Saturday, November 15, 2008

The UFT and Green Dot Schools: Pragmatic Unionism or Trojan Horse?

By Michael Fiorillo, Chapter Leader, Newcomers High School

The September issue of the New York Teacher hailed the opening of the Green Dot Charter School in the Bronx. Expanding from its origins in Los Angeles, Green Dot has come to the city with great fanfare: it has received praise in the mainstream press in California and elsewhere, and the blessing of UFT and AFT President Randi Weingarten. In 2007, Weingarten sidestepped the AFT affiliate union in Los Angeles, which had been feuding with Green Dot, to meet with its founder and CEO Steve Barr. At that time, Weingarten announced an agreement with Barr to sponsor and bring a Green Dot charter school to New York City, despite the Los Angeles local’s charge that Green Dot had been poaching resources from the LA school system and privatizing public high schools.

Randi has claimed that Green Dot is a special case among charter schools, that, rather than avoid unionization, it seeks to create partnerships with teacher unions. It can be a compelling argument, since most trade unionists would agree that having a union is preferable to being unorganized, and since the overwhelming majority of charter schools are agressively anti-union. The UFT leadership has additionally argued that the Green Dot contract in effect in Los Angeles contains features that are superior to those we currently have. But is this really the case? Is the UFT’s cozying-up to Green Dot an example of a creative and far-sighted strategy, or is it going to permit a corporate Trojan Horse into the New York City public schools, weakening the contract we work under, splitting the work force, and furthering the privatization of public education?

In September after the NY Teacher article appeared I called Academic High School Vice President Leo Casey and asked him to send me a copy of the contract between the UFT and Green Dot. To my surprise he told me that no contract had been negotiated yet, and that teachers in the Bronx school were working under the terms of the LA contract between Green Dot and their house union, The Asociasacion de Maestros Unidos. While I found this rather odd, since the partnership between the UFT and Green Dot had been announced months before, I said nothing and proceeded to obtain a copy of the LA contract, which can be found on Green Dot’s web site.

Here is a summary of some important contrasts between their contract and our current one:

- Lower Salary: although a Green Dot teacher’s salary maxes out much sooner than ours- 8 years versus 22- the maximum salary is far lower: $80, 992.

- No Mandatory Arbitration of Grievances: grievances are handled by mediators and thus even if a teacher wins there is no binding legal precedent set for the future; the battles must be continually re-fought, a guarantee of long term abuse and teacher demoralization.

- No Set Work Day: the contract calls for a “professional work day,” which is to include the student day, staff meetings and time needed for preparation. In effect this means that the workday will be set by the most obsequious and sycophantic teachers who are trying to impress the principal. In
addition, the principal can call staff meetings before the beginning of the school day and continue them after school “if school business was not otherwise completed in regularly scheduled meetings.”

- No Tenure Worthy of the Name: “Any teacher receiving a ‘practice does not meet standards’ rating shall be given a six month improvement plan” If it is judged that the plan has not been met, the teacher can be fired the following year. There is nothing approximating the protections we currently enjoy regarding the 3020-A dismissal process.

- No Seniority Regarding Teaching Assignments

- Overly Detailed Teacher Evaluation Procedure: ripe for abuse by nit-picking or vindictive administrators.

So there we have some of the salient features of the Green Dot contract. But what about the school vis-à-vis students and parents?

- Students Chosen by Lottery: sometimes called “cherry picking lite,” this process favors the most informed and committed parents, skewing the student body towards those who’ve enjoyed greater parent involvement in their education, and foisting more troubled and academically challenged students on the remaining public high schools, which will then be blamed for their increasing problems, punished and closed.

- Compulsory Parent Involvement: parents must sign a participation contract, opening up further possibilities for subtle, or brazen, efforts to mold and manipulate the composition of the student body, as we have seen with reports about Eva Moskowittz’s Harlem Success Academy.

- Cagey Language Regarding School Statistics: Green Dot claims that “98% of seniors graduate,” but this ignores the attrition rateprior to senior year. As has been documented with KIPP schools, the student attrition rate in charter schools can be high, giving a false sense of their effectiveness.
Potentially most disturbing is language in the contract regarding the assignability of the contract. By this is meant the ability to maintain union representation of teachers in the event of “corporate merger affiliation, change of affiliation, employer or transfer of employees.” While the contract calls for the participation of the union in this process, the ultimate power is held by the Board of Directors. And while the contract also states that the “current” contract shall remain in effect, it must be asked, what would happen should the contract expire: would a new corporate entity be able to walk away from the union? As I understand it, the Green Dot teachers in NY are employees of the corporation that runs the school and are not covered by the Taylor Law, which would enable them to continue working under the terms of an expired agreement. Should I be correct in my interpretation, the Board of Directors could essentially “run away” from the union at an opportune moment. This would likely be when the school has “scaled up” and can function as a franchise operation, which is the emerging model of corporate and foundation supported charter schools.

