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Teachers union president calls on Rochester school officials to stop 'hateful bashing' of teachers

rochester teachers association president Adam Urbanski
James Brown
Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski.

The Rochester City School District’s teachers union leadership is troubled by what they say is a tone of animosity toward educators.

During the first round of budget deliberations on Tuesday, school board president Cynthia Elliot pointed to an increase in employee compensation and benefits of $4.4 million.

She says she wants to see that trimmed down by excluding employees from receiving unused sick pay.

“Let me just put on record to all the unions, we’re expecting that to be eliminated,” Elliot said at the budget deliberation Tuesday evening. “That has to be one of the points that we negotiate, that nobody’s getting paid for sick time. If you don't use it, you lose it.”

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski says this matter isn’t up for conversation outside of ongoing union negotiations.

“If she actually achieved what she was proposing, she would substantially deteriorate the situation in our district,” Urbanski said in an interview on Wednesday. “If you send a message to teachers that when you don't use your sick days, you lose them, which is essentially what she was saying, right? Then teachers may actually use their sick days, which will exacerbate the shortage of substitute teachers and cost the district even more money."

He noted that it also comes on the heels of Elliot’s comments at an earlier meeting in which she described some district teachers as being unfit for the job.

"While I will honor and celebrate the great work that's being done by a number of our teachers within our buildings, let's just be real about it,” Elliot said in the April 13 school board meeting. “Like I said, there are piss-poor teachers who are working in our district and don't want to cooperate with what we're trying to do with the high expectations that we're trying to put in place for our students.”

At the same meeting, Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Black suggested that some teachers in the district do not prepare lesson plans.

In an open letter to Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small on Wednesday, Urbanski said her silence is demoralizing to teachers, who he said are leaving in droves. According to RTA, about 160 teachers have already resigned this year.

The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

RTA President Adam Urbanski’s Open Letter to RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small:

Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small,

At the April 13 meeting of the RCSD's Board of Education, Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Kathleen Black falsely alleged that half of all RCSD's teachers do not prepare lesson plans, do not have high expectations for students, and do not teach effectively. She presented no evidence to support her outrageous allegations. Yet, only two school board members called her out on any of this: Board Vice-President Beatriz LeBron who said “I have never entered a classroom and not seen the lesson posted”; and Board member Amy Maloy who said “I would caution how we speak about those who teach our kids.” It’s very telling that all others on the dais either echoed Kathleen Black’s offensive and hateful remarks or remained silent - including you. Your silence continued even after Board President Cynthia Elliott said that something has to be done about all these (and I’m quoting her now) “p*ss poor teachers.”  She also blamed teachers for the increase in crimes on our streets. 

We’ve been waiting patiently for you, as our Superintendent, to say something about this unwarranted offensive and hateful bashing of teachers. The modeling of disrespect for teachers by the president of the school board and the Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, if unchecked, will surely send a message to our students that it is ok for them to also disrespect teachers. Your silence, then and now, sends the message to teachers that they cannot count on you to have the courage to stand up for truth and decency. No wonder teachers feel unsupported, demoralized and unfairly blamed. And no wonder they are leaving the RCSD in droves.

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week. Before you send the predictable message to teachers about how much you and the school board appreciate and value them, please remember that empty rhetoric is no substitute for courageous leadership. 

Adam Urbanski, RTA President

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.
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