Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Executive Board Report



UFT district representatives provide direct services to chapter leaders and members within a particular school district. The Unity dominated UFT Executive Board after a spirited debate on Monday voted to continue the corporate style top-down system where President Randi Weingarten appoints district representatives while a newly created committee will study the issue of whether it's better for the Union to have elections for DR positions or to continue the present undemocratic hiring system.

The corporate style presidential appointment system has been in effect since 2003 when Unity used the excuse that the Board of Education was restructuring to cancel DR elections and allow Randi to appoint people to vacant DR positions. We know of no non-Unity member who has been selected by Randi for a District Rep position or any other full time Union job for pedagogues for that matter. Their message is clear that if one is not willing to sign the Unity loyalty pledge, forget about working full time for the UFT.

ICE strongly endorses elections for district representatives. Between 1969 and 2003, DR's were elected on a weighted vote of chapter leaders within a district; the more members a chapter had, the more votes the chapter leader had in the DR election. While this system was not perfect, it functioned well enough so that the accountability for DR's was to the chapter leaders who the district representatives serviced directly, not to Randi. The problem for Unity was that two non Unity chapter leaders were elected to district representative positions: Bruce Markens and then Tom Dromgoole when Bruce retired. Even though the overwhelming majority of the DR's were Unity, two non Unity DR's were too many so Unity used the excuse of the Board restructuring to cancel DR elections in 2003. (Districts still exist by state law.)

Unity sun-setted the 2003 district representative resolution every year and so they had to annually renew it. They overlooked that detail this past June and were caught off guard when Jeff Kaufman from ICE raised the issue on September 11 and told the Executive Board that the President was making illegal appointments since the end of June. Kaufman called for immediate DR elections. Two weeks later Unity had a new District Representative resolution that will continue the top-down presidential appointment process until a committee that is formed by the resolution decides how to hire future DR's or what to replace them with. ICE-TJC Executive Board members were outraged. ICE doesn't want a committee; we need elections.

The ICE-TJC reps on the Executive Board all gave passionate speeches opposing the policy of Randi appointing DR's. James Eterno, Jeff Kaufman and Arthur Colon each spoke about how flawed the current DR hiring process is. Our reps pointed out how the UFT uses a committee to recommend candidates for a district rep vacancy to the president who makes the selection. It is similar to the C-30 process that the Board of Ed utilizes to hire school principals and assistant principals that the UFT constantly criticizes. The UFT in the past created two committees to advocate for reforms to the C-30 system. One of those UFT committees recommended that the Board or Ed allow staff in a school to elect their supervisors. Ironically, the UFT when hiring DR's now emulates the Board's hiring procedures that we called unfair.
In fact, the UFT goes one step further than the Board of Ed because the Board at least allows each constituency on a C-30 hiring committee (UFT, CSA, DC37, parents, students) to choose their own representatives. The UFT committees that submit names to Randi for DR jobs are hand picked by Unity. In addition, it was pointed out in debate that the UFT made a similar power grab back in 1994 after it lost a high school vice presidency to the opposition a few years earlier. Unity then changed the rules to allow at large voting so all UFT members, including retirees and non high school personnel, now vote for the HS VP, instead of only members working in the high schools. Finally out of complete frustration, one of the ICE reps asked Unity why they are so afraid of elections?

Unity argued that things must settle down before the committee created to examine this issue could decide how DR's should be selected. This is the same argument Rudy Giulliani made when he unsuccessfully tried to postpone the 2001 Mayoral election after 9-11. A Unity member even said that he works well with the two non-Unity DR's. (Those two were elected under the old system and would never have been selected under the current arrangement.)

Randi left the chair to debate from the floor and argued that the issue was about servicing the members and how best to do it. She urged opposition members not to boycott the committee that will decide on the selection process in the future. She then tried to resume chairing the debate but was forced to sit down when ICE protested that she cannot participate in debate and then moderate the same debate. Finally, a vote was taken and the overwhelming Unity majority obeyed their loyalty oath and voted to allow the President to continue to appoint DR's, instead of reverting to elections. The ICE-TJC members all dissented.

The only way this decision can be overruled is if the Delegate Assembly uses its power and decides to review the issue. We would like to hear from any delegate who advocates for Union democracy as this is a core issue that separates Unity from ICE.

