Dear Polk Teachers Union: Get off your butt and do something for your members

I think it’s obvious that teacher quality of life is the most pressing on-the-ground issue in education today. It leads to our teacher shortages. And that, in turn, leaves too many kids in the company of burnt-out teachers or no teachers at all — just some patchwork of subs.

In great part, the destruction of teacher quality-of-life is the core product of the national accountability/reform movement. It’s Florida beginnings lie with Jeb Bush and the FCAT circa 1999.

In Florida, the “accountability” regime has devolved into a formless, shapeless, hopeless, incompetent mass of state-imposed “accountability” goop in which even “good” school districts must drown their teacher experiences. (The main reason it’s so formless, by the way, and that common core is so hated, is that “accountability”‘s later incarnations and cut scores started to make wealthy white kids look bad.)

In short, the teacher quality of life crisis stems from the child-ignoring bureaucratic idiocy and misplaced pride of state and federal education policy. I’m going to write more about ways to deal with teacher quality of life in the hopes that some candidate will pick it up one day.

However, today I’m just going to point out that Polk County has its own compounding teacher quality-of-life problem that severely worsens what Big Education rains down upon it.

Yet it’s quite easy to identify and fix. It has a name: Kathryn LeRoy.

It is difficult for me to exaggerate how thoroughly and completely LeRoy is loathed by the people who work for her. I have far lost track of how many people at all levels of education in Polk County have messaged me or talked to me about the curdled combination of fear and loathing she inspires in them.

Still, to this day, not one person has ever emailed me, called me, commented to me on a story, or in any way suggested any hint of affection or respect for the person running our schools. No one. Nothing. She’s the Caligula of School District emperors, as the LeRivers report makes quite clear.

If you School Board members can’t pick up this massive pulsing swell of hatred from your employees, I have no idea what use you are. Why do we even have a School Board? You’re not going to do anything other than collect your public checks and insurance coverage. It’s all Hunt Berryman’s school of HR management writ large.

Sadly, the School Board uselessness is not surprising to me. What is mildly surprising is the uselessness of Teacher Union leadership.

If I were leading the Polk Education Association, I would have, two days ago, held a no confidence election concerning Kathryn LeRoy.

It’s a no-brainer, if you’re a union leader. Think about it.

1) Our superintendent rips up the collective bargaining agreements I negotiate.
2) Our superintendent is comprehensively and roundly despised by my members.
3) Our quality of life and morale suffers terribly from her every day, which hurts children terribly.
4) She just got revealed in all her glory by an astonishingly embarrassing lawyer’s report that cost my members and public $435/hour.

If I were Marianne Capoziello, I would be calling every news reporter, every blogger, every school newspaper to publicly declare it’s time to liberate the Polk School District from the clutches of LeRoyism.

Ya’ll hearing anything? Didn’t think so.

Go to the PEA website. Its lead item is a “note from the president’s desk” from Dec. 17. She was very upset about something two months ago.

Remember, the Lakeland police union got rid of two chiefs in recent years through no confidence votes — and on the second one, they were actually pretty split. They still dropped the hammer.

That’s why cops always beat teachers. They understand power. In my experience, the great weakness of teachers as a group — and I say this with tough love as my intent — is that they prefer to complain anonymously about powerlessness rather than pursue and assert power publicly.

I daresay a Polk teacher no confidence vote on LeRoy would be unanimous. While you’re at it, throw in Wes Bridges and the School Board and see what happens. What are you afraid of? There’s a teacher shortage. They can’t replace you. So they can’t fire you.

Anyway, I called Marianne Capoziello yesterday afternoon to try to suggest a no confidence vote for the union. Her assistant answered the phone, took my name (I spelled it for her), told me to wait just a second. And then rushed back with a very different tone.

“Um, she’s not available right now.” I could pretty much hear: Um, she’s not available for you, ever.

I left my number with the assistant. I haven’t gotten any return call. And now I don’t need one, although you’re certainly welcome to give me a shout, Marianne. As for the rest of you teachers out there, understand this: your quality of life is my top education concern because grumpy, burnt-out, indifferent teachers are bad for kids and bad for my community. It’s rare that you get a chance to improve quality of life quickly without wrenching systemic changes. This is one of those chances.

I think your union leader is blowing it. Maybe you should hold a no confidence vote on her, too.

