LETTER: Teachers Union President Endorses School Committee Candidates

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I am writing to express my support for the incumbents in the School Committee race; Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Michael Shepard and Julie McMahon. Thanks to their hard work, together with the rest of the School Committee members, the Watertown school district is in a much better place than it was four short years ago.

In 2011, contract negotiations between the Watertown Educators Association (WEA), the School Committee and School Administration were at an impasse and teachers had been working without a contract for two years. Teachers were working to rule, and frustration on all sides was high.

After the election, two new voices joined the discussion – Ms. McMahon and Mr. Shepard – and both sides resumed negotiations. After a few months of tough negotiations led by Ms. Hsu-Balzer on the school committee side and myself on the Association side, an agreement was reached and then ratified by the union and the School Committee. Everyone felt relieved. Subsequently, all the other town unions negotiated and reached agreements. After years of turmoil, stress and contention, relations were on the mend.

When the WEA and the School Committee entered negotiations in 2013 for the next contract, negotiations were professional, fair, and respectful. Negotiations went far more smoothly than they did in 2010-11. As a result, an agreement was reached fairly quickly, and ratified by both sides.

In early 2012, Ms. McMahon and Mr. Shepard were part of a town wide search committee to find the next Superintendent for Watertown. This committee included teachers, WEA representatives, parents, Watertown Education Foundation members and a high school senior. After a thorough search and interviews with six highly qualified candidates, Dr. Fitzgerald was selected by the committee and approved by the full School Committee. With her appointment, stability had come, at last, to the Superintendent’s office.

In the last four years of working with these Committee members, I have seen their commitment to improving our schools and their efforts to improve all areas of education in Watertown. They have never shied away from a difficult issue and they work very well together as part of the larger Committee. Their priority is always the students and working with the WEA and administration to build challenging and interesting educational opportunities for all students.

The other two candidates, Ms. Foley and Ms. Miller, raise some concerns based upon what they have presented in their campaigns. Ms. Foley emphasizes her experience with Teach for America and time in the classroom. Teach for America offers 5 weeks of training before sending their corps members into classrooms in rural and inner city schools. The training does not include professional pedagogy, best practices, handling of special needs students or any of the myriad of other subjects professional educators need to master before getting licensed to teach by state or federal agencies. Teach for America obtains its funding from several large foundations including the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), The Gates Foundation, The Eli Broad Foundation and numerous financial institutions including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Visa. The Walton Family Foundation donated over $100 million dollars to the group and is actively working with cooperative legislators, including Teach for America alumni, in Little Rock, Arkansas to take over the school district and privatize it. This organization pushes a pro-charter school, pro-privatization approach to education. Teach for America also helps alumni get into positions to influence education policy at the state and federal levels and lists this as part of their mission statement: https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/our-mission.

Parents and voters should ask themselves: Is this what we want for our children? Is this what we want for Watertown Schools?

Ms. Miller’s positions on improving the Watertown schools seem contradictory: she states that we need more advanced programs and student services, yet she feels that the schools are adequately funded and don’t need additional funds. How will these new offerings be paid for? She has also stated that she wants to be active in using a data driven approach to shape the curriculum and to make the budget process more transparent. The Mass. Education Reform Act of 1993 curtailed the role that School Committees could play in day to day operations of their school districts. This removed the potential for politicization of curricula as has happened in Texas, Alabama and other states. School Committees are now required to put the day to day responsibility with the Superintendent, whom they hire and evaluate. As for the budget process, teachers, curriculum directors, principals and the administration collaborate to prioritize the programming needs and associated costs. The requests are presented in a series of public meetings for review and discussion before being finalized and presented to the full School Committee for approval.

Our students deserve the best educational opportunities we, as a community, can offer them. Many of the challenges currently facing the schools were years in the making and cannot be corrected overnight. I can confidently answer “Yes!” when asked if our schools and our district are better now than they were 4 years ago.