On a positive note, the Executive Board on Monday voted unanimously to donate $50,000 to the Transport Workers Union Local 100. TWU is suffering under the draconian fines that were imposed after last year's transit strike.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

UFT Leadership Blinks: Still Refuses, However, to Admit Appointment of DRs Is Illegal

As reported here last week Randi could offer no explanation as to why selection of District Representatives was still being made even though the temporary resolution authorizing it expired last June. In the agenda for Monday's Executive Board meeting Randi and her leadership committee approved a resolution calling for the continuation of this illegal practice and the formation of a "bipartisan" committee to study the matter. They have no reason; no emergency; no strategy to explain why selection must continue. Rather they have to form a committee to dream up an excuse.

Study what? Whether democracy is better than autocratic rule?

The selection process for Queens High Schools District Representative is a prime example of how the appointment process passes over clearly competent candidates over a less qualifed applicant who is of course a member of the Unity Caucus. Just like the C-30 process the Union has fought to expose as a sham the DR selection process takes this bogus process one step further; there is no right for non-Unity members to take part in the process or be involved in the final decision making. Thus the "qualification" for DR becomes a competition for who is most loyal to their Unity pledge. And this is democracy?

If it weren't for Federal Law they would try to appoint all of the officers.

I am embarrassed to be part of an organization that touts democracy in other Unions and countries but shuts the door on a process that would make DRs accountable to the Chapter Leaders they serve and become more democratic.

I guess it's not hard to figure out why they want to restart the selection process.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rikers Whistleblower Wins Small Victory in Case to Return Him to His School

What was supposed to be the first day of trial for Jeff Kaufman, Chapter Leader of Island Academy @ Rikers Island, in his bid to get his job back, became, instead, a small victory as the presiding judge ordered DOE to turn over essential documents for the case.

As you may recall Kaufman was removed from Rikers Island for allegedly engaging in “undue familiarity” as a pretext for his staunch union and organizing activities. The principal concluded that he had to be removed to protect the safety of the staff and inmates when Kaufman exposed how the school refused to provide credit for classes and other improprieties.

Kaufman requested that subpoenas be issued compelling the DOE and the DOC to produce documents which conclusively demonstrate that the principal and warden conspired to remove Kaufman from his teaching post and Chapter Leader position. The City submitted an aggressive opposition to the request which also called for the testimony of the Warden and other DOC officials as well as the Superintendent of the Alternative High School District.

Despite the opposition, all of the subpoenas were signed. The City’s delay in producing the documents has caused a delay in the trial. The next scheduled date has not been set.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Executive Board Report: 09-11-06

Randi to Executive Board “I Don’t Have To Answer Your Stinkin’ Questions About District Rep Elections.”

In a stunning show of arrogance, UFT President Weingarten refused to answer a simple question about why District Reps are still appointed rather than elected when there is no longer any legal authority for it.

A little background. Back in 2004 when the DOE reorganized the Districts into regions the UFT leadership used this as an excuse to end the practice of elections for District Reps. The resolution which passed was billed as “temporary measure” and expired at the end of the school year in June 2005.

The following year the UFT leadership still believed that elections were undemocratic and insisted on continuing the practice of appointing District Reps although there was no plausible reason to do so. A “temporary resolution” was repeated with the expiration date at the end of school in June 2006.

No resolutions were made and we thought it reverted back to elections.


Randi was asked a simple question tonight as to why appointments were continuing without authorization. A call to revoke the illegal appointments was made (Several DRs were appointed over the summer including Queens HS and several Districts). Randi blasted back with a question as to why we didn’t object last June when the Queens District Rep position was being interviewed. Easy…it was legal then. It isn’t now.

Randi, play by the rules…even those that are stacked up in your favor!

The bottom line is that appointment of DRs is clearly undemocratic and violative of the fair and equitable treatment of our members.

In other Executive Board antics that would make a spin doctor dizzy it was announced that our wonderful contract has yielded an unprecedented number of transfers and U-ratings are about the same as last year. Knowing that a principal has unbridled power to make staff life intolerable under our “wonderful contract” demonstrates that these unverified statistics do not mesh with our experience. Spin on guys but eventually you will be tossed off.

Randi made some more promises to teachers in the rubber room. What they need is proper representation not promises. Hire investigators and paralegals to help investigate the circumstances of the charges. Randi made a statement that she was concerned that there were those in the rubber room who didn’t want their cases investigated. Ridiculous.

