Thursday, December 27, 2007

Do Community Based Organizations Hold the Keys to Small Schools?

Pick up today’s Daily News and you might get the impression that community organizations that sponsor small schools can basically decide whether those schools survive or not. The first article, Bushwick parents and kids celebrate exit of embattled Acorn High principal, Rachel Monahan describes how the ACORN School of Social Justice, with their CBO, ACORN, was able to oust a principal who was blamed for the school’s poor performance and a DOE letter grade of F. The school was obviously saved from closing with a change in leadership despite its poor grade. ACORN was willing to continue to help the school although it is unclear what they were doing to allow the school to take such a precipitous decline.

In another article, Slow death for Brooklyn high school, Carrie Melago, describes how the CBO, East Brooklyn Congregations pulled out of EBC/ENY High School for Public Safety and Law and left the school to be placed on DOE’s death list of closing schools. The school was making some improvements but without CBO support and other political considerations the Chancellor decided to close the school even though the school received a letter grade of D.

While only a mile apart physically, both schools are light years away in how they were treated by the DOE.

Are the differing CBOs the reason? Perhaps. But it is only a part of the story.

CBOs have been making inroads on public schools for many years. Some involvement has been limited and some has been more extensive. What is clear in most situations is the natural tension among the participants. Each stakeholder has its own goals and the political interplay will generally determine how the school functions.

A Case In Point

The Second Opportunity School and Suspension Schools have long operated with CBO involvement. The school for long term suspended students spanned four boroughs and at one point had 6 CBO’s working with its students. While it was never clearly defined collaboration was emphasized. What collaboration meant was the turnover of particular school functions to non-public entities under contracts. The CBOs were responsible for all counseling and group activities yet each CBO took their responsibility differently. What remained the same, however, was the displacement of DOE personnel in school functions, especially in mandated areas.
At the Manhattan high school site the CBO tried to maintain the site despite fierce opposition by the school’s administration. The site suffered from total mismanagement and the fact that the CBO hired well meaning but uncertified personnel did not help. Salaries for some of the CBO staff performing counseling and providing some IEP services were 1/3 of their DOE counterparts. It did not work.

At a meeting toward the end of the year the principal asked the DOE staff whether they wanted CBO involvement and most of the staff could not believe their ears…were they really being consulted on such an issue? Not long thereafter the school was shut down and reorganized. Most of the staff, DOE and CBO, went elsewhere.


At EBC/ENY it was clear that the abandonment of the school by the CBO was one of the reasons that the DOE decided to close it down. What happened?

East Brooklyn Congregations, a CBO whose parent organization the Industrial Areas Foundation was founded by Saul Alinsky, received approval for its new high schools as a way to build community involvement in education in East New York, Brownsville and Bushwick. Ironically they worked with a branch of the Manhattan Institute, the Center for Educational Innovation, a conservative think tank and DOE support organization for 55 schools.

At the time of the school’s founding EBC was involved in housing projects in the community and, as time went on, devoted more of its energies and resources to housing than education.

While EBC involvement with the school was minimal at best it was clear that when the school was placed on the SURR list three years ago it served as an embarrassment to both the organization and its senior education director, Ray Domanico.

Domanico, who became president of the Public Education Association (which later merged with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Educational Innovation) was known for his ultra-conservative views of public education. Appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s “Factor” Domanico stated in response to O’Reilly’s question about why Catholic schools do better than public schools, “We think there's a couple of reasons. The Catholic schools know what they do well, and they stick to that. They have a very focused and basic curriculum. For example, an immigrant student comes into the public school system in New York City and, often, the public school will keep that child in bilingual education for six years, not teaching them in English. In Catholic school, they'll pray with you in Spanish or in your home language, but they are going to teach you English in the first year.” (THE O'REILLY FACTOR, Fox News Network, Friday, May 18, 2001.)

Given his background it was no surprise that he was quoted in Elissa Gootman’s New York Times article that it was the fault of the school’s leadership that the school was being closed. Nothing about EBC’s changing priorities.

There were other factors which led to the school’s demise including the fact that EBC/ENY elected to become an empowerment school as opposed to one of CEI’s schools.

