Thursday, February 21, 2019


I was pleasantly surprised to see a strong article in the Queens Chronicle where Unity Chapter Leader Adam Bergstein has many strong quotes critical of Forest Hills Principal Ben Sherman and Superintendent Juan Mendez.

It has been many years since I have seen a chapter leader from Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus speak this forcefully against a principal. The staff voted 195-21 no confidence in Principal Sherman last week.

From the Chronicle:

Adam Bergstein, United Federation of Teachers chapter president of Forest Hills High School, said he heard from many different people in the school.

“The concerns were brought to me from every different constituency in the building and I mean, administration ... teachers were fed up and overwhelmed and disgusted, the aides in the building, students,” he said.

Bergstein added, “Ninety percent of the staff feel as though the principal is incapable of managing Forest Hills High School and, or maintaining the building at the level it’s been at for decades.”

A history teacher is also quoted who adds to what the Chapter Leader says:

“There’s pot almost every day,” a history teacher said. “And usually it’s the students smoking in the bathrooms or the stairwells. He doesn’t have a policy anymore for getting kids to class and not being late like the previous principal did.”

One teacher said Sherman indicated marijuana is legal in many states and would soon be in New York.I think he’s just incapable of making decisions from representatives within the building,” Bergstein said. “I think because he’s had a small building for over a decade and he doesn’t know how to run or operate a large high school, he’s just a fish out of water and he lacks that skill set and ability.”

Back to Adam:

Bergstein said there were complaints during the 2017-18 school year but the hopes that things would improve this year quickly disappeared.

“We were hoping that the principal would take suggestions, advice, recommendations from unions, from deans, from administration and implement some of these changes to alleviate the concerns and we picked up in September where we left off last school year and things just deteriorated from bad to worse,” he said.

And even more:

Bergstein said the no confidence vote was a result of safety concerns, noting there wouldn’t be a vote just because teachers and administrators don’t like Sherman’s style or philosophy.

“He’s a graduate of the Leadership Academy and those people are just some of the most horrendous principals to walk the Earth,” Bergstein said.

He added that he believes Sherman would be helped by taking the advice of others into account.

“He makes unilateral decisions,” Bergstein said. “Instead of taking into account what people have been doing in the building or recommend doing in the building for years, he just goes ahead with what I guess he deems his gut or what he believes will work. And he is clearly incapable of handling that kind of situation.”

Saul Gootnick retired as principal in December 2016 and Anthony Cromer served as acting principal until Sherman was brought in a few months later.

Bergstein believes Sherman was the pick of Queens High Schools Superintendent Juan Mendez.

“I honestly believe it was with the intent to shake things up and disrupt the school environment for some reason,” Bergstein said.

He added, “It’s sad that the DOE seems to have gone out of their way to disrupt a high school with a sterling reputation.”

Great work Adam and History Teacher.

Here is my question after reading this piece:

Why isn't it in the UFT's NY Teacher?


West Virginia teachers went back to work today, ending a two day strike over a state bill that would have started charter schools in that state as well as creating educational savings accounts (government money to attend private schools). That same bill would have also given the teachers a 5% raise just as they achieved by going on strike last year.

Teachers in West Virgina stood on principle by walking off the job rather than accepting a decent raise in exchange for provisions that were totally unacceptable. We can learn something here in New York. Salary isn't everything.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The statewide education strike will end after two days following the House of Delegates opting not to act Wednesday on the omnibus legislation that angered teachers unions.

Leaders of the state’s three leading education unions and legislators announced the decision to end the strike after the House adjourned for the day.

The House moved Tuesday to indefinitely postpone action on the omnibus education bill, which included a 5-percent pay raise in addition to provisions establishing education savings accounts and charter schools.

“This is about the members who made the most difficult decision that you can make, and that’s to step out of the classroom. But they did it for their kids,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “They said they weren’t interested in the pay raise if it was going to hurt their kids.”
These teachers in West Virginia aren't exactly rich and they went on strike rather than accept charter schools and educational savings accounts. They are returning to work without another dime in their pockets.

I gather that by the end of the legislative session those 5% raises for the teachers will be passed into law but there won't be any educational savings accounts or other provisions teachers won't be able to live with. Militancy works.

I  often hear that teachers in New York City make too much money to think about militancy. That is an important point but I believe working conditions that are abominable in many NYC schools (high class size, unsafe schools, administrative harassment and intimidation, students being pushed along who cannot do acceptable work, an invalid, unreliable evaluation system and more) give teachers here ample reason to be angry and want to do something collectively.
When teachers fight, we are winning all over the place. By the way, public employees cannot legally strike in West Virginia.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


This is part of an email that came to me tonight from a UFT member at Forest Hills High School in Queens.

