Saturday, May 31, 2008

Should The Length of Our School Year Be Dependent on the Vicissitudes of the Calendar?

Next School Year Starts August 28

Next year, we will have to return to school at the earliest date ever: August 28. The kids are coming back on September 2.

The overall calendar is a little better than the last couple of years only because certain holidays fall on the right days. (Unity will probably claim this as a major victory.) However we are still working a week longer than many of the surrounding districts. If we had a fixed number of days like they do, we would be much better off knowing in advance how many days we are expected to work and not depending on where holidays fall.

There will be 187 school days for teachers and paras but 189 for guidance, secretaries and others.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Scope of Education Law Section 3028

The Appellate Division, First Department, has recently defined the scope of Education Law Section 3028 which provides teachers with DOE paid attorneys whenever civil or criminal proceedings are brought against them for disciplining a student. The facts of the case, Timmerman v. Board of Education, 2008 NY Slip Op 3969; 2008 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3750, are not too unfamiliar.

In February 2006, Dolph Timmerman called the parents of three female students in his fifth grade class to report their disruptive behavior in the classroom. He made one call to each parent. A few days later, on February 13, 2006, the students made allegations to school officials that Timmerman had touched them inappropriately.

The following day, Timmerman was arraigned on charges of sexual abuse in the first, second and third degrees, and endangering the welfare of a child.

Pending his trial, he requested the Board reimburse him for legal fees and expenses that "are and will be necessarily incurred in his defense."

By letter dated March 9, 2006, the Board denied the request, reasoning that the criminal proceeding was not covered by the law.

Thereafter, on April 12, 2006, the criminal action against petitioner was dismissed and sealed.

The Board continued to deny Timmerman his attorney fees arguing that such a payment would open the flood gates of teachers seeking reimbursement for attorney fees whenever they were charged with inappropriate behavior.

The trial court agreed and dismissed Timmerman's petition.

In a one paragraph decision the Appellate Division reversed and found that Timmerman was entitled to his attorney fees and expenses. The Court found "since the record shows that the criminal proceeding against petitioner clearly arose out of disciplinary actions that he took against pupils, respondents should reimburse petitioner for the attorneys' fees and expenses he incurred in defending himself."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Randi Says Closing Schools Not a Bad Idea

Ever wonder why the city closes so many schools which displaces so many educators and leaves multitudes of children, particularly those with special needs and limited English proficiency, behind?

The one individual who could publicize the folly of closing schools (the President of the UFT) says closing them is "not a bad idea."

On the Charlie Rose show, UFT President Randi Weingarten said she prefers to help schools first but she is not opposed to closing them.

It appears that all of those resolutions the UFT passed saying we want the Chancellor to stop closing schools until we can assess the impact were all for show for us.
In the early nineties, there were around 35 high schools in Manhattan. Now there are about 100. We at ICE are quite sure there will be many more new schools created as teachers continue to blamed for problems that are way beyond our control and this shell game of sending students all over the place to more and more new schools carries on. By her own admission, Randi does not oppose this policy.

Thanks a lot Randi from all Absent Teacher Reserves: past, present and future.

The transcript below is taken from the Charlie Rose show. We put in the entire section on school closings.

CHARLIE ROSE: And if a school doesn't`t do well over a certain period of time, you shut it down?

WEINGARTEN: Close it. Right.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is that a bad idea?

WEINGARTEN: So, we've closed and redesigned so many schools in New York City, some of them have done better after they`ve been closed and redesigned, some of them have not. I actually prefer to help it first, but, no, not a bad idea.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Jamaica High School's big rally at the April 14 Panel for Educational Policy meeting continues to be a major UFT story. In the May 8, 2008 edition of the NY Teacher, the editors printed, virtually in its entirety, an angry letter I wrote complaining about their erroneous report in the previous issue that said Jamaica was closing. The letter is featured prominently, right below Randi Weingarten’s column. It is also the primary letter to the editor at The text is below. Members should call or email the UFT to express support for Jamaica High School.

We want to thank Randi for replying to our letter and NY Teacher editors Diedre McFadyen and Joe LoVerde for printing it.

