Sunday, August 7, 2016

Policy Statement: Triangle Labor Council

After the jump, a questionnaire from the Triangle Labor Council, as well as my positions. I suspect question #6 will address my position regarding Common Core.

Triangle Central Labor Council
Questionnaire for
School Board Candidates

1.      What is your view of the role that unions and union members play in the county?

Unions play a necessary role in the balance between the interests of labor and the interests of capital. Historically, unionized labor is responsible for cultural norms we take for granted (see, for example, occupational safety regulations, or the 40-hour work week). As such, even as an economic conservative with free-market tendencies, I respect the value and importance of unionized labor.

In today’s market, unions represent protection for labor, insofar as that is possible given the surplus of labor versus the scarcity of capital. Unions represent a way for both public employees and skilled labor to work toward better pay, better benefits, and a better overall quality of life.

2.      Do you support public employees having the right to engage in collective bargaining? If yes, would you speak out publicly in support of public sector collective bargaining by, for example, writing a letter to local legislators?

I absolutely support both public and private employees having the right to collective bargain. If employees working together to advance their interests is a feasible option (and I admit this may not always be the case with private employees, with regard to either willingness or outcome), then I see no reason to prevent it.

I would happily speak in favor of public sector collective bargaining – not only by writing letters to legislators, but also by publicly advocating for it both in the media and during any public notice-and-comment sessions.

3.      Do you support dues check-off (payroll deduction) for public employees who join unions?

I support dues check-off for public employees who join unions, as long the program comes with an opt-in/opt-out clause. Since members are going to pay union dues, it would be useful to give them the option of simply having the dues taken out of their paycheck first. On the other hand, I can sympathize with an individual union member who would prefer to keep the entirety of a paycheck and pay dues in lump sum rather than installment. I thusly would make the option available, neither prohibiting nor mandating it.

4.      Do you support the concept of a “living wage” for public schools and county workers and those employed by companies with county, school district, or state contracts?

I cannot commit to supporting a ‘living wage’ without a specific definition of what a living wage is – at best, I can say that I would not be in favor of a $15 an hour minimum wage (except under very specific circumstances), but would wholly support a National Minimum Income (as long as a few minimal requirements were met).

I would also like to distinguish the two groups of workers, inasmuch as school and county workers are government employees, while those employed by companies with government contracts are private employees whose companies are already subject to certain restrictions in order to maintain eligibility for continuing contracts.

This is an important distinction to me: I believe the purpose of government is good governance while the purpose of companies is to make a profit for its shareholders. As such, the primary duty of public employees is to promote public good, while the primary duty of private employees is to generate profit for their employer. In essence, although I believe these two groups may be treated the same, I would not require that they must be.

5.      How will you work to bring all children to reach the highest academic standards?

I wish to point out that the term ‘children’ – while accurate – deprives students of their own agency in this matter. It implies that students cannot reach the highest academic standards based on their own motivation and self-guidance.

If we are going to classify the students of the school system as being dependent on outside forces, children cannot reach the highest of academic standard without the involvement of family. To that end, public schools must embrace working with families of the students in their system. Admittedly, this can create logistics problems – for example, a school district may find it necessary to schedule two sets of family-student conferences, college fairs, PTA meetings, etc. However, the inconveniences are more than offset by both in increased support for the children/students in the school system, and buy-in from the community.

Conversely, if children/students see that their family and community are uninterested in their academic achievement – why should they themselves be?

Additionally, children must be challenged by their peers and teachers. Wake County should lead North Carolina, and North Carolina should lead the nation, in academic performance – the only way to guarantee steps toward that goal is by constantly developing our students to compete in assessments across both the state and the nation. Our students should be aspiring to be the best in the country; that goal is what our students (and our county) should perceive as the ‘highest academic standard.’

6.      How would you assure staff accountability?

Staff accountability should be based on a combination of four factors:

1] Testing Metrics (pure) - The performance of students on evaluation/standardized tests measured at:

-1- The class level (for teacher-evaluation purposes)
-2- The school level (for purposes of analyzing both professional and student support systems)
-3- The county level (to evaluate Wake County’s effectiveness in leading North Carolina in academic achievement)

2] Testing Metrics (improvement) - The improvement of students – both traditional and under-served – on those evaluation tests until such time as a benchmark number is met. After that benchmark is met, this factor becomes a value of maintenance of the benchmark number.

3] Continuing Education - The percentage of students who continue their education after high school to an academic degree or professional/vocational certification level. This (1) de-prioritizes simple graduation rate, (2) prioritizes the building of student intellectual foundations to guarantee success at the next level, and (3) prioritizes encouraging all students to continue their education, as opposed to pushing students onto an academic/“college-or-bust” path.   

