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Inside View of Inner-City Schools

I'll admit "Teachers Behaving Badly" [Feb. 22-28] is a real nifty title, but Max Taves should get some facts straight rather than seeking the data to fit his title. First of all, "merit pay" has existed in certain inner-city schools in Los Angeles since 1979. I should know; I received it all those years. I got an extra $2,000 a year for various overtime duties, such as calling parents or after-school tutoring. UTLA didn't raise a protest, but various community activists did. Although the extra $2,000 helped make ends meet, if you do the math it's really overtime without time-and-a-half. In addition, UTLA and LAUSD worked out an agreement in which teachers would receive a bonus for uncollected sick leave at the end of each year and also at retirement. This was another form of "merit pay." When I retired, I combined the sum for my 1,781 hours of uncollected sick leave with a longevity bonus (another form of merit pay) into a tiny annuity. However, both my annuity and my pension are threatened by Arnold Schwarzenegger and company, who want to shut down CALSTRS [the California State Teachers' Retirement System] even though it is self-supporting.

The main reason teachers "resist" merit pay is simple: It rarely works. Most merit-pay schemes become the victims of budget cuts. If you teach in a nonunion charter school, merit pay can be a one-way ticket to the unemployment line — since charter-school operators would just as soon fire you to replace you with a cheaper teacher. The brouhaha over recess duty is equally ridiculous. Since I taught in an inner-city high school, I always ate my lunch in my classroom, primarily so that my students would have a safe refuge should anything happen. A lot of my colleagues keep lunchtime hours, too, for various reasons. However, I could not count lunchtime duty as overtime; nor did I ever expect to get paid for it. I felt I was lucky that I had a room to call my own.

As a former journalism adviser myself, I'd suggest that Taves' article seems like a textbook example of what I term "armchair journalism." Unless he's actually taught in inner-city schools, he should avoid trashing teachers who do.

Posted Feb. 22 by William Joseph Miller

 

Corrections

The article "Bitter Homes and Gardens" [Feb. 29-March 6] incorrectly stated that Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky fought federal funding for subways after a methane explosion in 1985. In fact, Yaroslavsky called for further study of methane-gas dangers while Congressman Henry Waxman championed the federal ban. Later, Yaroslavsky led a ballot effort that prevented local sales taxes from being spent on the subway being tunneled under Hollywood, allowing that tax money to go to other transit projects.

In the story "Century City of Light" [Feb. 22-28], the name of SunCal Companies was listed incorrectly.


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