Wednesday, August 27, 2008

UFT Drops Ball on Parking; Teachers Will Suffer

Back in January the DA passed a resolution calling for the reversal of the mayor's plan to cut down, by 20%, the number of permits issued by the DOE for staff parking near schools. Randi was quoted as saying how disrespectful this move was and the negative impact it would have on attracting and retaining teachers. This is true especially for schools that are far from public transportation.

Today, we received the news that Randi's "cooperative bargaining philosophy" has yielded another giveback; the loss of over 80% of the DOE issued permits into a system which is centrally monitored. Randi justifies the tentative agreement (they have agreed to suspend the grievance) by her "relief" that the number of parking spots has not decreased.

In reality the City will now only allocate 11,000 permits. Randi says there are 25,000 spots. What's going on here?

The UFT web site cleverly substituted the parking permit rights portion of "Know Your Rights" with the letter from Ed Skyler explaining the loss of our "rights."

Way to stick up for your members!

(click on letter to enlarge it)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Open Letter to Commissioner Mills: Stop Academic Apartheid at Jamaica HS

Jamaica High School UFT

167-01 Gothic Drive

Jamaica, NY 11432

August 20, 2008

Mr. Richard Mills

State Education Commissioner

Albany, NY

Via email:

& fax: (518) 473-4909

Dear Commissioner Mills:

I must alert you to a growing crisis—“Academic Apartheid” in our schools. I am writing as part of the comment process on New York City’s Contract for Excellence (C4E) proposal. I am a twenty-two year veteran teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens, a traditional comprehensive public high school. I also represent over 100 members of the United Federation of Teachers as their elected Chapter Leader, a position that I have held for the last twelve years. The members who elected me would like to see more state funds sent to the city tied directly to lowering class sizes and a directive that sufficient classroom space be made available for reduced class sizes.

Despite the fact that Jamaica High School is on the state/federal accountability list as a low-performing school—last year, we were in our fifth year as a School Requiring Academic Progress—and supposed to get more C4E money as a result, the school is still receiving far less per pupil funding than Queens Collegiate, a new small selective school that is being placed in the building. We believe this is unfair.

According to the New York City Department of Education Website, Queens Collegiate is starting up with 81 students in the fall. They will receive $884,544 to run their school for 2008-09. Meanwhile, Jamaica is projected to have 1,484 pupils and was slated to receive an allocation of $11,636,267 this year. After extensive lobbying by the Jamaica High School community, our budget has recently been increased to $12,263,497. While we acknowledge the Chancellor and his financial officers for increasing our allocation, a huge per pupil spending gap between Jamaica and Queens Collegiate remains.

When the supplemental allotment is included, Jamaica, a traditional comprehensive high school that has many more high needs students, will be funded at $8,264 per pupil while the new selective school, Queens Collegiate, will be funded at $10,920 per pupil. This means that per student expenditures will be $2,656 greater at Queens Collegiate compared to Jamaica High School. This amounts to 32% higher spending for a Queens Collegiate student. Even taking into consideration start-up costs for the new school, this still adds up to separate and unequal schools within one building.

The promotional literature being produced by Queens Collegiate advertises lower class sizes. If Jamaica had a per pupil allocation similar to Queens Collegiate, we could easily lower class sizes to under 23 instead of having class sizes as high as 34, the level that we are currently projecting; we certainly could improve the student to counselor ratio and enhance other support services as well.

Despite the clear need for smaller classes, and the new state mandate to achieve them, particularly in low-performing schools, Jamaica High School is being denied the funding that would make this possible. In addition, valuable classroom space that could be utilized to provide room for this is being taken away from Jamaica to house the new school.

In June, many teachers in the Social Studies Department were told they are being evicted from rooms that they had been teaching in for years because a number of our classrooms and the Departmental Office will be taken over by the new school. This problem will worsen significantly in coming years as Queens Collegiate expands by two grades per year into a grade 6-12 school that will require much more space in the building.

It should be noted that in a recent citywide survey, 86% of NYC public school principals said that their class sizes were too large to provide a quality education, and 27% said that overcrowding in their schools had worsened from new schools or programs having been moved into their buildings in recent years.

