Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
D.C.’s schools chief calls it quits. Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates call each other out in a high-profile debate. And Virginia’s governor calls on his GOP colleagues to support his plan for the commonwealth’s liquor stores. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- George Parker President, The Washington Teachers Union
- Robin Ficker Republican Candidate, Montgomery County Council (District 2)
Politics Hour Extra
Washington Teachers Union President George Parker says the media has failed to fully examine the results of DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s reform efforts beyond the focus on teacher assessments and student test scores:
George Parker talks about his expectations for the tenure of Kaya Henderson, Michelle Rhee’s interim replacement as Chancellor of DCPS. Parker says that there has never been enough systemic focus on discipline in the classroom in D.C. public schools:
Robin Flicker, Montgomery County Council candidate (R-District 2) says he needs more information before taking a position on the ambulance fee. He also says he’s supporting Bob Ehrlich in the Maryland governor’s race because of his opposition to raising sales taxes:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," featuring Tom Sherwood. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Tom, the teachers' union contract in Baltimore, the one that according to the Baltimore Sun had been hailed as the most innovative in the nation, well, it's been voted down. About 1,500 members of the Baltimore Teachers Union voted against it. About 1,100 voted for it. This was supposed to be the better than Michelle Rhee model for superintendent and union collaborating on school reform. George Parker, the head of the Washington Teachers' Union is on the line, and I'd be interested to hear his take on this. The contentious D.C. model ended up with teachers voting more than 3-to-1 in favor of it. The more harmonious Baltimore model is voted down. There's some irony here, Tom. I'm just not sure I know what it is. What I am sure of is that school reform has hit a bump in the road in both these cities. But you covered the Rhee, Fenty, Gray press conference on her resignation, any observations about that or about the new interim chancellor Kaya Henderson?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI think so. I did an interview with Kaya Henderson yesterday. You know, she has been Rhee's deputy. I think for people who are worried about whether or not Gray is serious about reform continuing, Vince Gray, the new -- who's going to be the new mayor, Kaya Henderson has been the person who had helped negotiate the new breakthrough contract. She was the lead staff person for Rhee. She has been in charge of creating the impact system, which judges the teachers, you know, to three times a year that they're watching the classrooms, all that. She's the one who orchestrated that. So she has been doing all the things that Rhee has been doing. The only difference is that Kaya Henderson has been doing it with a smile on her face. (laugh) She has been -- she's well known. She's worked for the city for 13 years in school systems. She's been involved with lots of progressive issues in terms of the education. She -- and so she says things -- she says, I've been working all this time with blood, sweat and tears to get these reforms in place to dismantle it.
NNAMDIAnd she's been associated with Michelle Rhee for over 10 years...
NNAMDI...her function here was she ran the district office of the nonprofit organization to develop teachers that Michelle Rhee found.
SHERWOODRight. And then, when Rhee became the chancellor, she came over as the deputy chancellor. So she has been doing all the reforms that Rhee has been talking about. So -- and Gray says they will continue.
NNAMDIAnd she is the one who, as Tom Sherwood pointed out, has been involved in negotiations with the Washington Teachers' Union. You can join this conversation, of course, by calling 800-433-8850. Joining us now is George Parker. He is president of the Washington Teachers' Union, which represents teachers in the District of Columbia Public Schools. It is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers as is the Baltimore Teachers Union. George Parker, welcome.
MR. GEORGE PARKERWell, how are you doing? It's good to be here with you. And I was listening to the discussion about the Baltimore Teachers Union contract. I'm just aware that it was voted down.
SHERWOODWhat was the -- George, Tom Sherwood here. What's your awareness of what was the sticking point for the teachers?
PARKERWell, I think the main thing in that contract, as I heard it on the news -- I haven't had the chance to even talk to the BTU president yet to see why it went down. But from what I'm hearing, I think number one was that the contract was not specific enough about teacher evaluation. Obviously, the contract is linked to teacher evaluation in terms of pay. Unlike ours, I think in our contract -- in D.C., the union, doesn't have the right to negotiate the teacher evaluation instrument, so therefore that did not become an issue in our contract negotiations, nor within the contract vote because we do not have a right to negotiate the teacher evaluation anyway. But I can see very seriously why teachers in Baltimore would be concerned. If they are getting some type of pay for performance and they're not aware of what the actual teacher evaluation instrument would be, because I do understand in Baltimore, the union there does have the right to negotiate the evaluation instrument. And I can see how that alone would cause the contract to fail if they don't know how they're going to be evaluated.
NNAMDII can also see that, but let's talk a little bit about the numbers, because over the two and a half years or so that you are negotiating with Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee over the D.C. contract, one got the impression that there was a great deal of disgruntlement. A, there was a point at which you were criticized by senior members of the union for being too tight with Michelle Rhee. Later on, the negotiations were fairly contentious. And then when it all came down to it, the vote was like 1,425 for the contract and 425 against. Do you think the level of disgruntlement was overestimated?
PARKERI think that it was overestimated in terms of the real details in the contract. I think what had happened, we have a group of teachers who, pretty much are not my supporters, so I think to a large degree distorted. The real facts of the contract, on the initial outing -- and I think we were able, in the end, to get teachers to understand what the real language in the contract was, and we went around to schools and did sessions with teachers so that they were clear. They have an opportunity to ask questions and at the same time get the real facts about the contract. But I think, again, it has a lot to do with if the union in Baltimore -- and it does have the right to negotiate the teacher evaluation instrument -- and if that instrument is linked to the pay that teachers receive, I think that could be a very, very important issue for voters, if they don't know...
