Advocacy for Children Not Allowed


A couple of weeks ago, I recalled a statement by former teacher union boss Marcia Reback that, when the interests of the teachers and the students diverge, “I represent the teachers.”  That has an obvious professional logic, and it almost seems like it might be a moral way to arrange a workplace, if not an education system.

As I also pointed out, an implicit problem arises when we realize that, whatever their charters and policies might say, the incentive for school committees is to act as the fulcrum, balancing the interests of teachers and students, rather than acting as advocates for the latter.  (Let’s be idealistic and assume that people elected with the support of the teachers’ unions and like-minded activists won’t actually put their thumbs on the scale for their political supporters.)

There’s a third component that completes the scheme:  Attacking anybody who actually advocates for the children in a way that is separate from supporting the school committee or that conflicts with the interests of the teachers even a little.

As it happens, we’ve got a pretty pure example in Tiverton, in Michael DeCotis.  His daughter is going into kindergarten, and when he heard that the school committee had used a vague agenda item (“budget discussion and possible vote”) to tank the full-day program, he contacted everybody he could think of who might be able to help change that outcome.

He got the issue on the agenda for the school committee’s next meeting (7:00 p.m., June 9, High School library) and set up a Facebook page promoting the event.  As soon as the local big-government PAC, Tiverton 1st, caught wind of the project, its members and supporters swarmed in to insist that DeCotis should be advocating for “all children,” meaning he shouldn’t put full-day kindergarten ahead of things like online AP courses.  They said he should support the school committee and attack its political opponents.

Yesterday, he appeared on Dan Yorke’s State of Mind program.  In the course of the conversation, Yorke brought up the plain fact that labor eats up most of any district’s budget and tends to crowd out other things as contract costs grow inexorably.  Already, the tone on Facebook has changed.  At first, DeCotis was merely chastised for not bringing along a member of the school committee for the show.  Now, here’s Gloria Crist, a founding co-coordinator of Tiverton 1st and recipient of $1,800 a year as a high school drama coach:

Awww man. You had me Mike until someone sent me the Dan Yorke segment. With all due respect- I first thought I was watching an SNL skit-then I realized what I was really watching…..true colors Mike. True Colors…you even got the teacher contract issue in there and the union hate speech.

By “union hate speech,” she must mean that he nodded while Yorke explained the realities of school budgets, which is an extremely low bar for putting your child’s educational interests ahead of employee interests.  In a recent letter that DeCotis sent the Sakonnet Times, he’s none too friendly to me or the people who supported the budget I put in, and he leaves the school committee out of his round-robin shaming exercise, but that’s not enough, apparently.

The system that we currently allow to govern the education of our communities’ children accepts that a powerful labor organization will advocate to extremes for its members, but the only permissible advocacy on the children’s behalf is through a school committee consisting of three current or former teachers, a local radical who’s clearly been on the teachers’ side (at least as long as I’ve been watching), and a fifth member who seems reasonable, but largely supportive of the rest of the committee.

If anybody comes forward with the audacity to put their own children or the larger community first, he or she is a “teacher hater” who wants to “destroy the schools.”