The faculty voted 195-21 that Ben Sherman is the wrong individual to lead our school.  A No Confidence vote was held Thursday and over 90% of faculty rejected his leadership.

90% no confidence vote against Principal Ben Sherman under 2019 working conditions is pretty impressive.

I have one unanswered question:

What has the leadership of the UFT, which has known about problems the staff at Forest Hills has had with Principal Sherman since at least last school year, done to reign him in?

UPDATE: Forest Hills HS Chapter Leader defends UFT response.

Listen, I know everybody wants to point fingers and accuse & blame the UFT for not being proactive. However, the UFT has totally backed and supported this vote of no confidence since I brought it to them. Also, the union is bringing all of this information and the vote results to the DOE. There are already meetings in place for next week. So I know it’s easy just to say that the union doesn’t do anything for its members but they are fighting for the staff. However, there’s a process and they just can’t barnstorm the DOE with pitchforks and tell them that the principal is inept and incompetent. And yes, I know a lot of staff members want to the union to be more aggressive, But we are in the midst of a bureaucratic process. This is a formal vote that now gets presented to politicians and the Department of Education. The doe will always circle the wagons and protect their own, no matter how bad or inept these individuals that run schools are. At this point we need to go through the process, however, frustrating that might be for members.

Adam C Bergstein
Chapter Chair
Forest Hills HS

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Here's the latest from Sue Edelman in the NY Post on yet another awful NYC principal. This won't be in the UFT's NY Teacher you can bet.

A Brooklyn federal jury has awarded $523,000 to a public-school teacher who charged that her principal took revenge when she rebuffed his sexual demands — and that the city Department of Education turned a blind eye.

The hefty verdict for special-ed teacher Shaunte Penniston includes $98,000 in back pay, $275,000 for pain and suffering, and $150,000 in punitive damages against principal Antonio K’tori and the DOE.

“I was vindicated,” said Penniston, who cried in relief at the jury award. “I got to tell my story to eight strangers who believed me.”

Her ordeal shows how the DOE — which last year tallied 186 sex-harassment complaints — has swept some cases under the rug.

Rather than investigate her complaint, the DOE let K’tori retaliate and District 29 Superintendent Lenon Murray — himself later convicted of forcible touching — terminate Penniston on bogus charges of poor performance, she alleged.

“The DOE allows predators to remain in schools,” Penniston said. “He was given a platform to do this.”

I don't know what else to add other than to say when something similar happened in the 1990s at Jamaica (nobody was fired for rebuffing the principal but they certainly had their lives made miserable), the UFT was at least somewhat on it. When a DOE Superintendent who is now a NYS Regent tried to reassign the principal to another school in the early Joel Klein era, we helped to publicize it almost immediately so the DOE had to rescind their decision.

Saturday, February 16, 2019


I'm no financial expert but I have been reading Mayor Bill de Blasio's February 2019 Financial Plan today and my conclusion is the city still has plenty of money even if the city is making dire warnings about the future. We have been hearing the financial sky is falling for years but the money is still there.

From the press release on the Mayor's Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Summary, we see what the city is holding in reserves:

• $1.25 billion each year of the financial plan 
— General Reserve: $1.0 billion 
— Capital Stabilization Reserve: $250 million

• This reserve was created by this Administration

• Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund: $4.5 billion

One does not have to be a math genius to add $1.25 billion and $4.5 billion to come up with a total of $5.75 billion in city reserves. Nobody wants to call that a surplus but that's what it is in reality.

Headlines talk about income taxes coming in short of projections this year.
From the NY Times:

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that the city projects that it will receive $935 million less in income tax revenue than the previous year — echoing an even larger shortfall in New York State’s budget.
What about overall city tax collections?

From the detailed Financial Plan on page 5:

Tax Forecast Summary New York City is expected to collect $60.7 billion in tax revenue in fiscal year 2019. This represents growth of 2.7 percent over the previous year. Property taxes are forecast to increase 6.3 percent, while non-property taxes are forecast to increase 0.6 percent. Economic growth is expected to continue into the year 2020 as tax revenue is expected to grow 3.7 percent, resulting in a total revenue of $62.9 billion. Property tax revenue in 2020 is forecast to increase 6.0 percent while non-property tax increases 2.0 percent.
Not bad.

Let's now take a look at NYC wage increases for workers cited in the Mayor's Financial Plan.

This data is from page 14:

Due to increased competition for workers, compensation has been improving. Average hourly earnings, grew at solid rates of 3.1 percent in 2018 and 3.6 percent in 2017 — the strongest two consecutive years on record in data going back to 2008.