NNAMDIIs that a right that you want?
PARKER...how they are going to be evaluated.
SHERWOODI'd like to have the right vote to decide how my company is gonna evaluate me. (laugh)
PARKERWell, actually, Tom, in most of the major urban school districts, the union does have the right to negotiate the evaluation instrument. We used to have it here in D.C., up until the mid-'90s, during the time in the control board. During that time, that right was taken away from the unions (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYeah, the control board did a lot of things. Let me -- can I ask you about Kaya Henderson? I mean, you know her. You know, you've sat across the table from her. She's pretty well steeped in the community, and there's some fear that she won't continue the changes, that she'll be -- things will slow down under her and Vincent Gray. But what is -- and some people said the union spent a million dollars to defeat Adrian Fenty, and it's hoping that things would change. What do you think about Kaya Henderson and from the teachers union point of view?
PARKERWell, we've had quite a bit of contact with Kaya. As it was stated earlier, she was really the chief negotiator for the District in terms of the contract. I think, number one, she will continue the reform. I think, though, that she is a little more people sensitive. I think she is more inclusive, and to some degree, I think a little more reasonable. Now, does that mean that she doesn't -- or that she does always agree with the union, no, we have quite a few disagreements, but I think she's very respectful of stakeholders? And I think that is very important. You do get an opportunity with Kaya Henderson to express your view whether it's different from hers or not. And I think she gives you a few considerations. Now, she doesn't always agree, but you leave there feeling respected and that your voice is important. Very often, I didn't feel that way with Michelle Rhee.
NNAMDIWell, it seems that way with the Baltimore Teachers Union and the superintendent there, Mr. Alonso, that they were singing kumbaya, it seemed like. So, were you surprised about how this all turned out?
PARKERWell, I'm surprised that they would take a contract to teachers where they did not spell out what the teacher evaluation process would be if it was linked to some type of pay-for-performance, without a doubt. But, again, you know, I think sometimes union leaders can be at a different place than their membership. I think that's one of the things that I had to be very careful about, and I guess, in the end, I'll see if I was careful enough in the election.
SHERWOODWhen is the teachers union -- when are you -- when is that delayed since...
SHERWOOD...May election going to happen?
PARKERActually, it will be over on the 27th of this month.
SHERWOODHad the ballots been mailed out yet?
PARKERYes. Teachers have received their ballots.
NNAMDIIt will take place on the 27th of October?
PARKERNo. What happens is that there's a 15-day period. The ballots -- it's a mail ballot election. The ballots have already gone out. Teachers have received them, and they will have between now and the 27th of October to mail them back in. They must be received by the American Arbitration Association by the 27th of October.
SHERWOODSo we might be talking to a lame duck.
PARKERYou could, you could not. I guess we will see whether or not (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, how was this part of the dispute settled? The American Federation of Teachers wanted teachers who were dues-paying WTU members as of last June 30th to be able to vote. You argued that that would include teachers who have either since been fired or who have been retired since then. And how did that turn out? Who gets to vote?
PARKERWell, we reached a settlement. There were two issues there. One was that, yup, we used the June 30th list. The June 30th list would have included persons who are not allowed to vote under the Constitution, but it also would have prevented new teachers who come into the system and joining the union from voting. So we did work out a settlement where those teachers who were on the list by June 30th would cast what are called challenge ballots. The new teachers who came into the system in August would also have the opportunity to vote. The challenged ballots would only be counted if the margin of victory for either candidate is small enough that the number of challenged ballots could make a difference.
NNAMDIAnd I guess it's fairly...
SHERWOOD...new teachers would vote. The new teachers just vote like all other teachers that are on the payroll?
NNAMDIIs it fair to say that your concern is that teachers who were fired are not likely to vote for George Parker?
PARKERWell, sure, that would be a concern, but that wouldn't be a reason to prevent it. The constitution was the basis upon our argument that the Constitution does not allow teachers who are not employed by DCPS.
SHERWOODThis is a teachers union Constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.
PARKERNo, the WTU Constitution.
NNAMDIGeorge Parker, our guest, is president of the Washington Teachers Union, which is the labor union that represents teachers in the District of Columbia public schools. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You can call us to join this conversation at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, an e-mail to kojoWamu.org. Before I go to the phones, George Parker, what are one or two areas where you would like to see Kaya Henderson offer a different approach from Michelle Rhee?
PARKERI think one would be the area of focus on teacher resources, focus on student discipline within the classroom. I think it's one of the failures that Michelle Rhee has had, which I think other superintendents, and that is none of them have focused on discipline and order within the schools. I think if you want to look at charter schools versus public schools, that may be one of the major differences, that in charter schools...
NNAMDIWell, the people she brought in to run Coolidge say that's their focus, that was their initial focus.
PARKERWell, now, I have heard from teachers at Coolidge the organization that they brought in to run Coolidge they are very serious about discipline, but that's just one school.
PARKERBecause one of the things -- and we have to look at that to say, "Listen, this is an outside organization Green Dot -- I think it's Green Dot. I'm not -- no, it's not -- it's Friends of Bedford.
NNAMDIFriends of Bedford...
PARKERYeah, who came...
PARKER...in to run Coolidge, but these folks were serious about discipline and order. If teachers can't teach, if they have to spend 25 percent of their time just trying to get order in the classroom, I think these people of the schools as a school system has never been serious about discipline in the classroom. So I would hope that Deputy Chancellor Henderson would be very serious about understanding it is not just the teachers' responsibility to get order in the classroom, but it is also the principal and the school system to set guidelines where students know that when they come to school, you're coming to school to learn and not to party.