I raise this issue because of some of the powers behind Green Dot. While Steve Barr, founder of Rock the Vote, is the public face of Green Dot and is its spokesman, in fact the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Green Dot in NY is Jeffery T. Leeds. Mr. Leeds is the head of Leeds Equity, a private equity firm. These are firms that make their money by purchasing publicly-owned businesses, reconfiguring them, and then selling them back to the public, often after stripping away resources and enjoying hefty fees in the process. In Los Angeles, the COO is a former partner in Bain Capital, one of the most prominent private equity firms, and Mitt Romney’s corporate alma mater. Traditionally, private equity firms have taken public corporations private - in a process known as “strip and flip” – but we may be seeing these operators entering into the public sector and applying their model to privatize these schools, after getting the taxpayers to fund their start.

In additon, Leeds Equity is the owner of The Sexton Corporation, a supplier of contingent – read temporary- labor which “helps its clients reduce recruitment and labor costs.” It is also the owner of Datamark, which owns and does marketing for private, for-profit proprietary schools, which are consistently mired in scandals regarding their hard sell recruitment procedures. In fact, Leeds has partnered with disgraced former Massachusetts governor William Weld, whose reputation was tarred by his association with Decker College, a scam proprietary school that was forced to close for fraudulent and unethical practices. Rudy Giuliani is Chairman of the Board of Advisors of Leeds Weld Equity Partners.

While I’ll probably be accused by some of undue paranoia, I’d respond that in the past two years we have seen corporate greed, self-dealing and self-delusion on a scale that continues to dwarf the most extreme accusations of Wall Street’s critics, and that it’s fair to ask whose interests are really being served by the expansion of charter schools like Green Dot.

And it’s fair for UFT members to ask if their union is making the correct choice in allying itself with corporate entities whose commitment to public education, and to the continued existence of strong, viable unions, is open to question.


Anonymous said...

One more nail in our coffin.

Chaz said...

The Green Dot schools are just a start of a slippery slope to the elimination of union protections.

Anonymous said...

That's an understatment Chaz. I think we're already quite a ways down that slope.

ed notes online said...

Great work Michael. There's little we seem to be able to do right now other than get info out to people. Armed with as much knowledge as possible they will hopefully be able to make good decisions in the future.

Michelle Rhee said...

"No Tenure Worthy of the Name: “Any teacher receiving a ‘practice does not meet standards’ rating shall be given a six month improvement plan” If it is judged that the plan has not been met, the teacher can be fired the following year."

My soul sister "Randi Rhee."

Robert said...

A pretty thorough-going example of UFT complicity in corporatization.

Jeffrey Leeds is also on the Board of Directors of EDMC Corporation, the parent company of Art Institute of New York, where the UFT organized a rally on behalf of its members for a contract last Thursday night.

Woodlass said...

Thorough, and a great read if it weren't so totally disheartening. Thank you for the work that went into de-coding this stuff.

About the paranoia you mention towards the end, someone (Unity?) called me paranoid in a comment to my latest post, which was also yesterday.

If one of the definitions of the word is "Exhibiting extreme fear of others," I plead guilty, and so can we all. The Weingarten team has been amputating contractual protections for the past decade. We aren't becoming extremely afraid of her "collaborative" style for no reason.

I am paranoid about electricity ever since I stuck a nail in a live socket when I was seven. It's a little extreme, but it made me hyper aware that electrical current can cause pain. If we lean towards paranoia now, it's understandable. The things they're signing off on will certainly do labor more harm.

Sean Ahern said...

Thanks for the post Micheal.

May I suggest a lead or headline:


1. White kids from professional and upper middle class families don't apply to Green Dot schools. They compete for seats in Greenwich Village, Riverdale, Forrest Hills, Brooklyn Heights, and gifted and talented programs and specialized high schools around the city.

They have more experienced/higher paid teachers, take high stakes tests that confer 'merit' on their privileges. They are more likely to benefit from active, well endowed, politically connected PTAs. They may have private tutors, quiet places for reading and homework, books in the home, adults with the time and wherewithal to attend to their physical and emotional needs, safe places for recreation, good health care and nutrition, etc, etc.

2. Only a small percentage of NYC students enjoy as privileges that which should be the condition for all. UFT policy should be driven by the interests of the membership. With whom do the interests of the large majority of the membership lie? With a privileged minority in the ‘white’ schools? With a relatively small number of parents of color seeking to place their child in a charter school such as Green Dot? Or with the large majority who have access to neither of the above? Programatically, how can this common interest be expressed? If the UFT leadership won’t give expression to the interests of the large majority, then who will?

