UPDATE: Progress for Dover-Wingdale TA
Posted: July 8, 2015
Just two weeks after nearly 400 community members, parents, students and union colleagues from around the mid-Hudson region joined informational picketing outside the Dover School Board meeting, the board on Tuesday night rescinded the layoff of the union's executive vice president, elementary school librarian Patrick Stevens.
While numerous other issues still remain in the Dover-Wingdale TA's union animus case against the district, this is still a huge step forward that shows the power of solidarity.
Activists picket Dutchess County school board meeting
Originally posted: June 24, 2015
In a tremendous showing of support, nearly 400 community members, parents, students and union colleagues from around the mid-Hudson region joined informational picketing at the Dover School Board meeting, calling for an end to the superintendent’s bullying and harassment of educators.
Michael O’Roark, president of the Dover-Wingdale Teachers Association, was overwhelmed by the turnout in support of his 122-member local in rural Dutchess County. After contentious contract negotiations, the union worked in good faith to help the district pass its school budget in May. However, the day after the successful school budget vote, Superintendent Michael Tierney set in motion a series of “Black Wednesday” transfers and layoffs that will hurt students and damage educational programs.
“The only common denominator is that every teacher targeted is a union official or a member of the local union’s negotiating team,” O’Roark said. “This is no coincidence.”
Unfortunately, it appears that students will be paying the price. The superintendent — without any sound educational reasoning — wants to transfer veteran elementary teachers to teach new grades and is laying off an elementary school librarian, even though there is no legitimate fiscal reason to do so. In addition, he wants to lay off a school psychologist — leaving only one psychologist for 700 students at the middle and high school level.
Many protesters carried signs on behalf of the targeted librarian, Patrick Stevens — who is also executive vice president of the local union. Many referenced a remark the superintendent made when he was asked how students would do research without a librarian. “Google it,” he reportedly told a parent.
“How do you spell retaliation?” one sign read. “Google it!” “Librarians: Better than Google!” read another. One community member carried a sign with a heartfelt quote: “It is an awfully sad misconception that librarians simply check books in and out. The librarian is the heart of a school. And without a librarian, it is but an empty shell.”
Following about a half-hour of silent picketing, much of the crowd went into the school board meeting. They had to wait more than an hour for a tightly controlled public comment period after the board left the auditorium for an executive session to discuss “personnel issues.”
Mary Ellen Brown, a well respected retiring teacher who was honored for her 28 years of service, spoke on behalf of the 122-member DWTA: “We teach our students not to engage in bullying and intimidation. We teach our children to stand up for themselves and speak out when they see injustice,” she said. “We are here tonight to model just that. We implore the Board of Education to be educational leaders and to make decisions that are based on what is in the best interests of the children of our community — rather than decisions based on retribution.”
The board also heard from a long line of parents, community members and a student, who spoke about poor educational decisions, a lack of trust and a climate of fear. “I voted on a budget that did not include any cuts,” said parent Doug Schroeder. “I’ve lost faith and trust in the board of education and superintendent … and that is why so many parents are here.”
“I’m just shocked at the way the teachers have been treated,” said Nicholas Kohomban, a 2013 grad who is attending Vassar College. “The only thing I liked about this school was the teachers who cared so much about every single one of us.”
The superintendent made a brief statement, calling the charges meritless accusations that will be proven false when it goes to PERB. “I’m trying to make this school better,” he said, noting his changes were intended to improve literacy and standardized test scores that made the State Education Department deem Dover a “focus” district.
The struggle is expected to continue throughout the summer, as many staffers are still uncertain what their assignment will be this fall. In addition, NYSUT has filed a notice of claim for a union animus charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board. Full charges will be filed in late July.
“We won’t be bullied. We won’t be intimidated,” O’Roark said. “This show of support here tonight just makes us stronger.”