4] Professional Self-Development - Professional development since the previous evaluation cycle – this factor is within the control of individual staff members, and ongoing professional development and training allows the school system to evolve with student needs.

7.      Do you believe, unequivocally, in the value of public education? Why or why not?

I believe unequivocally in the value of public education, as it is integral to our society. Factual knowledge, as well as the ability to use critical thinking skills to assess theory, creates a populace that analyzes rather than accepts, is critical rather than gullible, and reasonably questions authority rather than blindly submitting to it. The fundamental skills that are necessary in order to hone critical thinking skills are precisely what public education is meant to teach, and those skills will be of future use to the students, whether they pursue academic, vocational, or technical education. As such, public education is not only a necessity, but an unquestionably positive institution that should be encouraged and promoted.  

8.      How will you prevent schools from being under-funded and shut down in the future?

I make no pledge to prevent schools from being shut down. The highest priority must be the education of the students, and shutting down schools may be a necessity in order to consolidate resources or overhaul schools that are underperforming on educational metrics.

However, if under-funding of schools – the reason for lack of resources, which leads to underperformance on evaluations and school closures – can be addressed, I see no reason why schools should need to close. I propose a public-private partnership with the following goals:

1] Address resource and funding scarcity by fundraising within the business community, with a specific financial goal - Schools receive the resources they need, and businesses build positive community relationships, receive beneficial press coverage, and help create a well-educated group of potential employees.

2] Sponsor development courses for educational professionals (see 6[4] above) - Educators receive free/reduced-cost ongoing development, increasing their effectiveness as educational professionals while also expanding their personal skillset. Businesses again build positive community relationships and receive beneficial press coverage; in addition, increasing the level of communication between the academic and business industries represents a net positive – businesses are able to contribute their current and ongoing needs to those professional who will begin training the next generation, and educators will be able to contribute their expertise and analysis to the business community regarding their vision for the academic and professional development of students, both now and in the future.

3] Provide internships to high-school students – Here, a true public-private partnership can be formed. Both the business community and local government are capable of designing (or already have) positions where interested students might pursue their interests. Whether corporate or civil, these students would have the opportunity to grow and contribute in their chosen environment. The interested students would be placed in an intern-applicant pool.

I leave in abeyance 2 questions regarding this goal:
-1- Would students be selected randomly, or by rank? If ranked, what criteria would be used to rank them?
-2- Should these student interns be paid? Wages turn what should be a self-development process into a job application, but unpaid internships are strictly the province of those who can afford to work without pay. I propose a per-diem, paid weekly or bi-weekly.        

9.      What would you do to solve the racial disparity issues surrounding school suspensions?

My first suggestion to alleviate the racial disparity issues surrounding school suspensions is a review of the Student Code of Conduct for Wake County Schools, including a complete re-drafting of the “Disciplinary Levels” of infraction (as well as the Aggravating Factors list), and a review and correction of both the Search and Seizure and Due Process policies (Policy #6600 & 6500 respectively). Failing that, my next suggestion would be the creation of a disciplinary diversion program which would automatically review *any* out-of-school suspension.

By way of example, Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law has a Juvenile Justice Clinic, which focuses on creating an environment of restorative justice rather than punitive justice, frequently diverting children from the criminal-justice system by way of creating lines of open communication between them and their victims. A school (or school system) could choose to take an internally- or externally-administrated restorative approach, and submit potential out-of-school suspensions for intervention – essentially choosing an environment where out-of-school suspension is a last option. An internally-administered group might consist of 1 member each from a pool of Employee Volunteers, Parent Volunteers, and Student Volunteers which attempts to build consensus as to what remedy to pursue, while an externally-administered program would allow the school to build support from community partners by soliciting them to be neutral third-parties offering insight about possible next steps.

While I recognize that either/both of these options remove some of the authority from the Principal of a school, the School Superintendent, and (to a degree) the School Board, rectifying the racial disparity issues surrounding school suspensions must – by necessity – involve either reallocating some of the currently centralized discretionary authority to external review, or an entire redrafting of the code of infractions (preferably with the contribution of views from faculty, parents, and students). Leaving things as they stand is simply not an option, as the results have been demonstrated to be untenable.

10.  If you have the opportunity to name or recommend an individual to a board or commission, would you consider naming a union member?

I would not name a union member specifically because they were a union member, but I would not disqualify a union member for being a union member. If I have the ability to appoint a selectee, I will attempt to select the best person for the job – “best,” in this case, being measured not only in education, training, and/or experience, but also in other traits such as (for example) adaptability to the position, ability to innovate or problem-solve using limited resources, willingness & ability to contribute time to the position outside of official responsibilities, and/or genuine enthusiasm at the potential for personal development.

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