You think it is better to be left in the dark?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Jamaica Chapter News

September 6, 2005



The school year started off with tremendous energy as an incensed group of well over fifty teachers charged from our meeting in the library to the Principal’s office to conclude the meeting there. We were outraged because the new Contract guaranteed that part of the time in the two days before Labor Day was to be spent setting up our classrooms. However, on Friday the administration scheduled an all day “professional development” session.

Most members agreed that the development was a waste of time and taxpayer money but also teachers were irate because we weren’t given any time to plan for Tuesday’s opening. We needed to set up for the arrival of the students but were denied. Several phone calls were made to union officials demanding that we be given our contractually mandated time and a grievance was filed on behalf of the Chapter. The Principal claimed he did not know about the new provision until after he arranged the professional development but he said it would not happen again. At our chapter meeting, we discussed the issue and we were not happy with the compromises that were proposed so we voted unanimously to continue the meeting in the principal’s office.

Many UFT members told the principal about the need to set up classrooms, prepare labs, obtain materials for Tuesday and do other tasks. We needed the time. The Principal and the union eventually agreed to cut an hour off the professional development Friday to allow us some time to prepare for Tuesday. However, we did not feel this was sufficient so it was also agreed that teachers would not be held accountable by any administrators for the conditions of their classrooms during the first week of school.

While a teacher rebellion was needed to obtain what was our Contractual right, the Contract only talks about part of the day being used for classroom preparation; the exact length of time is left undefined. The money for the “professional development” was already paid for so when we decided to fight for our time, we basically received as much as we could obtain that afternoon. What we did on Friday was a success and proved once again that if we work as a group there is much that we can accomplish for our students and ourselves. For everyone who crowded into the Principal’s office on Friday I say a huge Thank You!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Joel Klein Meets the Press

by Norman Scott

In what was billed as a round-table discussion with the NYC education press corps on Friday Sept. 1, NYC schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended many of his policies that have come under recent attack. Particular attention has been focused on the high number of no-bid contracts, the most prominent of which has been the $17 million given to the consultant firm of Alvarez and Marsal, better known as corporate turn-around specialists than for expertise in the field of education.

A&M has come under scrutiny for their management of the schools in St. Louis which led to drastic cuts that included the closing of 16 schools, cut staff and charges the corporate management turn-around mentality had taken a school system in severe trouble and made it worse. A&M was also hired to manage the schools in New Orleans not long before Hurricane Katrina struck. While it is hard to judge their performance given the conditions, their main focus seems to have been on creating a privatized school system.

Klein defended the contract, which pays up to $1.7 million in salary to some individuals involved in what is claimed will lead to savings of $200 million. He said $87 million had already been saved leading to the hiring of 275 additional teachers.

There are reports that up to 500 teachers remain unassigned in addition to between a reported 1000-1500 experienced excessed teachers from schools that have closed who Klein said will be used as a reserve substitute corps. Klein defended his decision not to assign these teachers to understaffed schools because he wants to affirm the right of principals to choose their own people. This decision will cost around $5 million.

Questions were raised about the expense of the 44 unassigned Assistant Principals, who Klein said he would be forced to carry because of the contract with the Supervisors’ Union (CSA), whose head Jill Levy, has been extremely critical of Klein, claiming he denigrated the unassigned AP’s by hinting they could not get jobs because “no one wanted them.” Some have threatened a lawsuit.

Klein was asked about the expense of the Teaching Fellows and Teach For America programs where a high rate of teachers choose not to remain in the system after only a few years. He said retention rates were going up. He seemed to negate the experience factor in teacher quality when he said even if teachers do leave after 3 years the system benefited from having such high quality teachers for even a short time, pointing out that this is better than having some 20-year teachers who do not function effectively. He did not address charges from some experienced teachers that they have been systematically discriminated against, with some schools openly advertising positions would only be open to first year teachers and openly stating “They must not be a transfer from another NYC public school.” Some have surmised that the move to newer teachers is merely a cost-cutting device.

In addressing issues of the DOE having to pay numbers of teachers languishing in rubber rooms around the city, Klein said this was a matter of future contract negotiations.

He attributed many of the gains of his administration to the success of his negotiations with the UFT, which has allowed him flexibility in the placement of teachers without having to deal with seniority questions. He also praised provisions that have allowed him to pay certain teachers more based on the DOE’s needs through the creation of housing allowances and Lead teachers. He praised the UFT for its willingness to negotiate on many of the items he deems most important and expressed hope for cooperation in future contracts.