Thursday, July 7, 2011

Zais focuses on presidential politics rather than schools

I have to believe that May was an extraordinarily slow month for Superintendent of Education Mick Zais.

After initiating a 50-person purge that would play out over the next several weeks; and after scrambling to keep certain federal funds for special education; and after deciding absolutely not to ask for other federal funds to which South Carolina's public schoolchildren are entitled; and after watching the legislature dispatch with a voucher-and-tuition-tax-credit bill for the umpteenth time; and after talking a little more about his desire to privatize student transportation statewide so he wouldn't have 450-plus transportation workers and bus drivers on his payroll, Zais must have found himself without anything to do.

And everyone knows that idle hands are the Devil's workshop.

So our state superintendent, whose constitutional responsibilities have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with presidential politics...

Our state superintendent, who has never spent a day on the payroll of a public school district, or in a public school classroom...

Our state superintendent, who presumably is not now, nor has ever been, a member of the largest professional association for public school educators in America and the world, the National Education Association...

Our state superintendent, who has never before held elective office and, in late May, had occupied his current position for only four months...

...decided that the best thing for him to do on behalf of South Carolina's hundreds of thousands of public school children, their parents and their educators, was to write a letter to the president of the National Education Association and tell that man not to endorse President Barack Obama for a second term of office.

Bugs Bunny said it most politely, folks: What a maroon.

According to the CNBC poll measuring a state's suitability to attract business, South Carolina ranks 46th out of the 50 states in education, which is probably why the state's overall score dropped to 37th in the nation.

Yet Mick Zais's highest priority at some point in late May was to write a letter to a man sitting 500 miles from Columbia, the president of a union that Zais surely hasn't joined, who leads 3.2 million educators across America, and to tell that man, and that union, and those 3.2 million educators, not to tend to their own business at their annual convention this year.

What a spectacular maroon.

South Carolina stands to collect $144 million in federal funds to protect public educators' jobs if only Mick Zais would file for a waiver, just as Texas did, knowing that filing for the waiver takes no effort and is likely guaranteed to have that money in South Carolina by the first day of the school year. Yet Mick Zais, our illustrious superintendent, finds it too taxing to his political ideology to ask Barack Obama's Department of Education for the waiver, while districts across our state cut 2,400 jobs between April and May alone, helping to pump our unemployment rate back to 10 percent.

Instead, he felt it necessary to express his "concern" to the nation's organized educators -- who gave his "concern" the correct amount of attention, none -- about their own relationship with the President and his administration vis a vis America's system of public education and who may have influence over that system from January 2013 to January 2017.

What a shiny, gleaming bright maroon.

Acknowledging that various groups of students in various states take the SAT, and that in some states only college-bound students take that test, South Carolina's students taking the SAT ranked second-worst in the nation in 2010, according to the Commonwealth Foundation. And our governor, apparently no fan of programs to help students prepare for the SAT and presumably improve their scores, took the opportunity to veto state funding for just such a program in her letter to House Speaker Bobby Harrell last Tuesday. And our lawmakers on Wednesday, when given the opportunity to override that veto, let that one stand, depriving our state's high schoolers of one more chance to improve their lot in life, all apparently without a peep from our venerable Superintendent Mick Zais.

Yet our superintendent, who by now may crave the endorphin rush that comes when state media cover every burp or hiccup his digestive tract proffers, presumed it squarely within his bailiwick to release an advisory that, at last report, no other state superintendent of education was arrogant enough to suggest.

One wonders if this has to do with Zais's attitude toward Inez Tenenbaum, the tremendously popular two-term state superintendent of education -- in fact, our last two-term superintendent -- who did begin her career as a classroom teacher and who now serves in the Obama administration as an agency chief. Can it be that Zais is jealous of, or bitter toward, a state superintendent who was widely respected as a powerful advocate for South Carolina's public schools?

Whatever motivated Mick Zais to bloviate beyond the borders of his portfolio and his state, obviously the elected delegates to the NEA's representative assembly didn't bother to sniff at his advice. According to the NEA's website,

CHICAGO—Delegates to the National Education Association’s (NEA) 2011 Representative Assembly (RA) voted overwhelmingly to support President Obama for a second term today, making NEA the first union to recommend the President for next year’s election. In addition, the delegates adopted a policy statement that observers agree will establish a clear course for overhauling teacher evaluation and accountability systems.

“Today our members have stated loud and clear that they will no longer allow the voice of teachers and educators to be silenced and marginalized by people who don’t have a clue what teaching is,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “This policy statement puts NEA on the record in calling for a comprehensive overhaul for both teacher evaluation and accountability systems.”

The body also heard from Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year Ernest “Jameel” Williams, a bus driver from North Carolina. Williams spoke passionately about the critical role that support professionals play in the daily lives of students.

He also spoke about the need for all professionals in schools to work together—he compared educators to a football team. “If the blockers don’t block the quarterback, or the tight ends or running backs don’t work together, the team is set up to be defeated because the opposing team senses weakness and that gives it an extra edge. We don’t need to show division in the ranks!”

On the fourth and final day of the 90th RA, delegates will hear from the 2011 Teacher of the Year, Michelle Shearer, from Maryland. RA delegates will also use the last day to say goodbye and convey their appreciation to retiring NEA Executive Director John Wilson. Wilson has led the national organization’s staff for 10 years, and will retire on September 1, 2011.

Did you notice who was mentioned as a speaker at the NEA's convention? A school bus driver from North Carolina.

What message does that communicate? Let's see: In NEA, bus drivers get respect and attention; in South Carolina, their jobs get privatized by Mick Zais and Nikki Haley.

And after the outright stupidity of his letter the NEA president about presidential politics, Zais had the incomparably poor judgment to pout about it to The State newspaper.

Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, a Republican, is expressing disappointment after the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, voted July 4 to support Pres. Barack Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

In late May, Zais wrote to the organization, saying it was a bad idea to endorse a candidate so early.

“I am deeply concerned that this action sets a terrible example for the students across the country because only one possible candidate will be considered for endorsement by your labor union,” Zais wrote to NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. “This decision, if approved by your membership, effectively slams the door shut to all other presidential candidates before a single one has been duly nominated by a political party or filed necessary legal documents.”

The NEA sent a response letter to Zais, expressing appreciation for his input.

Please tell me these letters exist somewhere on the internet. Educators in South Carolina have a right to see exactly what earns their state superintendent's "disappointment" if emaciated funding for public schools, apathy toward a constitutional obligation to support public schools in our state, underpaid and overworked education professionals losing their jobs, and more children being packed into fewer classrooms doesn't do the job.

We don't have a superintendent of education in South Carolina. We have an unvarnished political operative bent on eliminating the last best chance that poor children in South Carolina have to escape low-skill, low-wage fast-food-and-factory jobs and make something of themselves and their communities.


  1. By privatizing school buses, Ms. Haley can say that she cut 435 state employees out of state government.....435 who will immediately go on unemployment...

    State payments for student transportation will be fixed at a rate that will never costs at the state level are controlled.

    HOWEVER, districts who do the job themselves or who contract the job will bear the ever increasing costs, plus contractor profit margins and the lease payments for those "NEW" buses......CORRECTION.....not districts, because they have the power to raise taxes.........TAXPAYERS.......YOU will bear the additional cost. do you like privatization now?

    The TAXPAYER will pay for.....the school districts additional cost for transporting students.....the lease costs for those new buses......the costs for 435 state employees on unemployment....and the 30% PROFIT due the contractor.

    Mr. Zais.....What is there to like about privatization?