In the city’s class size plan, approved last fall by the state, the DOE pledged that “decisions regarding the co-location of a new school or program in an existing building will explicitly take into account the decisions and plans principals have made regarding reduced class size. It is important to be clear that the DOE will not place a new school or program in a building at the expense of those schools and programs already operating within the building and that these decisions will be made in consultation with school principals.”[i]

Unfortunately, they are ignoring that pledge in the case of Jamaica High School and probably in many other schools as well. Principal Walter Acham was quoted in the Press of South East Queens in the April 18-24 issue as follows: “The decision [to open Queens Collegiate] was based in the fact that the school was underutilized, my personal preference would be for Jamaica to grow.” The building can only be considered underutilized if the critical need to reduce class size is ignored. The article also stated that “it was not [Acham’s] first choice to start a new year with Collegiate within Jamaica, but he would work with Collegiate’s principal.”

The Jamaica High School community expressed our opposition in various ways. First, a letter signed by the faculty was written to Helen Santiago, a College Board official, appealing for help as Queens Collegiate is a College Board school. Then on the evening of April 14, 2008, 89 people from the Jamaica family—a group that included teachers, other staff members, parents and students—addressed Chancellor Joel Klein and the other members of the Panel for Educational Policy.

We appealed to the PEP for equity for our students. We told them how a selective, better funded school within our building would have a detrimental impact on the opportunities for Jamaica’s high-needs pupils. We have also written to prominent politicians, emailed the Chancellor and attended another PEP meeting to expose the inequitable treatment our students will receive because of Queens Collegiate’s presence at Jamaica. Clearly, the views of the principal, the staff, the parents and the needs of our students have for the most part been disregarded by the Department of Education.

The DOE would seem to be paying no heed to their pledge to the state not to site new schools to the detriment of existing schools at many other sites as 18 new charter schools and 53 more small schools are planned for next year; nearly all of them are slated to share space with already existing schools. This policy is creating a system of “Academic Apartheid” in these buildings as the charter schools and many of the small schools are given permission to cap class size and/or enrollment at far lower levels than the schools that they are invading. Indeed, a recent analysis showed that small schools have a class size of four fewer students on average than large schools, 24 students per class compared to 28. [ii]

Many of the existing schools which are being forced to share space with these smaller schools also have excessive class sizes, and would otherwise have been able to reduce class sizes to more appropriate levels if they had the space. This situation calls for immediate state action.

Jamaica High School and all other city schools on the state or federal low-performing list should be given the funding, the space and a clear directive to reduce class size to at least the levels set out in the city’s five year plan—20 students in a class in grades K to 3, and 23 in all other grades—and the state must forbid any new school from being placed in the building of any state or federal low-performing school until it has achieved those class sizes.

If this is not done, then a system of “Academic Apartheid” will expand and there will be separate and unequal schools within hundreds of New York City school buildings, including Jamaica High School. The state has a moral obligation to ensure that this does not occur.

We look forward to your response.


James Eterno

Social Studies Teacher,

UFT Chapter Leader,

Jamaica High School

Cc: Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier:

Education Secretary Manuel Rivera:

The Board of Regents:

Chair of the NY State Assembly Education Committee Cathy Nolan:

Geri Reilly:

Chair of the NYC Council Education Committee Robert Jackson:

State Senator Malcolm A. Smith:

Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver:

Executive Director Class Size Matters Leonie Haimson:

[i] NYC Dept. of Education, Approved Class Size Reduction Plan (November 17, 2007); posted at

[ii] John Tapper, Class Size and Contract for Excellence: Are we making progress in NYC’s public schools? April 28, 2008; Posted at for excellence.pdf

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rubber Room Teachers’ Lawsuit Demonstrates How Legal System Can Be a “Trap for the Unwary”

Back in January a group of rubber room teachers who called themselves “Teachers4Action” filed an action in Federal District Court against the City and the UFT (the UFT was not originally named but was later included as a necessary party which resulted in the loss of union representation for the charged teachers) in an effort to shut the rubber rooms down. Erin Einhorn of the Daily News reported that “The suit alleges that the rooms are part of a "scheme" to discriminate against experienced teachers and "reduce salaries by forcing teachers to quit or be fired.” New York Daily News, (Final Racing Edition) January 22, 2008, p12.

During this lawsuit it was suggested by the Federal Magistrate that Teachers4Action commence a proceeding in New York State court if they wanted to stop the proceedings since Federal Court, he believed, did not have jurisdiction. Teachers4Action and at least one teacher by herself commenced an Article 78 proceeding against sitting DOE arbitrators in an effort to stop the arbitrators from hearing disciplinary cases.

