Friday, September 26, 2008


In no surprise to anyone, the DOE "Fact Sheet" on excessed teachers distorts the picture. They claim that most teachers in excess are finding jobs. However, a closer look at their numbers shows that their open market hiring system isn't working for most excessed teachers. By looking at the DOE's own data which we show below, we can clearly see that well under 50% of excessed teachers are being hired at new schools through the open market.

The DOE admits that "approximately 40% of excessed teachers are reabsorbed into the school from which they were excessed when positions opened." Those teachers basically had to be reabsorbed because the UFT Contract in Article 17B Rule 8 gives them a right of return for a year if a job opens up in their old school in their license area. These people didn't have to write a resume, go to interviews or use the open market. If you take those teachers out of the mix, then it is clear that the the vast majority of teachers in excess are not getting anywhere on the open market. Their own facts don't lie. We need stronger contractual protections, not weaker ones.

Excessed teachers across experience levels are equally likely to be hired to a position at another school:
• 35% of teachers excessed in 2006 with 0-3 years experience were hired by April 2008.
• 41% of teachers excessed in 2006 with 4-6 years experience were hired by April 2008.
• 47% of teachers excessed in 2006 with 7-12 years experience were hired by April 2008.
• 45% of teachers excessed in 2006 with 13-19 years experience were hired by April 2008.
• 38% of teachers excessed in 2006 with 20+ years experience were hired by April 2008.

Another approximately 40% of excessed teachers are reabsorbed into the school from which they were excessed when positions opened up.

Monday, September 22, 2008



by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica HS

Teamsters Local 237 has reached a new Contract settlement with the City according to the September 19 issue of the Chief Leader civil service newspaper. Local 237 agreed on a two year, 13 day Contract that will give them annual raises of 4% and 4%. This keeps in line with the pattern established by uniform unions that the Police Sergeants set last year and this blog reported on. The only difference between the 237 pattern and the uniform pattern is that the benefits' package for 237 is not as good as what the police unions received. The 237 deal was confirmed by Randi Weingarten at last Thursday's Chapter Leader meeting. The Chief stated that it may mean there is a pattern for all civilian settlements in the next round of bargaining and Randi said this too.

While many people are surprised that a deal that sets a pattern would be struck amidst an ever worsening financial situation at the city, state and national levels, it is apparent that the city already budgeted in settlements for the civilian unions, including the UFT. According to this pattern, the UFT would receive a wage and benefit package that would be similar but slightly lower than what the uniformed unions negotiated. Our Contract expires on October 31, 2009; a successor agreement would cover the next two years should it follow the civilian pattern.


There are no reported givebacks in the 237 deal or any of the current police and other uniform settlements. My five year old niece could now go to the Mayor and say, "Me too," and get the 237 pattern, unless the current financial meltdown leads to a municipal fiscal emergency. At last week's Chapter Leader meeting, Randi stated that a city budget meltdown is not likely. If it were to occur, then every union will be in trouble. We would then have to band together like we never have before to preserve what we have and make gains. If the system does not collapse, then our primary goal when the UFT starts negotiating must be to reverse the awful givebacks from the 2005 UFT Contract that have made life miserable for so many of our members.

This blog has written repeatedly about the horrific 2005 givebacks: the longer day, the longer year, a return to cafeteria and hall patrol, losing the right to grieve material in the file because letters are inaccurate or unfair, the loss of seniority transfer rights as well as the SBO transfer and staffing plan, an end to preferred placement for members when schools close, and weakened due process for time and attendance matters. This Contract clearly worsened teaching and learning conditions to the point where we don't know of too many people who aren't hoping to leave the system as soon as they can. This does not bode well for the future of education. In spite of the hype to the contrary, teachers are not the problem.

The next Contract should not be exclusively about money; it should be about making teaching viable again. We should consider accepting the raises every other union is receiving, even though it will leave us behind our suburban colleagues in terms of salary, particularly at the middle and top steps. (If we want more than the pattern, it means more givebacks or a successful strike.)

We need to organize to convince the public that our fight is about empowering parents, teachers and students to really improve the schools. Let's work with parent allies to push for lower class sizes, teacher as well as parental voice in all hiring decisions and other working condition changes that will truly improve education.

