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Recently, at Lindenwood University, the long simmering debate over public education exploded into hateful rhetoric against public schools by voucher advocate Rex Sinquefield, founder of the right wing think tank, The Show Me Institute.

Financier Sinquefield was lecturing on how to improve Missouri’s business climate.  The base of his speech was his support for no income tax.

Two years, I had written an Opinion Shaper column opposing no income tax, and had come to hear his side.  I was joined by Anita Miller, Francis Howell’s NEA President, Kim Garbs, Fort Zumwalt’s NEA President, and Cheryl Heibler, former St. Charles County councilwomen.

Following is his speech, Sinquefield was asked about his support to eliminate tenure for teachers. That ignited Sinquefield into a rant not only against tenure but against public education and teachers. He climaxed with these incendiary words from a column in an Osage county newspaper:

“a long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we hurt the African American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.”

Only a trickle of laughter sprouted, most were like my friends and I, just stunned. This was only the final nail in Sinquefield’s diatribe of false accusations against public schools. Prior to the KKK remark, Sinquefield had incorrectly said, “In this country, can you think of any other occupation where you can screw up, and screw up a child’s life permanently, and they can’t fire you?”

As a school board member, I have been one of the “they”; and Sinquefield is just wrong.  My second year of the school board, we terminated over 80 teachers including a large number of veteran tenured teachers. A teacher’s contract is like any workers contract it allows for dismissal of poor performing employees.  All a contract does is set up fair procedures for termination.

Besides, it takes two to sign a contract. If the administration doesn’t like a clause in a contract, work to change it in negotiations.  Tenure does not have to be granted for five years. If it takes an administrator longer to evaluate a teacher, you need a new administrator.

Sinquefield further insulted all veteran teachers by saying, “Many teachers quit. After about three to five years many of the good ones leave … and the bad ones stay.” That is how little regard Mr. Sinquefield has for all dedicated experienced teachers.

Kim Garbs asked Sinquefield if he had ever been in a public school and talked to a public school teacher. Sinquefield said he had, but the school he cited was a charter school.

Sinquefield is Missouri’s foremost advocate of charter schools. Yet charter schools have a bleak ten year history of failure in the St. Louis. Even after closing three of the worst charter school, charter schools still underperformed St. Louis public schools by almost 25 percent last year.

This failure of charter schools was underlined by a Stanford University study of 70 percent of the charter schools in the nation. They found only 16 percent of charter schools outperforming the public schools.

Despite this clear evidence there legislation is being considered which would bring charter schools to St. Charles County. Ultimately what is wanted is a voucher given to all children to go to the school of their choice.  This would mean a 12 percent cut in funding of public schools in order to bankroll private schools.

Sinquefield’s final attack on teachers came when he said, “It is, right now, illegal to consider the performance of students in setting the pay of teachers.” I questioned how my wife could be held responsible for the performance of homeless children (12 percent are in her district) or children who are beaten or sexually abuse, or are offspring of felons, drug addicts and alcoholics.

Sinquefield can be held responsible for the performance of his employees because he can fire those who are not producing. My wife cannot fire a child.

Kim, Anita, and I are members of an Education Caucus who believes in the words of Martin Luther King, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It is time for all residents of St. Charles County who are friends of public education to stand up to the Rex Sinquefield’s.

My Opinion Shaper Column from St. Charles County Surburban Journal – cwviking