Friday, February 12, 2016


I am very excited about this year's UFT Election.  MORE-New Action, now running together as a coalition, nominated me to run for Vice President for Academic High Schools on the joint slate.  If members want the better half of the Eterno couple, my wife Camille has been nominated to run for UFT Secretary. We enthusiastically support the MORE-New Action slate and are working diligently to maximize rank and file backing for the slate.

Having been a member of New Action who was elected three times to the UFT Executive Board to represent the High School Division from 1997-2004, it feels good to be back working with New Action.  I was devastated when NAC decided not to oppose Randi Weingarten in 2003 and soon thereafter found myself as a man without a caucus. While Camille and I respected their decision, the NAC-Unity alliance caused many NAC members to say we want to be in opposition to Unity and we left NAC to help form the Independent Community of Educators. Teachers for a Just Contract was also growing at the time so we agreed to work together.

Winning the 2004 election over NAC and going back to the high School Executive Board was a real triumph for me personally.  I'll never forget being by the copying machine at Jamaica when the late, great activist Paul Baizerman phoned to tell me we won. Being able to serve the next three years with members of Teachers for Just Contract and ICE taught me so much.  It is an honor to be able to call people such as Jeff Kaufman, Barbara Kaplan-Halper and Ellen Schweitzer good friends.

During our three year term, we finally convinced the union leadership to oppose school closings and we led a 40% no vote on the disastrous 2005 contract. The giveback laden contract created the Absent Teacher Reserve mess by ending seniority transfers and preferred placement when a school closed along with many other indignities that have truly weakened our union and our profession.

I enjoy being in ICE to this day and although often skeptical, Camille and I went along when ICE became one of the founding groups in the Movement of Rank and File Educators before the last UFT election.  If we combined MORE's vote totals with New Action's in 2013, we won a clear majority of the high school division that voted (yes the turnout was low) however NAC cross-endorsed with Unity, not MORE, so their people sat on the Executive Board.

Now that NAC is no longer supporting Unity-Mulgrew, there is a tremendous opportunity for the opposition to put a real dent in the top-down Unity style of leadership. Camille and I couldn't be happier to be able to work again on the same political team with our old friends from NAC, particularly Greg Destefano from Staten Island. Greg is running for an officer position on our slate. You could not find a more dedicated, relentless trade unionist in the world than Greg. He has the determination of a bull.

From MORE's side, a truly inspirational candidate is running for UFT President in Jia Lee.  Jia is a conscientious objector who has opted out of giving state standardized exams.  She testified at US Senate hearings in Washington DC last year in part on the damage that high stakes testing is doing to our schools and our kids.  She is the Chapter leader from the Earth School where she teaches.

The other officer candidate positions in the coalition are being filled by very capable people. My wife Camille is without a doubt among the most robust trade unionists in this city.  She was Chapter Leader at Queens Gateway to Health Sciences for years. Administration knew they better adhere to the contract or face Camille's wrath.  Camille voluntarily stepped down from the Chapter Leader position when she took a year long gig outside the city.  She came back and has been a UFT Delegate from Humanities and the Arts High School in Queens since 2006.  Camille is highly respected and sought after for union help. Our phone doesn't stop ringing with people from our schools and many others looking to us for support which we provide to the extent we are able to.  We hear so often from UFT members that he/she reached out to the UFT and they did little or nothing to help.  That has to stop.

Speaking of strong candidates, MORE-New Action is running Lauren Cohen for Elementary School Vice President. Lauren famously stood up to hundreds of booing Unity Delegates at the 2014 NYSUT Representative Assembly. They couldn't take hearing the truth that they are obligated to vote as Michael Mulgrew and Leroy Barr tell them to. You can see the video below.  Lauren is a Chapter Leader too.

Mindy Rosier is also on the MORE-New Action 00ticket.  Mindy worked with me on the resolution to get MORE to ask the UFT to fight last year's awful Education Transformation Act.  I challenge anyone to find better people to run this union.

Carol Ramos Widen, Kae Martin-Bridge, Margaret Shand, Nelson Santiago and Christine Gross round out the officer part of the MORE-New Action slate.

The UFT Executive Board is made up of many at large positions where the Unity strength among retirees will make them hard to beat.  The same is true for officer positions where for example, retirees vote on who will be the Vice President for Elementary Schools. However, each division exclusively elects their own Executive Board.