NNAMDIOkay, that's one area, but I got to go to the telephones and start with Melvin in Northeast Washington. Melvin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELVINWell, I'm gonna pick up what George Parker just left. And again, Kaya Henderson doesn't have the qualifications to lead DCPS. I mean, a Rhee's program, Rhee's programs were strictly, basically to clean out all -- a certain demographic of teachers and educators. Just to get rid of them and make the school system...
NNAMDIGeorge Parker, is that what…
MELVINHold up. And make the school system look like a Rhee-gentrified community. Number one...
NNAMDIWait a minute. Wait a minute, Melvin.
SHERWOODYou can't. Sorry.
SHERWOODYou can't -- Melvin, you can't come on to say that Rhee's job was essentially to fire African-American teachers and not let somebody else respond. Before you keep going on, let somebody else respond.
NNAMDILet me ask if George Parker -- is that your understanding of what Michelle Rhee's mission was? Melvin, we will get back to you.
PARKERLet me say this. One of the things that we have attempted to keep a very watchful eye on, and that is to see if any of the firings were in anyway geared toward our veteran teachers either because of salary or either because of race or et cetera. Now, as we get the data, so far, we have not been able to find data that has indicated that that was specifically the case. One of the things that we looked at particularly was in the case of the 266. Now we did find in the case of the 266...
SHERWOODThat's the teachers who were fired this...
PARKER...that over 40 percent of the teachers who were fired were teachers with 20 or more years of service.
NNAMDIThat means another 60 percent were teachers with 20 or less years of service.
PARKERYes. Yes. Which could have been 19 to one year.
NNAMDIWe got it.
PARKERBut we found overall that we haven't found enough data. And we did have a discrimination attorney to actually look at the data because we felt that we have...
NNAMDIOkay. Back to Melvin.
MELVINWell, but, George, let me just say one other thing. Two, the instrument was, again, you brought these master teachers and no one knew what their level of experience were and many of them were not very experienced teachers. And they evaluated your staff and I thought that was tremendous mistake that, again, they were called master teachers just on record. But many of them did not have any in-depth teaching experience or proven expertise in evaluating these teachers. Now, given the impact -- I'll let the impact go where it needs to go. But I'm saying that if you're gonna evaluate teachers, you definitely need teachers who have been demonstrating that they had the expertise and experience to make a fact -- a fair evaluation and that did not occur.
MELVINAnd then the second thing Kaya Henderson said at the council meeting. Don't worry about where kids come from. You know, that's not important. You know, the conditions of which we're gonna move forward and educate them. And I happen to say to myself that, yeah, when all the other people like Michelle Rhee, Fenty, and all of them put their kids in schools where those types of conditions -- poor conditions would not, did not exist. So I'm saying...
MELVIN...she's got to come with an academic program and get beyond this foolish notion about just reform. Everybody is hooked in to reform because this only means one thing. But it does not mean academic improvement and putting together academic program that will lift many of this schools out of need of improvement.
NNAMDI...reform does not mean an emphasis on academics. It simply means whatever Melvin thinks it means?
PARKERWell, I think, to some degree, I think Melvin has a point. And let me say this, I think that -- whenever I talk to news reporters, you know -- and the number one question is, well, with Michelle Rhee gone, what do you think is gonna happen to reform? And I'd often say, okay. Beyond firing teachers, beyond creating an evaluation instrument that we believe at this point does not accurately measure teacher performance, beyond those two things, tell me what it is when you say Michelle Rhee's reform.
SHERWOODWell, one thing would be is she changed significantly the downtown organizational structure of the school system and she changed the principal system to empower principals.
SHERWOODI'm not gonna argue for it, but I'm just saying those were things she cites.
PARKERWell, here is the key. It would be interesting for someone to look and see how the teachers feel about that, how would teachers feel that the new principals that have been brought in for the most part are worse than the old principals. Now...
SHERWOODWell, I don't think we ever -- this is like trying to settle Middle East peace. I just don't think we're gonna settle it.
PARKERRight, without a doubt. Well, what I'm saying is, is that no one has taken the time to evaluate -- for example, Michelle Rhee has reformed over 60 schools, restructured. No one has taken the time to look beyond the firing of teachers, which is sensational and sexy, putting in a tough evaluation system to have everybody say, oh, now teachers are held accountable for 50 percent of their performance is based on the students. Beyond that, no one has looked at each of those 60 schools to actually see what kind of programs have been placed in there. We have what is called the STEM program, which is supposed to focus on science and technology and mathematics. No one has looked at those schools to see, really, are these programs actually working in those schools?
SHERWOODBut aren't we early in the process? I mean, I believe that she's been a changed agent in whatever you'd like to change or not, and she blows up the sense of the school system and restructures it. Can you then know it's successful in a matter of 18 months to two years? Assuming the first year was spent on….
PARKERI think you have to monitor -- Tom, I think you have to begin to monitor. Number one, let's take the STEM program. Let's talk about inclusion in terms of special education. There's one thing to say we have to bring our special education students back from the private placement. It's another thing to say we're putting special education students in the mainstream classroom, which I support, that our special education students deserve to be in a classroom with other students. Now it's another thing to look to say okay, have you hired enough staff to actually make sure you have a special education teacher?
SHERWOODWell, that's a very good management issue. Yes.
PARKERIt falls on the regular ed teacher to make sure that the special ed students now are also receiving the type of education that they receive. The answer is no.
SHERWOODWell, you see, that's a true management issue, not a philosophy issue. Do you have enough staff for the people you're bringing in to the classroom?
