|Team Renew Has Met the Challenge and Earned the Right to Take BTF Into the Post Rumore Era|
If you've ever read the Buffalo Spree interview with Phil Rumore from a few years ago you'll know why now is the time to vote for Renew BTF. Asked if he's grooming a successor Phil responds "No. I wasn't groomed..." and continues on to explain essentially that anyone who wants this job has to grab it. I think when this interview took place Phil was in a pretty safe spot where there was really no threat to his incumbency on the immediate horizon. Well friends, times have changed. Team Renew is ready to take the torch and thank Phil for his years of dedicated service.
A lot of teachers are unhappy that we are still working from a ten year old contract and many of them find fault with Phil for this. I'm not exactly sure what good will come of trying to work anything out with this board as it sits unless we're eager to work longer days, longer years, receive less pay and have our benefits stripped. I'm not terribly eager to embrace any of this but I guess it's a fair question to ask what exactly has Phil been doing for ten years to get us a new agreement?
Another area of concern to a lot of us is the inundation of charter schools in Buffalo. Currently, Buffalo has more of them per capita than any other urban area in the state. I read a thank you note in the Provocator from a charter school last issue expressing their appreciation to BTF for a cash donation. A what? Our union donated cash to a charter school? Seriously? When Eva Moskowitz can raise $9 million in one night at a New York fundraiser I have to ask why my union feels inclined to throw its limited resources in the direction of a charter school. Not only is BTF under Phil's direction failing to fight the spread of charters and standing by as they pop up out of the ground like cartoon moles. We are giving them money too?
When Teach for America announced plans to metastasize into Buffalo Public Schools it seemed Phil didn't really know what TFA was. His response to questions in the Buffalo News gave the impression that he'd been caught off guard. Phil's solution to TFA insinuating its way into Buffalo and essentially putting highly trained professional teachers out of work was to make them all BTF members. How that accomplishes anything to stem TFA's spread and restrict their ability to put greenhorns with a 5 week crash course of "Urban Teaching for Dummies" escapes many of us. Again the spectre of Robert Wilmers reared its ugly patrician head when the M&T CEO who brought us human Ebola virus James Williams opened up his bank vault and offered to pay the first year of TFA's stipends and after that the district could pick up their tab. Same as any drug dealer looking to hook new customers, the first hit is always on the house. Then you pay. And pay. And... Some of us know qualified ESL teachers who weren't hired in our district yet doe-eyed 5 week wonders from TFA were hired instead. If this encroachment would have been met head on from the very outset we might not be here watching them plan to expand and add more untrained neophytes for next year. But here we are with nobody doing anything about it and nobody groomed to step into the breach.
It's hard to sit here and trash Phil Rumore. So I won't. He's had his moments, there's no denying it. But times have changed and the fact that members can't even email their union president directly let alone talk to him on Facebook or read his tweets speaks to the situation at hand. While one's internet facility is no measure of character it's a good sign that the man's time is up when you realize he has made no attempt to embrace the multiple modes of communication every other union president uses as automatically as we use a light switch. Can you see Karen Jennings of CTU not being reachable by email, twitter or FB? Can you imagine Weingarten if she was kicked off Twitter for even an hour? She's a subject for another day and not the best example I know but reality dictates leaders need to keep up. That Phil's members cannot contact him by email is more than just a symbolic expression. It's part of the pattern that shows he's out of touch.
In recent months I've been awed by the relentless efforts of Team Renew. I think before there even was a Team Renew a group of hard core dedicated teachers were making it their business to build bridges with community groups while advocating for teachers and for our students. When Pat Foster and Lafayette teachers brought their immigrant students to a board meeting to share amazing stories of resilience and determination it dawned on me that things that haven't happened around here in some time were now happening on a regular basis. Students were speaking up against seeing their schools closed. Parents were showing at board meetings and speaking their hearts. Community groups were joining with teachers and parents to make their voices heard. A vocal, highly energized movement was taking shape in Buffalo and it seemed to me that that a short list of teachers could be found in the middle of it time after time.
One day Kevin Gibson was destroying the lie that Tapestry is a high performing charter who should be allowed to steal Bennett High School. Another day Gibson's getting tossed by a cop because Larry Quinn didn't want a union guy speaking at "his" meeting. Pat Foster was organizing a Saturday afternoon at Karpeleswith Mark Garrison to discuss the many headed hydra of corporate ed reform. Mel Holden was speaking as a parent and a teacher expressing her school in good standing's solidarity with those dubbed "failing" by the ed reform crowd. Kristen Konrad Mendoza was addressing the wealthy white men's advocacy group also known as the board majority putting them on notice that teachers and parents and the community were watching and the majority was not going to give orders.
Someone asked me recently if I'd ever considered throwing my hat into the ring as a candidate and I could only laugh. There's no way I can keep up with those four, I answered. The right people are in place and they have been nailing it day after day week after week and month after month. This team is solid.
A professor at UB who was also an accomplished musician once explained to my class that a band has to have everyone in it playing their instrument at a high level with nobody banging a tambourine on their leg looking up at the ceiling. I've always kept that metaphor in mind when it comes to any group working together. These four are a band and I trust them to lead BTF into the Post Rumore era whatever it may bring. If you study the Chicago Teacher's Union's history of the past few years the similarities are striking. Teachers' rights first then building connections to the community. If you take care of teachers and look out for the community you end up with a united front against whatever the ed reform crowd has to throw at you. So far they've tried to throw quite a bit and I believe the efforts of Pat, Mel, Kevin and Kristen have met the challenge and thrown it right back at them. I pay pretty close attention to the B-Lo Ed Scene. If I don't know who does? Vote for Team Renew and let's keep this thing going. Solidarity.