BY MATT RICCHIAZZI
When the nationally renowned education expert Dr. Steve Perry came to town last week to speak with parents about education reform, Buffalo Public Schools teacher and union organizer Kristen Mendoza behavior was unbecoming of a professional. In fact, it was downright childish.
Mendoza took to Facebook to disparage the prominent African American supporter of charter schools, derisively referring to him as “Stevie P.” Some activists in the Black community say that the behavior conveys underlying racist sentiments and represents broader attitudes that members of the teachers’ unions have towards African Americans.
“The fact that he hasn’t been on the frontline of classroom services doesn’t negate the fact that Dr. Perry organized a charter school which educated disenfranchised urban public school students, proved that poverty is not the problem,” writes Carolette Meadows, a Buffalo parent and education activist, writes on social media. “Teachers, along with administrators, should stop blaming poverty to explain away their failure to engage and educate the urban mind.”
Mendoza accompanied her Facebook post with a photo of herself with both middle fingers extended, intending to convey disrespect with the caption, “Front row ready. Tell me more Stevie P.” The status update was liked by many of the union organizers who have regularly hijacked board meetings with endless and repetitive public statements designed to block alternative voices, including Mel Holden and Larry Scott.
“Flipping someone off is one of the highest forms of silent protest. If you attended the December 2014 event then you might understand why many educators and parents are highly offended by Steve Perry’s remarks,” Mendoza explains in social media post on Wednesday, in attempts to quell the controversy.
She adds, “Attempts were made by myself and others to appeal to Superintendent Cash to not support Steve Perry as the keynote speaker. We objected to a highly controversial speaker being paid with Title 1 funds… Many parents and educators chose to boycott the assembly, I chose to protest.”
During the public presentation, Dr. Perry argued that the teachers’ union cares only about their membership and the dues they pay, in large part because money means political power.
“This is not an employment or retirement program for you to use while you take the benefits of that use out to your comfy suburban life where you live and educate your kids while giving the kids you use nothing in return,” Perry said. “If you don’t want to work, no one’s forcing you to take this check. Go somewhere else!”
When speaking about the mismanagement of funds, a lack of accountability to parents and the public, and administration failures – he dropped the proverbial mic.
“Parents, if you don’t fight, then you’ll get what you’ve always gotten and then you end up with what you deserve.” Perry added, “You’re grown and if you feel like you don’t deserve more, that’s fine but education is for your children and your failure to act on their behalf is a failure in parenting.”
During the question and answer portion of the presentation, board member Dr. Barbara A. Nevergold accused Perry of stating that teachers don’t love children, while others in attendance say that Perry never came close to making that charge.
“As usual, she failed to address the needs of our children or how she could take anything that was said and parlay it into future education advocacy,” Meadows argues. “As she did with Carl Paladino, she stayed focused on how she and her inner circle are being attacked and wronged instead of how these kids are wronged everyday in the classroom.”
Meadows also notes that Nevergold failed to address Perry’s question on why the board is not actively replicating successful schools, as they were directed to do by the federal Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
Then, in remarkable succession, teachers went on the counter-attack with the seemingly tired claim that none of this is their fault and that they are the real victims.
“Teachers are so eager to spin narratives and censor what the community hears that they show just how prejudiced they are – all the while claiming that they’re the ones ‘door-knocking in buffalo’s poorest neighborhoods,’” Meadows argues.
In fact, those door knocking efforts known as the ‘Believe’ campaign was funded by the New York State United Teachers, a state-wide union group that spends heavily on local state senate contests. The same group is responsible to smearing former Senator Mark Grisanti with millions of dollars in attacks.
Prior to Perry’s presentation, the same cadre of union organizers tried to keep Perry from coming. When that failed, they propagated a social media smear campaign to discourage the public from attending.
“They claim they want a poverty stricken undereducated, underemployed, underserved urban population to ‘Believe’ in the great white hope of the buffalo teachers and their union,” Meadows surmises. “All the while, these same teachers believe that strong, successful, educated black man who has a doctorate degree, and has reinvested what he’s learned back into the community, is nothing more than a ‘hippity ‘hoppity pied-piper coming in to lull the people away from the slumber that the teachers have them in and into one of his own – with his ridiculous tunes of equity and accountability.”