Canadian teachers find school daze in U.S.
BY MARTY KLINKENBERG
Saturday, September 1, 2001
Her complaints were echoed by three other Canadian recruits. All four Canadian teachers said school-board officials made promises they didn't keep. The recruits said they were all asked to fill out forms in advance detailing housing needs, but all they received upon arriving in New York were lists of real-estate brokers' names and contact information.
In New York, where a one-bedroom apartment can easily exceed $1,500 (U.S.) a month, brokers often ask for three months' rent up-front, as well as a finders' fee equivalent to 12 per cent to 15 per cent of the annual rent, and sometimes even more.
"We got a raw deal," said Steven, who taught in Toronto for eight years. "When I was recruited, they asked if I needed housing, I told them I did and they told me they would take care of it. Now they say they are not in the business of housing. They are not sympathetic at all."
He said that at one point, he was tempted to take his suitcase and sleep in front of school-board headquarters in Brooklyn to make a point.
Sam Chung, who led the school board's international recruiting effort, twice refused to answer questions about the Canadians' complaints. "I can only refer you to our public-information office," Mr. Chung said. "I'm not at liberty to talk to the press."
Margie Feinberg, the press officer for the Board of Education's Division of Public Affairs, did not respond to a request for an interview. And Catie Marshall, a spokeswoman for New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, did not return phone calls.
The school board received so many complaints from recruits that it brought in a real-estate consultant. But that didn't work out so well, either. For an up-front fee of $250--and an additional $187 per week--the consultant told teachers that housing could be arranged in a hotel, provided they didn't mind sharing a room with a stranger.
"This is a tough situation," said a math and science teacher from Vancouver who, like the other Canadians, received a three-year contract. "Instead of bringing in management that takes care of housing, they let us look for our own, and we didn't have a clue. It was like putting a rabbit in front of a bunch of jackals.
"I called my wife at one point and told her that if I didn't find an apartment soon, I was going to come back to Canada. I didn't come here to be a hustler. I came here to work for them and to be respected as a professional."
The veteran Toronto-area teacher said she recognized warning signs that things were amiss, but ignored them.
She travelled to New York in July to see the school where she had been offered a job and was appalled. When she got there, she was led to a filthy basement classroom that hadn't been used in six months.
"Conditions were horrible," she said. "The classroom was dingy and dirty and deeply infested with mice. There was no chalkboard. No teacher's desk. No storage area for class equipment.
"I'm a practical lady, so I didn't expect the Taj Mahal. But I didn't expect what they showed me, either. If that was my school and I was the principal, I'd be walking around with a paper bag on my head."
Special to The Globe and Mail