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Blog: It's 10 a.m.: Do You Know Where Your Teacher Is?

My daughter's teacher is getting paid to sit in jail.

I do. My daughter’s, Mrs. Kevin Finkelstein, third grade teacher at Carpenter Community Charter for twenty years, is locked away in a bland building on Balboa Boulevard, in Van Nuys.

Why? Because three weeks ago, a child accused her of punching him in the stomach.

Did she punch him in the stomach? No. Was I there? Admittedly, no. Do I begrudge a parent looking out for their child? No. All of this is irrelevant, but I’m getting it out of the way.

You see, the police were called, Child and Family Services were called, and a complaint was made to the district. The first two entities here cleared her immediately. Not the school, and certainly not the district. The child is happily ensconced in another classroom, receiving the full benefits of an invested teacher.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Finkelstein was ordered to what’s commonly referred to as a “Rubber Room.” There are least six of them spread out around the district. She is confined to a cubicle for eight hours a day, mirroring her “work” day. She is not allowed to have anything except a pen, her cell phone to call family, “educational reading materials” to purportedly make her into a better teacher, although she has not been charged with anything. She has zero – zero – information about what charge she’s being detained for; how long she’ll be there; when she might expect a hearing; what that hearing will entail.

Her union, UTLA, instructs her that she may not retain an attorney, because no dismissal charges have been initiated against her. She cannot talk to faculty, parents, or administrators, except for her UTLA rep.  There is a “fate committee” (Housed Employee Review Committee – HERC) that meets only every Monday, to review cases that have been signed off on by principals and an unknown others. This committee serves at the pleasure of its own availability. No one knows who this committee is comprised of, or why they only meet once a week. I can only hope we are not paying these folks salaries to meet once a week, and I can only hope they are fair, just, credentialed, and have no conflict of interest. I’ll never know, because it’s “none of my business.”

A few of us concerned parents have repeatedly written and called Principal Martinez, his boss, Jack Bagwell, instructional director at Service Center North, Tamar Galatzan, our school board member, and Superintendent John Deasy. The only office in this situation to return our calls in a timely and helpful manner has been Tamar Galatzan’s.

For me, there are two separate issues here. A few of us parents got together and outlined some proactive things we might to help our class remain competitive with other third grade classes, be challenged, and feel part of a team. We offered these up to Principal Martinez, and while we can’t get our first choice (a teacher – union rules – can’t have two teachers to one class – even if one happens to be in “jail” for any length of time), we have been able to work out some things that will keep our kids somewhat connected.

The second issue is much bigger, and much scarier. There are currently seventy-three teachers in Mrs. Finkelstein’s Rubber Room. Yes, you read that correctly – 73  - and more arriving every week. Only one person has left in the time she’s been there. There are six district rubber rooms. If we conservatively say there are an average of fifty teachers, that makes three hundred – 300 – teachers in rubber room “limbo.” Some have been there more than three years. They have no choice. If they quit, they lose their health benefits, salary, and enough pension benefits to one day retire.

So, that’s approximately 300 teachers, all of which need substitutes to replace them. Sure, that’s an expensive burden on the schools, but it’s a boon for the district. If the majority of these teachers finally quit for their mental and physical health, the district does not have to pay their full pension, and can cycle in a teacher for half the salary and cheaper pension.

Some say Superintendent John Deasy is using Rubber Room tactics to look like the tough guy in the wake of the Miramonte scandal. That’s certainly my opinion. But I also think there’s something larger at play. He’s just been re-upped for an extra year, but did not meet enough financial and educational goals to get his bonus. Millions, if not billions, in capped pensions and higher pay scale wages can certainly go a long way in getting budgets down and pet projects funded.

Can I point to a lot of facts here? No, because as I said, we are not privy to them. That troubles me. But what troubles me more is the obfuscation I meet at every single level of bureaucracy in my school and my district (the operations coordinator told me all of this was none of my business). Carpenter Community Charter is a crown jewel in LAUSD’s roster of high-performing schools. Does John Deasy really think we will continue to get the high scores that help pull his district average up if we so quickly make our great teachers sacrifices upon the altar of the Rubber Room?

By the way, if Mrs. Finkelstein is reinstated as a teacher, she may not end up coming back to Carpenter. The district can reassign her, and she will have no choice but to go, if she wants her salary and pension.

Not feeling sorry for me, because I’m at a high-performing, fund-rich school? I get that. But ask yourself: if it can happen here, where almost every parent is involved and our teachers are top notch, it can certainly happen anywhere – and believe me, no school in LAUSD will attract talent this way.

There is nothing pro-teacher or pro-child about this Rubber Room travesty. Well, this parent won’t stop, even after Mrs. Finkelstein’s fate is determined.  I have better things to do than fight this, but it’s too important. Let’s not forget schools are comprised of human beings, not numbers.

Speaking of numbers:

Principal Joseph Martinez, 818-761-4363, jmarti14@lausd.net

Jack Bagwell, Instructional Director, Educational Service Center North, 818-654-3600, jack.bagwell@lausd.net

Ms. Robin Toder, Educational Services Coordinator, Educational Service Center North, 818-654-3607, robin.toder@lausd.net

Hon. Tamar Galtzan, 818-654-3785,  tamar.galatzan@lausd.net

Juan Flecha, Administrator of Operations, 818 -654-3670, Juan.flecha@lausd.net

Superintendent John Deasy, 213-241-1000, john.deasy@lausd.net

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

E.M. Fredric November 11, 2012 at 09:07 PM
It is now almost Thanksgiving and this teacher remains in what is termed a "rubber room"? What is wrong with this system that months pass over an incident witnessed by another child as harmless - yet no one will listen to the the child who saw this boy was never hit? This is beyond frightening. Set this woman free and clear her name. Better yet, bring in the young accuser and do a background on what his story in school has been. Oh... he's a minor so that's not going to happen. Even when there's a witness that sat next to him in class and was silenced for coming forward to defend an action that never took place - this teacher is punished with no right to defend herself? Something is very, very wrong here.
Julia Bricklin November 12, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Thank you, E.M. Agree completely. Hope to have a positive update sooner rather than later.
Marcia Weiss November 28, 2012 at 05:43 AM
My son had Ms Finkelstein, aka Cottrell years ago at Carpenter. He loved her. We loved her. I am a teacher of 26 years who knows a fantastic teacher when I see one. My son, now in law school, is appalled. What has this world come to?
Jon Adams November 28, 2012 at 10:10 AM
I am glad Ms. Finkelstein is back. She did not deserve to be put in jail. I can't believe that John Deasy and this Juan Flech would do this to teachers, put them in jail. They are innocent, cleared by the police and they keep them in jail. How can Tamar Galatzan let this happen ? I thought school was about learning not visiting your teacher in teacher jail.
Julia Bricklin November 28, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Hi Jon, Marcia. I'm so happy to say she's back, after ten weeks of heck and hard work. She returns today, but we have a lot of teachers to help. Read today's Daily News, linked here. http://www.dailynews.com/breakingnews/ci_22078074/lausd-jails-fill-teachers-misconduct-complaints-rise

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