Aren't you glad you have a union that just negotiated raises of 2% for this year for its members?

No guts, no glory. I understand that in Los Angeles and Denver where teachers recently went on strike they make less than NYC teachers and don't have the Taylor Law to deal with but they are making real gains by striking.

Here in NYC, any kind of threat of possibly thinking about showing some militancy is unheard of.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


From time to time we go around town to see what some of the local city education blogs have published. Not much earth shattering to report but there is news.

Over at South Bronx School, Peter Zucker is covering Brooklyn physical education teacher Brett Belsky who was fired because he played Fortnite online with two students. SBS said that if Belsky was a principal, it would be different.

If only the gym teacher were a principal. If herwas then he could be incompetent, a sexual harasser, insert his tallywhacker into copy machines, put relatives on payroll, steal, commit perjury, force people to attend their own church, recruit teachers for bible study in the library, and do whatever and not lose their jobs. Better, nine times out of ten they get removed to a cushy desk job at Tweed.
Where did Belsky go to have his case exposed in public? The NY Teacher, right? That's the official publication of the United Federation of Teachers so isn't it logical that the NY Teacher would publicize this wrong done to one of its members? No, the piece SBS is citing is from the NY Post.

We agree with the conclusion from South Bronx School:

The arbitrator, in this case was arbitrary and capricious. Brett Belsky deserves a fair hearing and his job back.

Next up if anyone wants to see an in depth piece on conditions in the high schools in New York City, go to Chaz's School Daze. Chaz prints a lengthy piece from former NYC high school teacher Mary Hudson describing in detail her experiences in three New York City High Schools in the 2000's. Hudson started pre Joel Klein and made it through most of the Klein years. We can see the deterioration in the schools and the lack of respect for teachers growing as she moves to three schools. Her theory on the cause of the problem I don't really buy but it's a very realistic portrayal of three high schools in this city.

This part from Ms. Hudson's story from Washington Irving High School stands out for me:

Once, on two consecutive days, enormous Snapple dispensers on a mezzanine were pushed to the floor below. Vending machines had to be removed for the students’ safety. On another occasion, two chairs were chucked out of the building, injuring a woman below. Bad press and silly excuses ensued. Another time, word spread that a gang of girls was going to beat up a Mexican girl. There was a huge crush of students who preferred to skip the next class to go see the brawl. The hallway was packed, there was pushing and shoving, causing a stampede. I was caught in it and fell to the ground; kids stepped over me elbowing each other in the crush of bodies. Eventually, a student helped me to my feet. Badly shaken, I was taken to the nurse’s office. My blood pressure was dangerously high; I was encouraged to see a doctor, but declined. My husband came and brought me home.

Shortly thereafter, the teachers union (United Federation of Teachers, or UFT) fought the Department of Education, which had recently loosened the already lax disciplinary rulings. They organized a press conference and asked me to speak at it about the worsening security situation. The principal refused me permission to leave even though my supportive assistant principal found a fellow language teacher to take over my classes. As soon as school was out, though, a union rep implored me to rush downtown with him as the press conference was still going on. Questioned by reporters in front of the cameras, I spoke about the stampede. There was a brief segment on the local evening news.  The principal was furious, and the next morning screamed at me in the lobby that I was a publicity seeker who just wanted to give the school a bad name. However, the UFT was successful in this case, as the former, less inadequate disciplinary measures were restored, and things went back to their usual level of simmering chaos.
Although it was clear that my generally robust mental state was deteriorating, I did not want to quit. The UFT encouraged me to go into counseling; I didn’t see the point but acquiesced and agreed to see one of their social workers for therapy. Her stance seemed to be, “What is a nice girl like you doing in a place like that?” I started to write about the situation to people in authority. The UFT president Randi Weingarten and the DoE head Joel Klein were among the recipients of my letters detailing the problems we faced. I visited my local city councilman, who listened politely. I did not receive a single response.

No reply is no surprise in fact it has only gotten worse since the early Klein years in my opinion when teachers reach out for help. (see any piece on the giveback laden 2005 contract for more information)

For those who want the depressing details on the upcoming UFT election, they are chronicled by Norm Scott over at Ed Notes. Considering stories like Mary Hudson's are most assuredly not unique, working in many New York City public schools is extremely difficult with teachers getting treated poorly by students and administrators and having really no place to turn to for help. Under these conditions, it would be logical to guess that many people would come together to challenge the leadership of the UFT in this spring's election. The truth is there are challengers but no real challenge of any kind. There are three caucuses running in the election against Mulgrew-Unity. They are Solidarity, New Action and MORE. Unfortunately, all are running limited slates so there will be a more bogus UFT election than usual. Even in the high schools, the high school opposition vote will be split so there is virtually no chance of any opposition group winning. Only Lydia Howrilka's Solidarity caucus tried to unite the opposition. I am backing Lydia for president but the election is not something I am looking forward to. Lydia has asked me to run with her but I  think the limited opposition slates are a huge disappointment.

