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THE TORCH: November 2006

THE BOTTOM LINE

     Hugh M. Spoljaric,President

              Kingston Teachers’ Federation 

      THE BLOSSOM IS OFF THE DROPPINGS”

     As of last week, fantasy met reality. The predetermined federal agenda was interrupted by the people’s voice. Like an unruly student, arrogance was punished. The idea that the political advisor to the President, a fertilized blossom, is some sort of genius became lore. There is a saying that the only people who look behind doors are those who have been there. Deviant behavior is not a thing of genius, but a means to an intended consequence. When there is a single agenda of deceit, unintended consequences are rarely noticed and when they occur, it takes another devious action to demonize others in rationalizing the event. It’s easiest with the majority of Congress and a major cable network reaffirming a singular message. Unfortunately, the greatest of all majority power lies with the people and the ballot box. I’m one of those people and I have spoken many times regarding the arrogant abuse of power that may raise its ugly head at any time. This was one of those opportunities to challenge it, and we did.

     I heard the diminished president state that he was looking forward to working with the new Congress on issues, specifically mentioning No Child Left Behind. A certain politeness envelope those press conferences, and few press members openly challenge a leader’s statements.  I would have asked, “How will you work with them on NCLB when over the past 5 years your budget has under funded NCLB by over $50 billion, voucher monies have increased, vocational aid has been eliminated, and merit pay grants implemented?” Empty words of conciliation and more rhetoric, more spin. Between now and January 1, it will be more about fortifying existing positions than about reasonable dialogue.

     Teachers were important players in local regional races where both John Hall and Kirsten Gillibrand won House seats over incumbents. The teacher unions were not on the same side as other members of labor in these races, but the teacher unions prevailed. Albany and Washington will have a new respect for our voices. We were the difference.

     More than a revolution, it was a revulsion against corrupt individuals, corporate lobbyists, and the hypocrisy of those who express tolerance, yet are unaccepting of opposing ideas. The people seemed to say, ‘What is best for our country shall not be destroyed.’

     All children can learn, as can all adults. Some just take longer than others. Absolute authority corrupts absolutely and balance does matter. Let’s see how quickly everyone learns from the voices of this past week. Maybe, educational programs will begin to benefit children instead of adults with a fertilized political agenda from which the blossom has now fallen.

And, that’s the Bottom Line.

             REGENTS PROPOSES $1.5b INCREASE

     Hoping to influence new Governor Elliot Spitzer’s plan for education, the Board of Regents has approved a plan calling for a $1.5b increase in state aid to schools for 2007-08, with most of the new funding going to districts educating the state’s neediest children. In many cases, that would include the state’s big five districts, NYC, and small cities like Kingston.

     Education Commissioner Richard Mills said the plan is in line with the Campaign For Fiscal Equity court order to boost aid to needy schools, a number placed at 200 districts. The additional monies would make the complex state aid formula fairer and more transparent. It would consolidate nearly 30 aid categories into one formula with four moving parts.  The foundation formula would set a base aid level per student, adjusted for differences in regional costs and concentrations of needy students. An expected local share would be identified for each district, based on ability to pay. The plan boosts early education efforts, including an increase of $108b to expand pre-kindergarten education for all 4-year olds. To address the need for full-day kindergarten programs, the Regents recommended planning grants for the additional classrooms needed. It is estimated that 20,000 students are in half-day kindergarten programs.

                                 MORE NCLB INEPTNESS

     NYSUT is urging the state to seek a federal waiver to halt plans to force newly arrived English language learners to take the same English Lanuage Arts test as their grade-level peers.

     In testimony before the state Assembly, NYSUT VP Maria Neira said the January implementation will have a “negative and devastating impact on English language learners, their education, their parents, their teachers, and their community.” Until now, newly arrived ELL students took the NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test in lieu of the grades 3-8 ELA exams.

