Thursday, June 11, 2009


More “democracy,” New York style

by Larry Geller

Earlier today I listened to WBAI’s evening news to find out what was happening with the lockout situation at their state legislature. It’s serious news coverage, and very high quality, so the humor was between the lines and I had to Google references for the earlier article (it’s hard to quote from or cite a radio news program).

Just now I listened to the rest, while folding laundry. It was all interesting and even nostalgic. And very embarrassing, as an ex-New Yorker (did the NY Post really send a clown to Albany, the state capital? To cover the story, or just to be there? Would anyone notice?) (WBAI, don’t you realize this is bad for tourism, bad for people to hear? Hard for us to explain to our friends and neighbors? I hope no one asks me about that clown…)

For example, it seems that the legislature put New York City’s schools under the control of the mayor, but if they don’t find a way to get Albany operational real soon, the law will expire and (even more) chaos will descend on the city school system. Nobody will be in charge of it.

But there was more. I learned that the “community boards,” which are like our neighborhood boards but consist of 50 appointed people. Not elected, appointed. So of course it is a corrupt system. Lucky we live Honolulu. Their budget for things like fax and copy machines is being cut. A great backdoor way to put them out of business.

Next, there is a school board of some kind in New York City. They were going to vote on something the mayor didn’t like, so he just replaced the board members who were going to vote against with others who voted for. Or vice versa, I’m not sure, but you get the idea. Totally corrupt.

Then there was a discussion about the “rubber rooms” filled with teachers staring at blank walls. I first read about these a couple of years ago in a Village Voice article still on line. The radio story was another description of corruption. The rubber rooms have been in use for decades. Now, in a recession, can they afford to pay a small army of teachers to sit and do nothing?

Let’s say a teacher is legitimately accused of doing something, or maybe a principal would like to get rid of a teacher but doesn’t have anything real. It doesn’t matter. Just find something to accuse the teacher of. Even if it is determined down the road to be unfounded, the teacher can be sent off to the “rubber room” to languish for months or years waiting for the process of resolution to move along. From the VV article:

It's not hard to see why teachers call this place the "rubber room," where they spend months—and even years, some simply waiting to see what they've been charged with.

The Department of Education, naturally, says that teachers end up for long periods in rubber rooms because their union—the United Federation of Teachers—has made it so difficult to fire lousy teachers.

The UFT, on the other hand, says that it's the DOE that abuses rubber rooms, sending teachers there that principals consider troublemakers. In other words, the union tends to see the rubber room system as the Guantánamo Bay of the school world, where political prisoners are sent by dictatorial principals. (Not surprisingly, the teachers doing time in rubber rooms we spoke to tended to agree with this view.)

Meanwhile, as teachers spend month after month reporting to mind-numbingly boring rooms waiting to be found incompetent (in some cases), or fit to return to teaching (in others), you pay. And pay.

All this (and more) in one single half-hour radio program. From a distance, it’s perhaps stuff to muse about, raw material to write about or even to be mildly amused about (why? I don’t know—perhaps because we are supposed to be the country hicks and they the sophisticated city folks, but we do way better than they do with all this).

Yes, that’s it, I think. We’ve been a state for 50 years and New York from the beginning, or thereabouts. They should be ahead of us, especially in things such as popular government. By the people, for the people, etc., refined and improved with the passage of time.

In many ways, it seems, they are the primitive state.

Why don’t New Yorkers do something about it? Well, heck, they have good food, classical music (they actually pay musicians over there, I understand), a lively arts scene, theater, a great transportation system, good cheese, wine, real Whole Foods stores, Central Park, computer shops and department stores, Coney Island, Nathan’s, pizza, knishes. Bagels with cream cheese and lox.

So what’s a little corruption with all that. And who knows where Albany is anyway, it’s not on the subway map.


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