When it comes to the seven High School Executive Board positions, MORE-New Action is putting together a kind of union all-star team led by MORE's Mike Shirtzer and NAC's Jonathan Halabi. Both are leaders in their respective caucuses.  Add to this mix Francis Lewis High School Chapter Leader Arthur Goldstein as the straw that stirs the drink and we truly have the makings of an all-star High School Executive Board with other activists, some new to caucus politics, also on the slate.

All of these good people won't have the chance to do anything without your help.  We must get out the vote if we are to win representation on the UFT Executive Board. Getting out the vote starts with running around and having petitions signed so people can secure a place on the ballot.  For Mulgrew's Unity Caucus, this is easy as there is so much patronage that they can all sign each other's petitions at Unity gatherings.  For us it means running around to schools and meeting the members to organize.

I've been traveling around Queens after school all week to leave literature with contacts to put in teacher letterboxes and asking for help in the petition campaign.  I have met some fine people on the campaign trail and spoken to old friends. I'll have more to say in future posts.

For now, I urge everyone to support MORE-New Action and just as importantly to spread the word.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


NYSUT has sued to strike down State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia's decision to abrogate the collective bargaining agreement in five Buffalo schools.

I am not a lawyer and don't know how strong the case is but I don't believe a lawsuit will be enough to stop receivership. Receivership is part of the anti-public school Education Transformation Act of 2015.

While I support the lawsuit, fighting to get rid of the law that created receivership is necessary as it seems to me the law allows the State Education Commissioner to appoint a receiver who can put aside union contracts in certain schools. If the Commissioner didn't follow the law to the letter, then a lawsuit is not a bad idea. However, a movement to repeal the law that created receivership would seem like a much better tactic or at least one that should be used along with the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, it seems our state union as well as the local leader up in Buffalo does not wish to consider such a movement so we might win a battle here and there but it doesn't look good in terms of winning the war against Cuomo's anti public education Education Transformation Act of 2015.

In addition, this lawsuit only impacts schools not labeled persistently struggling if I read it correctly. Those in persistently struggling schools might be thrown under the bus.

Can someone please explain to me why our union is not attempting to repeal Cuomo's awful education law?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


As the Friedrichs Supreme Court case decision nears, smart minds would think that leaders of the United Federation of Teachers would be a little humbled as they try to keep the union together. After the Supreme Court rules, UFT members may be able to quickly stop paying union dues.

Those dues for teachers added up to a not so inconsequential $1,297 for 2015 plus whatever extra was taken out of the first installment of the arrears payments that the city paid us last October. Over $1,300 is a big chunk of change that possibly could be saved after the Court makes their ruling.

My guess is the UFT's reaction, as well as many other city and state unions, if we lose will be to run to state court to say the Friedrichs decision doesn't apply here as it contradicts with the state Taylor Law.  Then, the unions may try to tie things up in court for years while forcing people to keep paying union dues and/or agency fees. That is just an educated guess and could be way off.

However, if one wants a hint at how the UFT will act in the future, just look at their latest piece that was distributed at last week's Delegate Assembly meeting. Unity is in full spin mode and their spin cycle is better than any washing machine.

Take for example this claim in the Unity list of accomplishments:

In service UFT members overwhelmingly approved a contract that includes raises of 29% over seven years.

Hmmm?  Well I just added up the increases and can't figure out Unity's creative accounting.  In May of 2008 when we received our last raise under the previous contract, senior teachers were earning $100,049. When the final raise for the current contract of 2% kicks in (now delayed to June 16, 2018), senior teachers will make $119,471. Therefore, ten years and roughly a month later the top salary will be a little over 19% higher than it was before the contract.  How does that translate into 29% over 7 years?  Who is Unity's accountant?

Then there is a further claim that doesn't hold up at all:

NY state suspended test-related teacher evaluations for at least four years.

That's news to us.  New York State suspended Common Core grades 3-8 exams and Regents exams tied to growth scores for teacher evaluations for the next four years.  The state will still administer the tests and rate schools on them and Regents exams tied to Student Learning Objectives or local exams are still part of teacher evaluations for sure. Next year these exams will count for 50% of our ratings. This blog debunked the myth that test scores are no longer part of teacher ratings last month.

Unity will bombard the schools in the coming months with District Representatives, Officers, Chapter Leaders and others to spread their gospel according to Michael Mulgrew.  Why let the truth get in the way of their good story?

Unity also quotes Theodore Roosevelt who once said, "...remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that in the end, progress is accomplished by the people who do things."

TR also stated, "The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything."

When was the last time you ever heard Unity admit they made a mistake? Try never. Does that mean they don't do anything?