     The federal government, in another measure of their ineptness and disdain for public education, rescinded authorization to use that test for school accountability under NCLB after reviewing an old version of the test. In fact, a new version of the test closely aligned to the state’s ELA and reading standards exists. Therefore, the federal decision applies to a test that is no longer used. Additionally, if testing proceeds in January, it will mean that ELL’s will be the only subgroup in the state tested twice in English language development, as they will still take the NYSESLAT, as well.

                         ESP RECOGNITION

     It is that time again to recognize the outstanding job done by the professional support staff who work with our students every day. The State Legislature has designated November 15 as School-Related Personnel Recognition Day.  This is a day to recognize and honor the support staff that help to educate, feed, tend to our children and keep our schools safe and the offices running smoothly.

     During the week, thank all of the Educational Support Professionals who work with us every day.                           

                                COMP COVER

     The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement provides for compensation when a substitute is not available and a tenured teacher volunteers to teach a class during their conference period. Although this was initially clarified, here are some guidelines to note.

     The Main Office should solicit from all teachers whether they want to be included in the program. For each time period, tenured teachers who volunteer will be assigned on a rotating basis to TEACH the class. If no volunteers are available during the conference period, then any teacher who is available can be assigned and will be compensated. On any day, the most that any teacher could be compensated for coverage is for one period or unit of time.

     Teachers can be called to cover during a TBA or supervisory period. There is no compensation and the teacher need only supervise the class as opposed to teaching the class.

     All assigning must come from the Main Office and should be accompanied by a voucher at the time of assignment. When the coverage is completed, the voucher is returned. Payments for coverage will be made in the last paycheck of the calendar year and in the last check of the school year.

                                             CREDITS

   The KTF is negotiating with the district to provide more timely salary crediting of graduate and in-service work. The new agreement will provide for crediting every other month with the first day of the second month the cutoff date for receiving credit by their end of the second month. This timely crediting will be accurately reflected in salary statements. Final details are being negotiated.

                                         GOT YOUR TDA?          

    The district provides a choice of 26 Tax Sheltered/Deferred Annuity Plans. Every new teacher unit member is provided with information on the program during orientation. Members are allowed to defer monies off the top of their salary, BEFORE taxes, to this personal retirement fund that becomes available for distribution at age 59 ½.  Logically, the member ends up paying taxes, for now, on only the remaining part of their salary. The sooner one saves, the more their retirement payoff should be.

     Due to the magic of compounding, a 25-year old who invests $2,000/year for just 10 years will have almost 50% more money at age 65 than a 35-year old who invests $2,000/year for 30 years! ($439,433 vs. $297,150). This assumes an annual rate of return of 9%. With all TDA’s, a variety of investment tools is available. And, if one teaches for 30 years or more, imagine the savings! Taxes are eventually paid when the money is withdrawn.     

     Can I afford it each paycheck? If one were to contribute $100/paycheck, Federal withholding taxes of $28 would be saved, thus making the actual check reduction $72 as opposed to $100.

    Contact the district offices for more info.             

                                      SAUGERTIES BIKING

    Thanks to the efforts of former KTF Substitute Teacher Gilbert Hales and KTF Retiree Joy Moore, the village and Town of Saugerties now have three (3) designated bike routes.

     Gil and Joy are two of a group of local enthusiasts who recognize that our area has scenic beauty and a rich heritage and that a bike route would be a great idea.

     So, last year they finished an official Saugerties Scenic/Historic Bike Route brochure that outlines three routes: (A)-The Historic Village Bike Route, 6.13m; (B)-The Hudson River Bike Route, 14.10m; and (C) The Catskill Mountain View Bike Route, 18.70m. The three routes are recommended for bikers who are experienced with dealing with potentially heavy traffic. All routes are clearly marked with signs for all participants.

     Bike maps are available at the Tourist Information booth and at both the Village and Town Halls.

                            APARTMENT FOR RENT

Spacious, 2 bedrm., newly renov. Apt. in a friendly Kingston neighborhood. Hrdwd. Flrs., balc., eat-in kit., frml. Din.rm., sm. Off. Space, attic, new frig., plenty of park. Avail-Dec.1. $800/mo. + util. Ref./security requested, no smok./ no dogs. CALL:340-1992