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          THE TORCH:  October 2003

THE BOTTOM LINE

     Hugh M. Spoljaric, President

              Kingston Teachers’ Federation

                  “They are NOT our friends!”

     After a member showed me a copy of the October 9 edition of the Daily Freeman, he remarked that it was difficult to determine whom had sunken lower, the district or the Freeman. The paper carried a front-page article about your Federation that was erroneous, misleading, with an inflammatory and accusatory headline, and whose sole purpose was to portray us as the villains, again! It was another dose of propaganda by the people who operate the Kingston Schools and the Freeman in an attempt to cast us as the “bad guys.” It was a serious breach of ethical behavior that may cause the need for a united response. People who offer misinformation for the purpose of political assassination lack integrity and they are not our friends!

     The article stated that a recent audit of the Trust suggested the KTF Health Trust was not in peril when it informed the district that contributions were not adequate to support the health plan in 2000. It suggests that we did not tell the truth. The article went on to say that the Trust has $800,000 on hand six months before they claimed they would be out of money. The article ended with a quote from Board President B. A. Feeney wherein he wanted to know what the Trust was going to do with the “boatload of money,” $3.6 million that they had saved. He inferred that while the district was coming out of an austerity budget, the Trust had money that should be shared. Remember the 2002-03 budget went down because the district blamed the budget increase on our health insurance costs (which went up by 0% that year). My initial reaction is to ask Mr. Feeney, the speaksperson for the Board, “What have you done with the $8 million that the Trust saved the district?”

     The article inferred that the district hired an independent auditor, Stanley Marks and Co. to audit the Trust and discovered that the Trust was not in peril of insolvency in 2000. In truth, the Kingston Trust Fund hires Stanley Marks as an independent auditor. The district receives two copies of our audit every year. If, as the article states, we only had $800,000 remaining with six months to go, then do the math! We pay $500,000 per month in claims. For six months, that’s $3 million. Credit the $800,000 and we are $2.2 million in the red. That’s not peril? And, how did this happen?

     If you were here in 2001, you’ll remember that we had a Federation meeting where I displayed the detailed paper trail of events. We advised the Board, in writing, in January 2000, that the funding formula was not working and we faced a shortfall by the fall. If it were not readjusted, we would discontinue the Trust by the cancellation date of May 30. They promised to fix it and they never did and we were obligated for another year. They are not our friends! We were out of money by December 2000. The Board hired their own auditor to audit our audit and he reported back that the Trust was doing an exceptional job and that it was not an expenditure problem. It was the result of a revenue funding shortfall by the district. Exactly what we had told them nearly a year earlier in January. The Board advanced $400,000 to the Trust for December.

     At contract bargaining time in the spring of 2001, 15 months after first notifying the district of their revenue shortfall, we were $2 million in the red and discontinuing the Fund was not an option. The district, meanwhile, had saved $6 million and had come in with three budgets in three years, each with a zero tax increase! The budget was being balanced on our backs. Yet, we were responsible for $2 million in debt and they ignored us and continued to make us the villains. The Freeman failed to present our side of the story and we placed a $1500 ad in the May 12, 2002 edition to explain our position. Maybe, it’s the last money any of us should ever spend on the Freeman. They are not our friends! And, then, to further their agenda of villianization and to discredit us, district representatives lied. A member of the Board, in negotiations, said that he had proof that we had mismanaged the plan (which is ground for termination of the Trust and would saddle us with the $2 million in debt). He stated that it wasn’t a revenue problem, but, rather, an expenditure problem due to mismanagement of the Trust. The district’s legal counsel defended his allegations. Within 10 days, his allegations were shown to be outright lies and falsehoods. He was forced to resign his position. No one representing the district has ever apologized. In fact, by their silence, Board members then, and now, intentionally or unintentionally, are in agreement and are in endorsement of the ongoing behavior and actions of the district. Let’s look at the documented truth.