12 thoughts on “Dear Polk Teachers Union: Get off your butt and do something for your members

  1. Way to go Mr. Townsend. This is an excellent article. I say the same–teachers, parents, community members need to get involved in this. If the school board does not think this has negatively impacted the view regarding LeRoy….they are delusional.

    • ….And Marianne….YOU NEED TO RESPOND TO THIS…..he’s right in what he says!

  2. My wife is a teacher and there’s a few things that I would like to say about this article and something in the Ledger today.
    One is about the Ledger’s article titled, “Berryman Mum on Problem” in February 5, 2015 edition. Mullenax is quoted as saying “I’ve been in three schools in the last week and I can tell you not one person, principal, secretary, has mentioned this situation.” What an asinine comment to make!! My wife and her colleagues know how delusional this Superintendent is along with vindictiveness. Even documentation supports that just through the articles you read. The Principal’s talk about it. Of course no one is going to say anything for fear of retribution. When you make enough to hire attorney’s out of Orlando, two at that, compared to a teacher’s salary and get away with a stunt like this, who would say something. No one likes her! “You never saw anything in the paper when her crony, Bellamy, told a whole staff “there’s the door and don’t let it hit you in the a** on the way out and don’t forget to stop by the liquor store on the way to pick up your unemployment check!”

    Next, you are right about the union. A “no confidence” vote needs to be held and I bet she won’t call you back just like she hasn’t some of her members. I bet she won’t stand up to the establishment either. It makes you wonder what my wife is really paying for? A broken contract (lawsuit), the morale is low, a large percentage of existing teachers want to leave and all because of the conditions of education and this county! LeRoy is pushing schools to fundraise, students aren’t being disciplined, and my wife who loved her job now hates going to work everyday because of the this Administration and the union! Even the union isn’t following their own contract!

  3. You mentioned “cops” and them firing two cheifs…the thing I wonder is why the school board doesn’t hold their employees to the highest standards as law enforcement or the military. Why don’t we have an ethics code for conduct unbecoming. Conduct Unbecoming is one reason law enforcement/military officers are dismissed from their positions, why shouldn’t our employees be held to these standards. I think “LeRivers” behaviors would both warrant dismissal under that code.

    • Tom B. – I am a Polk County teacher myself. The most disgusting thing about this situation to me is that as teachers we are held to a very high ethical standard, but it doesn’t appear that our “illustrious leader” was held to any ethical standards. When I was hired on I had to read and sign a contract agreeing to the ethical code of conduct. I’m glad she’s out of office and justice was served.

  4. I am a PEA member, and I contacted them earlier this week to request a no-confidence measure…never heard back.

  5. As a union member, it seems the union leadership is only concerned with minor concessions to the contract and contract language, and not the overall wellbeing of its members. They give away more than they gain for the members. when thinking of terms that relate to the union words like incompetent, ineffective, and impotent rush to the front. The leadership are afraid of the superintendent and kowtow to her at every opportunity. A vote of no confidence for the superintendent is needed now, and maybe one for the unions leadership later.

  6. The really sad thing about this article is the common ground of failed departments and leaders within the county. The school board are the ones who hired LeRoy to begin with. To use the most embarrassing police force in all of Florida as an example of “what to do” just boggles my mind. The Lakeland Police force is just another data point of failed leadership at the top. There are many good teachers who are committed to helping students grow and learn in Polk county. They are the ones who are passionate about what they do and make an impact every day. No one has touched on the unfair hiring practices the school system uses to place personnel. Most teachers involved are afraid to say or do anything about these practices in fear of reprisal. They don’t want to leave what they love doing so they press on. They don’t say anything because who are they going to say it to? How do I know this? I am married to one of those type teachers and see her struggles on a daily basis. Change has to start at the top and the top is above LeRoy.

    • Tom B. – I am a Polk County teacher myself. The most disgusting thing about this situation to me is that as teachers we are held to a very high ethical standard, but it doesn’t appear that our “illustrious leader” was held to any ethical standards. When I was hired on I had to read and sign a contract agreeing to the ethical code of conduct. I’m glad she’s out of office and justice was served.

  7. Great job facilitating the gathering of Citizens for Better Leadership at Starbuck’s yesterday!

  8. I contacted PEA a year ago to see what we could do to go back to an elected superintendent. They weren’t interested.

  9. Sounds like a change up in union leadership is needed. Maybe they have become to complacent in their positions.

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