Sunday, November 30, 2008


In an unprecedented display of pathological paranoia, our Union's leadership will submit on Monday, at an Executive Board meeting, a resolution which attempts to silence any reporting, discussion, or free speech rights of our representatives concerning the matters discussed at Union meetings. Just like our sweetheart agreements with the DOE, the resolution, unsurprisingly, provides no penalties for violating its provisions.

The UFT leadership regularly records, photographs and reports on the goings-on of the DA and Executive Board in the NY Teacher and on the web. What the resolution does not address is how this practice will be impacted. The actual wording in the second resolved reads as follows: "That this Delegate Assembly call upon all in its ranks to respect the right of their fellow members to meet and deliberate in union meetings, secure in the knowledge that their words and their images will not be transmitted or reproduced without their permission."

Does this mean the UFT will need to obtain everyone's permission before they print in the NY Teacher anything that anyone says at a union meeting? What about our DA reports on the blog? Are we violating the gag order when we don't obtain Randi's permission before we tell our readers what she said? Or, perhaps the intent of the second resolved clause is narrowly focused on silencing frequent UFT critic and editor of Education Notes, Norman Scott, and his video camera.

The Executive Board and Delegate Assembly are elected, representative bodies; elected by our members to represent our interests. When elected bodies discuss sensitive matters they generally go into executive session; a tactic used sporadically at the Executive Board (as per Article V, Section 12 of the UFT Constitution ) during contract negotiations and rarely if ever used at the Delegate Assembly.

Since most of our 180,000 membership do not attend Executive Board and/or Delegate Assembly meetings, they rely on publications of leadership controlled and opposition produced material to understand how our Union works and what decisions have been made. Since there is often a great difference of opinion at these meetings, it is vital that all ideas, statements, and comments, be reported and not edited by the leadership. Members must know and understand how their representatives voted and what statements were made.

So basic is the fundamental right to freedom of speech of union members, it was written into our labor law, under which our Union must comply.

The Landrum-Griffin Act (the LMRDA) provides, in relevant part:

Every member of any labor organization shall have the right to meet and assemble freely with other members; and to express any views, arguments, or opinions; and to express at meetings of the labor organization his views, upon candidates in an election of the labor organization or upon any business properly before the meeting, subject to the organization's established and reasonable rules pertaining to the conduct of meetings: Provided, That nothing herein shall be construed to impair the right of a labor organization to adopt and enforce reasonable rules as to the responsibility of every member toward the organization as an institution and to his refraining from conduct that would interfere with its performance of its legal or contractual obligations. LMRDA, Section 101 (a) (2).

It has been held that a blanket prohibition on disseminating information from Union meetings is violative of the Act. See Bishop v. International Association of Bridge, Structural, ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, 310 F. Supp. 2d 33; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3229; 174 L.R.R.M. 2649 (D.C. Circuit, 2004) and Callihan v. United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9715; 169 L.R.R.M. 3085; 147 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P10,122 (District Court, D.C., 2002).

When a Union becomes nothing more than a self-serving public relations operation, it ceases to care about free speech or other rights of its members. We must protect our precious rights and demonstrate to our misguided, paranoid leadership that they work for us…not the other way around.

The proposed resolution follows:

Motion: To recommend to the executive board and delegate assembly the following resolution on the Confidentiality of Union Meetings:

WHEREAS, it is essential that UFT chapter leaders, delegates and members have the full confidence that they can speak honestly and frankly in union meetings without fear that their words and their images will be reproduced in the news media or on the Internet without their knowledge or permission; and

WHEREAS, without such meetings and the free and open debate among union members that they allow, the democratic deliberations of the UFT are diminished and the ability of the union to learn and represent the views of its school-based leadership and members is undermined; and

WHEREAS, in recent weeks UFT member meetings have been surreptitiously recorded and transmitted to the news media, reporters have been invited to attend union meetings without identifying themselves, and video cameras have been brought into such meetings for the purpose of recording the proceedings – all without the consent of those present at the meetings; and

WHEREAS, there are ample opportunities for those who wish to speak to the news media and make their views known publicly to do so outside of union meetings; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that this Delegate Assembly affirm the vital principle that our union be able to hold union meetings, without outside news media present and without the proceedings being recorded and disseminated in public forums, in order to encourage the widest possible freedom of communication and deliberation among union members and leaders; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this Delegate Assembly call upon all in its ranks to respect the right of their fellow members to meet and deliberate in union meetings, secure in the knowledge that their words and their images will not be transmitted or reproduced without their permission.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ATR Step Forward?

The Side Agreement is like your favorite team winning a game on the last day of a baseball season when they have already been eliminated from the playoffs.

By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader; Jamaica High School

For almost a week I have been studying the new “Side Agreement” between the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers concerning Absent Teacher Reserves. It is a complicated document which we posted on this blog the other day. I urge everyone to read it and come out to the rally to support ATRs at Tweed Monday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

I have also spent a great deal of time talking about the Side Agreement with the many ATR’s and Absent Secretary Reserves and Absent Guidance Counselor Reserves at Jamaica High School. I believe there will be a number of veteran ATR’s who will be placed in permanent positions through this agreement. That is positive but the Side Agreement really does little to address the underlying issue of teacher placement.

