Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Post Office & the DOE: Comparing Manufactured Crises

In my last post, I talked about manufacturing a budgetary crisis. I said I would post a quick description of the crisis in the Post Office. In short, it was manufactured by centrists and conservatives in the Senate. Once it was manufactured, though, it did its job and all but destroyed the US Postal Service. 

NOw you may think of the USPS as a broken government agency and you may conclude that it needs a good solid dose of competition or some such in order to get its act together.  However, that is exactly what the narrative wants you to think. So, unfortunately, you would be wrong. This is because the general public doesn't know that conservatives and moderates (of both parties) have been placing an undue financial burden on the US Postal Service for almost twenty years now. This is from the progressive think tank US Institute for Policy Studies ... 

In 2006, Congress passed a law that imposed extraordinary costs on the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) required the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs, 75 years into the future. This burden applies to no other federal agency or private corporation.

If the costs of this retiree health care mandate were removed from the USPS financial statements, the Post Office would have reported operating profits in each of the last six years. This extraordinary mandate created a financial “crisis” that has been used to justify harmful service cuts and even calls for postal privatization. Additional cuts in service and privatization would be devastating for millions of postal workers and customers.

Each and every year, the US Post Office must make a $4.6 Billion payment to its pension system before it pays any of its other bills. That means the USPS must earn $4.6 billion from parcel deliveries and then it can begin the enormous obligation of paying salaries and filling the trucks with gas and repairing the planes and the rest of their overhead. Any organization will suffer under those circumstances. 

And, as you can see, we have an undue burden placed on our school budgets (my position is that it is undue because they have money from the federal government to pay for these budgets they are cutting. They simply refuse to spend that money). This new undue burden has the exact same effect as the budget cut does here in NYC.  The bottom line is that they both have less money in their budget. That's all that matters to them. In both cases,  they create a crisis in their budget whereas none had existed. For the post office, that led to draconian cuts to services for folks like you and me due to smaller and smaller budgets happening year after year. It led to less and less satisfaction. And it led more people to opt for the UPS store, instead of their local post office, when sending a package to Auntie or Grandma. 

They make the whole experience suck. And people make their choices accordingly.  

Again, once manufactured, the manufactured crisis does its job. It takes on a life of its own. Before long there are articles on business sites and whole websites dedicated to "saving" the Post Office. What they really want to do is privatize it. There even a step by step guide for doing just that. 

And what does the public think? It is not widely known that the post office had been handed a $72 billion financial burden. I mean folks don't know that, right?  That's not what folks talk about, is it.  They only talk about how long they had to wait in line at the post office last Saturday and how much the experience sucks eggs.  It's confusing when things are fine and then suddenly they are not fine. As a member of the public, you or I might conclude that someone made bad decisions in order to make the post office that bad. You never think that maybe things had been made to be not fine. A reasonable person would never think that great thought and care went into the actions that made the Post Office bad. A new financial burden did exactly that. Back in 2006, most of the country was concerned with the war of terror and the civil war that we had started in Iraq. Here in New York, you we couldn't board a subway without being concerned about a terror attack. Within that context, while no one was paying attention, they slipped this legislation in -and that new burden made the post office much much less than fine. 

The NY Post and the City Comptroller seem to feel the actual cuts to schools this year will really be eight percent, or average $402,456 per school.

The reductions amount to about $402,456 in cuts per individual school budget, or 8% of what principals get to spend on staff and programs, according to City Comptroller analysis.

This will have the same effect as the post office did for the post office. Joe Public ain't coming to this blog six months from now to get "the real" story and realize that his child's school budget was unnecessarily cut back in June and Joe Public isn't going to understand that the after school clubs at said school were cut because some politician wanted to shock the system. Joe Public won't ever think or believe that. But Joe Public will be mad as hell -at his child's school- for not offering after school clubs. And there will be plenty of writers for newspapers who will 'help' Joe understand this. Joe will check Google, maybe read a few articles to find out what's going on. But Joe is busy and he will quickly conclude that the schools in general suck and that maybe he would be better off signing his child up for a charter somewhere or moving to Long Island. 