While we can speculate about the school’s closing what is abundantly clear is the need a full assessment about school closings and small schools. We have been calling for this for a long time…is it ever coming?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Randi: 14 Schools Closing is a UFT Victory

December 12 Delegate Assembly Report

by James Eterno UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

In over a decade as a Chapter Leader and Delegate and in ten years on the UFT Executive Board, I learned one indisputable fact: the UFT never loses no matter how bad conditions are in the schools or how many rights are given up in a Contract settlement. The UFT according to its leaders, has the same undefeated record as the Harlem Globetrotters or Perry Mason.

This unbeaten streak continued at the December 12, 2007 UFT Delegate Assembly. President Randi Weingarten reported that 14 schools were going to be closed. She admitted that 14 schools closing was 14 too many. However, instead of condemning Chancellor Joel Klein's decision to close any schools since the UFT has a policy that the Department of Education should refrain from closing schools until we can have a study done assessing the impact of school closings, Randi went in full spin mode implying that 14 schools closings is another UFT victory because Klein threatened 150 schools that received D or F report card grades but because of UFT pressure, only 14 were closed.

The UFT threatened a lawsuit because schools have to be closed using Federal and State guidelines. Therefore if we went to court, in the discovery process the UFT would've received information on the criteria on how schools are rated. With that "intense" Union pressure on him, Klein backed down and pulled a bunch of schools off of the list of schools to be closed. Randi wouldn't tell us which schools the UFT saved.

We need to talk about the status of the members in the over 100 schools that received F or D report card grades and were not closed Are UFT members in these schools going to be pushing to defend their union rights with the sword of a possible closing hanging over their heads? Why is the UFT not commissioning that study to assess the effectiveness of school closings on impacted schools and on neighboring schools? We didn't hear anything about this at the DA.

As for the members from the schools that are closing who will become Absent Teacher Reserves (full time teachers with full pay and benefits but no regular class), Randi said that the UFT is negotiating so that people who want to be placed will get a position.

In case you've been blinded by the spin here is the condensed version: 14 schools are being closed and over 100 others are being threatened with closing; the ranks of ATR's proliferate but it's a UFT win.

In other news from the DA, Randi reported that there may not be a special session of the State Legislature this month so 25-55 retirement plan might have to wait until early next year. She added that this isn't so bad either since if the bill passes later, then members have to pay less in contributions. She also told us that the war over whether to reduce class sizes has been won at the state level because of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit. The question now is whether the reduced class sizes will be an average of 20 for grades K-3 and 23 from grades 4-12 or will there be caps at these numbers in the next four years? She talked about the court cases on the letters for file as well (see the previous article for more on this issue).

Randi was away at a rally when the meeting started so she was not there when a number of resolutions were passed. These included the UFT examining the Unsatisfactory rating appeal process, actions to protest Klein's "gotcha squad" of lawyers who are going after tenured teachers; support for the environment; and support for transgender people.

Finally, a motion to have a UFT strike in sympathy for Local 32BJ was defeated.

All things considered, just another run of the mill great month for our Union. Hope all is well in your school too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


In a series of decisions by several different Justices in New York Supreme Court four teachers have gained what our Union gave up; the right to have negative letters removed from our files. As we all may recall our Union leadership saw fit to give up our precious right to grieve letters in the file as well as a step in our grievance procedure in our sellout contract a few years back. We have seen a precipitous increase in letters to the file, U-rated observations and U-ratings. This was no coincidence.

What our leadership gave away, however, might be partially saved if you decide to file a lawsuit. Joyce Sticco and three other teachers at P.S. 345 in Brooklyn did just that…and won.

The facts of Sticco v. BOE, Supreme Court, New York County, Index 105477/2007, decided 11/28/07 are, unfortunately, all too familiar. In April 2006 Sticco was questioned by investigators from the Special Commissioner of Investigations’ office (Condon’s office) about allegations of inappropriate touching of female students by a fellow teacher, Gregory Michaelides. In his report Condon found that Michaelides had engaged in the conduct and that Sticco and three other teachers either witnessed or gave inconsistent or inappropriate statements about Michaelides’ alleged misconduct. Condon recommended that Michaelides be terminated and that Sticco and the other teachers receive “appropriate disciplinary action.”

The appropriate disciplinary action was a letter to each teachers’ file indicating that they had “show[ed] a willful disregard for the welfare of children” when they failed to report Michaelides’ misconduct. With no way to contest the finding or the letter the teachers started a proceeding in Supreme Court.

