Chef Boyardee Meets PEP

You may not think ravioli is worth discussing, but the Panel for Educational Policy debated it in some detail last Thursday at its November meeting, held at PS 128 in Queens. Apparently there’s a need for higher-quality ravioli. In fact, the PEP voted to increase spending on ravioli by 40 percent, earmarking over a million bucks to make sure city kids are no longer burdened with the inferior ravioli that’s been dragging our system down all these years.

I was sitting with James Eterno, UFT chapter leader of Jamaica High School.  He told me that now, in mid-November, his school has ten classes without teachers. There is no money to hire them. Yet, somehow, the school was able to open a line for a new English assistant principal, who would not only cost more, but also teach fewer classes than a teacher. Eterno calculated that the additional money spent on ravioli could buy over 20 teachers for a year. How badly do our kids need that ravioli upgrade?

If you were at the meeting, you heard chapter and verse about the virtues of ravioli. It’s canned, and can sit on shelves for a long, long time. Teachers can’t do that. Also, if one of the fine DOE vendors fails to make a delivery, the lunchroom staff can slop ravioli on Styrofoam trays at a moment’s notice. The ravioli contain not only starch, but also protein.

Food was an important issue at the meeting. Several students bemoaned the ban on selling baked goods. Chancellor Klein seriously addressed the obesity epidemic, and the problems of poor diet, points not easily refuted. So perhaps there’s an upside to that million bucks we’re devoting to high-class ravioli.

Another big issue was social promotion. The Chancellor is going to require kids in grades four and six to score twos on standardized tests in order to make grades five and seven. The fact that the standard is so low kids can pass by pure guesswork did not dissuade the panel at all, and they voted it up without hesitation. 

There were a few other issues discussed, including the $3 million-dollar proposal to continue the school surveys. Manhattan Borough President Stringer’s appointee, Patrick Sullivan, pointed out that each year parents ask for smaller class sizes and each year the city fails to deliver them. In fact, the city has received hundreds of millions of dollars for that precise purpose. Nonetheless, the panel approved. There go another sixty teachers.

I got up and said that kids in my school regularly run around our track in their shorts in the cold, and in the dark. I spoke of 54 full classes in half rooms, and over 70 that violate UFT-negotiated class sizes. I told of how kids eat lunch before nine in the morning, of how they sit in decrepit, expired trailers, and of how the city plans a small fraction of the 33,000 high school seats that Queens will need. The crowd applauded.

The Chancellor, on the other hand, did not seem to think these issues merited a response. James Eterno told the story of the missing teachers at his school, the crowd applauded again, but that too failed to evoke a response from the Chancellor. 

So city kids can’t have regular teachers. They can’t have reasonable class sizes, or even legal ones. They can’t have decent classrooms, or adequate gymnasium space. They can’t have lunch at a reasonable hour. Still, as a result of this meeting, whenever they do get lunch, city kids will finally get the million-dollar ravioli they deserve.

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