PARKERWell, let's say the (unintelligible)
SHERWOODAnd you save $94 million a year in transportation by not -- if you took all the kids out of special ed private schools and put them in the system. You'd have money to hire the teachers.
PARKERWell, it's an educational issue though, Tom. If we're talking about improving the quality of education, then you have to evaluate the reform efforts that are taking place in terms of what are the end results in terms of improving children's education. So if you're placing special education students in the regulated class and you have not trained a regulated teacher nor the special ed teachers in terms of how to co-teach, then you're talking about the management and the quality of education that those kids can get in the classroom. So it is important.
SHERWOODYes. I agree it's important. I'm just thinking -- the school system has said that they are preparing for those teachers and the training is required.
NNAMDIHere is Perry in Northwest Washington. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYThank you. Thank you, Kojo. Good day to Tom and George. I wanted to, well, briefly tell you all and everyone in the city, if everyone wants reform for these schools, whether you're a pro-Rhee or against Rhee, everyone wants reform. But simply this that the Rhee reform were de facto segregationists. They were degrading and they were misleading. You know, the whole thing about firing for budgetary reasons and it wasn't budgetary reasons. And then the issue that there was no systemic review for the teachers who were fired, I'm angry as a supporter of union, not a union member, but just a supporter of the concept of unions. Parker has been a wimp, and he deserves a guillotine. And, unfortunately, Kaya Henderson, sure have her head handed to a two by the people of this city. You know, the Gray election was a referendum on these types of reform, you know, what...
SHERWOODBut Gray is the one -- well, about the one Gray is the one who asked that Kaya be put in the position?
PERRYWell, Gray is, you know, what he represents is a -- not change but a transition to change. We had to give her the old system, and that the deal about her, you know, she's conducting these reforms with a smile. You know, just because you wear lipstick on a pig, it still stinks. And so...
NNAMDIWell, Perry, here's for both of you and George Parker from an op-ed piece that will be appearing in Sunday's Washington Post by Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee. Here's what they say. "We've made tremendous strides. On the nation's gold standard, The National Assessment of Educational Progress, we've gone from being the worst performing school district in the country to a force of 46,000 children who lead the nation in gains -- with some of the greatest advances coming from our students of color, students receiving special education services and students formally learning the English language for the first time. On our local exam, we've even increased student achievement in all subject areas and grade levels. At the secondary levels, these gains are unparalleled anywhere in the country. More students are graduating and ready to attend colleges. Our schools are safer and our parents are more satisfied." George Parker?
PARKERWell, look, I'm not gonna sit here and say that test scores didn’t go up from. All right, because that's the reality. You can’t argue a fact but I think number one, we have to look at several things. The number one is why the test scores go up. Look, test scores go up when you focus on understanding the test and you can prepare for test scores. Look, well, in two years in a row, when I was a mathematics teacher at Eliot Junior High School, all right, and I was dealing with special education tiers and all of that. The second highest math scores in the city.
NNAMDISo on the impact, you'd have gotten a big raise?
PARKERNo, how did I get that? Because I focused on test questions. I focused on preparing the children for the type of questions that we're going to be test of -- they we're gonna asked and et cetera. Did that significantly change the quality of classroom instruction? No. I learned how to play the testing game. So what I'm saying, test scores alone going up does not necessarily mean that the total quality of education has changed. But I think, we all have to give a credit for, yes, test scores did go up.
PARKERNow, I wanna say one thing about the impact. Look, the impact evaluation system, our criticism of it, number one, is that the chancellor should have power to this program. All right. We are not a school district that could go from zero accountability in terms of student performance to 50 percent accountability. It’s one thing to say you wanna hold people accountable. It's another thing to say, we'll first going to train you and give you the necessary resources to be held accountable. I think that Michelle Rhee was lacking in terms of the resources. But I think that in the area of the -- of seeing some of the test scores go up, yes, we have to give a credit for that. I think another thing we give a credit for is that Michelle Rhee is not afraid to pay teachers. We've gone in the last five years from being number six in the area in terms of teacher's salaries until we're now number one. So those two things, we give a credit for.
PARKERBut when it comes down to actual sustainable reform, I think there's a lot to be desired.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Perry. Here is Pam in Fairfax, Va. Pam, you’re on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAMThank you very much for taking my call. As a professional educator, I am heartsick about the fact that Michelle Rhee is leaving the D.C. school system. Once again, the D.C. school system will be turned back to the union and the politicians, and what about the children?
NNAMDIAnd what indications do you have, Pam, that given what Vincent Gray has said and who he's put in this position that the D.C. school system will be, quoting you here, "turned back to the union and the politicians"?
PAMWell, I've just listened to everything that was said previously. What is the focus? The focus on is on whether or not the teachers are gonna be paid, whether or not they're gonna be evaluated in a fair and adequate manner. And thirdly, that the expectation of the -- of Mr. Parker, I believe it is, is that when students come to school, they need to know that they’re gonna come and be expected to be disciplined. Well, you know, there's a direct proportion of discipline to talent. I'd like to ask him, when is the last time he sat a day in school that has discipline problems and why is that happening? I am -- I followed Michelle Rhee. I followed her curriculum. I followed her changes. I followed what she was trying to do, and I just hope that that will continue. But I have a feeling that the children in D.C. once again will be at the fate of the union (unintelligible)
SHERWOODDo you know Kaya Henderson? Pam, do you know Kaya Henderson?
PAMI know only of her from what I've read, from those things that I've read.
SHERWOODDid you hear what I say just a few minutes ago that she has been the -- principal deputy to Rhee and has been the implementer of all the changes that Rhee talks about?