The Courts found that the teachers’ due process rights were violated. Under New York State Education Law tenured teachers are entitled to hearings whenever the DOE contemplates disciplinary action. This law, Section 3020-a has certain procedural safeguards to make certain teachers don’t get the treatment that the principal of P.S. 345 gave to Sticco and her colleagues. Disciplinary letters to the file which come after a principal’s conference and without due process protection must be expunged.

The Court found that there are two types of letters to the file; those that are disciplinary and those that are critical administrative evaluations. Ever since 1981 in the Matter of Holt the Court of Appeals has held that this distinction is critical in the determination of letters which violated teacher due process and those that did not. For the last 26 years the “Holt letter,” (ironically the principal in Sticco is named Wanda Holt but, it is believed, she has no relation to Jon Holt the disciplined teacher in 1981) as it became known allowed school administrators to place letters in teachers’ files that were evaluations. Thus observations and “instructive” letters were ok without a full hearing. However, letters which were disciplinary in nature must be taken out of teachers’ files.

At the Delegate Assembly last Wednesday Randi announced the Sticco victories but was less than enthusiastic about its implications or application to other teachers. At the Executive Board meeting last Monday a form entitled “Disciplinary Letters in the File” was distributed which recounted the 4 court cases and gave some guidance as to whether a letter was “disciplinary” and thus available to be removed by Court intervention. While the form indicates a procedure to evaluate whether particular letters are disciplinary, the form does not indicate where the letter should be sent for evaluation and possible Court action.

What’s going on? School administrators have been placing disciplinary letters in teachers’ files for years. Don’t you think our Union should at least try to make up for giving away our grievance rights with aggressively fighting these letters in Court and telling us how to do it?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

The Department of Education announced the closing of six schools on Tuesday and threatened that others will be closed later this month. The UFT's response was incredibly weak asking only that "everyone affected is treated with care, dignity and respect." The UFT added, "that staff members who choose to stay on during the phase-out years should have opportunities to work in other schools." Hundreds of more UFT members are about to be displaced from their schools and that's all the UFT has to say?

There is nothing in the UFT's statement even criticizing the DOE for continuing to close schools, even though the Union has passed resolutions saying that the DOE should refrain from closing schools until we can have an independent study done assessing its educational value.

The UFT's statement is more evidence that what the UFT leadership does at Delegate Assembly Meetings and at rallies is mere show for the members but when it comes right down to it, the Union does not oppose the wholesale closing of schools and displacement of even more teachers and other UFT members into Absent Teacher Reserves status (day-to-day substitute teachers with full pay and benefits but no regular class).

Where's the outrage from the Union leadership? We thought the Union opposed this policy. You wouldn't know it by their lame reaction.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Issues and Proposals in the GED-Plus Chapter Elections

By Marjorie Stamberg, GED-Plus Teacher, Manhattan Hub

Underlying the current election for chapter officers in GED-Plus are some important issues of broader significance. A crisis was opened by the “reorganization” of District 79, announced last May, in which more than 300 teaching positions were eliminated. The fact that hundreds of teachers were then thrown into Absent Teacher Reserve, instead of having the right to transfer to other positions, is a direct result of the union leadership’s giving up of seniority transfers in the 2005 contract.

Now in 2007, the union has agreed to introduce “merit pay.” Whether it’s called “school-wide bonus pay,” as UFT president Randi Weingarten prefers to call it, or “performance pay” as Mayor Bloomberg prefers, it sacrifices a fundamental union principle—equal pay for equal work.. This is a union-busting measure, for it will set one teacher, or one group of teachers, against another, competing for management’s favor. It’s also very bad for the students, particularly those in under-financed and minority neighborhoods, and where second-language and Special Ed students are struggling for an education. Do the math—basic economics dictates there will be pressure on teachers to drift to higher-performing schools if the pay is higher.

A third major element is the slashing of budgets for alternative education, whether for high school “drop-outs” (or more accurately, “force-outs”), adult education or other programs. In the fall of 2005, the DOE cut $5 million from the $30 million adult ed budget in NYC. In 2005-06, they cut $6 million and $8 million from the evening high school and GED programs. In 2004, Auxiliary Services for High Schools (ASHS) had 50 sites around the city. In 2005, this was cut to 19 centers; in 2006, it was cut back to 6 centers, and all nighttime programs were eliminated. And now the whole of D79 has been “reorganized”, slashing roughly 40 percent of the teaching personnel, while illogically claiming they were improving educational offerings. This has occurred while the overall budget of the DOE has gone up by 50 percent.

