December 13, 2018 FEA President's Report
TO: FEA Members Worldwide
FROM: Chuck McCarter, FEA President
RE: FEA President's Report
DATE:December 13, 2018
IS DODEA PLANNING TO INCREASE PTR?
Rumors continue to circulate that DoDEA is planning to cut staff and increase Pupil-Teacher Ratios in our schools, despite what appears to be a diminished possibility of budget cuts in the next year. Obviously such a move would be disastrous to the quality of our schools. Thus far, the lack of information coming from DoDEA headquarters on these possible cuts has been deafening. Despite my direct request to Mr. Brady to keep the Association informed, no new information has been provided to us in the past 10 days. The fact similar silence immediately preceded management's unilateral decision to "suspend" the transfer program causes us more concern. Staffing documents for next year should have been released long ago but DoDEA is still holding on to them for reasons that are not clear. Whatever they are up to, it is not likely to be good for students or for the learning environment.
Let me state FEA's position absolutely clearly: there is NO excuse for any cuts at the school level. Not when above-school-level staffing throughout DoDEA has grown by HUNDREDS of positions under Mr. Brady's watch. The above-school-level staffing in DoDEA historically comprised less than 10 percent of overall staffing. In the first full budget year developed under Mr. Brady's leadership (Fiscal Year 2016) that above-school-level figure shot up to 15 percent as the total number of such positions doubled the figure from Fiscal Year 2014 (the year Mr. Brady was hired). DoDEA, aware of appearances, has since apparently tried to lower that percentage by classifying more positions as "school based" and claiming to have provided more staffing at the school level. But anyone who works in DoDEA schools knows we have seen no increase in REAL school-level staffing (teachers, aides, subs, counselors, psychs, custodians, office staff, etc.). Instead, the only increases we see are in ISSs and other "support" positions that take up time and money while contributing nothing to students' education. How can anyone claim this is serving the interests of students and DoDEA families?
Now come rumors, from throughout DoDEA, of plans to increase PTR further. If DoDEA will not categorically deny this possibility then it is up to FEA to say "No more!" It is time for DoDEA headquarters to lead by example. If cuts must be made, make them where they won't hurt students. Eliminate all the unnecessary and unproductive "experts" who have been hired in recent years and leave class sizes alone. The "experts" at DoDEA have done more than enough damage already!
It is an understatement to say that the Association was very disappointed to learn that DoDEA, without any discussion with the Association, had reached the decision to cancel the Transfer Program for this year. It is ironic that DoDEA mandates collaboration at the school level and yet cannot model it at Headquarters. The decision to cancel the Transfer Program shows the misplaced priorities of DoDEA, a fundamental lack of respect for our educators and a total disregard for the morale of the people who work with students every day.
We know, of course, that there are educators who will be excessed this year due to position cuts and school closures. Even without a Transfer Program, those educators will need to be placed. FEA will advocate for the widest possible choice of placements for those educators who are impacted by these cuts and closures.
At the urging of FEA, DoDEA is working to quickly resolve a number of RAT reimbursement issues from last summer that have been reported to us. We are told a number of affected employees should see their reimbursements processed within the next week. If you have not been properly reimbursed yet for your RAT from last summer, be sure to report the problem to your FRS so it can be elevated through the proper channels of FEA.
EVEN MANAGEMENT THINKS DODEA NEEDS IMPROVEMENTS
Remember the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted last spring, in which educators and most other school-level employees of DoDEA were not surveyed because they were considered to be "seasonal" employees? Well, the results came out this week and guess what? Even the "permanent" employees in places like DoDEA Headquarters and the district offices are not happy with the work atmosphere in DoDEA. The permanent employees included in the 2018 survey ranked DoDEA 357 out of 415 total federal agencies on the list of Best Places to Work in the federal government. That puts DoDEA in the bottom 15 percent! In the survey subcategory of "Training and Development" DoDEA ranked 400 out of the 410 agencies ranked in that category: almost last and particularly disturbing for a school system. You may recall that when all DoDEA employees -- including teachers and other "seasonal" employees -- were included in the survey back in 2017, the agency was ranked #322 out of 339 agencies (a number of agencies were added to the survey universe for 2018), good for the bottom 5 percent! The fact that "permanent" employees in management give the agency only slightly higher marks is the best indication yet that something very wrong is happening with our school system. I wonder if those permanent employees will make an adult decision and leave?
The 2019 survey should be conducted sometime this spring and it is our understanding that all DoDEA employees, not just those considered "permanent," are to be included this time. We can't wait to see where the agency finishes in THAT survey! You can check out the 2018 results at this site.
While there will be no changes to the school year 2019-20 calendar, DoDEA is looking at the potential to shift the overseas calendar in the future. Specifically, DoDEA is looking at shifting school start to the first week of August and to end the semester before the holiday recess. The Association will be putting out a survey in the new year to gather input from educators in our schools about this proposal. When the survey is sent out, we hope you will take a few minutes to voice your opinion about this important topic.
CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU!
Congratulations to Robinson Barracks ES in Stuttgart, Germany for reaching 100% membership and thank you for your support of the Association. In these trying times it is important that we stand together to speak out for our members and our students. We'd love to give your school a "shout out" too, so please let us know if you have also reached this important goal.
