Friday, September 6, 2013

School closings spread to Yucatán, but Peña Nieto says "there's no turning back"

Strikers plan to march along Paseo de Montejo tomorrow

Sept. 12 - Yucatán teachers fold, return to classes
Sept. 11 - National labor strike fizzles in Guadalajara

Mérida,Yucatán -
Mexico's three week old school teacher strike has spread to the Yucatán peninsula, where one union has shut down dozens of schools idling at least 50,000 students, and another will march down the city's famed Paseo de Montejo Saturday.

The powerful Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has forced the closing of most primary and secondary schools in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, claims that its members have darkened classrooms in 326 schools in Yucatán until further notice. The state board of education said yesterday that the actual number is perhaps half that. About 1,000 CNTE loyalists demonstrated outside the municipal palace on Thursday.

The state of Yucatán has 2,345 primary and secondary schools. On Wednesday the Milenio news service reported that only 86 were closed, most of them in the eastern part of the state and not in Mérida. Work stoppages began in Valladolid, according to the network, but they have spread.

Another national union which has reacted quite differently to educational reform issues also plans to demonstrate along the White City's most prestigious boulevard tomorrow. Local 57 of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) is not opposed in principle to the reforms, which mandate teacher evaluations to be administered by a federal agency. But its members allege that procedures for testing educators remain unclear and poorly defined.

The new laws just cleared both houses of congress earlier this week, and have not yet been signed by the president. They won't take effect until the 2015-16 school year, and detailed administrative regulations have yet to be worked out. The educational reform package passed Mexico's senate and house of deputies with broad multipartisan support of well over 5 to 1. The aggregate vote in the two chambers was 462 in favor and 91 opposed.

In a Mérida press conference yesterday the leader of Local 57 said SNTE's 7,000 Yucatán members fully support continuing education and training for primary and secondary teachers, as well as the planned evaluations. While distancing his local from the far more aggressive CNTE, he condemned what he called a "smear campaign of misinformation" directed at the teaching profession in general.

"Most of our teachers try to improve themselves by taking classes. But frequently they have to pay for those out of their own modest salaries. On top of that, they routinely have to buy books and school supplies for their students, again from their own wages."

Both CNTE and SNTE contend that national education issues go far beyond teacher quality, arguing schools are grossly underfunded by federal and state entities. A Oaxaca educator recently addressed the issue.

President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged the validity of that complaint on Aug. 19, and promised to expedite federal funds to schools, especially in the impoverished southwestern states which are a seedbed of teacher discontent. But on his way back from St. Petersburg, Russia today, he noted the reforms are "a done deal, and there will be no turning back." The president said his PRI administration would "exhaust every opportunity of dialog" with the dissident teachers, whom he characterized as a distinct but vocal minority. "The majority of teachers across this country are in their classrooms hard at work and they fully support the reforms, which are intended to improve the quality of education for our children in the years ahead," Peña Nieto told reporters who accompanied him on the trip.

The president will arrive back in a seething capital tonight, where the uncertainty of what will happen over the next 48 hours has politicians, security forces and demonstrators all on edge. Yesterday the Federal District government warned leftist politician and two time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador that it will not allow him to carry out a planned Sunday March against pending constitutional amendments designed to open the state oil monoply, Pemex, to private and foreign investment, while CNTE demonstrators are still in town. It would be too much of a disruption for local security forces to handle, the PRD administration claimed. But in his trademark style, the firebrand López Obrador told members of his MORENA party that he plans to march "come hell or high water."

Thus a tense Mexico City awaits the first weekend of September, exactly one week before 118 million citizens celebrate their nation's 203rd birthday.

Sept. 6 - Telling striking teachers to return to their home states, Mexico's education secretary Emilio Chuayffet insists they represent less than 10% of primary and secondary educators nationwide. Meanwhile, PRI and PAN senators called for the leftist PRD government of the Federal District to enforce the law, and arrest CNTE leaders for promoting violence and vandalism during the recent demonstrations in Mexico City.

Sept. 7 - Mexico had a 2012 gross domestic product of $1.758 trillion dollars - the 11th largest in the world - and 6.2% of it goes to fund education. Of that huge sum, 93% is devoted to teacher salaries. But according to this article, only half of all those who enter primary school finish it, and seven out of 10 adolescents cannot pass reading comprehension tests or do multiplication.

Sept. 9-10 - The strike continues today, although there are conflicting reports of how widespread it is. Yucatán governor Rolando Zapata Bello said teachers will be docked pay for every day they are away from the classroom, following an identical decision by Oaxaca's governor 10 days ago. Most Mérida schools remain open, and the local press reports little support for the strike among area teachers.

Sept. 11 - National labor strike fizzles in Guadalajara and elsewhere

Sept. 24 - A private organization, Mexicanos Primero, reports that over 84% of every federal peso spent on education goes directly to teacher salaries. While that amount is slightly lower than the 93% noted in the Sept. 7 update above, it still represents a huge commitment of federal funds to the teaching profession.

Oct. 2 - La CNTE ya trabaja en Yucatán
Sept. 8 - Magisterio en lucha
Sept. 7 - Marcha de maestros en Mérida
Aug. 30 - Oaxaca education at the mercy of omnipotent syndicate

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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