' union, who, it appears, were cowed into submission.--BG]
Our children’s academic success depends on the ability to recruit and retain great teachers. The SAB’s tightfisted approach to teacher compensation has crippled SLPS.
Mike Jones and the SAB members serve the interests of the political and corporate elite who prefer to maintain power and diminish the democratic will and the aspirations for their children of the people who live, work and vote in this city. They are instruments of their own and the community’s oppression. They should be ashamed. [Amen. --BG]
It was not lost on this reader that Jones’ screed was located directly above an ad for KIPP St. Louis, a charter school. Charter school boards are not democratically elected. The new normal that the elite promote is an educational system composed of separate and unequal schools over which citizens have no control. Tax dollars expended for education will no longer be subject to public oversight. Democracy is being devalued as a means for running our schools. What will they decide we can’t vote for next? [Yes]
This is our Flint. Across the country, predominantly African-American communities and political entities such as school districts are being told we are not capable of governing ourselves. Democratically elected officials are being replaced by emergency managers in Michigan and appointed boards elsewhere. The resulting usurpation does not improve our communities. Minds are being poisoned in more ways than one. We allow the degradation of democracy to continue at our own peril. [Yes]