By Bob Friedrich
A battle now rages for the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of students languishing in appallingly underperforming city schools. The United Federation of Teachers and Gov. Cuomo stand on opposite ends of this battle and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
In a game of brinksmanship, UFT boss Michael Mulgrew remained unfazed by Cuomo’s call for teacher accountability and launched a citywide protest in each school to challenge the governor. Cleverly manipulating many local PTAs and parents through emotional and specious arguments, the UFT uses them as pawns to conceal its true agenda: job security for teachers. Protecting those jobs will always be a union’s top priority. Imputing any other motive to their actions is to deny reality. Teachers, of course, care deeply about kids and learning, but to truly understand this battle, it’s essential to differentiate between teachers and their union.
The tentacles of the union infiltrate every aspect of the school system. Whether it’s the PTA, teacher/parent conferences or local school board meetings, they set the agenda and control the message. Cuomo’s spokesman acknowledged the difficulty of getting his message across: “We understand that the unions control our education system and have great political clout…that’s why our education system has failed so many young people for so long…the governor stands with the students while the union and their cronies would perpetuate failing schools.”
Harsh words coming from a Democratic governor elected with sizeable union support.
Mayor DeBlasio made a huge concession to the UFT In last year’s contract negotiations. Rather than allowing poorly performing teachers or those exercising questionable conduct to be permanently removed, he allowed the UFT to insert language making it virtually impossible to do just that. Job protection “at any cost” comes with a steep price tag and seriously affected students at an elementary school in Glen Oaks last week. Let me explain.
That school is PS 186, also known as Castlewood School, and gets high marks from teachers, parents, community activists and the Department of Education. Less than a year ago, James Rampulla Jr. was suspended without pay for the fall 2014 season from a nearby school, MS172, in Bellerose. This suspension was handed down after a weeklong trial at the DOE where Rampulla admitted to many of the charges and was found guilty of inappropriate behavior with a 14-year-old male student, the New York Post reported. The behavior included more than 500 late night texts, telling the boy “I love you,”allowing him to drive his car, giving him cash and gifts, and allowing him to watch pornography in the teacher’s home.
Under the UFT-negotiated teacher-protection rules, Rampulla could not be fired — only suspended –because he was found guilty of “inappropriate conduct” instead of “sexual misconduct.”
Fast-forward to last week when Glen Oaks Village resident and parent Craig Ahlemann discovered that Rampulla was working at the Castlewood School as a substitute teacher. Alarmed, Ahlemann, printed fliers disclosing this and handed them to parents picking up their kids outside the school.
Neither parents nor the PTA at Castlewood had been told that this teacher was working at the school. The principal, who has been there for only one year, sent conflicting messages to parents about her awareness of this situation only after it was outed by Ahlemann. Principal Melissa Haidary now has a serious credibility and confidence issue with the parents of the local community. Even more disturbing is how a teacher like Rampulla can continue to work in our public schools. The answer is simple. Putting job protection “at any cost” above students has made it virtually impossible to fire this teacher.
Only after an explosive article in the New York Post was Rampulla removed from the school. It is likely he will remain in the notorious “rubber room” alongside other miscreants who have engaged in inappropriate behavior while collecting full salary funded by the taxpayers. This is today’s reality.
Cuomo is waging a daunting battle alongside parents like Ahlemann on behalf of our students. If we are to believe the polls, he is losing that battle.
Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village co-op and a civic leader