    The Trust was established to save the district 5% on health premiums. Instead, they district has saved 19%, 22%, 25%, 33%, 5%, and 18% over what they would have paid Blue Cross. That’s $8 million! Remember, the budget for 2002-03 was voted down and austerity resulted because the district blamed tax increases on our health insurance, yet our premium increase for 2002-03 was zero! Why didn’t Blue Cross increase? We have discovered that the district is basing the Blue Cross premium rate on its use by a handful of district members who still have it, 60% of whom are Medicare primary and rarely use the plan. It is yet another example of the campaign of lies, misinformation, and bad faith that has come to symbolize the character, or lack thereof, of the people charged with managing the Kingston Schools. They are not our friends!  And, it continues! We now discover (i.e., they didn’t inform us) that the district is co-mingling all of the different Blue Cross plans together to establish a premium. It has the effect of lowering the rate. They are not our friends! To settle our dispute with the district for the zero funding in 2002-03, we agreed to receive the same rate increase that Blue Cross gave the district this year. Integrity, ethics, and character don’t seem to matter.

     Now, the Trust, through quality management, has a reserve of $3.6 million. It represents a portion of the reserve needed to protect the Fund. We have taken all of the risk, we have saved everyone money, and, now, they want our reserve. Our contract clearly states that all dividends of the Trust are the property of the Trust. They now want, in addition to the money they saved, the money that we have earned. Obviously, we are doing a better job at fiscal management than they have ever done. And, we have done it ethically, honestly, and in good faith.

     This is an opening salvo to take our benefits away from us and to destroy the good work that we have done. It’s all propaganda to turn the public against us and to cover up their lack of fiscal responsibility. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN! We’ve done our job and done it well. We are not responsible for their ineptness no more than we are responsible for their behavior.  And, what have they done with the $8 million that the Trust saved the district?

     They are not our friends!

     I’m proud of all of you, of our officers, trustees, and representatives, and of the Kingston Teachers’ Federation and the Kingston Trust Fund. I want you to know the truth and to know that I have, and will, stand up for us, and I want every one of you at my side.

     They are not our friends! Stay close and stay united.

And that’s the Bottom Line.

 

       SPOLJARIC NAMED DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR

     The Law, Youth, and Citizenship Program of the New York State Bar Association have honored Hugh Spoljaric, the President of the Kingston Teachers’ Federation and a Social Studies teacher at Kingston High School who oversees Project CAPABLE, the law-related education program of the Kingston Schools, with the prestigious Distinguished Service Award for 2003.

     Each year, the Distinguished Service Award is presented to one outstanding educator who has contributed the most to law- related education. The honoree must have an educational program that fosters an understanding of the values of the American legal and judicial system. Additionally, they must inform and educate students as to the roles of the law, courts, law enforcement agencies, and legal profession. They must stimulate a deeper sense of individual responsibility and instruct students to recognize responsibilities and duties, as well as rights. Recepients of this honor must also encourage effective law-related education programs in their schools and community, and, finally, they must be committed to increasing the communication and understanding of these concepts among students, educators, and those involved in the legal profession.

     Project CAPABLE and Advanced Placement teacher Andrea Dougherty nominated Stu, who has been a teacher for 35 years, for the award. English teacher and former KTF Vice President Vince Voerg compiled information about Stu and his academic program to publish a bound book filled with information about his career. The book also contained letters of reference from students, teachers, and legal scholars.

     The recognition this year is especially meaningful to Stu since it is being presented in memory of his friend and mentor, Emil (Butch) Zullo. Butch taught in Kingston for 33 years and started Project CAPABLE. He was serving as the Assistant Director of the Law, Youth, and Citizenship Program at the time of his death this past May. Project CAPABLE was named as the New York State and National Council on the Social Studies as a Program of Excellence in 1997.

      In recent years, Stu has been the recipient of scholarships to Columbia, Harvard, and Northeastern Universities. This past summer, Stu attended Utah State University on a scholarship where he studied under Kermit Hall, the University President and foremost authority on the Supreme Court. He also attended the University of Missouri to study at the university law center under Constitutional Law professor, Dr. Rick Hardy.