Under prior Contracts, when a UFT member was excessed because a school or program’s enrollment declined, they were placed in a position within their district or central program and only moved out of a district if there were no vacancies. Excessed people did not normally bump appointed people with less seniority. However, the 2005 Contract gave principals a veto over any hiring. The term ATR was put into the Contract. Basically, it said excessed people could be sent anywhere in a district as a substitute and could do nothing about it.

As Jamaica High School has been downsized, excessed members have been sent packing to other schools throughout Queens. When we had two people excessed within a license, there was nothing to stop the DOE from sending the senior person in excess clear across the borough while the junior member stays as an ATR at Jamaica. I have been telling the UFT and DOE for months about how unfair the process is. The new Side Agreement does nothing to change this. Second class status for ATR’s remains a fact of life.

When schools were closed before the disastrous 2005 Contract, the teachers who were at a closing school had preferred placement rights. The actual language from Article 18G5 stated, “All appointed and certified provisional staff from the impacted school(s) shall be offered the broadest placement choices available within the authority of the Board; and where possible, their wishes will be taken into account when placing them into positions.” It goes on to say, “These rights are in addition to any other contractual right to transfer that an employee may exercise.” Jamaica received several fine people from closing schools through this preferred placement process.

However, Article 18G5 was eliminated from the 2005 Contract and replaced by a truncated Article 18D; preferred placement was gone. No longer was a teacher virtually guaranteed a job in a school on their wish list if their school was closed. Now, we have to write a resume, apply for jobs and hopefully convince a Principal to hire us. This has become more difficult with “Fair Student Funding” which will soon make the cost to a principal on his/her budget for hiring a teacher the individual teacher’s actual salary, instead of an average of all the teachers. There is a disincentive to hire experienced people who are paid more. The new Side Agreement addresses this problem somewhat.

Under its terms, centrally funded ATR’s will have to serve as ATR’s for five months if excessed in June, or ten months if excessed in January in order for a school to be able to hire them at a discount rate. If anyone is excessed in June, a Principal would be crazy to hire them before November when ATR's go on sale. The Side Agreement would seem to favor people who have been in excess for at least five to ten months. However, in November and later in the school year, how many positions are out there? Most jobs open up in September when a school year starts. For all intents and purposes, most teachers in excess without “connections” will spend a year in exile.

After November 1 of the year someone is excessed, the Side Agreement says a Principal can hire us and the cost to his budget will be half the price of a beginning teacher for year one and the price of a starting teacher for seven more years. We get paid full salary; the Central DOE makes up the difference. This is a true discount for principals that should lessen the number of long-term ATR’s. However, as budgets are cut and more schools are closed, principals will have a strong incentive not to hire people who have not yet been discounted so don’t expect this Agreement to solve the ATR problem.

Furthermore, the Side Agreement permits Principals to try an ATR out from November to June and then excess the person regardless of seniority or the teacher can leave in June if he/she does not like the new school. Yet another second class status of teachers has been created.

Unscrupulous principals might even try to “fix” the system by engineering teacher trades. For example, Principal A excesses Teacher A and convinces the Central DOE to fund Teacher A for the year while another principal excesses Teacher B. Low and behold after November 1, the two schools magically have openings and Principal A hires Teacher B while the other Principal picks up Teacher A. Now, they have discounted teachers as they are only charged starting pay for eight years.

There are so many questions this Side Agreement does not resolve? What about ATR’s who are being used to cover vacancies in the schools where they were excessed from? There are currently three teachers at Jamaica High School who are teaching in regular positions all semester but are listed as ATR’s. The new Side Agreement does not really address the issue. In fact clause 9 which says, “ATR’s will be used for classroom assignments, e.g. push-in, pull-out, intervention, remediation, to cover day-to-day and long-term absences, to reduce class size, and other assignments within the teacher job description,” might make the situation worse. A school could say they are using ATR’s to reduce class sizes; they are not covering vacancies. I have emailed UFT Secretary Michael Mendel on this issue. I will try to update this post when I talk to him.

As for Secretaries and Guidance Counselors, their job descriptions when they are ATR’s are not addressed by the Side Agreement. Also, what about school funded ATR’s? The Side Agreement only covers centrally funded ATR’s. If someone is excessed and the school is still carrying that person on the budget, the teacher does not go on sale in November. Good luck finding a new position. If DOE doesn’t like the way the Side Agreement is going, they can easily just move the ATR’s back on school budgets. Then, what do we do?