3. Green Dot is not an appropriate response to the two tiered system of public schools, one for the haves, another for the have nots. Green Dot is a diversion offered to a relatively small number of families to deflect attention away from the real task at hand, the elimination of the two tiered system of public education and the direction and control of public schools by the public.

4. A change in the bargaining strategy and alignment of the UFT as well as our own pedagogy and humanity starts with programmatic espression of solidarty with the large majority of NYC parents and students. "In the beginning was the word"

5. To the extent that teacher unionists oppose the privileges of race and class operating in the schools and citywide, to the extent we oppose the disappearing of Black and Latino educators, we affirm the growing unity and hopes of the people for change.

6. It remains for the rank and file opposition to propose a new direction for teacher unionism, an about face from decades of Shankerism, that by definition will appear shocking, political and radical at first but will, upon reflection, appear as sensible and reasonable as the night following the day. Simply put, the UFT needs to stop acting white.

Sean Ahern

Marjorie Stamberg said...

Thanks for doing the research on this, Michael. Really important, and one more example of UFT/Unity leadership methodology -- capitulate to what they see is the "least worst" variation of any management onslaught, and try to "ride it out."

This methodology might work in small things, but is utterly disastrous in big.

They did it with "merit pay," changing some semantics to "bonus pay," --anyway you cut it, it's still pits teacher against teacher and violates hard-fought union principle of "equal pay for equal work."

--Marjorie Stamberg

Anonymous said...


there is still nothing on about the rally...

no news action alert...

no fliers...

no posters...

the best is...the da resolution that is posted online doesn't include the amendment (rally).

pretty sad

Anonymous said...

Isn't it ultimately about the kids? Why shouldn't teachers be accountable for educating children? Hiding behind the cloak of the inefficient, low quality and high cost failing "public" school system in the cities with the greatest needs seems blatantly self-serving. Which of course it is!

Anonymous said...

In his September 15, 2008 article, Mr. Fiorillo states: …” As I understand it, the Green Dot teachers in NY are employees of the corporation that runs the school and are not covered by the Taylor Law, which would enable them to continue working under the terms of an expired agreement.”

Below are some relevant provisions of Section 2859 of the State Education Law regarding Charter School personnel with respect to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law – The Taylor Law.

3. School personnel. (a) …. An employee of a charter school shall be deemed to be a public employee solely for purposes of article fourteen of the civil service law, except for section two hundred twelve of such law, and for no other purposes unless otherwise specified in this article, the board of trustees of the charter school shall constitute a board of education solely for purposes of article fourteen of the civil service law, except for section two hundred twelve of such law, and for no other purposes unless otherwise specified in this article, a charter school shall be deemed to be a public employer solely for purposes of article fourteen of the civil service law, except for section two hundred twelve of such law, and for no other purposes unless otherwise specified in this article ….

(b) The school employees of a charter school that has been converted from an existing public school who are eligible for representation under article fourteen of the civil service law shall be deemed to be included within the negotiating unit containing like titles or positions, if any, for the school district in which such charter school is located and shall be subject to the collective bargaining agreement covering that school district negotiating unit; provided, however, that a majority of the members of a negotiating unit within a charter school may modify, in writing, a collective bargaining agreement for the purposes of employment in the charter school with the approval of the board of trustees of the charter school.

(b-1) The employees of a charter school that is not a conversion from an existing public school shall not be deemed members of any existing collective bargaining unit representing employees of the school district in which the charter school is located, and the charter school and its employees shall not be subject to any existing collective bargaining agreement between the school district and its employees

(c-1) Reasonable access. (i) If employees of the charter school are not represented, any charter school chartered pursuant to this article must afford reasonable access to any employee organization during the reasonable proximate period before any representation question is raised; or

(ii) If the employee organization is a challenging organization, reasonable access must be provided to any organization seeking to represent employees beginning with a date reasonably proximate to a challenge period. Reasonableness is defined, at a minimum, as access equal to that provided to the incumbent organization.

Anonymous said...

This is only the beginning. Thanks to Randi and Unity

Anonymous said...

The argument being made that it is about the kids is ridiculous. By applying market forces here, you create a two tiered system where those who are in the know get a better system than those who are not. Many children are left behind. To blame teachers for the results is crazy. Obviously, 12:36 p.m. doesn't teach.

At certain Charter schools, parents must become active. In many public schools, the PTA consists of a couple of parents looking out for their own offspring.

Ask an urban high school teacher how many parents show up to see them on open school night.

Let's get real. There are many reasons why children fall behind. Bad teachers is way down on that list.

Anonymous said...

Whoops. Looks like Michael Fiorillo was caught with his pants down:

Anonymous said...

Caught with his pants down???

What is so "pants dropping" about Casey's piece?

I'd rather be caught with my pants down than with my lips on the leaderships' asses.

Anonymous said...