Jamaica HS still breathing
May 8, 2008 4:43 PM
To the Editor:
Jamaica HS is not closing. The New York Teacher [April 24] erroneously printed that the Department of Education has decided “to close the school.” The DOE is downsizing Jamaica HS by opening a College Board School with funding from Bill Gates and Michael Dell within our building, but Jamaica is getting a new grade 9 class in the fall. We are open.
We showed up en masse to protest at the Panel for Education Policy meeting on April 14 primarily because our students will be treated as second-class citizens in their own building when the College Board School opens. We call it “academic apartheid.”
It is a sad day indeed when the Daily News writes a story about Jamaica HS that is more accurate than what is printed in our own union’s newspaper.

James Eterno, Jamaica HS

EDITOR’S NOTE: The New York Teacher regrets the error.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School


The May 14, 2008 Delegate Assembly in a close vote decided not to make a financial contribution for 17 teachers in Puerto Rico who have been suspended without pay since last October for objecting to unilateral changes in curriculum and school organization. The UFT DA had previously voted to support the teachers of Puerto Rico. These teachers had gone on strike in February for ten days in defiance of an unjust law that is similar to the Taylor Law in New York.

Jose Vargas, A Unity representative, argued that because the DA agreed to support the teachers in Puerto Rico in March, there was no need to have a new resolution that covers helping the 17 who have been suspended. The resolution, however, argued that “unions across the US, including the California Teachers’ Association and AFT Local 1021 made solidarity donations to the Puerto Rican teachers.” It was a very close vote and UFT Secretary Michael Mendel who was the acting Chair took two votes but he said that the resolution failed. It was close and Mendel later told me that he didn’t hear calls to count the votes (divide the house). From where I was seated, he appeared to be correct that the resolution didn’t carry but it was close.

GHI-HIP Privatization Debate Postponed Again

For the third straight month, the GHI-HIP privatization issue was not debated. Instead of denying us the floor during the motion period like in March and April, Unity has created its own completely watered down version of our resolution which opposed privatizing our healthcare. Unity’s proposal says twice that municipal employees and retirees should share in profits if GHI and HIP merge and are sold for profit. They add that we should ask the Superintendent of Insurance to wait until there are guarantees that any new company will “maintain quality, affordable health care for working families.” This is not exactly a strong resolution and certainly does not guarantee us any specifics in terms of holding down costs or expanding benefits.

Unfortunately, even the weak resolution never reached the floor. Acting Chairman Michael Mendel, who otherwise was professional and fair to both sides on issues that were debated, told Marilyn Voight Downey, who questioned the merger during the question period that the GHI-HIP matter would be handled when the resolution came up during Special Orders of Business. Therefore, he didn’t answer her question. When Special Orders were coming to the floor, Mendel listed several resolutions that would take priority since time was running out. Healthcare was not on this list. When John Powers from ICE questioned this, Michael said he would ask for another vote to extend time to discuss this issue and of course when that time came, the Unity majority voted to go home and not deal with healthcare.

Weingarten Report

President Weingarten was there at the beginning of the meeting and she gave a report saying that Bloomberg and Klein would fight back because they lost the battle in Albany so they cannot make tenure decisions on teachers based upon individual student test scores. She said that New York is now the only state with such a provision. She then talked about being on the Charlie Rose show. Her report then moved to the issue of job security and Klein’s latest attempt to fire Absent Teacher Reserves after 12 months or 18 months as they do in Chicago if a school is closed and a teacher cannot find a new job. Randi said she would not negotiate on firing the ATR’s but she added that it is now a national issue because of Chicago and Klein protégée Michele Rhee who now is running Washington DC schools and trying to fire excessed teachers after schools close. Randi then talked about how Rhee headed the New Teacher Project so she dismissed their report that was recently released that said excessed teachers should be fired after a year.