And the end result will be a more privatized space. Competition has always existed in the parcel and package delivery space. But, since the post office crisis, we have seen one of the world's largest corporations, Amazon, enter the market and build an enormous fleet of planes and trucks for delivering packages. They will be larger than UPS or Fedex, its two privatized competitors, by the end of this year. That market space was created by the crisis from the Post Office.  That's how privatization looked in the postal space. 

They would like to make something similar in the education space. (Obviously. It's been that way for along time). We see lots of marketing go into charter schools, don't we? And we see a general malaise and neglect in the neighborhood school, as well, don't we?  New Yorkers, do you remember "The School of No"  stories from six years ago? The NYPost discovered and then followed the stories from a neglected primary school in Queens. Here is the story archive.  As they castigated the school principal and shared detailed stories from staff and from families, they contributed, generally, a narrative about how 'public schools' were failing due to neglect. That's all those stories really are. They're part fo a greater narrative. When parents see enough of these stories, when they see enough of this narrative, they run for the nearest charter school waiting list and hope for the best. As would I. As would you. As would anyone who loves their child and has been enveloped by a whole entire narrative that is shared in the press and reinforced by an obvious lack of services. 

Just like with the Post Office, what we are seeing is public relations campaign. They aim to hurt the schools and then turn to you and I with juicy little stories of individual neglected schools that have been hurt (by them). This will lead more busy parents to want charters. The politicians will then just go to Albany and say "look at all these parents! We need more charters!". Only at this point in the game, more charters literally means fewer public school schools. We use to have 1850 public schools in NYC. We now have between 1400 and 1600 (depending on which press outlet you read). 

And, like the Post Office, education is one of the essential pieces of the country. Education in and for every community is a principle that actually predates the republic. The Northwest Ordinance (and the Land Ordinance passed one year later) required that a school be built in every single community in the country and that that school belonged to the whole community. That law was made before the constitution. That's how vital schools are to Americans.  Once the constitution was ratified, the Postmaster General was a cabinet-level official. That's how important the Washington Administration  felt the post office was. The General of the post office was answerable only to the President of the United States himself. -and it remained that way until 1971. That's how vital the mail is in the US. These two institutions are very similar and are following a very similar paths. 

If we experience a crisis in schools in September, it will be a crisis that was created by thoughtful, experienced political and  school officials here in the NYC. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

A Manufactured Crisis

Still working on poor Dolores' story. I'll drop Part 2 soon. 

Pay careful attention. This is how a manufactured crisis is developed. This isn't how you manufacture a crisis per se (that's because the folks who are trying to manufacture this particular crisis are clumsy and clueless. They underestimated the strength of community and parent and teacher groups and, frankly, they didn't do their fiscal or demographic homework before they tried to run this play from the ol' Edreform playbook). But you and I are getting a very good look behind the curtain in real time about how to create one. This is the work of edreformers. They are running the same (boring) play as they did back in 2007-2013. It may be hard to see because the play is still in its infancy but this is how they do it. This is how they get their new charters and no bid contracts for their favorite private sector buddies and cuts to protections for educators of all backgrounds.  This is how it begins. They manufacture a crisis inside of the schools. Only "private sector" ingenuity and "workforce efficiency" will be able to save us. In the meantime, parents see the results from all the manufactured and determine to move their children to private or charter schools. 

The first major step in manufacturing a crisis is to create chaos. That's really what this struggle over budget cuts are all about; they're about creating chaos inside of 1600 NYC schools next month. And that chaos will be created. The important thing for them to do now is to confuse everybody as much as possible until the chaos is felt next Fall. 

Last week, parents and teacher won a huge victory from the NYCDOE by convincing a court to force the City of New York to restore those cuts. That immediately led me to conclude that the case would be appealed. In fact my exact thought was that 'The case is sure to be appealed and may well be overturned so this isn't over. In fact, it's not even a little over.' And by "this", I mean the basic "can we pay for some teachers?". That challenge is not even a little "over".

The other night, the appeal to that case was accepted and, by law, the decision was automatically stayed. until the full case can be considered. A stayed decision means that the cuts go back into effect until both sides can go to court. That won't happen until eight days before school starts. The Open Market transfer system will be closed by that time and the schools won't be able to fund the staff.  The Times described the effects from this it best:

The fighting has set the stage for a chaotic start to a school year ... The 2022-2023 school year was supposed to be focused on recouping [student learning] losses after the pace of learning slowed during the pandemic ... Instead, principals say the cuts are forcing them to slash teaching positions and enrichment programs they need to help students recover.

