Communication Breakdown

Masses of Verizon strikers gather at meeting to protest contract

An unlikely union force turned out for the monthly school board meeting tonight to protest a controversial contract that was up for approval.

For once, it wasn’t members of the United Federation of Teachers that was most vocal against the city’s education proposals, but thousands of angry phone technicians with the Communciation Workers of America.

The workers are part of a 45,000-member nationwide strike against Verizon for higher wages and better health benefits. For two weeks, the New York Locals  have picketed in front of Verizon stores and corporate headquarters.

But tonight, the workers took their fight to Murry Bergtraum High School – coincidentally across the street from Verizon’s main headquarters – where the Panel for Education Policy voted to approve a $120 million contract for the telecommunications company to provide data services to the Department of Education.

The controversy surrounding the Verizon’s contract began before the work stoppage and its vote was already delayed once. Earlier this year, Special Commissioner for Investigation Richard Condon found that Verizon played an indirect but facilitating role in a DOE sub-contractor’s corruption. That subcontractor, Willard Lanham, stole $3.6 million from the city.

In interviews, the strikers said they did not oppose the contract, but believed it should be tabled again until their work dispute with Verizon was settled.

“It’s not that we don’t want them to get the contract,” said Max Nelson, a member of Brooklyn’s Local 1109 who has worked as a technician with Verizon for 21 years. “We think it’s unfair that they’d be negotiating for a $120 million contract while we’re on strike.”

The crowd lined St. James Place in lower Manhattan, coincidentally located across the street from the 32-story Verizon Building. With that as a backdrop, City Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, UFT president Michael Mulgrew and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson spoke in support of the strike.

“You don’t get the contract if you didn’t do the last one right or legally,” said Stringer, who’s appointed PEP member, Patrick Sullivan, who later fulfilled his pledge to vote against the contract.

Once the meeting began, hundreds of the protesters filed inside to the high school auditorium and resumed their jeers, which were often disruptive to the point where the panel members could not be heard. The impatient CWA crowd wasn’t there to discuss state test scores or the new sex education curriculum, which were first on the agenda. They nonetheless booed presentations by Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky and Chancellor Dennis Walcott about those topics. After the panel voted 8-4 to approve the contract, they filed out of the auditorium

 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.