     Stu will receive his award at the statewide meeting of the LYC on October 29.

                     

                       GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING

     The Board of Directors has endorsed the following two changes in the By-Laws of the Kingston Teachers’ Federation. Members will vote on these proposals at the General membership Meeting on November 20.

Article III, A, 6, b: Election Committee

            (b) “The responsibility for carrying out the election procedure shall rest with a four (4) member election committee. The members of the Election Committee shall consist of one member from the high school, one member from the middle school level, one member from the elementary school level, and one member from the ESP chapter.”

CHANGE: Delete—“and one member from the ESP chapter.”

This proposed change results from a decision by the ESP to include the election of the ESP President within the other ESP chapter elections.

Article V: Payment of Officers and Others

             “Officers, chapter chairpersons, chairpersons of standing committees, members of the Board of Directors, and members of the Negotiating Team shall receive yearly payment.”

CHANGE: Add—after ‘Board of Directors’, “Trustees of the Kingston Trust Fund,”

Although Trustees may not be compensated by the Trust, the Federation may compensate them as representative of the Federation.

     The Board of Directors has also endorsed Delegates and Alternates from the KTF to the representative Assemblies of NYSUT and AFT. These will be voted on at the GMM.

     Nominated Delegates include Karen Aspromonte, Nancy Chando, Dianne Fried, Suzanne Jordan, Lauri Naccarato, Hugh Spoljaric, Mae Stark, Kathy Werner, and Joan White. Karen represents the first time that the retirees have selected a delegate.

     Nominated as alternates were Ann Bauch, Glenn Gallagher, Eric Koch, Mary McLaughlin, Nan Rios, Vicki Sellers, Jeanne Stoico, and Vince Voerg.

     Any member who wants to be nominated should submit a letter to KTF Sceretary nancy Chando by October 30.  

 

                      VOTE/COPE, PANTRY, and SICK BANK DRIVES

VOTE/COPE DRIVE: Vince Voerg is, once again, coordinating the VOTE/COPE DRIVE for KTF. These are voluntary donations that are used by the Political Action arm of the New York State United Teachers to solicit support in Albany for education and for our profession. Vince has distributed vouchers and informational literature to every member and group. Appropriate donations can be made according to the suggested scale. Recent legislation, including the override of the Governor’s veto of educational monies in May and the permanent COLA of 2002 can be attributed to the work of VOTE/COPE.

     Please return the donation part of the card to your Building Rep. now, and indicate the amount of your donation. Payroll deductions is encouraged. The donation will be taken from a check in November. Retiree members should return their donation cards to Don Sweeney. Your voluntary support is most appreciated.      

PANTRY DRIVE:  Members are asked to donate personal hygiene supplies to our annual Pantry Drive. Joanne Friedman (Meagher/Chambers) is coordinating the drive again this year. Items that are not allowable under assistance programs, like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, shaving cream and tampons are appropriate donations.

     There is a donation box located in every building. The Pantry Drive ends Nov. 6.

SICK BANK DRIVE: The Teachers’ Moore Days Sick Bank is in need of donations. Sick Bank Chair Glenn Gallagher has distributed materials to every teacher Building Rep. All KTF teacher members need do to enroll is to fill out the form indicating a donation of one day to the bank. Return the form to the Building Rep. Enrollment allows teachers to borrow up to 50 days per school year for personal illness when affirmed by a medical doctor’s letter. The deadline for enrollment in the bank is Nov. 7.

                                              GRIEVANCES

     KTF Grievance Chair Suzanne Jordan reports that the KTF has won their grievance involving unit work. The district had arbitrarily assigned In-School Suspension positions to members of the ESP. These positions have always been the property of teachers. Additionally, the district did not have the right to transfer teachers involuntarily unless a ‘necessity’ existed. Therefore, the former ISS teachers had their positions returned.

