By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The UFT Delegate Assembly passed yet another resolution, the fourth since 2005, asking the Department of Education to stop closing schools until someone can show evidence that small schools substantially enhance student achievement. What makes anyone think that the DOE is going to listen to us this time around when they didn’t listen the last three times? Einstein knew his stuff.
If the DOE doesn’t hear us this time, the resolution calls for some kind of actions. Haven’t UFT members, parents, students and activists in many schools already protested, gone to court, and worked with politicians to stop their schools from closing? Have we succeeded and kept most of the schools open? The answer is no. We need some real trade union action to show our schools are viable and we’ve had enough of being bashed.
I proposed the following amendment to the latest please don’t close schools resolution: “Resolved, that the UFT boycott all Article 18D hiring committees in any new school placed in any closing, phasing out, phasing down, underutilized or existing school unless the UFT Chapter and Principal are agreeable to the new school.” If the UFT boycotted the hiring committees when a school community agreed that the new school did not belong in a particular building, then the closing of schools might be slowed down. The leverage we could amass would be considerable.
The UFT could publish in the NY Teacher a list of schools being boycotted and tell the parents and the press that we don’t approve of students enrolling at a school where the teachers have not been screened by qualified teachers, or how an existing school has students who are being deprived of resources because of a new school stealing their space. There is obviously a risk that the anti union forces would urge parents and teachers to go to new schools where the UFT advised people to boycott, but a real trade union could win this boycott if it were done properly.
It needs to be pointed out that the DOE reported that there are over 600 buildings that now house more than one school. Does anyone have any idea how much money is being spent on all of those extra administrators? Those funds could go to the kids. Also, the damage done to students when they have closed so many comprehensive schools needs to be fully assessed and exposed.
The UFT reacted to my proposal with Randi, Tom Dromgoole (the Manhattan High School District Representative) and Leo Casey (HSVP) saying that I want to deprive our members of their rights. They basically wrote off the idea of a real trade union action (a boycott) as if it was absolutely foreign to them and the amendment received only a few votes.
Instead, we are passing the same resolution for a fourth time and expecting different results. Einstein’s definition of insanity applied to the 2008 UFT.
*Please note that I have nothing against small schools. My wife has worked successfully in two of them. I have a problem when schools are involuntarily imposed on other school communities and the new schools compromise the mission of the original school. I also oppose it when viable schools are deemed as failing and are closed/reorganized. Schools are dealing with social issues that are way beyond their control. Subsequently, the educational “quick fixers” with their empty promises enter and in many cases nothing really changes and many people suffer, including students.*
REPORT ON THE REST OF THE DA
Our well read blog pieces have led to something as at least there was a full question period and half a new motion period at the April 16 Delegate Assembly meeting. Maybe we should view this as progress. However, in order to take away time from the motion period and make sure that the resolution opposing privatization of healthcare never made it to the floor, Vice President Michael Mulgrew used time in the new motion period to ask for a change in the agenda to bring up a resolution on fighting the budget cuts from the city. This easily passed but with only ten minutes for new motions, this particular resolution took up over half of the time. When we were on the Executive Board, Randi would sometimes tell us we have a chance to raise issues at the Executive Board so we should let others speak at the DA. As Mulgrew is on the Executive Board, the same rules should apply to him.
My understanding is that the resolution on fighting the city budget cuts was passed by the Executive Board on Monday so it could have easily been added to an amended agenda and not taken up half of the new motion period. In the past, many Executive Board actions were two days later added to an amended DA agenda.
Another resolution sponsored by Megan Behrant, a delegate from FDR High School, in support of a group of workers in North Carolina fired for union activities was raised and received overwhelming support so it was added to the May agenda. There was not time left for any other new motions.
To our loyal Unity readers: we would like a floor vote on the privatization of health care. We should at least be able to raise the resolution.
In Randi’s report, she said that she would be running for the AFT Presidency but that she would not take double salaries for doing both the AFT and UFT jobs. In addition, Randi spoke about how well we did with the state budget. She also claimed a big victory because tenure decisions cannot be based on changes in student test scores but the issue will be revisited in two years. These are both victories and we congratulate the UFT on the work they did in Albany but we shouldn’t be popping open any champagne corks on the tenure or budget issues.
Newsday reported recently that the Long Island school districts didn’t really want tenure being awarded based on student test scores. They would rather make these decisions based on whether or not a teacher is willing to devote extra time to the job to coach. (Now that’s not exactly a valid measure on the quality of a teacher either.)
Randi also said that an age discrimination case was filed by Absent Teacher Reserves in State Court because 81% of ATRs are over 40 while only 56.5% of the teaching force is over 40. She then reported on the Holy Thursday court case where Chancellor Klein told principals to change the religious observance rules the day before Holy Thursday and some principals were denying people a religious observance day.
A video from Tom Chapin was then played called “Not on the Test.” It was a song about excessive testing in schools. Randi then stated that there is State Education Department proof that the comprehensive high schools take a disproportionate amount of kids with special needs. (Why is it then that the UFT is sitting on hiring committees for new schools when comprehensive schools are closed?). She also reported on PCBs and said that the Union was taking a better safe than sorry approach to the problem.
Finally, she saluted members for their activism including the people who went to protest at the Julia Richman complex which is slated to be closed. She also praised the school psychologists who made their case at the panel for Education Policy meeting on Monday, and yes, Jamaica High School where 89 of us went to Monday’s PEP meeting to advocate for our school. In addition, she recognized the secretary’s chapter for their courage in winning a grievance so that school aides and others will no longer be allowed to do secretarial work. Grievance Director Howard Solomon said that since the arbitrator retained jurisdiction, members should report violations to Chapter Leader Jackie Ervolina who will get them to the arbitrator.
In the special orders of business section, resolutions were passed to mobilize in support of tenure and a resolution in support of technical and career education was also passed.
It is interesting to note that the Unity literature at the DA criticized ICE for not being involved in any recent UFT actions. Truth is we were involved in all of them except for the one protest which was occurring at the same time as the Jamaica High School action. The Unity leaflet also prominently quotes former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige saluting Randi. That’s the same Rod Paige who equated the National Education Association with a terrorist organization.