Monday, February 08, 2016


Bertis Downs IV is the manager of alternative rockers and my favorites R.E.M.  He is also on the board of the Network for Public Education.  He has some advice for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on public education.  He wrote a speech that either one of them could give to show they are not for business as usual on education.  It is at Salon. Please read it.

Bertis says this speech could seal the nomination for either one of the candidates.  I am not holding my breath waiting for either Bernie or Hillary to give it. Hillary is the embodiment of the status quo and Bernie voted for the Murphy amendment last summer supporting the continuation of test and punish education.

However, we can hope one of them comes to their senses on moving public education ahead by working with real teachers,parents and students, not just top-down union leaders.

Bertis, in his proposed speech, sees of one of the candidates talking about the sorry state of public education today including the mentality that blames teachers for problems such as poverty that are way beyond our control.  He points out that this is leading to an impending teacher shortage.  Then, he makes the case that K-12 education has not been a major campaign issue yet.  His would-be candidate says:

Thus far, there's been very little campaign time devoted to public education policy.  I guess that's not surprising given the amount of money and power at stake.  Someone recently joked that on the Democratic campaign trail it's as if children go straight from pre-K to debt-free college and there's no such thing as K - 12 education in between.  Well, I want to change that mistaken perception.

Bertis goes on:

Well, in recent months, I have been quietly talking with teachers, principals, parents and students. These are the true stakeholders in this debate, after all.  Many of these true stakeholders are affiliated with groups like the Network for Public Education, the Badass Teachers Association, Parents Across America, Class Size Matters, Education Opportunity Network, National Education Policy Center, Journey for Justice, FAIRTEST, Save Our Schools, United Opt-Out and the growing movement of student activist groups in many of our major cities,  These are grassroots groups with smart, dedicated and hardworking people who believe in the value of public education and work hard every day to strengthen and improve the system.  Groups like these will have at seat at the table in my administration.

He continues a little later:

I am listening to educators and parents - the true stakeholders - and I will put some educators with actual real-world, real-school experience in positions of power in my administration.  For a long time now, we have pursued so many of the corporatized policies: test and punish, drill and kill, stack, rank and close. These practices are not helping our children learn.  And from my lifelong travels around the country and the globe, I know that no other country uses standardized testing the same way we do.  There's a better way.

He then describes community based schools and discusses how integrated public schools can succeed.

Are Bernie and Hillary listening? Or as many of us fear, Hillary will be a third term of the Obama administration's corporate driven education disaster and Bernie will be a national version of progressive Bill de Blasio, who has not exactly transformed public education in New York City.

Most of my friends are leaning toward Sanders as the best hope but didn't we hear about hope and change with Obama and were burned and didn't we listen to de Blasio promise real change on education in NYC and when elected he retained most of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's people in education and continued many of Bloomberg's anti-teacher policies?

By the way I write all of this as an educator who has two friends on Facebook who are relatively recent Jamaica High School graduates who are working for Bernie and regularly posting on Facebook about their experiences on the campaign trail.

Friday, February 05, 2016


At the last two Delegate Assembly meetings, I have been trying to propose the following amendment to a UFT resolution to oppose receivership (State Education Commissioner takes over certain schools and can appoint a receiver who can abrogate collective bargaining agreements.). Receivership is part of  Andrew Cuomo's anti- public education law called the Education Transformation Act of 2015 that is still fully on the books.

The MORE Amendment
and be it further Resolved, that the UFT make repeal of the anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Education Transformation Act of 2015 and Education Law 3012c a main 2016 legislative goal in Albany and plan significant rank and file actions around this objective while urging NYSUT to do the same.

The Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew's political party that runs the UFT) strategy is to not make fighting receivership or anything in last year's horrific state education law part of this year's legislative agenda.  In order for the leadership not to have to go on the record that they support keeping the law, they just stall by putting the resolution on receivership it further down on the agenda every month.  Mulgrew then filibusters so the automatic adjournment hits at 6:00 p.m. and we never vote nor can I bring up my amendment.  The text of the full resolution is below.

The next DA isn't until March 23.  Since much state legislation is done around the April 1 budget, it is clear the UFT will not be doing anything to oppose the awful teacher evaluation system or receivership this year. The fact that Unity will not will not go on the record on this says a great deal about the leadership.