     Arbitrators are being selected for two additional cases. Both involve teachers who did not receive tenure. At issue is the application of the district’s evaluation procedures.

     Members who filed concerns that the Opening Day schedule required them to be at work prior to their starting time of 8:20 have withdrawn their concern. The Superintendent took one month to finally respond and he stated that the meeting did not start until 8:30 and that the ‘gates’ at Dietz Stadium opened at 8. Since there are no ‘gates’ at Dietz, and since members would have to be there at 8 to catch the bus to KHS, the contention was that the veiled message was to be there and to be available before 8:30. Members believed that there message has been sent and that it will not happen again.

 

                             LOCKOUT AT WNYT IN ALBANY

     KHS Building Rep. Jen O’Brien alerted the KTF about the need to have a strong union. WNYT, Channel 13 in Albany, was in negotiations with their employees on a new contract when management decided to lockout the workers on September 29. Many of the employees were long-term people who had worked hard to make the station #1 in the market. The station is owned by Hubbell Communications, a very profitable company who management position seems to be to make the bottom line bigger and bigger. The national corporation has no local face as do the long-term members of the Albany community who work there.

     Only on-air anchors were allowed to work and they all issued statements of solidarity with the workers. A snowy picture characterizes the local news broadcasts. As Jen pointed out, there is strength in unity and no one realizes it until they are targeted as an individual.

                       

VOTE ON ELECTION DAY: Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 4. Please vote and support those candidates that support union workers. The deadline for registering to vote for the Nov. 4 elections has passed, but it is never too late to register. Forms are available at every Post office. Do It Now!

                                      

                            FINANCIAL FORUM

     The KTF, in cooperation with NYSUT, has scheduled a presentation of Financial Building Blocks for our members on Wednesday, November 5, 4-7 pm. At the Miller Schools Large Instructional Room (133/135). All members should have received an invitation in the mail. Pre-Registration is required. The $10 registration fee includes a workbook and a light deli buffet.

     A certified financial planner will educate participants in the major aspects of personal financial planning. NYSUT members throughout the state have given the program excellent reviews.

     The time to fix a roof is when the sun is shining, not when it’s raining. Likewise, now is the time to plan for the future, for college educations, and for retirement.

                                  

                                               EDITORIAL

     Teachers are being asked to serve on various district and building committees. These are voluntary decisions, more so for tenured teachers than for the untenured who may feel pressure to serve. In this contract year expiration, we have already indicated the need to inform your Principal or district leader that your period of volunteerism will end on June 30. So, what to do?

     Some district committees are mandated by the state. PDP, CDEP, and APPR must include unit members in their make-up. Other committees have been formed by the Superintendent to further his agenda. The A+ Team, Budget Committee, and now the Technology Committee seem to be more PR than substance. In fact, Suzanne Jordan represented the KTF at twelve Wednesday night meetings last fall of the Budget Task Force. The KTF didn’t want to be accused of not participating. The recommendations were predictable. The Superintendent presented it to the Board and they adopted it. When it came time for this year’s budget proposals, it was totally ignored. In fact, the Board of Education and the Superintendent never followed one part of the Budget Task Force.

     Now, the district has a Technology committee. The district has already contracted a technology company and they are running the group. They want teachers to serve. The meetings will be held on Monday and Wednesday night for three hours. Based on past performance, it sounds like a ‘canned’ deal where committee members will feel they have input when they are really only being led down an already paved road. The report will be sanctified by the Superintendent and adopted by the Board. It’s leadership by bureaucracy. Personal responsibility is absorbed in the amorphous body of bureaucracy. Pass the buck and avoid accountable. It’s political insulation.

     Remember DLT’s and BLT’s? We’ve been down this road before. It’s an exercise to benefit the district leaderships’ resume. Benefits to committee members and to all of us are residual.

     We applaud members for consulting their Federation about serving on these committees. We encourage members to tread carefully and to learn from the past.