On Education: It's hard to not feel that everyone lost out

When Glendale Teachers Assn. President Tami Carlson approaches the podium at school board meetings, she likes to describe herself as representing “the best darn teachers in the state of California.”

She means it. Still, there will be fewer Glendale teachers for her to serve next year as the district looks to address a $15-million structural deficit via a series of cost-cutting measures that most likely will include layoffs.

Those measures will impact the individuals who lose their jobs, the teachers who remain behind, and, of course, the students. They will come with or without the passage of one of the two tax initiatives that will be put before us in the voting booth Tuesday. And they would come even if Carlson had signed off on an application for up to $40 million in federal Race to the Top grant funds.

The union office was the last stop for Glendale Unified officials as they prepared to throw the district's hat in the ring to compete for the money. Now, the district is sending its massive application off to Washington, D.C., but without the union's signature. It remains to be seen how it will do in the highly competitive process.

Details matter. The $40 million, to be dispersed over four years, would not feed the General Fund, from which it could be spent at the district's discretion. Instead, the grant would require the district to commit to prescribed programming to be staffed by newly-hired intervention teachers and classroom specialists.

Glendale Unified would likely have to kick in its own dollars — money beyond the $40 million — to make the programming go. What's more, once the $40 million expires, Glendale Unified would have to keep up the programming on its own dime.

That was the most prominent of Carlson's objections to the Race to the Top application, she said this week.

“In these times of economic uncertainty, we don't feel that the district should be putting its money toward new programs, but that instead they should be maintaining teachers in the classroom,” Carlson said.

If Carlson's job is to protect teachers, she is nothing if not good at it.

In recent years she has waged war on everything from a proposed ban on small appliances kept by some teachers in their classrooms to the acquisition of a parking lot adjacent to the district offices. Her staging of a candlelight vigil outside the home of school board member Greg Krikorian to protest teacher layoff notices in spring 2010 is part of district lore.

Carlson showed her mettle again in recent weeks when she nearly eked out a sweet deal for teachers. In negotiations over the Race to the Top grant, she got the district to agree to maintain current health benefits for teachers and scratch five unpaid furlough days from the 2013-14 calendar.

The union president also pushed for Glendale Unified leadership to throw in a promise of no layoff notices come March in exchange for her signature. That is where things stalled.

But if Carlson's job is to serve students, her performance is a little bit cloudier. The district is going to lose teachers, with or without the federal funds. And now it has also missed an opportunity to provide intensive one-on-one intervention and counseling for children.

Imagine what such offerings could have meant for a second-grader struggling to read, or for a recent immigrant trying to acclimate to life at Glendale High School.

Imagine what they could have meant for a classroom teacher who feels guilty about not being able to provide the extra attention some students need to flourish. In some cases, this type of school-based programming can make a lifetime of difference.

It could be a framed as a case of “no harm done.” The parties left the bargaining table with nothing more and nothing less than what they arrived with.

Still, it is hard to dispel the feeling that everyone ended up losers — the students most of all.

MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at megan.oneil.06@gmail.com.

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