If I heard correctly, Randi also admitted that she wanted the ATR provision in the Contract because it would end bumping of junior teachers but she claimed she warned Klein that this would happen. She also said that the UFT argued that excessed teachers who want a job should all be hired before new teachers are allowed to be placed. We also heard once again about how the open market system (principals in charge of all hiring with no check on their authority) is wonderful. Bottom line: the Contract is closed. ATR’s can stay in the system as long as they want and not be fired without due process. Let’s move on.

The other main focus of the Presidents’ report covered the budget cuts. Randi said that our members would be fine if $450,000,000 is cut from school budgets because we have job security but that this fight is about the kids.

ICE asks: Are you feeling fine in your school?

Randi then played a new UFT television commercial. When the commercial was over, she spoke about putting pressure on the Mayor and the City Council. She said there would be multiple actions at schools. She also stated that the UFT is now working in a permanent coalition with parents, community groups, other school unions including the Council of Supervisors and Administrators. The goal of the coalition is to be champions for the children. She said the wounds from the friction between the UFT and communities from back in the late sixties and early seventies were only starting to heal in the last decade and this coalition would further the process.

Staff Director Leroy Barr talked about specific actions. Political director Marvin Reisken said we should make thousands of calls to the Mayor at 1-800-961-6198. He said to use cell phones and not school phones to make these calls. He also said we could go to the action page at to send faxes. ICE recommends that members participate in these actions. At this point, Randi did not return to the chair and UFT Secretary Michael Mendel chaired the rest of the meeting.

Julie Woodward of ICE Questions Taking Reassigned Teachers off School Budgets

Julie Woodward asked why the UFT was not fighting the fact that personnel reassigned to the “rubber room” are taken off a principal’s school budget after sixty days, and put on a central budget. Mendel answered that cases should be expedited so that they are heard much more quickly but when Julie wouldn’t relent, he said that the UFT would like to see Principals have to pay for teachers who are reassigned on a school’s budget and not allow the DOE to pay them centrally.

Other DA Business

A question was asked about a Principal buying new furniture for their office. Michael Mendel answered that we should call Leroy Barr if this was happening in our schools.
Some of the new motion period was taken up by the Puerto Rico resolution. Then, a unanimous resolution was passed to send money from the UFT disaster relief fund to cyclone and earthquake victims in Burma and China. A third resolution in support of Sean Bell and against police brutality was referred to committee.

A District Representative and some of the Chapter Leaders who work with her talked about how they use Article 24 (professional conciliation) to improve working conditions for teachers. A resolution was passed on the ATRs to keep the Contract closed. The City Council legislative agenda was passed but ICE member Michael Fiorello proposed an amendment so we wouldn’t be acknowledging that teachers are supposed to be doing “extensive data analysis.” The amendment was rejected. The City Council and State Legislative agendas passed. Finally, a resolution on fighting the budget cuts was approved; a motion to support the Freightliner Five workers who were fired in North Carolina for leading a strike that Teachers for a Just Contract’s Megan Behrant introduced was passed, the UFT endorsed Sheldon Silver and Elizabeth Crowley and a resolution in support of the Art Institute of NYC’s faculty also carried.

In the end, we went home a little numb but at least the majority of the agenda was finished and we had a full question period and motion period. We commend Michael Mendel for at least sticking to the agenda and asking and waiting to see if there was a speaker against every motion before putting them to a vote. As for healthcare, there is a June 18 DA and a Chapter Leader Meeting on June 9.

Unity Literature Distorts as Usual

I was very reluctant to write the above lines complimenting Mendel, not because I don’t have respect for the way the Secretary runs meetings, but because the Unity readers of this blog will probably take the line out of context like they did a recent line from this blog about ATR’s not being fired after 12 months. Unity literature at the May DA quoted one of our blog pieces by saying: “…I have confidence that Randi would not agree to terminating the ATR’s after 12 months or 18 months or placing them on unpaid leave.” The full sentence from my April 29 blog piece reads: “As a dissident who has often been critical of the UFT leadership, even I have confidence that Randi would not agree to terminating the ATR's after 12 months or 18 months or placing them on unpaid leave.” It’s amazing how deleting a few words can completely distort a quote.