With Ms. Hsu-Balzer, Mr. Shepard and Ms. McMahon on the School Committee, I am confident that the positive changes and momentum we have built in the last four years will continue, and the bar will continue to be raised, for the benefit of all our students. I encourage you to support the three school committee incumbents at the polls on Tuesday, November 3.


Most Sincerely,
Debra King
Watertown Educators Association

12 thoughts on “LETTER: Teachers Union President Endorses School Committee Candidates

  1. Ms King has absolutely no business involving herself or her union in this election. The school committee members should politely decline her endorsement.

  2. Watertown could not have a finer candidate for school committee than Kendra Foley. A wonderful accomplished young woman with a proven record of her concern for the schools.

    Thank you,

    John S. Airasian

  3. OMG! Who do you think worked so hard to get the funds so that we now have better conditions??!! It was Watertown Strong Schools(aka Candace Miller and others but she was the driving force!) not the School Committee, if anyone actually doesn’t know this.! Just ask any Town Councilor/Town Manager or Town Auditor, as they were good enough to all come, listen and work with us. Candace built a ‘case’ or data driven argument for more funding. (advocated for our children)…where was the current School Committee? The next logical step(after gaining funding) is to make certain those funds are used well(accountability on all sides for our children). There are concerns in our District which is why we need a transparent, extremely dedicated person, like Candace, on the School Committee(who will work for one thing only…all our children!!) I really would love to know if the letter writer has met the Candidates in person to discuss any concerns she has…this certainly is how I conduct my opinions(research/questions/face to face) before making any judgement decisions!

  4. The letter to the editor writer is the president of the teacher’s union. Any candidate who accepts her or the union’s endorsement should decline. The teachers work for the town and the union has no place endorsing any candidate. It is plain wrong. All Ms King wants to do is influence the school committee because contract time is coming down the pike and she is seeking to protect the interests of her membership. Don’t believe otherwise. A candidate that accepts the union’s endorsement CANNOT be seen as being independent.

  5. I think the degree to which the writer had to stretch in order to criticize these candidates speaks volumes in and of itself. Candace Miller and Kendra Foley are both exceptional candidates whose contribution to the school committee would be a positive for both Watertown students and the town as a whole.

  6. I should draft a much longer reply, but my main disappointment is that I contacted the author numerous times over the summer and scheduled multiple meetings that she canceled at the last minute. She promised me we would reschedule but this never happened. To learn more about how I and other members of Watertown Strong Schools worked exceptionally hard to increase the budget in FY2015, paving the way for FY2016 and FY2017, please go to WatertownStrongSchools.org. Alternatively, learn more about my ideas, approach, experience, and credentials at http://www.candace4WPS.com. I’m also on FB at Watertown Strong Schools or Candace4WPS.

  7. In my opinion, that was the best endorsement Ms.King made for Kendra Foley and Candace Miller. Her letter just made up my mind to support Foley and Miller!

  8. I thought Ms. King’s letter was thoughtfully and judiciously written. Her points about Teach for America were excellent and en pointe. I will be voting for the candidates she so convincingly supported.

  9. I want to make very clear that in no way did my letter state that Candice Miller was not a hard worker. She, in fact, worked very hard along with hundreds of townspeople to organize Watertown Strong Schools. I, too, helped to get Watertown Strong Schools signs in yards around town. I believe the group had an influence on the town council and their decision to increase the school budget.

    That said, Watertown Strong Schools is not on its own island. The budget increase was a result of all stakeholders that who pressured the town council to give the schools an increase.

    I’m sure Kendra and Candace are fine peopl, but this election is not about the personality of the candidates. It is about educational philosophy and experience. I have seen this school system when relationships were contentious and people were working against one another. It didn’t work for our school system or our children.

    The current school committee understands the importance of fostering good working relationships. It is what is in the best interest of our school system and our children.