Teachers4Action alleged a long list of abuses by these arbitrators including conflicts of interest, failure to follow arbitration procedures and other disqualifying matters that they claimed required their recusal from hearing their cases. They specifically alleged that “Perhaps the most egregious example of Bias that demonstrates that the relief sought is meritorious and warranted is the fact that the lead named Respondent Deborah M. Gaincs is affiliated with and/or an employee of Petitioners employer.” Additionally they alleged that “Other examples of the need to enjoin Respondent Arbitrators:

a. Respondent Gaines works in the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations and is a permanent member of the Panel that is sitting in judgment of matters related to Petitioners, Respondents communicate with one another and Respondent Gaines’ presence, decisions and advice influences the entire Respondent Panel and prejudices Petitioners rights;

b. On April 15, 2008, Arbitrator Javitz at a hearing of Petitioner’s member Paul Santucci confirmed that he was taking directions from the New York State Education Department about whether or not he should stay the 3020-a hearings until the issue of NYSUT withdrawal and providing alternate counsel was resolved;”

On April 29th Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam denied the request to stop arbitration proceedings but permitted the case to go forward and ordered that the group replead their case. The group started another proceeding and the proceeding against Justice Abdus-Salaam was dismissed for failure to amend their pleadings.

The second proceeding was heard by Justice Kibbie Payne. The DOE was granted permission to intervene and moved to dismiss the proceeding alleging that Article 78 is not the proper mechanism to provide the relief that Teachers4Action was seeking.

What is an Article 78?

Without getting too technical here an Article 78 is a proceeding wherein someone seeks to review or compel a person (usually a governmental body or official) to do something. It has a 4 month statute of limitations and is brought by a petition seeking that the Court order a public official or body to perform an act. There are many reasons why Article 78 proceedings are brought. In the complicated field of education probationary dismissals, improper pay or even retirement issues are often brought by Article 78.


One area where Article 78 proceeding are not permitted is in the area 3020-a proceedings. When this statute was written the legislature saw the 3020-a proceeding as an arbitration proceeding and not a decision by the Chancellor. The review provisions specifically state that any appeal must be brought by Article 75 within 10 days of the arbitration decision. The Articles differ in the standards of review but in practice there is little difference between them.
Now, back to the story…

On August 10 Justice Payne dismissed the Teachers4Action case because “… the court finds that the instant petition has been improperly commenced pursuant to Article 78. Petitioner does not seek to overturn the final determination of a public agency, but rather seeks to bar certain arbitrators from presiding over hearings held pursuant to the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement. Further, Section 3020-a of the Education Law provides that in order to appeal a disciplinary hearing the employee . . . may make an application to the New York state supreme court to vacate or modify the decision of the hearing officer pursuant to section seven thousand five hundred eleven of the civil practice law and rules. The court‘s review shall be 1imited to the grounds set forth in such section (emphasis supplied)”

Clearly Justice Payne could have easily converted the proceeding to the proper form under New York Court rules. It is unclear why he chose not to.

Teachers4Action is to be congratulated for having the courage to bring these proceedings. They have clearly been instrumental in maintaining the pressure on the both the UFT and the DOE to help stop the abuse that rubber room teachers are subjected to every day.

While kudos go out to Elizabeth Green of the New York Sun for covering this story it is important to note that Justice Payne did not throw out the case because “there was no evidence that the arbitrators were biased against the teachers.”

While the judge made a side comment about the lack of evidence he never heard any evidence since the case was dismissed because Teachers4Action filed the wrong paper.

We hope they will continue to fight.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

We, At ICE, Leave the Comments to You!


Statement by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, On Sen. McCain’s Comments on Education Reform to National Urban League

“Sen. McCain clearly has his talking points down about education, but we’re still waiting to see any comprehensive plan. This follows his more than a quarter-century in Congress without showing interest or initiating policy to help public education. Contrast this with the record of Sen. Obama, who has stood for strong education policies and shown a genuine interest in working with teachers to help reform education in constructive ways.

“Sen. McCain’s naiveté about education reform is only as stunning as his hypocrisy. He takes a cheap shot by demonizing teachers, yet lauds the very education reforms that I collaborated on with his new best friends, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein. (bold added by ICE)

“As the new AFT president, I will continue to work with others on education reforms that are good for students and fair to teachers. But I will not shy away from criticizing anyone, including McCain, who would rather pick fights with—rather than support—those who work with children every day and who know what works in the classroom.”


Janet Bass


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Former District 75 Assistant Principal Will Get His Day in Court on Retaliation Claim for Refusal to Conspire to Ruin the Careers of Two Teachers

Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Federal District Court ruled last week that Joseph Fierro, an Assistant Principal at District 75’s P.S. 12X has the right to continue his lawsuit against Principal Ronna Bleadon for sexual harassment and for refusing to take part in what he claims was an effort to destroy the careers of two teachers in his school. Fierro claims that his refusal to take part in the principal’s advances or in her scheme to unsatisfactorily rate two teachers caused his demotion to teacher and other damages.