The whole premise of the first part of Unity’s leaflet is absurd. They maintain that we didn’t want to lock in a 5% raise and that’s why we voted No on the current Contract. We opposed it because it really was an extension of the 2005 Contract, the worst Contract in UFT history where we gave up so many of our rights. To win back those rights, we must fight back. Unity’s strategy is to tell us how wonderful we have it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Who Should We Endorse For President?

(ICE, just like the UFT, has not formally endorsed a candidate for President. Unlike the UFT we have not been working, as a group, for a candidate without an endorsement. It appears that since Hillary is out of contention it may be time to begin the discussion of whether we should endorse someone and if so who we should endorse. Michael Fiorillo has started the discussion. We welcome further comments and blog pieces)

While it's impossible to underestimate the Clinton's compulsive will to power - which has a hint of the pathological to it - I find the idea of Hillary destroying Obama's chances of defeating McCain, so that she can be a viable candidate in 2012, a bit of a stretch. She already has a immovable bedrock core of people who intensely dislike her, for reasons valid and invalid, and a determined campaign to destroy Obama would send her negatives among Democrats and Independents off the charts. It's not that she, and certainly Bill, aren't capable of doing such a thing; it's that I think they are still sufficiently reality-based to see that it would likely forever poison the well against them. An honest cost-benefit analysis on their part would show that it would have only a remote chance of succeeding, while hampering their marketability as spokepersons for neoliberal trade policies, which seems to have been Bill's bread and butter in recent years.

As for Obama, appealing as he is on many levels, don't expect his election alone to successfully push forward a progressive, let alone radical agenda. Please keep in mind that since his election to the senate, he has:

- campaigned for Lieberman against Ned Lamont in Connecticut.
- voted for all funding for war in Iraq.
- voted to renew the Patriot Act.
- voted for the 2005 bankruptcy bill that was virtually written by the banks and credit card companies.
- voted to limit the ability to file class action lawsuits. (Hillary voted against this bill.)
- supported merit pay for teachers and the expansion of charter schools. I raise these points not to imply that we should refuse to work and vote for him.

I voted for him in the primary with - considering the political history of the past 35+ years - a fair degree of enthusiasm; I'll do so again in November if given the chance .However, don't think that a lot will happen unless he is pushed hard from, I hesitate to say it, the left.

Wall Street, and especially Hedgistan, is investing heavily in Obama's campaign, no doubt seeing it as venture capital investment to establish an equity stake in a possible Obama administration. Unless there is a surge of activism on many fronts, these people will continue to set the terms of debate.

As teachers, we've borne some of this, as Wall Street, corporate and foundation money has flooded into education, buying research and policies that undermine public education and teacher's unions in the "marketplace of ideas."

Fortunately, there's evidence that perhaps the tectonic plates are shifting somewhat. The May First ILWU strike explicitly protesting the war in Iraq on the West Coast docks was a profound event, underreported as it was. UAW members have been on strike against American Axle since February, fighting a two-tier wage system. There have been protests on Wall Street against the predatory nature of the credit system. Here in NYC, we may be seeing some cracks appearing in BloomKlein's PR fortress.By all means, let drive a stake through the Clinton's hearts - politically speaking, of course - and vote for Obama in November. Let's not just leave it up to him after that.


Michael Fiorillo
(Chapter Leader, Newcommers' High School)

ICErs Join Municipal Unions in Rally Opposing the Proposed GHI/HIP Conversion to For-Profit Corporations

In an unprecedented multi-Union display of solidarity ICE members joined the Coalition Against Privatization on Friday to rally at the Superintendent of Insurance and HIP offices against the proposed merger of our largest medical insurance carriers. While the rain came pouring down protesters' spirits were not dampened. Their chants to the Superintendent of Insurance and HIP workers caused wide-spread reaction from the evening rush hour crowd in downtown Manhattan. Beside the UFT members from the Transport Workers' Union, DC 37 and other municipal unions were in attendance.