PAMWill she have the support of the political system to do -- to continue with the reform?
SHERWOODWell, Vince Gray says yes, but I think we have to wait to see if that in fact...
PARKERTom, I'd like to respond to this, because there's an implication when you say the school system is turned over to the power of the union. First of all, the school systems don't turn over to the union. But, however, I want to explain to her what power of the union means. Power of the union means our professional development department that the union has provides our teachers high quality professional development to try to make them better teachers. Secondly, if the power of the union that is now guiding professional development days for our teachers so that -- but none of them, each year, where they do nothing but take professional development to improve their instruction. The power of the union has finally done something that should've been done a long time ago, and that is guiding teachers to start up fund, so that they can have the classrooms ready when students come without having to go on their own pockets. Power of the union has negotiated three teachers centers in schools so that professional development can be better. Power of the union negotiated in the extra half-hour to the school day just that so teachers could have a chance to collaborate. Now, that's bad for students. I will agree with this lady. Now, if that's not bad for students, I would ask sort of reevaluate what power of the union means.
NNAMDILet's get back to the IMPACT system for a second, because that has been a source of controversy. Your union says that it will challenge the firings that happened this summer, the teacher layoffs. What do you find objectionable about the IMPACT system? And what have your members learned from the first go around under the system? And have you had conversations with Kaya Henderson about IMPACT?
PARKERWe have an ongoing discussion about the IMPACT. I think, from the union perspective, the disappointing piece about IMPACT is that, number one, we don't get to negotiate it. But there were things in IMPACT that our teachers -- and we did survey our teacher's lesson. 80 percent of our teachers felt that it was not an effective instrument. That included teachers who were also evaluated highly effective. Just to give you an example, look...
NNAMDIHas there ever been an instrument that 80 percent of your teachers approved of, an evaluation instrument?
PARKERI think the instrument...
NNAMDIIs that a realistic expectation?
PARKERWell, no, no, no, we don't say 80 percent approved of, 80 percent disapproved. When you got eight out of 10 votes, even those who received high score in terms of the document feel that it was not effective in terms of the evaluation. Now, there are some parts of the impact that are fine. The key is when you're putting a teacher evaluation instrument in place, it should have two purposes. One is to find the weak areas within the teacher, so that you can help develop teachers. I'll stand that teachers are not just born. You have to develop them. Secondly, that the instrument can truly evaluate effective teaching and learning in the classroom. Let me give you one example.
NNAMDII only say that because on the jobs I've worked on over the years where there were evaluations, I don't ever remember having an evaluation system on any of those jobs that even most of the people even liked.
PARKERWell, let me say this, it's not a matter of like. It's a matter of fairness. It's not like. Those -- I know a very few people who like being evaluated. That's not our issue. Teachers need to be held accountable. If we have four teachers who don't belong in the field, they should be removed. There's no issue about that.
SHERWOODDo you want Kaya Henderson to change the rules and regulations of the IMPACT?
PARKERNo. I think what we want is to make -- what we did agree to in contract negotiations, which, I think, would help us get to the bottom of IMPACT, we agree to jointly bring in independent evaluation experts that can look at the facts.
NNAMDIAre you agreeing with Melvin's contention that a lot of the so called master teachers were not really master teachers at all?
PARKERWell, master educator is what they're called.
PARKERI don't know all the credentials yet of all the master educators. I do know some of them who moved up from D.C. public schools, outstanding teachers had those credentials. I don't know about all of them. So we're about looking at the credentials of all of them. I can't say that. What I can say is that the master educators and the principals and the teachers needed at least one year to kind of work through the bad stuff in this document before it was implemented.
SHERWOODAre you confident going forward that Kaya Henderson is going to listen to the things that Michelle Rhee allegedly didn't do, which is listen to community, parents and teachers as -- more changes are being made? Do you expect more changes? And do you think she'll do them -- collaboration with you?
PARKERI think Kaya Henderson will listen. I don't necessarily think Kaya Henderson is gonna do it the union's way or do it in anyone else's way, but I do believe that she will be inclusive person. And I think that that's the key factor. I think Michelle Rhee made people angry because it's not necessarily that some of the things she wanted to do, a lot of it is how she did it.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, George Parker, because we're running of time, are you confident that you will be going forward?
PARKERWell, I certainly hope so. I think that right now, I'm in the best situation. We have some very, very positive things in the new contract that I think can really move the District forward in terms of reform. I think that I'm best equipped to that but I will leave that to the teachers in the District.
SHERWOODIf, by chance, you're not reelected, will you be back in the classroom?
PARKERI have no fear of being back in the classroom. I love teaching.
SHERWOODWhat do you teach?
SHERWOODMath -- mathematics. All right.
NNAMDIGeorge Parker is the president of The Washington Teachers Union. He'll be counting votes towards the end of this month. (laugh)
SHERWOODWell, he's a mathematician. You ought to be able to make him come out the way you want to do.
NNAMDIExactly. Is to figure out whether or not he will continue to be the president. George Parker, thank you very much for joining us.
PARKERThank you so much.
NNAMDIThis is the Politics Hour featuring Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He is a reporter at NBC 4 and the columnist for The Current Newspapers. Montgomery County has never exactly been a hub of the conservative movement, yet there are several conservative or Republican candidates who are hoping to achieve office and to win office in Montgomery County. One of them is Robin Ficker. He is a Republican candidate for the Montgomery County Council. He's running for the seat in the county's 2nd District. Robin Ficker, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBIN FICKERWhat did Robin say when Maid Mary Anne asked him if he wanted to take his mojo to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show"?