The facts of the case, as described by Judge Scheindlin, portray an unhealthy work environment for Mr. Fierro and his attempt to change it.

Fierro started working as an assistant principal for P.S. 12X in 2002. P.S. 12X is comprised of approximately six school sites located in the Bronx with its administration primarily based at Lewis & Clark High School. Fierro and the rest of the administration all had offices at Lewis & Clark.

Fierro alleges that from the start of his employment at P.S. 12X, the principal, Ronna Bleadon, made inappropriate comments about how handsome he looked in a suit and how her husband was jealous of him because she constantly told him what a good job he was doing. During the first two years at P.S. 12X, Bleadon also made comments about Fierro's physical appearance in the presence of co-workers. For example, when he wore shorts to work during the summer months Bleadon commented that Fierro had great legs and asked whether he had been working out. Bleadon also told Fierro intimate details about her personal life, sharing her past experiences with an ex-husband.

In or about the fall of 2004, Bleadon repeatedly suggested that Fierro visit her home while her husband was on a business trip so that he could "keep her company." Bleadon directed these comments at him while at work, as well as during phone calls that she initiated after work-hours. Around that same time, Bleadon would "beckon him to her office by saying 'Come see mommy' or 'Come to Mama Bleadon' in front of other assistant principals." According to Fierro, Bleadon's comments and advances made him feel very uncomfortable and awkward.

Fierro also claims that he exercised his First Amendment right to free speech in or about the fall of 2004 when he refused "to participate in or facilitate Bleadon's campaigns to ruin the careers of two teachers whom Bleadon did not like. Fierro witnessed one of the two teachers -- Ms. Grey -- intercede in an altercation between two students. Bleadon directed Fierro to lie and state that he had seen Ms. Grey participate in the fight, but Fierro refused to do so. Bleadon directed Fierro to enter the second targeted teacher's classroom -- that of Mr. Simon -- and "find things for which the administration could give that teacher a 'U' rating. Fierro observed that teacher's classroom and did not find anything that warranted a "U" rating. He told Bleadon the same.

In the middle of the spring semester of 2005, Bleadon transferred Fierro against his will to West Side High School, another P12X school site. Due to this transfer, Fierro no longer had his own office, parking space, computer, and phone. He was separated from the other assistant principals of P12X who all remained at Lewis & Clark. Moreover, he had to travel a greater distance from his home to West Side than to Lewis & Clark. Following his transfer, Bleadon repeatedly called Fierro at West Side to ask him how he liked the transfer, commenting to him that he no longer had the "same comforts that you had here." When Fierro responded that he did not understand why he was transferred and no longer had his own office, Bleadon responded, "Well, you think about it." When he returned to Lewis & Clark for routine meetings with Bleadon, she would ask him whether he missed her or whether he was "ready to behave."

In or about August 2005, Fierro complained to Sharon Burnett, a Local Instructional Superintendent in District 75 who supervised P12X. He informed Burnett that he had been sexually harassed by Bleadon and felt that he had been retaliated against for rejecting her advances. Burnett spoke with Bonnie Brown and Dr. Susan Erber, Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent of District 75, respectively, regarding Fierro's complaints. Burnett then informed Fierro that he was being transferred to P753X -- a District 75 high school located in Brooklyn that was known to be one of the most dangerous schools in New York State.

Fierro protested that he had previously been stabbed twice during earlier placements at dangerous schools and did not want to be transferred. Moreover, he only had two more years until he was eligible for tenure at P12X and a transfer would significantly disrupt his progress. Nevertheless, Fierro was transferred to P753X "in retaliation for complaining about Bleadon's sexual harassment of him and about her retaliation against him for rebuffing her advances."

As a result of Bleadon's sexual harassment and her retaliatory acts, Fierro alleges that he suffered mental and physical distress, and he incurred costs associated with medical visits and medication. Additionally, he took a medical leave from work in the spring of 2006, and lost twenty days worth of wages. Fierro further alleges that, due to his distress, he was unable to undergo training in early 2005 to work with autistic children. This delay prevented him from obtaining employment in this field until very recently.

Fierro alleges that in retaliation for the filing of the instant suit the City of New York, the DOE, and Brown have pressured the principal of District 75 -- his current supervisor -- to terminate him. Specifically, the principal advised Fierro that he did not think that he would be retained as a teacher for the next academic year, despite the fact that two teachers with less seniority were not so advised.

While certain claims were dismissed Fierro has now the opportunity to prove, at trial, these allegations. No date has been set for trial.