Resolution in Opposition to State Receivership
WHERAS, New York State law establishes receivership for schools that have been or will be categorized as "persistently struggling" and "struggling," and based on the  state's accountability system, there will always be 5 percent of schools in receivership;

WHEREAS, 144 public schools serving mostly low-income students fro Buffalo to Albany, Utica to New York City and Yonkers to Rochester have been placed in receivership; and

WHEREAS, the federal government has changed its misguided education policy, giving states the flexibility to design accountability systems that truly support struggling schools, and

WHEREAS, New York State Education Department regulations need to be revised to reflect this change in federal policy; and

WHEREAS, receivership undermines collective bargaining by granting the receiver broad power over staffing, length of the school day and year for each individual school in receivership; and

WHEREAS, the UFT is on record in strong opposition to any law that usurps union members' collective-bargaining rights; and

WHEREAS, the state receivership law requires "struggling" schools to improve in two years but provides insufficient additional resources or funding to those schools; and

WHEREAS, receivership does not address the great inequality in funding for urban schools, but rather doubles down on affected districts by labeling them as failures and giving them one or two years to "improve" without additional resources in most cases; and

WHEREAS, the UFT is on record as opposed to the underlying premise of the state receivership law that removing local control of public schools benefits children; and

WHEREAS, State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia invoked the state's new receivership law in November 2015 to give Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash special powers to bypass the union contract after the union and the school district failed to negotiate a special agreement regarding these five schools in 30 days; and

WHEREAS, under the receivership plan, Cash is being given the extraordinary authority to unilaterally lengthen the school day and year, have any or all the staff reapply for their positions, supersede the school board and make other significant changes without regard to the collective-bargaining agreement between the district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the UFT strongly opposes receivership; ad be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT denounces State Education Commissioner Elia's decision to abrogate the collective-bargaining agreement in Buffalo and to deprive teachers in these five schools of their rights and voice; and be further

RESOLVED, that the UFT supports Buffalo teachers and parents in addressing the root causes of chronic underperformance in these schools, including class size, teaching and learning conditions, and the need for wraparound services to help low-income students and their families; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT will vigorously challenge attacks on due process, collective bargaining and other fair labor practices that are a consequence of receivership; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT will commit to the authentic and substantive improvement of all New York City public schools, particularly schools serving students with the greatest needs; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT will work to educate members about receivership as well as determine and advance actions to respond to the demands of receivership at the school, city and state levels.

We repeat our amendment here.  This is what a real union would do to support its members.
and be it further Resolved, that the UFT make repeal of the anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Education Transformation Act of 2015 and Education Law 3012c a main 2016 legislative goal in Albany and plan significant rank and file actions around this objective while urging NYSUT to do the same.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Why have UFT elections been pushed back to May this year?  Traditionally, they have taken place in March or April. The 2013 ballots were counted on April 25.  In 2010 it was early April and back in 2007 it was in late March. It is strange that elections are taking place this year in May. Ballots will be mailed to member homes on May 5 and will be counted on May 26. According to the UFT Constitution, this is permitted but the cynic in me thinks the reason for postponing the election is to increase the Unity Caucus vote.

Unity Caucus is Michael Mulgrew's faction of the UFT that has run the union since the sixties.  They are a well oiled machine and will do anything to keep power.

Why May and not the traditional late March or April for the election? Well May is precisely the month where UFT members will be receiving a 3.5% salary increase. Unity's thinking seems to be that people will get some money and reward Mulgrew with their vote. That looks like a major reason to delay the voting this year.

Unity will send their army of District Representatives, Special Representatives, Chapter Leaders and Chapter Advocates around to remind people in the schools about their May 1 salary increases right while they simultaneously make people aware that the UFT election ballot was mailed on May 5.  

Do you think anyone without an opposition person in a high profile position in a school is going to remember that 2% of this 3.5% is money from the last round of collective bargaining that most other city unions got back from 2008-2010.  Half of the 8% raises the city owes us from those years will still not have been added to our paychecks even in May. In addition, 87.5% of the arrears that has backed up since 2009 still has not been paid to us.  That money will not be released to us until 2017 through 2020.

Add to the money that there will be a huge pro-union publicity campaign culminating in May that Mulgrew talked about at the Delegate Assembly yesterday around the Friedrichs Supreme Court case. This case is horrid as it would deprive the unions of agency fees so people would not have to pay anything to the union and would still get union benefits if the unions lose which looks likely. However, why not do actions in June when the case will be decided or right now? The union campaign will have no impact on the five conservative Supreme Court Justices so why do it at the same time as the UFT election?

As I see it, the campaign is for the membership.  Its goal is to maximize the Unity vote and subtly call anyone who says anything against the leadership anti-union.