The usual argument against negotiating for smaller class sizes is that if we lowered class sizes in the Contract, then we will have less money for salary increases. We are competing against ourselves. That is not true this time as mandates from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement include lower class sizes. If smaller class sizes are funded by the State or Federal government, great, but class size caps have to be enforceable. What better mechanism than the UFT Contract? The class size grievance process already exists.

We need a return to the SBO transfer and staffing plan where UFT members and parents had equal voice with the Principal on who was hired. In fact, we were the majority on SBO committees and there was an expedited grievance process if someone did not obtain a position. Principals need a check on their power to hire staff as personnel decisions now are top-down and there is no evidence that this has educational benefits. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that senior teachers are being shunned. The current financial disincentive to hire senior teachers must be eliminated. We need to show the world how senior people are an asset and not a liability. We also have to cease any non-professional activities such as hall or lunch duty unless a teacher wants them. Yes, we need to have Circular 6 back to the way it was so teachers can work on educational matters and not hand out straws.

Last week, this blog explained how we could use the precedent established by police to gain a day back and help students have an extra day of instruction right before Regents exams, while eliminating some of the annual chaos at the start of the school year. We should return to work after Labor Day so administration has sufficient time to reorganize schools. We also need to have full grievance rights restored and hopefully improved. If principals are allowed to argue their grievance positions on the phone, they certainly can take the time to defend some of the ridiculous letters and observations they write before an independent party. Furthermore, if a letter is pulled, administration shouldn't be allowed to bring it up in any future forum, case closed. Teacher morale would improve if people felt they had a fair process for redress of all grievances.

Anyone who is not moved by the horror stories playing out in real time in the comments section of this blog concerning Absent Teacher Reserves is not a real human being. Hearing about how our members are being shuffled around is heart breaking. I feel for each and every person and of course I know I could be next if my school were to close. Not allowing these teachers to teach is an outrage that must be addressed. An ATR who desires a position must be placed before any new person within a license is hired. This must be in the Contract. Firing ATR's is not an option.

The ATR's will not be sold out and allowed to be terminated if they can't find a position within 12 or 18 months. We should not even argue this phony issue. To terminate them would necessitate a change in civil service law that would set a precedent for the labor movement that this union could never agree to. Even while they were winning all of the draconian givebacks in 2005, the DOE lost in fact-finding arbitration when they sought the right to fire the ATR's. They tried again in 2006 negotiations but they were not successful. They are not going to win in 2009 either. (This is one of the reasons why ending the Mayoral dictatorship over the schools next year has to be one of our major non-contractual objectives. We need educators running the school system who understand that teachers who are excessed are not horrible employees.) We also must have guidelines for evaluating schools that are fair and reasonable.

The pattern set by Local 237 and the uniformed unions looks like the pattern for the next round of bargaining and if a union accepts what other unions are getting, then there will be no givebacks. Over thirty years of history are on our side there. ATR jobs are safe. Our goal must be to show that the educational gains we are talking about putting in the Contract are in the best interests of the students. Continuing to close schools, firing senior teachers, scaring others into socially promoting students so their schools won't be closed doesn't help anyone. If it continues, soon we will be giving out "sub-prime diplomas."

Lack of day-to-day accountability and unchecked power is being discredited throughout the private as well as the public sector. The "imperial principalship" where principals are corporate style CEO's is not succeeding. Test scores on exams that are out of the control of the state (the NAEP and SAT) are not rising. Many principals in the city are not spending the money from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement to meet the mandate of lower class sizes. Budget games are being played all over the place at the expense of senior teachers as well as pupils. The UFT needs to fight back by exposing the scam now.

We will not improve our working conditions if we don't understand that two annual raises of around 4% each are guaranteed if the city isn't bleeding red ink. A contract that equals the pattern and gives nothing further away is not sufficient even in difficult economic times. Saying "Me too" to Bloomberg or his successor won't restore what we have lost and won't help the kids. We need to fight as a Union to win our dignity back.

It's up to each and every UFT Chapter to organize to put pressure on our leadership to attain these goals. Contractual gains will not be possible unless we are prepared to battle for them with all of our collective strength. Don't let the UFT take the easy way out by accepting the pattern and claiming victory because we didn't give anything else away. Remember, my five year old niece could do that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Print-out, Sign and Fax In ATR Petition for Mass Rally

by Marjorie Stamberg, ESL teacher,D79

The situation of teachers in the ATR pool is urgent. Everyone is affected. With classrooms more overcrowded than ever, it is outrageous that some 1,400 teachers are being prevented from teaching. This is a direct result of the union's sellout of seniority transfers in the 2005 contract.