    One commentor suggested I endorsed the incumbents because we will soon enter negotiations. That person couldn’t be more wrong. Negotiations never go one way, but when people can be respectful and both sides are willing to hear each others needs and rationale, it works best for everyone. That is the experience we have had with the current incumbents.

    In her post, Ms. Miller stated that she attempted to make several meetings with me during the summer and she stated that I cancelled at the last minute. That is absolutely untrue! In fact, we both tried to arrange a meeting. There were a couple times when I had to cancel due to emergencies that came up, and there were many times when Ms. Miller either had to cancel or was not available due to her extensive business travel. Ms. Miller, please be fair and please be honest.

    Every person in this town should be alarmed about Teach For America and their objectives. Are people aware that New Orleans no longer has public schools as we know them? Every school in New Orleans is a charter school, yes every single school in New Orleans is a charter! BTW, they aren’t faring very well.

    Another thing that townspeople should be aware of is that Watertown lost close to $166K of our school budget to charter schools. That was not by choice. That is not good for our schools, it is not fair to our taxpayers, and it certainly is not helping our kids!

    So, to those of you who want to spin my letter to make it look like I have a monetary interest in the elections-you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, I am President of the teachers Association and yes, I will do my best to secure a fair contract and decent work conditions for our educators. Let’s not forget that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

    I am also a 4th generation, lifelong resident of this community. I love Watertown, I love my profession and I care deeply about the students we service.

    Those of you who know me know that I would be the first one to speak out if I thought the status quo wasn’t in the best interest of our school system. I feel strongly that the incumbents are doing an outstanding job. I therefore, stand by my letter of support for; Eileen Hsu Balzer, Julie McMahon and Mike Shepard.

    Teach For America is knocking on our back door. I don’t want to see Watertown become like New Orleans.

  10. Deb, I do agree it was not easy to set up a time with summer vacations and other travel. However, each time we set up a time, I was ready and eager to talk, and I never cancelled. I still I am ready and eager to talk! We both want the best for WPS.

    Yes, you are right, we did have very good conversations during the budget cycle last year. This is why I was looking forward to talking more with you. Please do let me know if you are willing to sit down and talk at more length. Your letter came as a big surprise to me because the last time we talked — quickly one morning outside your house when I ran by and you were walking your grandchild in a stroller — you said you would get back to me. Thus I was still I waiting. Again, I am happy to talk more because I think there is so much important work to be done outside of negotiations, which are of course, important.

    I do wish you would speak with Kendra as well. Suggesting that she is for school privatization or moving to a charter model has no basis in fact or in anything Kendra has ever said. I do not think it is fair to make this allegation without every speaking with her.

    Kendra and I do very much understand the importance of relationships and working in teams and partnerships. Our group, Watertown Strong Schools tried very, very hard for more than a year to work with the School Committee. Parent involvement in school districts leads to great schools and better student outcomes. Time after time, our emails and questions went unanswered. Rather than put our energy to work, which the Committee could have done on any number of projects, the Chair chose to avoid us. After so much frustration, we decided that to really contribute to our public schools and help move them towards excellence, we would have to run for School Committee.

  11. I would like to respond to the recent statements made by Ms. King. My experiences through Teach for America helped me appreciate the challenges teachers face in the classroom and gave me a great respect for the important role teachers play in the education of our students. To suggest that I favor privatization or a move to charter schools in Watertown is absolutely untrue – and an irresponsible assumption to print without ever having taken the time to speak with me about my views. I am a staunch supporter of the public schools. I was born and raised in Watertown and I graduated from Watertown High School. To learn more about my background and candidacy, please visit http://www.kendrafoley.com.

  12. I still challenge Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Michael Shepard and Julie McMahon to demonstrate their independence by declining the support of Ms King and the Watertown School Committee. Unless, these candidates separate themselves from the politically connected union, we will have more of the same in Watertown.

    I think thoughtful citizens should consider supporting Ms Foley and Ms Miller since they seek to remain independent, unbiased and wish to move forward with a plan geared towards concrete, measurable results and not just empty platitudes.

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