Protesters criticized the failure of our unions and the insurance carriers to fully disclose their plans. While the UFT and other municipal union leaders may benefit from the conversion of these not-for-profit health care insurance carriers into for-profit entities it is clear that our members will be exposed to increasing co-pays, out of pocket expenses and diminished medical coverage as the proposed entity will seek to maximize profits. Ironically our Union has consistently criticized the Bush proposed and enacted privatization provisions of Medicare as being against the interests of our retired members.

What are our leaders planning to do with the windfall that the proposed conversion will net the Union? Why isn't this being discussed? Why have our resolutions calling for full and frank discussions about this monumental change been consistently tabled?

What is our leadership afraid of?

Monday, May 05, 2008

UFT Officers Agree Not to Reopen the Contract on ATR Issue; Resolved Clauses OK but Whereas Clauses Full of Unity Distortions

by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

The 11 Officers of the UFT (The Administrative Committee) have approved a resolution that will go to the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly resolving "that the UFT reject the opening of our contract" over the Absent Teacher Reserve issue. It also resolves to press the Department of Education to stop wasting money and talent and try to find full time positions for Absent Teacher Reserves. This sounds good but a close reading of the whereas clauses that precede these two resolved clauses shows that the UFT leadership will go to any lengths to wipe their fingerprints from the dreadful ATR situation that they did a great deal to create by agreeing to the indefensible 2005 Contract givebacks.

The first whereas clause in the resolution opposing ATR negotiations states that the 2005 Contract provided "rock-solid job security for any educator who is ever excessed by the DOE, a new right we had never achieved before." Is this true? We need to go back as far as 1992 to examine the veracity of this statement. Article 17E which has stayed in the Contract since that era states, "Beginning in the Spring term in 1992 education funds in the Mayor's Safe City/Safe Streets Program will be utilized to eliminate tipping by establishing a dispute resolution program staffed by teachers." For those who do not remember, tipping was when high school teachers were laid off in the middle of the school year because student registers invariably dropped in the spring. We were told at the time that this was a no layoff clause. This provision has been used for years since to stop midyear layoffs.

In the 1995 Contracts when we were forced to endure two years without a salary increase, the UFT sold the first Contract that the membership voted down and the warmed over version that was subsequently ratified by telling us that at least we have job security. The actual language in 1995 Article 17F says: " employee covered by this Agreement shall be displaced or involuntarily separated from service except for cause or reason related to state civil service law (e.g., the movement of appointment lists and/or requirement to hire certified teachers, if available)." We were told this was ironclad language that protected certified as well as non certified teachers and when the clause was permitted to sunset in 1998, UFT leaders told us not to worry because we still had the no tipping clause which the Board respected. A similar job security clause to the 1995 version was in the 2000 Contract but it was removed from the 2005 Contract (officially the 2005 Contract ran from 2003-07).

There is no job security clause in the current 2007-2009 Contract. Article 17F is no longer about job security but instead covers a voluntary buyout for ATRs. The UFT's claim that there is "rock-solid job security" does not hold up under careful scrutiny. To put it another way, would you rather have a clause in a Contract that says you have job security or have the UFT leadership tell you that you have job security?

As we see it, if there is a financial crisis (certainly possible in the current economic climate), the Mayor could lay off anyone as long as he follows civil service procedures which call for the last employee hired citywide within a license to be the first to be fired. What prevents layoffs is not the Contract but DOE's preference for new employees who are easier to control than veterans. The new teachers would have to be let go first and so the DOE finds a so called education commission to manufacture a fake ATR crisis and then they pressure the UFT to end what is left of the civil service system.

The next whereas clause in the AdCom resolution talks of the 7,000 members who have used the open market transfer system to move to "jobs of their choice." Who are they kidding? It's jobs of Principals' choice, not UFT member choice. Schools are now principal political hiring fiefdoms that cleverly circumvent the intent of civil service rules that have their roots in the 1880s when the Pendleton Act put in place civil service examinations for federal jobs. A civil service hiring system normally bases personnel decisions on how well an applicant scores on an objective, competitive exam. The higher you score on the test, the faster you get hired. The purpose is to eliminate patronage in government job appointments. This type of hiring system is used for most city jobs and was used by the Board of Ed until recent years. Joel Klein, with the UFT's approval in 2005, has taken us back to a patronage system that past trade unionists fought bravely to end.