The union must act. Attached is a petition calling on the UFT to organize a mass citywide rally to demand that the ATRs be given positions before any new teachers are placed. I would like to ask colleagues to take this up in their schools and the various teacher groups that they participate in. Letʼs try to have a meeting of those interested in working on this soon.

You can just smell a sellout in the air, from the Weingarten/Unity caucus on the up to 1,400 ATRS now in teacher reserve. I think it's important to get something going on this before they pull their rotten deal. A petition seemed to be a way to do it. By having a petition for a demo, it could be presented at the Executive Board.

Please circulate the annexed petitions and fax them to Marjorie at 212-614-8711.

ICE Discusses Democratic Control of the School System

ICE has talked about school governance at several meetings. We listened to many ideas about how the school system should be governed since the law authorizing Mayoral control of the schools sunsets in June 2009. If the State Legislature and Governor do not renew the law, then the old Board of Education (7 members: 2 appointed by the Mayor and 1 appointed by each of the Borough Presidents) returns.

After seven years of Mayoral dictatorship, many educators would gladly go back to the old system but that does not appear to be likely as the Bloomberg dominated media seem to want the current top-down dictatorship at any cost.

Teachers I talk to can not stand another day under the current system. Betsy Gotbaum's commission seems to want Mayoral control with some checks on it. That is a small step forward. We will see what the UFT proposes.

In ICE discussions, we came up with an idea that none of the people studying school governance seems to be considering: Democracy.

What is wrong with the people electing the central school board and the Chancellor being accountable to these elected representatives? Local boards can be elected too. Why is democratic governance not even being discussed? In the suburban school districts throughout the State and in most of the country where very few people are complaining that public education is failing, school boards are usually elected by the voters. We understand that schools throughout the rest of the state, outside of the five big cities, are financed mostly through property taxes but we can talk about funding a little later.

What we cannot understand is why democracy is such a radical concept when it comes to New York City schools.

Let's put democracy on the table.

Monday, September 15, 2008

UFT Once Again Joins Happy Talk on School System

by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

I am well aware that I should no longer be surprised with anything that happens in the school system, but once again I allowed myself to be disappointed to read the UFT Newspaper, the NY Teacher. The September 12 edition had a headline that read, "Grand Opening." Below it was a caption that read, "Classes begin with hardly a glitch." Are they for real?

Instead of throwing the newspaper in the garbage, I read on to see what UFT President Randi Weingarten had to say. She stated, "Today's opening of schools was one of the smoothest I can remember." She went on to talk about sporadic problems that were mostly solved. Why is the UFT again joining in on the happy talk about the school system?

Maybe I am so shell shocked because of what we have been through and are continuing to experience at Jamaica High School, but the UFT quotes do not reflect any of what we are feeling. Classes started for us on September 2 with around 100 oversize classes and over twenty people in our building were Absent Teacher Reserves. After school on the first day of classes, I went to a Queens High School Chapter Leaders Meeting.

I heard Chapter Leaders talk about how many ATRs are in each school. Talented veteran teachers who are not allowed to teach a full time program is not anything I would define as grand, particularly when there are oversize classes. At the meeting, I listened to Chapter Leaders complain about oversize classes in their buildings. How could this be allowed to happen when the State just came through with funding for reduced class sizes? Having students move chairs from room to room because classes are so crowded is not what I would define as a smooth opening.

In Queens, the overcrowding problem is severe but Jamaica High School, which has space available, this past week was closed out for incoming over the counter students (those new to the area who are registering for school for the first time). The DOE actually wrote that we have no seats available. We have plenty of seats and we have teachers if we were to be permitted to use our ATRs to actually teach. How was the opening of the year in your buildings? We would like to know.

School Administrators Need those two Days Before Labor Day Back to Reorganize

My observations of the high school opening in Queens was that it was a mess. How many classes in the city will still be oversize after the ten day grace period that the UFT and DOE gives principals to fix them? My guess is that oversize classes will still number in the thousands.

