It’s never a good day when you’re called to the principal’s office — especially if you’re a teacher.
Last week, North Miami science teacher Laurie Futterman was called to her boss’ office at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center.
The reason: The city’s mayor had called Principal Bernard Osborn after Futterman and her two children spoke against a controversial garbage-pickup contract at a recent North Miami City Council meeting.
Futterman, who has one of Mayor Andre Pierre’s children in her class, said she was flabbergasted.
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“Who is he to call my place of employment?” said Futterman, who lives in North Miami. “I am offended as his son’s educator and as a citizen.”
The Jan. 24 meeting drew a crowd that packed the council chambers, with a spillover audience watching from the lobby as the council heard public comment about a plan to privatize the city’s garbage services. The mayor and his supporters have said the plan would reduce garbage and trash collection fees; critics have said it would lead to uneven service and higher fees in the long run. The council passed the measure on second reading by a 3-2 vote, with council members Michael Blynn and Scott Galvin dissenting.
The proposal has been the subject of scandal and controversy for months. The mayor’s nephew and reelection campaign manager, Ricardo Brutus, was arrested in March for allegedly accepting $4,000 from a local businessman to ensure the ordinance was delayed until after the May election. Brutus was caught on tape describing his influence in City Hall, although he has denied wrongdoing, and Pierre has sought to distance himself from the case.
At a meeting last month, the mayor bristled when Blynn brought up his nephew’s arrest, and angrily referred to Blynn’s daughters as “prostitutes” — a comment for which he later apologized.
Pierre said he called the principal out of concern about comments made by Futterman’s children, who he said were misinformed about the project. He said he did not realize their mother was a teacher at the school.
“I wasn’t concerned about the teacher; I was concerned about what the children were saying,” said Pierre. “I have a moral and legal obligation to let the principal know.”
Futterman’s children, like their mom, had questioned the council about whether the plan would include recycling.
No one on the council addressed the recycling question during the public comment period because the council takes questions after all comments have been made. By the time the council acknowledged recycling would be included, Futterman and her twin seventh-graders, Max and Toni Correa, had already left.
“I thought they would stay till the end,” said Pierre, who said he wanted to work with the principal to schedule a workshop on the new plan so students could be educated on the matter. “I understand it was a school night, but I am not going to stop a public meeting.”
Pierre said he asked the principal to confirm that the science teacher who spoke at the meeting was his son’s instructor. Pierre’s son, Dominique, is a sixth-grader at the school and is in Futterman’s honors science class. After the meeting, Pierre initially said he did not know the teacher, but after questioning by a Miami Herald reporter, he acknowledged he had met her previously at a school event.
In an email sent to The Herald on Wednesday, Futterman said she had met Pierre on at least three occasions.
“He very well knows that I am his son’s teacher because he came into my classroom to say hi at least three times this school year,” Futterman wrote. “And on one of those visits, about two months ago, my principal and I personally escorted him outside to see the [school’s] waterfall.”
Osborn, the principal, says he does not recall the mayor mentioning a student workshop during their telephone call. He said the mayor asked about Futterman.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” said Osborn. “I wasn’t there. It didn’t have anything to do with school.”
Osborn said he has no objections to Futterman speaking out at meetings, and noted she has been instrumental in recycling programs at the school.
No policy prohibits an employee from speaking as a resident during a public meeting, according to John Schuster, chief communications officer for Miami-Dade school district.
There were other teachers at the meeting, including economics teacher Carl Hoover of Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami. Sally Alayon, the principal of Mourning High, said Tuesday she received no calls about the meeting.
When Futterman found out about the phone call, she wasn’t happy.
“He should have contacted me if he was really professional,” Futterman said. “What I am sad about is people who believe him are being so misled. There are so many people who believe in him, and that’s what I am sad about.”
After her conversation with Osborn, Futterman learned of comments made about her children at the end of the council meeting by both the mayor and City Council member Marie Steril.
Steril, who voted for the ordinance, said she was dismayed to see children in the audience.
“It hurts to see that on a school night we brought our kids here,” Steril said before the vote. “It hurts to see that we are using our own children.”
Futterman’s son Max said he spoke at the meeting because he was concerned, not because his mother told him to.
“The councilwoman said after we left that our parents were exploiting us,” Max said.
“That got me really mad because our mom wasn’t saying, ‘We are going to a council meeting and you have to go,’” he said. “No, we wanted to go.”