School board treats Black workers like the kid in the back of the class whose question never gets answered

6 Nov
photo from theblacksphere.net

photo from theblacksphere.net

Every day I’m supposed to get up in front of my students and tell them to finish school so they can get a “good job”.   Never mind the fact that they are on the verge of dropping out because they know better than I do how high the youth unemployment rate is, even for people with diplomas.   They know how their friends are competing with college graduates just to get  low-wage, humiliating McJobs.

 Many of them are tired of this system that sees them only as workers to be used up and cast into prison once they are no longer needed.
 Now the school board injects an added layer of irony into this daily charade. Six weeks ago, workers from the African American Longshore Coalition and the A Phillip Randolph Institute had asked the Board basic questions about which contractors are getting the jobs created by the BEX-levy funds for school renovations.   It appears they wanted to publicize this information so that Black youth facing an even higher than average unemployment rate would know where to apply for construction jobs.  As of Halloween (10/31), the Seattle School Board still had not responded to the authors’ basic questions.   So in response, they wrote the open letter that’s posted below. 
How can the board expect teachers to encourage students to get jobs, when they themselves can’t seem to answer basic questions about where these jobs are. 
My students could tell you hundreds of stories of the times when they had their hands raised but their former teachers never answered their questions. I wish I could take a hint from Dan Savage and tell them “it gets better.”  But the problem is, it doesn’t.
 When their parents try to look out for them by making sure they can get access to publicly funded jobs, they are also treated like the kid in the back of the class with dust settling on top of his raised hand.  At least until they take “independent action”, as this letter warns.
———-
Dear Seattle Public School Board,The African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph once said “A community is

democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess”.
The white labor leader Eugene V. Debs once said

“While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Even the conservative labor leader Samuel Gompers once said “We want more schoolhouses and less jails.”
This is why organizations like the A. Philip Randolph Institute and AfricanAmerican Longshore Coalition exist today, to fight racism and discrimination and to stand for justice and equality.
The “official” African American unemployment rate is approximately twice the “national” US unemployment rate, and these figures only include people whose unemployment benefits have NOT yet been exhausted.
The Seattle BEX IV School Levy, approved by the voters this February, is a major municipal project that will infuse of $694.9 million dollars of taxpayer capital into at least 37 Seattle Public School district buildings.
Six weeks ago now, on September 18th, 2013, the AALC submitted the following (and attached) six simple questions to the Seattle Public School Board, both in writing and read aloud to the Board over the public meeting’s microphone :
⦁    Are the BEX IV Levy and its respective projects, including the Horace Mann building, covered by the Project Labor Agreement between the School District and the Seattle Building Trades Council, and/or any other Project Labor Agreements (PLAs)?⦁    If so, does this (or these) PLA(s) contain similar language regarding workforce diversity as is contained in the Sound Transit Project Labor Agreement?

⦁    What is the total projected number of jobs that the BEX IV Levy will create district-wide?

⦁    We are requesting a list of all BEX IV contractors and sub-contractors, with contact info for the person(s) in charge of hiring for each one.

⦁    We are also requesting a list of all hiring halls and job agencies (whether union or non-union) that are or will be involved in supplying personnel to the BEX VI Levy projects, with contact info for the person(s) in charge of enrolling new hires and/or new apprentices for each one.

⦁    What opportunities will there be specifically for working-age youth from the Africatown Community Innovation & Education Center at Horace Mann to be directly involved in the renovation of the Horace Mann building?

Since then, we have followed up by personally handing an extra copy of these six questions to SPS facilities coordinator Mike Skutack at the labor and contractors meeting of October 4th, and with several follow up emails to District administrators.
It is now All-Hallows Eve. If SPS had only responded to these six questions with even one answer per week, all of these questions would have been answered by now. Yet, not one of of our questions has been answered to date.
We do not understand why six seeks is not sufficient time to answer this short list of elementary questions.  Their answers may seem unimportant to people in positions of power and creature-comfort, but they are urgently needed by countless unemployed workers in the African American communities who require access to these valuable jobs.
At the same time that we have received no response to these questions, we are alarmed to hear that this same School Board may now be refusing to recognize and ratify all of the collaborative agreements developed between Superintendent Jose Banda and the heroic African American students and volunteer faculty of the Africatown Education & Innovation Center at the Horace Mann School Building.  Such a complete dismissal of our community on multiple levels would leave theAfrican working classes, both locally, nationally and internationally, with no choice but to consider our independent options of action and response.
We therefore urge this board to fully ratify these ongoing agreements with the appropriate Memorandums Of Understanding, and to avoid any scenario that endangers or interrupts the adequate physical housing of these students and educators.

Sincerely,

Gabriel Prawl, AALC Chair/ APRI Vice President

Purnell Mitchell, AALC Executive Board Member

Leith Kahl, AALC Executive Board Member

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