Part of the problem is that the amount of time between the end of summer school on August 15 and the date when teachers start school on August 28 is not sufficient to reorganize high schools properly. Administrators must re-program many students who earned credit in summer schools. This takes time to do correctly and then it puts class sizes out of balance in many cases. This partially explains the oversize class problem in certain schools every year.

It is virtually impossible to fix the problem because we come back to school too soon after summer school. If administration had the two full weeks between summer school and the return of teachers, as they did in the past before the 2005 Contract, they might be able to do a better job of reorganizing. There might be less chaos at the start of the school year because many more students would be properly placed.

The PBA (Police union) recently set a precedent when they negotiated to win back a day off that was taken away from them by an arbitrator in a prior settlement. It's now time for the UFT to use that agreement as a precedent to say that for the good of the schools, let administration have the entire two weeks between summer school and Labor Day to reorganize schools properly without teachers or pupils in the buildings. We come back too soon; administration needs ample time to readjust student schedules after summer school, instead of worrying about planning teacher professional development for August. We should return to school after Labor Day and then bring the students back on the Thursday after Labor Day. A couple of extra days to update student programs might make all the difference in the world and allow us to start each school year a little more efficiently.

The PBA won one day; the second day we need could be gained by exchanging a Professional Development Day, such as Brooklyn Queens Day, and making that an instructional day. After all, that is a valuable day just a week before Regents Exams in the high schools. Certainly, extra instruction at that time would benefit the students. Let's do what the PBA did to benefit the kids and bring some order to the start of the school year.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Chapters Actually have Some Leverage with the Parking Agreement

by James Eterno; UFT Chapter Leader; Jamaica High School

Bloggers and others have already pointed out the negative aspects of the new parking agreement between the UFT and the City Department of Transportation. Jeff Kaufman was absolutely correct in his previous post here that the UFT acted contrary to a resolution that was passed in January which said that we would not give up any of our placards. We gave up tens of thousands of them.

The old system of giving virtually everyone a placard who asked for one (in many schools) and delegating the spots, daily on a first-come-first-served basis, was probably the fairest way to allocate parking. However, nobody was guaranteed a placard or a spot, even if a school had ample parking. The new agreement for the first time gives UFT members, through their Chapter Leader, a real voice in how a school determines its parking procedures. This is a right we never had before. As a Chapter Leader, I have negotiated many agreements on parking with nothing on paper to back me up. Now, we have some say in the process.

The actual language of Paragraph 3 of the parking agreement states: "With respect to the recipients of the on-street and off-street placards, principals and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Chapter Leaders will decide on one of the following distribution methods: (1) assignment to individual staff; (2) pooling of placards for use each day; or (3) some combination of these two options." The paragraph further states that if the Chapter Leader and Principal cannot agree, then the UFT President and the Commissioner of the Office of Labor Relations, or their respective designees, will make a final decision.

While this is not independent arbitration, the UFT President is involved in the dispute resolution process. This agreement marks the first time the UFT has used collective bargaining to empower us since Circular 6 was negotiated way back in 1996. Since that time, it has been one concession after another. Here, in exchange for giving up tens of thousands of parking placards, we have gained a voice in how the actual parking spaces are allocated.

Now the question comes down to the implementation of the agreement. I recommend that every Chapter Leader ask his/her Principal how many spots, both off the street and on the street, a school has been allocated. If it is too low, then appeal. Find places on school grounds to show that there is "additional off-street space that is underutilized" and appeal through the Mayor's Office of Operations. Next, find out about the building's current parking arrangements. I often drive by a school that has one spot on the grounds where the Principal parks. That staff should scream loudly. Even if they don't get any new spaces, they now have a little leverage over the Principal. What will the Principal do in exchange for his/her parking space? Maybe we can get something.

In any school where there are reserved spaces for a Principal or the custodian or someone else, the UFT members should negotiate through this agreement to ask what the administration is offering in exchange for keeping their individual spots? We might be able to make some gains in terms of parking or we could negotiate away spots for something else the Chapter wants. Rank and file UFT members should make sure that their Chapter Leader involves them in the decision-making process, and they should hold the Chapter Leader accountable if he/she does not.

The parking agreement does not exactly give us a huge say in our working conditions, but it gives us something, which is more than we usually have these days.