When the UFT talks about the success of the open market hiring system, they always compare the open market to the seniority transfer system of the past. However, by 2005 only about half of the schools were using the seniority transfer system and they only needed to post half of their vacancies. UFT leaders now seldom mention the SBO transfer and staffing plan that the other half of the school system used. Under this system schools had hiring committees that were made up of a majority of teachers and those schools had to post all of their vacancies and hire based upon objective criteria that included seniority. There was an expedited grievance procedure if someone was rejected by a personnel committee. Clearly, there was at least a check on the Principals with the SBO system which was given away by the UFT in 2005 along with seniority transfers. This is a major cause of the current ATR mess.

The next two whereas clauses in the new ATR resolution state that the Department of Education has consistently in bargaining tried to fire the ATRs but they are constantly rebuffed. This is true. The problem is the UFT created this problem by agreeing to patronage hiring and transfers, i.e. the open market. The 2005 Contract ended preferred placement for teachers who are excessed if a school is closed. It also stopped placement in a vacancy if someone is in excess because they were the junior person in a license within a school. The UFT agreed to insert the words "unless a principal denies placement" into the Contract to give principals a veto over any staffing decision. The UFT accepted the "imperial principal" concept for hiring and now they are surprised to find the DOE is pushing strongly to eliminate the last vestiges of the civil service style personnel system: who can be terminated. To put it another way, we gave away the hiring and transfer system so why would anyone be shocked that DOE wants complete control of the firing system too? (Weakened due process fits in here as well but that's another article.)

Another whereas clause in the UFT resolution on ATRs says that "the DOE never followed up to negotiate after we agreed to do a buyout in the 2006 contract." Why doesn't the UFT add that the buyout for ATRs is supposed to be voluntary?

A later whereas clause criticizes the DOE for creating the financial disincentive to hire senior teachers. The UFT leaders fail to mention that the UFT agreed to the new funding formula for schools last year and called off a giant rally with parents and other activists to protest it and in return there were only minimal modifications made to the so called fair student funding formula. A year later the Keep the Promises Coalition has been revitalized but we have to build the momentum again.

Then to top it all off, the UFT has to take a cheap political shot at ICE when the final whereas in the ATR resolution declares: "the Delegate Assembly passed a resolution in February not to reopen the contract over anecdotal reports of a spike in letters in the file because it understood the protection provided by a closed contract." Meanwhile, the NY Sun on Monday, May 5 reports that there have been private meetings between the UFT and the DOE over the ATR issue for seven months. The Contract has unofficially been reopened to discuss what management wants, not what we need.

We stated back in February on this blog: "ICE has attempted to ask that the contractual provision concerning letters in the file be reopened as per a letter labor Commissioner James Hanley sent to Randi back in 2005 when we were giving away many of our basic rights. We wanted to introduce a resolution seeking to revisit only the letter in the file provision, not the entire Contract." The 2005 letter from Hanley said that the city would reexamine the issue if there was an increase in letters. Those negotiations with Hanley should have taken place right after we saw U ratings going up a year ago. We missed the opportunity to go on the offensive and instead we are once again defending what few rights we have left.

As yet another year winds down and more schools and programs are being closed and phased out, the ATR situation will only worsen. For the UFT to act as if they didn't play a major role in creating this disaster is revisionist history at its worst.

Instead of trying to persistently excuse the inexcusable concessions from the 2005 Contract in their resolutions, UFT leadership should be acknowledging that because we were not organized properly, we had to give up way too much in 2005 and those givebacks are hurting the school system. The only way we will win back a transferring and staffing plan that is like the old SBO process, a full summer vacation, no more cafeteria or hall duty, the right to full due process and other take-backs is if the UFT admits that teaching and learning conditions are dreadful and will only be improved with real Union action.

On May 14 at the next Delegate Assembly, I will vote for not reopening the Contract on the ATR issue. However, I hope someone points out that Unity's need to politicize the ATR issue and rewrite history is quite disheartening.