NNAMDIRobin and the seven hoods said no.
FICKERHe said Sherwood.
NNAMDIOh, he sure did. That's the forest.
SHERWOODOh, Lord. Oh, goodness. This segment has already gone down.
NNAMDIHow would you describe yourself, because over the years, Robin Ficker has been described as a lot of things? Tea Party conservative, just conservative, moderate, how would you describe your politics?
FICKERWell, you know, I reject those labels because when someone wants to limit increases in property taxes to the rate of inflation, that doesn't mean he's a conservative. That means he's reasonable in a recession. We've had increases in the sales, income, car, corporate, millionaire taxes and the property taxes. My opponent was in favor of all of those. I was opposed. I put the question on the ballot, which passed by 10,000 votes in Upper Montgomery County to require all nine council votes for the council to exceed the charter limit. The inflation rate on property tax increases that passed overwhelmingly. And I reflect the views of the people of Upper Montgomery County. I'm the only candidate for any office in Montgomery County who lives in the agricultural preserve. We don't...
NNAMDIWell, you live there now. But why should you not be considered a carpetbagger because you move to Burtonsville in 2009 to run unsuccessfully in a special election to fill the District 4 seat left open by the death of Don Praisner. You moved back to Boyds this year in District 2 to challenge Craig Rice. Why should you not be considered a carpetbagger?
FICKERWell, I moved to run in that special election because I didn't want to see another 13.5 percent increase in the property tax, which we got in 2008, and I knew they needed all nine council votes. It turned out the only reason they didn't increase the property taxes in 2009 was because they only had eight council members. One of the council members died. This is an election year. We're looking at a great big property tax increase after the election because county officials are saying that tax -- all tax revenues will be down 6 percent in 2011. I've lived on my farm in Boyds since 1994. Our opponent in this race in court actions in 2000 and 2008...
NNAMDIHere we go.
FICKER...his address was in Silver Spring, which isn't even in the district. I'm like the people in the district.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, first of all, I want -- somebody asked me as I was coming to the newsroom, they said how do you make a living? You've run for -- I don't know how many times you've run for an office. Do you know off the top of your head?
SHERWOODI mean I don't know I don't want you to recite each one. This is a -- half-dozen to 10?
FICKERI've run for office because I believe that it's important to bring out public issues, and I've also had more than 20 chartered amendments on the ballot in Montgomery County, which have received over two million votes.
SHERWOODI'm not -- this is not a critical question. I just don't know the answer that you've been -- you've run for how many times for public office. I don't know. Just -- a half-dozen? Ten?
FICKERI don't think other races are important here because there's a big push to develop and urbanized the up county and...
SHERWOODWell, my real question is -- my real (unintelligible)
NNAMDIYou served in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1980.
SHERWOODI just wanted -- somebody wanted to -- I just wanted to -- the question I had was what do you do as a profession? I mean, what do you for -- how you make money? What do you do?
FICKERI'm in court every day. I've completed...
SHERWOODYou're a lawyer.
FICKER...over 25,000 cases in Maryland courts.
SHERWOODYou're a lawyer.
FICKERI was the first legal counsel for the National Caucus on the Black Aged, legal counsel for the information service division of General Electric, assistant general counsel for the National Soft Drink Association. I'm also the only real estate broker running in this race.
SHERWOODOkay. So you're a real estate broker and a lawyer. I mean, do you other -- I mean, you have a wide interest in your -- I'm just trying to get people to know who you are.
FICKERI believe that a busy person is a happy one...
NNAMDIThere's still people who don't know who Robin Ficker is?
SHERWOODYes, a lot of people don't know. They kind of know about his...
NNAMDIEverybody knows Robin Ficker.
SHERWOOD...yelling at Wizards game or whatever that is.
NNAMDIThat was the Bullets.
FICKERI haven't been to a game since 1998.
FICKERDo you want the Wizards to be renamed the Bullets?
FICKERI'm not worried about that. I'm worried about how the Maryland wrestling team is gonna do because I'm gonna be an assistant coach at the Red White Challenge that's coming up here, and I'm looking forward to that. We have the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philly, and I want to -- the Terps to do very well.
NNAMDIToday Poland is the one who said you couldn't get tickets. Now, he's gone. You could probably be getting tickets again for the Wizards games.
FICKERWell, when you're trying to put term limits on the ballot, when you're trying to put a question on the ballot to limit the energy tax increases to the rate of inflation after we just got 240 percent increase in the residential energy tax, I was only one of 10 people who testified against that increase and only four of nine council members even bothered to show up.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the shrinking tax base in Montgomery County. The county has been working its way through a pretty brutal budget debate during the past few years, but people who live in Montgomery County are used to getting a lot for their tax dollars. When you look at places to cut and places to save, where do you start?
FICKERWell, I can tell you one place that I would cut in Montgomery County, and I'm not just talking about the budget. I would cut some of these monster development plans where it's almost like Madoff where they think if they bring in more people, they'll do away -- they'll be able to pay their bills. They're proposing to bring in 50,000 people to Germantown, 80,000 people to Gaithersburg, which is gonna completely clog our infrastructure. And I'm not taking money from the development industry like my opponent because I want to keep the up county rural, not urbanized.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have a question for Robin Ficker. He's a Republican candidate for the Montgomery County Council. He's running for the seat in the county's 2nd District. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or join the conversation at our website, kojoshow.org. Tom?
SHERWOODYou're certainly not a shrinking ballot. He's done a lot of things. Some people like things you've done, some people don't like it, some people don't like your approach. If you are elected to the council -- what's it, nine members, is that what it is? County -- you talk to the nine members?