Don't most of the charter schools the UFT represent have different contracts with varying strengths and weakness? That is why they are negotiated with the individual employer so there may be differences. Making contrasts about LA's teacher's making less than us only makes me appreciate what we do have.

Anonymous said...

I was talking tonight to a colleague of mine that is a chapter leader in the Queens HS and we came around talking about the ATR rally this Monday. He was telling me how pathetic it was that so many CL's in the large HS's had so few if any people going to the rally. Schools with 100s of members and only 1 or 8 people going. Apparently the dr was upset and trying to get the CL's to get people to the rally but when it came to getting actual numbers of people attending Monday some CL's just shut up. I thought some ICE people were from Queens HS's. I hope you guys are getting people out. I know James Eterno is from Jamaica and Bryant HS has a CL that is ICE but I heard there were no concrete numbers of staff members come out for the rally. Isn't Newcomers also in Queens? Will you get a good number out on Monday? If this is your platform about getting mobilizing membership, a low turnout on Monday doesn't help your cause. More importantly, as our brothers and sister ATRs, we should be standing together with them to correct this injustice.

Anonymous said...

What's so "pants dropping?"

I don't know. How about the fact that Green Dot teachers are making MORE than the DoE teaches, and Fiorillo reports it as LESS.

Are maybe facts just don't matter with you guys.

ed notes online said...

Oooh! Fiorillo has touched a sensitive Unity nerve. This is one toothache that will not go away.

NYC Educator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NYC Educator said...

I haven't seen the city contract, so I don't know about it. Here's what Unity won't tell you, though.

They claim that Green Dot's "just cause" provisions are better than tenure. However, they've yet to provide evidence it's saved a single teacher's job. In fact, they've as yet been unable to demonstrate it's ever even been used.

The California model of "just cause" is not remotely tantamount to tenure. And frankly, we have no idea how many hours NYC Green Dot employees will work. If you work 10% more, your pay is not higher than ours. If you work more than 10% more, your pay is less than ours.

Also, that doesn't even factor in the lack of tenure and seniority that Green Dot boasts of on its website. If you think Green Dot proclaims its teachers have no tenure because they have something better than tenure, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Regrettably, Ms. Weingarten appears to already have purchased the one in San Francisco.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Sorry, i neglected to carefully edit the first post; here it is again:

As I said in my original post, when I spoke with Leo Casey, he told me there was no current contract between the UFT and Green Dot. A little strange, I thought, since this romance between the two has been going on for months, and you'd think that that if this relationship was so progressive, a contract would be in place when the school opened.

No? Okay, so be it. I then asked Mr. Casey if the Green Dot teachers in the Bronx were working under the terms of the LA contract. He told me they were. I then proceeded to look up the contract on their web site. The contract contains a salary schedule, but I found nothing there that says that Green Dot will pay 110% of the local scales in that district. If someone can find that language, please publish it in this blog and I will stand corrected.

Other than that, Mr. Casey did nothing but make unfounded criticisms of my piece: nothing about the infinite school day, nothing about the lack of seniority in programming or layoffs, nothing about the lack of arbitration in the grievance procedure, get the picture.

The sad reality is that our union is incrasingly an appendage of management. Recently in my district the union held a workshop on ARIS, urging Chapter Leaders to become involved in administering it on the school level. Great! So now Chapter Leaders are supposed to help with a program that is all about monitoring teachers. After all, teachers have ALWAYS had and used the data about their students. Aris is about using data, which may or may not be valid, to oversee teachers by remote control. It's a management tool posing as an instructional one.

As for Queens Chapter Leaders who happen to be ICE members bringing out their members on the 24th: what exactly does that have to do with the issues I originally raised?

And wasn't it rank and file and dissident agitatation that shamed and embarassed the leadership to act in the first place, acting in response to a problem of their own creation, namely the destruction of seniority in the 2005 contract?

PS: I'm willing to post my criticisms and comments openly and publicly, and I'm proud to have my name identified with opposition to privatization, profiteering and union misleadership. If my critics and critics of the opposition are so proud of Unity policies, why don't they identify themselves?

Anonymous said...

Fiorillo did a shoddy job of research, looking only for evidence that would support his ideological bent, and even now caught in the most basic misrepresentation, refuses to own up. If he knew how to get in touch with Casey to ask about a contract, he also knew how to get in touch to ask about the salary. He didn't want to know the truth.

Michael Fiorillo said...

It's true, there is an error in my report about Green Dot salaries in LA: I reported that it only takes eight years to max out on the salary scale, when in fact it takes twelve.

Other than that, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, please provide the facts that refute the numbers I provided, which come straight from the AMU contract, by way of the Green Dot website.

Anonymous said...

So you're saying that Green Dot teachers in the Bronx do NOT receive 110% of the DoE salary? Let's be completely clear about it.

Anonymous said...

Let's also be clear as to what exactly their working hours and days are when we talk 110%.