For those interested in the day-to-day nuts and bolts at the UFT, NYC Educator has a report from the February Delegate Assembly. It seems President Michael Mulgrew has made the startling discovery that plenty of money earmarked for education doesn't actually get to the classrooms. 

From the summary of Mulgrew's Report:
NY put more money than any state into schools. Do you see it? Where does it go? Lawyers, consultants, management, executives… becoming more of a problem.

It's becoming more of a problem? Where has the President been?  If there were a  Rip van Winkle award for union presidents, Mulgrew just might win. I'm glad he woke up and realized there is a problem with education funding not finding its way into the schools and the classrooms.

Please note that there were no motions to the agenda and only "mom and apple pie" resolutions that all carried unanimously at the DA. It is hard to fathom a UFT democracy that is even deader than it was in previous years but that's where we appear to be today. There are two possible explanations:

1-NYC teachers have decent pay with good benefits so teachers and other UFT members are basically content with the UFT meaning there is no need to dissent or complain about much of anything with the union.


2-People working in the schools have in large part given up on using the union to improve working conditions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Bob Linn is retiring as the city's Labor Commissioner. He is three for three for the city in wins over the UFT in collective bargaining as the city's chief negotiator working for both Mayor Ed Koch and Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Chief Leader has a lengthy feature on the retiring Commissioner. It is very revealing.

The focus here is going to be on Linn's dealing with the UFT, first for Koch in 1985 and then under de Blasio in 2014.

From The Chief article:

Thirty-four years ago, five months after his bitter disagreement with Mr. Gotbaum (DC 37) over a minor contract detail that he concedes could’ve been resolved without the agita, Mr. Linn cemented his credentials as a smart, resourceful tactician in a bigger battle with the UFT.

For much of the previous decade, the union had allowed the starting salary for Teachers to lag, focusing its contract gains on members higher up on the pay scale while sometimes agreeing to freeze the rate for new instructors. When then-UFT President Al Shanker was accused of structuring his deals to secure the voting support of his senior members, union officials would respond that, whatever political edge he derived from this posture, it also made practical sense given the years of the fiscal crisis and its aftermath in which no new Teachers were being hired.

Teacher Shortage Resulted

Whatever his motivation, by 1985 the city was having serious problems in recruiting and retaining quality Teachers. By early spring, Mr. Shanker withdrew from a civilian bargaining coalition that included DC 37 and Teamsters Local 237 and declared his intention to pursue arbitration if the Koch administration did not do something significant to address the Teacher shortage.

Mr. Linn reacted by swiftly reaching terms first with DC 37 and then with Local 237 that established a pattern he could use in arbitration, rather than risk allowing the UFT to go before a third party and focus the discussions on how far behind his members’ salaries were those paid in neighboring suburbs. While the UFT typically opted for a nonbinding form of arbitration known as fact-finding, in this case it chose a process known as Last Offer Binding Arbitration, under which each side submits demands and a panel chooses between them, without the latitude to split the difference.

Mr. Shanker insisted problems attracting and retaining Teachers touched every step of the pay scale, and therefore hikes significantly exceeding the DC 37 pattern providing 16 percent in raises over three years were warranted. Mr. Linn countered that while a big raise in starting salary was justified and so was doing something extra for Teachers with at least 15 years’ service, those in between should be limited to the DC 37 raises to preserve bargaining stability.

The three arbitrators chose the city’s last offer, boosting starting pay more than 37 percent, from $14,527 to $20,000, within a year and giving those with at least 15 years on the job significantly more longevity pay, along with raises slightly exceeding `17 percent. All other Teachers, however, were limited to the pattern raises, with the arbitrators stating that “we are persuaded that the relationship or linkage between the major municipal unions is an important factor which cannot be ignored or minimized.”

You only had to note the sour look on Mr. Shanker’s face at a UFT press conference following the award, and the absence of Sandy Feldman, who was about to succeed him as the union’s president, to know the New York Times got it wrong in declaring the award to be a victory for the union. It was a high-stakes triumph for Mr. Linn, who afterward touted the virtues of that kind of arbitration, while Ms. Feldman and the labor lawyer who helped prepare the union case, future UFT President Randi Weingarten, never again tried LOBA.