These three elements—elimination of seniority, introduction of pay tied to test scores, and the systematic elimination of alternative education programs are not isolated events. They are components of a master plan for “reforming” the public school system by corporatizing and partially privatizing the system. “I am a capitalist and I am in favor of incentives for individual people,” Mayor Bloomberg remarked at a press conference introducing the “bonus pay.” But kids aren’t widgets, and schools are not production lines, churning out “products.” Yet this is the agenda of Bloomberg, the Chancellor, the U.S. Department of Education and those who are dictating the lines of educational “reform” today.

A key part of this program is the replacement of public schools by “charter schools.” This is being pushed by Democratic Party governor Elliot Spitzer as well as Republican President Bush and is clearly aimed at busting teachers unions. Teachers are being made scapegoats for the problems of an educational system that has systematically under-funded and re-segregated inner city schools. The London Economist (November 10) just ran a special article praising New York City school reform in which it reported: “On November 5th, the Mayor and his Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, announced what is in effect the final piece in their grand plan to charterise the entire city school system.”

That “final piece” is the school “report card,” which will be used to close down scores of public schools. And where are the students to go? Charter schools or vouchers for private schools. Can they do this to an entire city school system? They already have—in New Orleans. As part of the “ethnic cleansing” following the Hurricane Katrina man-made social disaster, the schools were closed down and replaced by union-free charter schools. There are 5 regular public schools left, compared to 40 charter schools and 34 “recovery schools” run by the state! The NCEE’s “New Commission on the State of the American Workforce (of which Joel Klein is a member) wants to cut back the public schools to a core, cap them at the 10th grade (!!). The rest would be jobbed out to private contractors.

A briefing paper on the restructuring of the DOE’s alternative high school programs prepared by the Committee on Education of the New York City Council (November 14, 2007) ominously stated, “It may be the case that DOE intends to phase out D79 altogether.”

So if you think your job may be in jeopardy, you’re right. The entire UFT is as risk. Yet, rather than fighting against this threat head-on, the Weingarten leadership has made concession after concession, give back after give back, so that it has become an enabler for dismantling the public schools.

We need to see the big picture, and understand what we’re up against. The whole restructuring gimmick is a standard corporate take-over tactic in “leveraged buy-outs”: shut down the company, then re-open it as a new “entity”, while having canceled all the union contracts, and laid off half the staff.

I have emphasized that the present election for Chapter Leader is an opportunity for us to pull together as educators (teachers, paras, and staff) against the onslaught from the Department of Education we have faced over the past six months and continue to confront. My main opponent, Michael Friedman, has been running on a one-point program: “experience.” The problem is, his experience did not lead him to play any role whatsoever in fighting against the elimination of hundreds of positions in the chaotic “reorganization” of District 79.

Instead, Mr. Friedman has waged a vindictive personal attack on me, releasing a stream of frantic e-mails in which he accuses me of being “ignorant,” “angry,” “negative”, a “demagogue,” someone who “rants” and “raves.” (Where have we heard that before?) He wrote: “Her platform is anger and negativism…” “Do we want to be represented by someone so negative and angry…” “a one note, negative campaign; a call to just say no.” “Ms. Stamberg, like so many demagogues who want to rant…” “angry people who rant and rave…” Ask yourselves, who is ranting and raving here?

After some longtime D79 teachers (including a former chapter leader) wrote to him to cut out the abusive personal attacks, Mr. Friedman has fallen silent. But in the course of his rants he deliberately distorts my position, as well as getting his facts wrong. He writes: “Ms. Stambergs repeats the oft quoted comment that the ‘Union gave up seniority’ and then tries to attach it to what happened in the 18D process. Neither is true.” What he is doing here, in order to confuse the question, is conflating two different criticisms I made of the UFT leadership. It’s called creating a straw man in order to knock it down.

Concerning seniority, what I wrote in my statement was “In 2005, the union ‘traded’ seniority—a fundamental union protection-for a wage increase.” And at the candidates forum, I said that we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today with hundreds of teachers thrown into ATR status, except for the fact that the union leadership gave up seniority transfers (and SBO hiring) in the 2005 contract. That ‘s an indisputable fact.

