Briefing Book: How the Tet Offensive flopped

If the teachers’ union thought that the school board was going to walk away from a fight over the FACE report and its devastating indictment of the school district’s unsustainable trends in teacher salaries and benefits, the school board cured them of that notion Saturday evening.

That was when school board President Mark Lipton released an uncharacteristically sharp and pointed refutation of the embarrassing grandstand stunt pulled by seven members of the teachers’ union at the Dec. 13 school board meeting.

The union’s over-the-top attack last Thursday on schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Kreutzer “was the Tet Offensive that we were warned about last spring,” one longtime observer of district politics told Briefing Book. Like the Tet Offensive, it was an epic failure. Unlike Tet, it was also a psychological defeat. In their zeal to topple Dr. Kreutzer, the union leaders embarrassed themselves and failed to utter two words — the two magic words that would have made them heroes instead of zeroes.

It’s clear from the last few months that public employee unions are on a losing streak. The union effort to overturn Wisconsin’s public education reforms failed miserably. Michigan, the birthplace of the American labor movement, passed a right-to-work law. The New York state tax cap is forcing Westchester school districts to address the trend of more spending and fewer kids. And the new FACE report predicted a school budget of more than $126 million by 2017 — a cost of more than $42,000 per student.

So the union panicked, swung for the fences, and struck out. They dumped a package of recycled trash on the school board and hoped they could intimidate the school board into dumping Dr. Kreutzer. The union pushed hard. Surprisingly, the school board pushed back harder. Mr. Lipton dismissed the union’s trumped-up charges as nothing more than old wine in new bottles. “None of the information made known to the public [by the teachers’ union] was unknown to the board,” Mr. Lipton confidently asserted, before slamming the teachers’ union for its “unfortunate” and “confrontational” behavior.

The fact is that the teachers’ union’s problem isn’t with Dr. Kreutzer, but with Gov. Scott Walker and the pioneering education reforms he instituted in Wisconsin. Dr. Kreutzer not only supported those reforms, he articulately and rationally defended them. For the union, last week’s debacle had nothing to do with Dr. Kreutzer’s behavior since his hiring and everything to do with the fact that he was hired in the first place.

But why was the union attack such a misfire? Why did the union’s ambush spark a firestorm in the first 24 hours and then flame out over the weekend, ultimately failing to win the support of the taxpaying parents who expect better conduct from the adults in the room? Because the union completely and utterly failed to utter two magic words — words that would have conclusively demonstrated that the teachers’ union really gets it about education spending in our district.

One longtime observer of district politics was succinct in analyzing the union’s spectacular belly flop last Thursday evening, telling us here at Briefing Book that “despite the fact that the teachers in our school district are literally among the best paid in the country, they continue to feel oppressed.”

As we’ve written here the past few months, Katonah-Lewisboro outspends school districts in Bedford, Byram Hills, Chappaqua, Harrison, and Scarsdale per pupil by a pretty respectable margin. The salaries we pay to our teachers are higher than the salaries they pay to the teachers in those five districts. As a result, the retirement pensions we pay our teachers are higher than the retirement pensions they pay in those five districts.

So here’s a suggestion for the teachers’ union. Next time you feel the urge to speak up at a school board meeting, try this instead. Step up to the microphone, take a look at your paychecks, and just say these two magic words: “Thank you.”

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  • Mr. Piro and Mr Gord… sorry, “his sources,” as well as Mr Lipton and the district’s PR firm have the spin machine running at top speed.

    The fact is that the teachers’ union’s problem is with Dr. Kreutzer. For the union, last week had everything to do with Dr. Kreutzer’s behavior since his hiring and with the fact that he was hired in the first place.

    What is most telling is Mr. Lipton’s statement that “None of the information made known to the public [by the teachers’ union] was unknown to the board.” To take his words at face value, and to quote the union’s letter of no confidence, that means the board knows:

    “(Dr Kreutzer) is either unwilling or unable to speak thoughtfully, articulately and with conviction about mandated initiatives including RTI, the Common Core, APPR and other programs that impact students, teaching and learning,”

    “(Dr Kreutzer) has reportedly bullied and intimidated school district employees,” that his “expletive laced, door slamming, table pounding rants have terrorized secretaries and staff,”

    “and that four female employees of the district have “independently alleged that Dr. Kreutzer sexually harassed them… ”

    and they don’t seem to care, even though this seems to be Dr. Kreutzer’s MO going all the way back to Wisconsin. Maybe they will start to care if a female member of the Board gets the “Kreutzer treatment.” And the redacted portion of the letter? Why hasn’t the board commented on that? What could be so sensitive that the union would censor itself? My guess is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. And if I recall my history correctly, the Viet Cong lost Tet, but they won the war.

  • John Pinto

    Here is another issue. The chronic Bullying and Harrassment of the social worker who is now placed on “home instruction”. The Kreutzer and the BOE have slandered her good name and insinuated all sorts of lies. Throughout the past 15 months, she has kept meticulous ad detailed records of their hostile attacks and she has sent numerous letters to HR- each one should have been investigated; however, the HR department and Kreutzer have negated the letters and never did a thing. This should be investigated by a third party reviewer. Now the BOE is claiming that her letters are insubordination. Our KL district believes if you write a letter of complaint or document a problem- that is insubordination???!!!!!!! This sounds like tyranny. By a leader, Kreutzer, who came to our community with this reputation. Each of us, parents and teachers alike better be wary. Any complaint and you too may be called out for insubordination. Or worse yet…. Retaliation.

  • Evan S.

    Why didn’t the BOE address her complaints? Perhaps Ms. Peterson would make her letters public? Then the community would know what is truly going on. Ms. Peterson- will you make your complaints public? That would shed light on this conundrum.

  • brutus

    Please give up this pathetic attempt at conjuring up a vast conspiracy by a schools board and administration that never sees eye to eye, except in their uniform fear that the Teachers’ Union’s intransigence will ruin our schools. Stop with the wild, unsupported allegations and agree to bring your salaries and benefits in line with the more affluent districts that surround us which themselves can barely pay at that lower level.

  • Evan S.

    Why are you so sure these are unsupported allegations? The BOE meeting is closed sessions. Perhaps the victim of these heinous allegations will make her documentation public? It is my understanding that the Ledger has been provided the entire 100 plus pages of her lawsuit allegations and documentation. What makes you so self righteous that you can not even contemate that the BOE and Kreutzer are not ethical? Do you get a kiosk back? Are you a BOE member?

  • brutus

    Evan S. Let’s separate Ms. Petersen’s suit out. It appears to be a legitimate employee lawsuit against the entire district, not just Dr. K, that is being litigated in court.

    I am confident in my assessment of the union’s tactics because I reviewed their innuendo-laden manifesto and it is garbage. Also, look at the union leadership’s past tactics, intimidating elementary school children and their parents by protesting in black at the schools, calling in out-of-town protesters to disrupt Dr. K’s first BOE meeting, and the timing of their latest attacks, just as contract negotiations are about to begin .

    Let’s FACE it, FACE’d with the facts, the Grebinar/Curtis cabal is behaving disgracefully.

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