2014 Deal More Satisfying

Yet Mr. Linn expressed greater satisfaction with the deal he reached with the UFT in the spring of 2014 in which, again, major media outlets misread it as a bonanza for the union when in fact its most significant aspect was the return to the bargaining stability that Mr. Bloomberg had disrupted. (One other link to the 1985 UFT contract was that Marty Scheinman, one of the arbitrators who decided against the UFT’s demands, played a key role as a mediator in narrowing the differences between Mr. Linn and UFT President Mike Mulgrew.)

“There are a number of things I’m really proud of,” Mr. Linn said, sitting in his Rector St. office winding down his work as he prepared to turn over the job to his First Deputy, Renee Campion. “The first is, all of the unsettled contracts and health-care [provisions] that had not been modified in any serious way” being worked out barely four months after Mr. de Blasio took office five years ago. “We did it for the most part in contracts that were ratified by large majorities and were generally regarded as responsible settlements in the public’s interest.”

The back-pay obligation, which Mr. de Blasio’s opponent in the mayoral election, Joe Lhota, a former First Deputy for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had predicted could total $10 billion if the UFT got the two 4-percent raises Mr. Bloomberg previously agreed to with nearly 60 percent of his workforce, was finessed without putting real pressure on the city’s finances. The key was Mr. Mulgrew’s willingness, while also accepting raises totaling just 10 percent over the final seven years of a record nine-year contract, to stretch out the back-pay disbursement beyond the contract’s duration.

Traditionally, the first employee paychecks after a contract is ratified are used to implement whichever raises have already taken effect, and the second check is when the back pay shows up. Mr. Mulgrew agreed to defer a large amount of the money—which for senior UFT members approached $55,000 apiece—so that the final 75 percent would be paid in three equal chunks in October 2018, 2019 and 2020.

 Let us repeat the main line on 2014:
The key was Mr. Mulgrew’s willingness, while also accepting raises totaling just 10 percent over the final seven years of a record nine-year contract, to stretch out the back-pay disbursement beyond the contract’s duration.
Double defeat for UFT members. A very low salary increase and the payments for retro that we were owed stretched out way beyond the contract's duration. For how little this is costing the city, we go back to this estimate from the Independent Budget Office that ICEblog printed in 2017.
While IBO does not have an exact cost for how large these retroactive lump sums will be, because they are directly linked to the number of union members who will be employed on the days the payments are scheduled to be made, we can estimate the maximum cost of these lump sums based upon the total PS costs for pedagogical employees in 2009-2011.  Based upon the total PS costs from those years we estimate that the entire lump sum payment would be a maximum of $560 million if every member were to remain employed by the DOE through 10/1/20. 
 This total would translate to a maximum of $70 million paid out in 2017 and $140 million paid out in 2018 – 2020.  These funds, if not already accounted for in DOE’s financial plan, would increase the city-funds portion of DOE’s budget by less than one percent in 2017 and around one percent in each subsequent year.   
 IBO has not made any estimates about what the final cost of this portion of UFT’s collective bargaining agreement would be although we assume, as a result of attrition and other separations, that it will somewhat less than the $560 million.   
 While I can’t say for certain, and I am looking into it further, I do believe that these costs are included in DOE’s financial plan.  As you surmised there likely is no breakdown of PS funding which would allow you to see the budget for regular salary segregated from these lump sums.  

The 2019 contract with its less than stellar raises adds to Linn's winning streak against the UFT. Linn truly saved the taxpayers money that should have gone to us.
When it comes to contract negotiations, I think we can say for sure it was: 
City Bob Linn 3 
UFT Shanker- Feldman-Weingarten 0.
Enjoy that enormous 2% you are getting as the new contract takes effect.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


We have been following the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 strike against Charter Spectrum for almost two years now. The company is attempting to decertify the union and some workers have been forced back to work under not so wonderful terms.

There is a National Labor Relations Board Election taking place this month. Obviously, we urge a yes vote to stay with Local 3.

Here is a part of the letter that was sent to workers from the NYC CableTruth blog.

My favorite part:

Local 3 continues to fight to maintain health benefits for all its members as well as security in retirement. Ask yourself this very simple question - If the union is gone and Charter decreases my wages, benefits, treats me unfairly and disciplines or terminates me - am I better off without a union?

Something all working people should think about.

The answer from some of the workers is to say yes to union and then have the workers take over the company here in NYC. Go to unplug spectrum and support a takeover of NYC cable and internet by workers. Public owned cable and internet is a fascinating idea. I signed and urge you to do the same.