When a school was reorganized, if teachers were not rehired at the replacement school, they would have the right to be hired anywhere in the city, to any position for which they were licensed, according to seniority. Now they get thrown into the limbo of ATR land as “substitutes.”

This not only affects educators in D79. I used to be a mentor, and the entire mentor staff was ATRed, numbering more than 300 citywide, including some of the most experienced teachers in the system. How many of our members are in ATR status? We haven’t been able to get a straight answer. At one point it was said to be 1,000 or more. Meanwhile, the DOE hired between 5,000 and 6,000 new teachers, and now they’re saying they will use the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Funds to hire 6,000 more—while some of the best teachers in the system are still ATRd!

Mr. Friedman defends the elimination of seniority transfers by arguing that “more senior teachers succeeded in getting transfers under the Open Market Plan last year than in any given year where the Seniority Transfer ran.” Again, do the math. Because so many more teachers are being excessed than ever before, it stands to reason there are more “open market” transfers! This is a pseudo-statistical flimflam.
So if you are in ATR status, without an appointment, it is because of the giveback contract that Mr. Friedman defends, and that I voted against.

On the 18-D staffing provisions of our contract: At two heated union meetings in June, members demanded that all positions in the restructured school be filled by D79 teachers. Our union bargained hard for this and won this important concession, but with one proviso: the teachers had to be deemed “qualified” in interviews conducted under the 18D clause. That turned out to be a trap.

And here is where we needed to just say NO. Over the summer, as interviews were being conducted, it turned out that many colleagues who had never gotten a “U” rating in their careers, including some of the most talented and qualified educators – math teachers, teachers with PhDs – were been deemed “unsatisfactory.” We began to get reports of this in mid August. As soon as it became apparent there was a hatchet job going on, the UFT should have put its foot down and stopped the whole process.

There are various ways to do this. Union leaders could have taken a couple of egregious cases and announced they were grieving them on the spot. They could have insisted that in view of the chaos – where teachers were not notified, the criteria for selection were not properly communicated to them, some “interviews” consisted of a few minutes on the phone – all interviews had to be stopped. They could have gone to the press, TV and city council to publicize the fact that the DOE has carrying out a massacre of experienced teachers. We, the members, did this, my opponent didn’t.

So now with the election for Chapter Leader under way, we have to prepare for the coming months. Particularly in this giant local, with hundreds of teachers, paras, social workers and staff located in six hubs and 80 “spokes” spread over all five boroughs, the key is active involvement of the membership. We should set our key priorities in a chapter meeting at the very beginning of the new year, for which the preparation must begin now. Here are some proposals:

· For ATRed teachers, I have actively supported their demand for a functional chapter to discuss issues they face. We must also insist they have all rights within the school where they are placed.

· We need monthly chapter meetings to keep our far-flung unit informed and involved. These meetings should rotate between the different hubs, making it easier for all the teachers in the borough to attend.

· At the hubs, the site representative should be assisted by site committees that get together frequently. These committees should meet periodically with the AP to work out local problems as they arise. These committees should coordinate with UFT chapters in other schools at their sites.

· For the smaller CBO sites, a committee should be formed to discuss particular problems that arise and keep members at nearby locations in touch with each other.

· Although the DOE claimed it had set up an “easy-to-navigate referral system for students who have fallen behind in traditional high schools,” in fact they lost touch with many contacts. An outreach committee should discuss ways of reaching more at-risk youth and bringing them into the program.

· A committee should be formed to seek to restore enrichment programs that have been canceled and to raise proposals for curriculum improvement. This will be crucial if there is in fact a drive to shut down D79. If the DOE doesn’t have a program for educating at risk students, we do!

· A special effort must be made at the beginning of the year to ensure that each site is adequately supplied with materials and books.

· Concrete proposals should be formulated in collaboration with the school administration to respond to the lack of computers, libraries and science labs facilities. Sometimes this may involve sharing with other schools at the same location.

· A chapter-wide safety committee should be formed to deal with issues such as lack of medical personnel, chalk board dust (replace blackboards with whiteboards), etc.

· Some hubs have excruciating problems such as lack of hot lunches for the students and lack of phones which should be immediately resolved.

These are only some ideas. Let’s hear yours.