FICKERThere are nine members, and politics is the art of compromise. I'm willing to compromise.
SHERWOODWell -- okay. That's what I wanted to ask. You have one vote, so you need at least four more to get things done. Can you do that? I know you can sound a loud horn, but can you compromise?
SHERWOODAnd have an example for me?
FICKERI can give you 25,000 examples...
SHERWOODNo, one would be good.
FICKER...because when you're in court as a defense attorney, most these cases don't go to trial. A lot of them do, but most of them don't. So you have to work out a compromise with the prosecutor that's acceptable to your client and the state. I've been doing that since 1970...
SHERWOODSo you could that politically.
FICKER...1973. I -- sure. I work compromises every day, and I can get along with all the council members. I know that the Democrats want to see all Democrats on the council. So they say, well, we can't compromise with someone who doesn't want to exceed the charter limit on property taxes. But I know how to compromise and get along with the reasonable people on the council.
NNAMDIHere is Mark in Kensington, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKThank you very much. Mark from Kensington. I've lived in the county for 45 years now so I've seen a lot. And I actually just moved from – down from Damascus. So I was up in Robin's district. Here's my question. And it's interesting you were just talking about structural – you were just walking about urbanization because that's my question. What I'm seeing in the county is I'm seeing master plans being approved for higher densities. I'm seeing increased urbanization. Now they're talking about 30-story buildings at White Flint. And I wanted -- Robin...
NNAMDIExpanding the tax base, baby.
MARKRight, right. Exactly, exactly. And what I'm seeing is that structural deficits, because of these powerful unions, are driving growth policy or looking for more tax revenue to satisfy the appetite of the unions. We're paying 90 percent of the health care premiums for teachers, 80 percent for county employees. Teachers are paying $10 copays. And I just see the unions, which are driving the structural deficits, and in turn the structural deficits are driving our growth policy, the urbanization. And I really am distressed. I don't like it. I would like you to comment on that.
NNAMDIHere is Robin Ficker's response to you, Mark.
FICKERWell, I'm the only candidate for county council who owns a tractor and farms. I don't want to see the up county urbanized. We took a bike trip from White's Ferry to Poolesville, Dickerson, Barnesville, Boyds, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Clarksburg, Damascus, Laytonsville, Brookeville and Olney. I didn't see a lot of people -- didn't meet a lot of people along that trip who wanted to see their area urbanized. And lots of new people, tens of thousands of new people come in to clog our infrastructure and roads. I agree. And my opponent is financed by the developers and the unions. I'm not. There's the difference.
NNAMDIWhat is the alternative that you pose, Robin Ficker? We are in a very tough economic environment. Every mayor, county executive that I know is looking around for tax dollars or making cuts. You're saying you don't want to see any of that significant growth. And you've also indicated that you don't want to see cuts being made particularly anywhere.
FICKERWell, cuts are being made in people's assessments. That's for sure. I just sold a house in Potomac for $110,000 less than the same house next door sold last year. The revenues are down. And people are gonna have to economize in the county government and look for waste. We have 177 crossing guards, a budget of $4.6 million. They work 400 hours a year. They get health benefits for their family and retirement. I don't think we should pay retirement to people before they're aged 55. We can't pay people not to work. We need to have people working and that's where I would place my emphasis. The police disability system is a disgrace where 60 percent of the policemen are retiring on full disability. Only 5 percent of my class at West Point, which lost 35 people to enemy fire, retire on disability. This is a gravy train.
NNAMDICounty Executive Isaiah Leggett has proposed cuts in ambulance service and layoffs of dozens of fire and rescue workers as part of a bid to save about $13 million this year. In case of referendum on a county ambulance fee passes in November, he clearly expects the opposition of the ambulance fee to win. Where do you stand on the ambulance fee?
FICKERI have an open mind on that because I want to see how the insurance companies might pass that along. I haven't heard much talk about that. I've heard that they won't, but I want to talk to those insurance companies before I take a position on that.
NNAMDIThe -- , go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, I'm interested, what about the governor's race in Maryland? You're Republican. You're supporting Bob Ehrlich, is that right?
FICKERWell, I'm supporting not increasing the sales tax. That was a big job killer. It was a tremendous mistake. In Massachusetts, they have a...
SHERWOODYou want to roll back the sales tax?
SHERWOODSo you want to -- are you supporting Bob Ehrlich for -- the Republican candidate for governor?
NNAMDIHe's got a Montgomery County running mate.
SHERWOODI just -- is that a yes or no?
FICKERWell, yes, I do. But it depends on the issue. And I think on the sale – the sales tax increase are regressive tax. We're losing millions of dollars to Delaware because of that increase. Huge mistake. And it's -- it -- every man, woman and child are paying that increase every day and it sent lots of jobs to Virginia.
NNAMDIMark, thank you for your call. Here is Lisa in Potomac, Md. Lisa, your turn.
LISAOh, great. Thank you. I live in Potomac, which is District 15, which is where Robin Ficker's opponent used to be a delegate. And I am a registered Democrat who's gonna be voting for Robin now because I agree with him on everything. And not because I want to see Bob Ehrlich become a governor but because Craig Rice was not a very useful delegate. He was non-responsive and I know this because I'm a civic activist and I didn't appreciate the way...
NNAMDISo you are voting more against Craig than you are voting for Robin Ficker.
LISAThere's some truth to that. But I also – I like some of what Robin is talking about in terms of, A, his protection of the Ag Reserve, B, his understanding of the need to control master plans and make sure that they do not wind up overwhelming infrastructure and...