Join NEA and FEA as we celebrate a nation of diverse readers with these recommended books, authors, and teaching resources that represent an array of experiences and cultures. Go to: NEA's Read Across America calendar.
CHECK DATES AND DOCUMENTS!
As 2018 comes to an end, this is a good time to check the dates on important documents like drivers' licenses, passports, ID card, etc. It is much easier to renew those things before they expire rather than discovering after the fact that they are no longer valid! If you are traveling for the holidays, it is also a good idea to have copies of those important documents in case they are lost or stolen on your travels.
The latest edition of the FEA Journal is now available online and should be coming to your mailbox soon!
This is the last President's Report scheduled before the holiday break (barring any urgent news). On behalf of the entire FEA staff here in Washington, I want to wish all FEA members a wonderful holiday season and best wishes for a bright, happy and healthy New Year. We know 2019 will continue to bring changes and challenges, but hopefully also rewards and opportunities. In keeping with a tradition started many years ago by European Area Director Mary Margaret McGowan, I will share a light-hearted take on some of our challenges in my annual "Letter to Santa" on behalf of FEA and its members.
Well, this is my last letter to you as FEA President, and it is tough to muster the holiday spirit this year. I I have been dealing with some decidedly "Grinch-like" behaviors from DoDEA this year and, in some ways, it feels like someone already stole Christmas!
Santa, I know that DoDEA teachers have much to be thankful for, but that does not mean they should be treated poorly or with disrespect. That does not mean that their voices should be ignored. Our schools are still doing a great job for students, but the sad fact is that DoDEA HQ does not do a great job for our educators.
I know you have an enormous job every year, so I thought I would try to help create your "Naughty and Nice" lists.
Our DoDEA Educators should top your "Nice List," Santa. Our certified educators and ESP's continue to do an amazing job for the military connected students in their care, and they do it despite the lack of support they receive from DoDEA. Our schools perform at high levels on national indicators even with the poor professional development provided for our educators, even with poor implementation of new standards, poor communication, continual pay problems and lack of HR and other supports.
So, my first wish for DoDEA is to bring back a sense of respect for the educators in our schools and a renewed knowledge that those who work with students really do know what is best for students. The attitude should not be "You're lucky to work for DoDEA." The attitude from the Mark Center should be "DoDEA is lucky to have such dedicated and professional educators!"
Many of our educators have received shiny new 21st Century Buildings to work in recently, but Santa, someone forgot the training that was supposed to go with them! And while the spaces are designed to be flexible, some "Grinch-like" administrators have decreed that the walls always have to be open. What happened to differentiating to meet the needs of the students? We know that PEOPLE are the important part of schools, not the buildings. Please help DoDEA remember that as well.
Every year I ask for more reliable technology. That seems to have been "backordered" the last few years. DoDEA wants us to use more technology with students, but you can't do that if it doesn't work!
In addition, the sudden cancellation of the Transfer Program was like a giant lump of coal in many educators' stockings. Unfortunately, we will still have excessed educators due to closing schools and cuts in programs like FLES. Please look closely at their wish lists and bring them good placements.
Santa, some of our overseas educators are still waiting on their RAT payments! I know there are people at HQ who are working hard to process these, but it should NOT take this long for educators to be reimbursed for their travel! And, like last year, some of our schools still do not have enough subs which impacts teachers AND students.
And as a little stocking stuffer, please bring all our educators something RED to wear throughout the year, as we stand up for the RESPECT we deserve, and stand up for our profession, our colleagues and our students.
Please also be extra good to our UniServ Attorneys. They work diligently to protect our members and our rights, and we will be going to court more often in the future. We did receive an early Christmas present when a Federal Judge overturned three harmful Executive Orders, but of course, the government has appealed that ruling.
Don't forget our small but mighty FEA staff as well. They work tirelessly for the Association and our members. Be sure to bring presents to our extended NEA family too. In these crazy times, their support is more important now than ever.
For your Naughty list Santa, I have LOTS of suggestions. High on the list should be anyone in DoDEA above the school level who believe they "know better" than the people who work with students every day. That attitude has taken DoDEA badly off course. Be sure to include all of those who help contract for and create Professional Development that does not meet the needs of educators or students. You know, the kind of "one-size-doesn't-fit-all, death by PowerPoint or Webinar" kind of training. Also, big lumps of coal for all of those involved in trying to implement harmful new contracts for our stateside and overseas bargaining units. Add some "switches and ashes" to the stockings of those who appeal all of our arbitration victories and delay correct payment to our educators.
Don't forget to add those lawmakers who decided to impose harmful taxes on the cost of government moves, not to mention the DoDEA officials who decided not to inform applicants that they would be responsible for the taxes on the cost of their move overseas! I could go on, Santa, but you get the picture. It seems many of these people have hearts that are just "two sizes too small!"
But, as FEA President, I could not wish for a better group of educators to work with. It has been a great honor to represent such dedicated and professional educators for the past 6 years. Please be very good to each and every one of them this year.
As you travel over Washington DC this year, don't forget to stop at the FEA offices. The cookies and milk will be waiting for you under our beautiful little tree. Travel safely and Merry Christmas!