Am I being too cynical?  Is all of this timing just a coincidence? If I was on the Election Committee I would be questioning the calendar of the election coinciding with the Friedrichs campaign and the salary increase but I am not on the committee. I will tell MORE-New Action.

I have a grudging kind of respect filled with disgust at how the Unity Caucus machine operates. Vladimir Putin, or for that matter Mao Zedong, would be envious of the loyalty Unity gets from its members as working conditions in the schools continue to deteriorate. All I hear about is tears and resignation from more and more UFT members about a job that is becoming impossible in the schools while the UFT spin is that things have never been better.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


The February Delegate Assembly has started so here we go and with an apology in advance for any errors since I am doing this from my smartphone which often has a mind of its own and I am a bit late.

Mulgrew Report
State fight over charters this year. Missed the rest of state report.

Safety: Looking for something that would work between zero tolerance and nobody getting suspended.

Family leave: It will cost money. Trying to navigate through this in talks.

Special ed: People have tools to fight special ed violations.

Half the school year is over. Did not want to close schools for blizzard because of tight calendar. Lucky snow fell on Saturday.

We have many chapter advocates going around to schools.  They are building chapters.

Renewal schools: For over 50 years nobody has figured out how to solve problem of schools in communities with a great deal of poverty. Community learning schools on path to solving problem. Chancellor at UFT conference. If this model is mandated, it won't work. PROSE combined with renewal schools. Collaboration is a key ingredient to success of both programs which are based on trust.

Friedrichs: Mulgrew shows video with him talking to teachers but video does not work.

Mulgrew then tells Delegates that Friedrichs is an opportunity. Action campaign on Friedrichs. Email asks us to sign up to be activists.  After people sign up, push  grassroots stuff to social media. Get everyone to work so by May we have maximum energy. UFT hands out buttons to delegates.

We must stand together if case goes down. (Mulgrew didn't want other stuff about Friedrichs plans out so I won't say anything more.) Wisconsin unions that were prepared for Scott Walker assault are ok. Those that were not are gone.

Staff Director's Report
Leroy Barr told Delegates it is national school counselors month. March 9 lobby day. He gave some other dates of upcoming events including next DA on March 23.

UFT election season starts today. March 10 petitions due. May 5 ballots out. May 26 ballots counted.

Question Period
Question: NY times article says pensions in bad shape. What is the truth?
Answer from Trustee Mel Aarronson: Pensions in good shape. Cannot manufacture investment results. New Comptollers always ask how to get most out of pension system. Sufficient money to pay all of us pensions for the rest of our lives.

Q: What is going on with diversity resolution on declining African American and Latino teachers?
A: Leroy Barr said we are working with an outside group and DOE to get young people in teaching. YMI getting money from city to get 1,000 teachers of color in addition to what are already being hired by 2017. President Obama working on this nationally too.

Q: Can principals get UFT buttons? Can we wear them at work?
A: Yes for principals and technically no on wearing them at school

Q: Discrimination at Brooklyn Tech. Uncover patterns in one school, can we make an issue of racism and seximt citywide?
A: Up to school community.  We can deal with difficult stuff. Need to do it at school level.

Q: What happened with Campbell Brown case?
A: Appeal on whether case can be dismissed is being heard at appellate court.

Q: What is our position on State Ed Commissioner's position on timing of tests?
A: Test is shorter but no time limit for kids. School community should talk about it and let administration call time instead of us.

Motion Period
Mary Ahern raised a point of order on how to raise a motion. She said the way it is done at the DA is against Robert's Rules.  Mulgrew accepted it but Leroy Barr protested based on policy and practice of the DA. Mary appealed but Mulgrew ruled against her and put it to the body.  The Unity majority agreed with Mulgrew.

(Editor's Note: Mary of course is completely right but it doesn't matter.  She could have argued her case on the appeal but did not and what would be the point?  Unity's super majority can vote on any rule it wants and there isn't much anyone can do. Stopping the madness requires having over 1/3 of the Delegates but most Delegates don't show up.)

Motion to support state bill against workplace bullying.

It will be investigated.

Time ran out before other motions could be raised.

Special Orders of Business
City Council Distict 17 endorsement of Rafael Salamanca came next. It carried.

Next was a resolution to recommend putting Debra Penny to replace Sandra March on Teachers Retirement Board. It carried unanimously. March spoke.

Mulgrew then spoke on behalf of March.

Next there was a special ed mandate relief resolution that carried easily.

Resolution to mandate paras join the pension system was next. Some paras don't join. Need a bill in legislature in Albany for this to happen. It carried unanimously.

Time then ran out.