Thursday, August 30, 2007

A novel idea: listen to the employees

Yesterday the Kenosha Unified School District kicked off a new school year with the annual convocation -- sort of a mega-staff meeting and pep rally.

A couple of things were diferent.

First, Acting School Superintendent Joe Mangi got a standing ovation. A school superintendent in this community hasn't had that for a long time -- and with good reason.

Second, the president of the Kenosha Education Assocation, Chris Perillo, was invited to make remarks. That's the first time a KEA president has done so in nearly a decade.

It isn't hard not to like the KEA or its parent, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Both the KEA and WEAC are often left-of-reality when it comes to the public policy choices they espouse, particularly when it comes to the reality check of who is going to pay and how.

The KEA is also worthy of criticism for often being so wrapped up in union bickering with the school district that it overlooks the day-to-day needs of rank-and-file teachers.

Nonetheless, the teachers in the community are on the front lines of education in our schools. Yet, when teachers go to the school board meetings to express their views, they're often ignored and disrespected.

Teachers who wish to speak are given a few minutes in the citizens' comments portion of the agenda where their often legitimate concerns can get lost in the din of self-serving rhetoric that often attends to citizens' comments.

There's no excuse for this.

If the school board and administrators are smart, they'll pay more attention to what front-line educators have to say. Usually they know best what's needed in the classrooms yet sometimes their input isn't welcome by administrators whose agendas may be less altruistic.

This isn't to suggest that the school board should get soft with the wackos in the KEA who are out of touch with reality and by all means put on the boxing gloves and go at it during contract negotiations. But on a day-to-day basis, it's the people on the front lines who do the lion's share of the work and their input deserves attention and respect.

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