September 27 2015 FEA Pacific Area Report


September 27, 2015

September Calendar (Main Events)
2 - Meeting w/ Dr. Coyle
9 - School Visits Camp Humphreys
10 - TEAK Training (Teachers Education Association of Korea)
11 - TEAK JLMT (Joint Labor Management Training)
14 - AEAO Training (American Educators Association of Okinawa)
17 - NEATA Training (North East Asia Teachers Association)
19 - NEATA Board/ PAL
20-21 - PAL (Pacific Area Leadership Council)
22 - School Visits Yokosuka Complex
30 -- School Visit SHES (Stearley Heights ES)

Dear Members,

I would love to say something like I hope your year is off to a great start but that would be met with grumbles and rightly so. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that you are excited about your plans for the SY, getting to know your new students and working with your peers. Unfortunately, there have been many roadblocks that interfere with our focus on instruction. Working for the government as well as a system that has been limping along for some years now, we have come to expect a few glitches here and there; it just goes with the territory. But this SY is one for the books in terms of glitches, hitches and snafus. I've never seen so many problems in so many areas at the same time. We are seeing resolution of some problems but it has been slow going. We will continue to work with Management to resolve our mutual concerns.

ID Cards: This obviously affected a smaller part of our population but it was dozens; far too many. In a span of three days, we forwarded 26 individual names to HQ and there were more. To add insult to injury, most of those without ID cards were also without a paycheck. We will be pulling together a more accurate account of the numbers this week.

Pay Problems: In addition to the people mentioned above, there has been a myriad of different pay issues that have affected educators across a wide spectrum. A large number of people were not, and some have still not, been paid their EDCs (extracurricular) from last SY. Despite some reports, the numbers far exceed 47. At one school alone, there were 40. We are compiling the data.

IT Issues: Without a doubt this is the issue that has impacted educators universally. There have been so many problems with technology that I won't even go into them here. We have been tracking these problems in order to present the data to Management. We often hear talk about the 21st Century and are directed to use technology in a variety of different ways but the technology in the Pacific is in serious need of a tune-up.

Training: Many of the training issues relate directly to the technology issues. The Music training was a case in point where the necessary technology simply would not function. In addition, it was done during the first week of kindergarten; not good timing. In regard to the CCR training, there were issues with links, a lack of supplies and universal disappointment with the first day of training which seemed to involve having standards read to them. The teachers wanted to delve into the new material and they were faced with the same ineffective approach of the past. Fortunately, the training did redeem itself in the latter half with the exception of the broken links and lack of materials, according to many teachers.

The September Rush is apparently becoming an annual event. There is such a push to spend money in September for fiscal reasons that we are harming the instructional process. Pulling teachers out of the classroom during the first few weeks of school is not a best practice. Rushing to get training done when materials, technology and planning are not ready is not a best practice. Engaging in multiple trainings while BAS Testing is being carried out in the elementary schools is not a best practice. Having administrators out of the school for a week or more in the first month of school is not a best practice. Mr. Brady has repeatedly said that we are a well-resourced organization but the cuts continue on areas that directly affect our students and hamper the teachers' ability to do their job. Rather than pulling teachers out of the classroom in the first few weeks, we should be looking at more early returns for these specific trainings. Sometimes I think that our organization has become so focused on the money that we have lost sight of the mission; our students.

Substitutes: It's hard to separate many of these things. The large number of trainings has placed stress on an already faltering substitute pool in some complexes of the Pacific. We experienced these shortages last year and I do believe Management made some changes to alleviate these problems but it was far from comprehensive. The issue related to para-professionals taking the lion's share of substitutes has not been addressed and that has the most impact on the shortage. Educators, mostly specialists, are being pulled from their duties or prep time to substitute.

Employees in Place: The DoDDS manning model is looking a bit like Swiss cheese; more holes than we can count. One school has reported as much as a third of their employees are being covered by substitutes while they wait for these people to be processed. I believe they are lacking administrators as well. Too many classroom teachers and specialists are not in place. Although ISSs have been tasked with new duties, related to training and support, they have empty slots in every district. Some local hires have applied for these jobs but they will not provide LQA when they move to a distant location, so these positions remain empty. Just when we need the most help from HR, they continue to be woefully understaffed. Normally, we have one CSR servicing each of the three districts. Currently, we have one. The IT division is also reported to be suffering from this Swiss cheese syndrome. The problem is not only in filling these positions it's keeping them filled; turnover has heightened and that should be no surprise given the pressure and stress that these poorly manned offices are placed under. It's a self-perpetuating cycle.

The Association has presented ideas to Management as well as the consulting firm Booz, Hamilton and Allen who conducted an 18 month study focusing on the HR difficulties. We have asked repeatedly that the findings and recommendations be shared, to no avail.

Medical Billing: I think everyone is aware of the changes that were implemented by the Navy hospitals last spring. The Air Force is now following suit. Because they are no longer running our bills through our health insurance, many educators came back from their summer break to find unpleasant notices in their mailboxes. In those two months, many received a bill from the hospital, a notice from the Treasury Department, a threat from the Treasury Department, a notice of your debt being turned over to a collection agency and finally a threat from a contracted collection agency. During this whole process, interest is accruing and if you wait too long, the garnishment of wages will begin. It's interesting how fast the system can work when it involves debt collection.

Some Good News: It has been a busy month indeed. While many of these things have been going on your FRS and district leaders have also trained. As usual the FRS training was a great opportunity to reaffirm our purpose and discuss the way forward. We also had Joint Labor Management Training with our principals and Superintendents. I've been to a few of these over the years but in particular felt very good about this training. The interaction was involved and sincere, for the most part. I truly believe that the vast majority of those present, across the Pacific saw it as a positive experience that allowed us to discuss concerns facing us all and gain a better understanding of our different positions. I'm hopeful that good things will come from it. These trainings have occurred in September for decades. But given the circumstances of the last few years, we will be looking at adjusting those dates to accommodate the current environment.

It's important to remember that many of the current problems in DoDEA are beyond the control of so many employees in the field such as principals, superintendents and the Human Resources Division, to name a few. Some are related to agencies outside of DoDEA's authority altogether. We need to always be mindful of that when we deal with these offices. The problems we have are systemic and the only place that these issues can be addressed is at DoDEA HQ.

Randy Ricks
FEA Pacific Area Director