LISA...need to control budget.
NNAMDIRobin Ficker, what leads you to believe that the Ag Reserve is threatened?
FICKERWell, when you put 80,000 new people on one side of it and 50,000 new people on the other, where do you think they're gonna want to live? And we need someone in that Ag Reserve who's gonna protect it, not an absentee landlord.
SHERWOODWell, I think Mr. Rice didn't suggest any development or change in Ag Reserve.
NNAMDINobody suggested development for the Ag Reserve.
FICKERNo, no. No, I know. They just supported the...
SHERWOODYou just think of those added pressure, you think will come.
FICKERThey support these monster plans right next door. Who are they kidding?
NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. Robin Flicker, you told the Gazette newspapers earlier this year that homeowners in Montgomery County have been used like ATMs. Outside of property taxes, where do you think the county should be looking for more revenue?
FICKERI think they need to look at some of the personnel cost and cut some of the personnel cost -- 80 percent of the budget is personnel cost. In FY98, the county budget was 2 billion and FY04, 3 billion. Now, it's 4.4. The county population has only increased 15 percent during that time. Where has all the money gone? We've got 1,100 school administrators for 200 schools, each of whom earns over $100,000 a year for a school year that this year was only 175 days. Those administrators ought to be teaching kids English, the kids who can't speak good English, teaching them English on Saturday without getting extra pay for it.
NNAMDIWe got an e-mail from Ivan who says, "This is a friendly question for Robin Ficker. Please ask Robin Ficker to state his up or down position on an increase in the federal minimum wage. A simple yes or no, please," asks Ivan.
NNAMDIYou support an increase in the federal minimum wage.
NNAMDIOh, well, that's your one-word answer. Speaking of the emergency fee -- emergency ambulance fee, allow me to get back to that because it became a nationwide issue early this month. A local fire team in Tennessee decided not to put out a fire at a home that belonged to a family who did not pay its fire bill. What do you think stories like this say about the role of local government and what we should expect from it?
FICKERBig mistake in that state. I remember when we had to call an ambulance for my mom and also the dad. And one time we had a little fire in the backyard where some leaves caught fire, we couldn't put it out. When you need a fireman, you need him now.
SHERWOODIn that situation -- Tennessee, right? The family had not paid the $75 per year fee for fire services. Was that the right decision for the firefighters to standby and let the house burn down?
FICKERNo. I'd like to be the lawyer for that family.
NNAMDISpeaking of what's to be done about the budget, County Executive Leggett has also proposed cutting funds for roadwork. How do you feel about that?
FICKERWe need better roads in Montgomery County. He's -- it's a false economy.
NNAMDICutting sports academies for at-risk teens.
FICKERI'm an athlete. I work out every day over at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland...
NNAMDIYour daughter is a better athlete than you are.
FICKER...ride my bike. She's a professional triathelete.
FICKERShe's gonna be running the New York Marathon, where she was the first -- second American last time -- last year. I'm going out for that. I'm all for sports. We need to teach our youngsters the slogan of the guy who ran against Sheriff Offit, (sp?) which was get off it.
SHERWOODYou won't have a say in this, but what about the new school superintendent? What should you be looking for? Jerry Weast leaving after 11 years.
FICKERMichelle Rhee, this is Robin Ficker speaking. I want you to get in car right now, run right up here to WAMU and I'm gonna talk to you about becoming our new superintendent in Montgomery County. Do not go out with Kevin, who I know to the West Coast. Come here in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIYou used to heckle that man.
FICKERHe was the most mild-mannered, nicest guy in the NBA. And he was also a great player.
NNAMDIKevin Johnson played for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA. That's Michelle Rhee's fiancé.
SHERWOODAnd they're gonna get married. And Rhee says she is not gonna do -- that she's gonna kind of look at a global, nationwide thing she can do to affect policy around the nation, not come to one location. Sorry to tell you.
FICKERShe's gonna have to live somewhere. And it might as well be at Montgomery County. Kevin, come on back here. Work for the Wizards. (laugh) And...
NNAMDIAnd Robin will re-up his season tickets. Robin Ficker, in about the minute or so we have left, could you tell the voters in District 2 in Montgomery County why Robin Ficker should be their choice?
FICKERBecause I'm one of you. I've lived there for 16 years in District 2. I'm the only candidate who lives in the Ag Reserve. We need to bring some physical discipline to Upper Montgomery County and, indeed, the county government. Right now, it takes all nine votes to exceed the charter limit. They're not gonna get that big property tax increase if I'm on the council. If I'm not, they will.
NNAMDIRobin Ficker is a Republican candidate for the Montgomery County Council. He's running for the seat in the county's second district. Tom Sherwood, where does Adrian Fenty go from here?
SHERWOODWell, you know, he's not saying. He says he'll be around. He'll be in the private sector, he says. He's talked to Oberlin College, his alma mater, about teaching in class for them. But it's all up in the air, just like he wants it.
NNAMDIBut teaching a class in political science...
SHERWOODWell, that was just one thing.
NNAMDI...at Oberlin college.
SHERWOODHe's like Mr. Ficker here, he'll have several things to do.
FICKERHe is a great biker too. I know Adrian. He should come out from Montgomery County.
NNAMDIHe's a triathlete too.
FICKERWe'd love to see him. He's a wonderful person.
SHERWOODYou want him to move there?
FICKERAbsolutely. I'd like to go biking with him. I challenged him to a bike racing, never took me up on it.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODGreat weekend coming.
NNAMDIRobin Ficker, good luck to you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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