Chaos. That's really what this is all about. It's about creating chaos.

Imagine a school that has to cut two teacher and two counselor positions. Now imagine that the lawsuit is won on or after August 29. Sure, the money may be returned, but those teachers and counselors who had to be excessed will already be gone. And that school will have some folks who don't understand it or its children in those positions instead. See? Chaos. Now imagine that the lawsuit is not won. With no money returned for staff, a large amount of schools are forced schools excess their staff, the district's reserve (ATR) pool swells to significant proportions, Tweed places those same educators as one-year ATRs in "schools where they are needed".  The whole thing becomes a fancy way of creating forced transfers -with no rhyme, no rhythm and no leadership involved. All parents will see is something like "sub" listed on their child's schedule -and they will see that "sub" for three or four whole weeks until a teacher's name finally appears. When that name comes and they call to ask the school about it, the school will have little information to share (because they didn't pick that teacher either).  The parent looks around for a different school. 

At this point in the process,  it doesn't matter whether the cuts are restored or not. Chaos will visit many many schools next Fall regardless of the outcome. That was the whole goal in the first place.  

The public at large won't be aware of all of this flim flam during the summer months.  As the public watches their school cancel clubs or those amazing after school events that attracted so many people, they will conclude that the system, like so many other systems in this city, must be broken. They will see no money going to their child and the Edreformers will use sophisticated contrivances to communicate to them that it is all because they have to spend that money on the ATR pool of teachers.  That's all they will say. 

Adams is banking on the political winds turning more in his favor next Fall. He is not too far off from the truth. If this city continues to be depicted as burning for the next four months, he will have all the support he needs. The Taliban spent more than a decade making Afghanistan unsafe and, when they came to power, they made the streets safe. (NPR). Once those winds have turned, Adams (and Banks) will make the case that the DOE is hopeless and needs "help". 

They will, of course, have a solution. You may laugh now here in August, but the sad truth is that solution will be more drastic cuts and fewer available services for children (some to be replaced by private entities) -oh, and a vilification of seniority for teachers (because of this blasted fairness thing with the ATR pool). That solution will include putting more pressure on the classroom teacher and forcing some teachers out. They are working to achieve a bonafide crisis. We will suddenly hear about how great the bulletin boards are over at Success Academy or how they all keep detailed reading logs over at New Visions and that we should all do what they do over at New Visions and Success Academy. Fewer work and seniority protections in the contract, you see. 

They want fewer work and seniority protections in the contract because they don't want the UFT to have that kind of influence. 

In addition to that, they want more money to dole out to their private contractor friends with no bid contracts. Do you remember ARIS? It cost $81 million. It failed. In fact, it never worked. It was built by a private contractor. Are you old enough to remember HSST? That system was purchased from a vendor. We now use something called STARS for student data, report cards, scheduling and data gathering. They were for free because they were done by the next administration in-house. They didn't cost close to one hundred million dollars. 

They also want more charter schools. The chaos they are creating will turn so many parents off that demand for charter schools to go through the roof! And that will force the politicians over in Albany to raise the cap and create more charters (which will further destabilize the system (which is exactly what their strategic goal is). 

Both of these are examples of the movement toward privatization which they love so much. Like the USPS, they want schools to be more private. 

The response regarding the Stay from Class Size Matters is important to note here:

This will further delay the “chaos” that the City repeatedly cited in its brief, and prevent principals, teachers, and parents from knowing what their school budgets will look like until the appeal is heard on August 29, 2022. In the meantime, we urge the City Council and the Mayor to negotiate and implement a budget modification to immediately restore these damaging cuts because our public school children deserve a safe and productive return to school in the fall, which our Mayor appears bent on denying.

Chaos. Many seem to agree we are walking into chaos next year. It won't be felt until just after school starts. This is because the final basic budgetary allocation won't be known to schools until well after Labor Day. But chaos is what we are in store for. And that's all part of the plan.

Tomorrow, I want to compare this with the manufactured crisis in the US Post Office and point out some similarities.