The whole ATR debacle is an affront to civil service rules that have been a cornerstone of US policy since the Pendleton Act was signed by President Chester Arthur in 1883, after President James Garfield had been assassinated by a disgruntled job seeker. The Pendleton Act put into practice the idea that civil service jobs should be filled by competitive exams and civil service lists, rather than pull. Since the end of the Board of Examiners, (which theoretically was fair but was subject to its own corruption), hiring of New York City school teachers has basically gone back to the days of patronage.

Yes, we still need certification, but that can be easily expedited with Teach for America or the Fellows program. If someone has some kind of certificate, would they rather be the friend of a Principal or a qualified teacher who got straight A’s in a teacher education program? Personally, I would recommend knowing someone. The 2005 Contract sped the process of a return to patronage along, not only for new hires, but for people seeking transfer and those displaced because their programs were downsized or their schools were closed. Can someone show me some research that proves that patronage hiring boosts educational achievement?

To understand the folly of this system, try it with firefighters. Remember a few years ago when Mayor Bloomberg was closing firehouses. The firefighters from those houses were absorbed into different fire houses. Imagine if they had to pound the pavement and find new jobs because their fire houses were closed. There would be a public outcry in support of the AFR’s. However, with teachers, Joel Klein can make this Side Agreement and still declare in his press release, “While we continue to believe that teachers in the ATR pool should not be permitted to stay on the payroll indefinitely, this agreement represents a needed step forward.” A real step forward would be for teachers to mobilize to take back each and every one of the givebacks from the 2005 Contract that have made teaching and learning conditions next to impossible.

For now, happy pavement pounding everyone. Maybe, we should have the UFT put out a list of where every school is having their holiday parties so ATR’s can crash and make nice-nice with principals.


4:30 p.m. Monday ---Rally for the ATRs at Tweed
Directions: (Broadway and Chambers Street -- any train to City Hall area). We will be there at 4:30 sharp!

4:00 p.m. Monday -- At the UFT (52 Broadway) President Randi Weingarten will speak at the UFT on the "side agreement" on the ATRs. Then they will walk up Broadway to the rally at Tweed.

After the rally -- Gather at Jerry's Cafe, at 90 Chambers Street (between Broadway and Church).

The UFT leadership is now saying that "the message is different" following the side agreement on ATRs signed last Tuesday. But what has actually changed? There are some financial incentives to place ATRs, but the principals still decide whether or not to take them. And in the present financial crisis and budget cuts, how much new hiring and placement will there be? Even if some ATRs are placed under the agreement, the "provisionals" will just be excessed again at the end of the school year. This is no solution for the ATRs who want to teach.

President Weingarten is seeking the "least bad" outcome in the framework of the contract, which abandoned seniority transfers, and thus continually produces new ATRs. We continue to demand that there be a freeze on hiring and placements until all ATRs who want positions are placed.

The union leadership says it will first have an informational session at 52 Broadway at 4 p.m. and then at the end of that, walk to the Tweed--DOE with however many are left. The ad hoc committee to support the ATRs is continuing to call on all teachers and defenders of the ATRs to rally at 4:30 p.m. at Tweed (between Broadway and Park Row). We will form up on the esplanade outside the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station on the 4, 5 and 6 lines, and then go around the corner to the DOE. Those who wish to go to the informational session at the UFT should do so, but the key is to have a strong showing at the Department of Education demanding that all ATRs be placed.

To repeat: There are over 1,500 experienced, licensed, capable teachers ready and willing to teach, while New York City classrooms are as overcrowded as ever. We say: Let Teachers Teach!

After the rally: Gather at “Jerry’s Café.” 90 Chambers Street, (between Broadway and Church). Good Coffee, good conversation, plans for next steps.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The ATR "Side" Agreement: for your comment


Absent Teacher Reserve and Vacancies

Memorandum of Agreement entered into this _______day of November, 2008 by and between the New York City Board of Education (hereinafter “DOE”) and the United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO (hereinafter the “Union).

All terms and conditions of the current collective bargaining agreements between the parties remain in full force and effect. This side agreement assists in using talent and resources more effectively:

1. In recognition of the realities of the evolving budget situation and a pool of available qualified, experienced teachers, the Chancellor will convey to principals that though they continue to have final say over teacher hiring decisions it is his clear preference that the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool be used as the first option in filling new and existing vacancies. Towards that end, the Chancellor will send a letter to principals strongly urging them to consider and interview members of the ATR pool to fill vacancies before considering other candidates, explaining the significant financial incentives created herein for them to do so, and underscoring that, as the city confronts the current fiscal crisis, responsible management principles require a commitment to actively and in good faith pursue hiring ATRs prior to filling open positions.
2. The DOE will also send principals lists of ATRS and their license areas and district/superintendency.
3. “ATR” refers to all UFT-represented titles.
4. When a centrally-funded ATR is hired to fill a regular position in a school (other than the school from which the ATR was excessed), on or after November 1st of the calendar year in which they were excessed, central DOE will pay the difference between the actual salary of the teacher and a starting teacher salary, and then, in subsequent years, will continue to pay the difference between the actual salary and the subsequent steps on the salary scale (for example, in year 2, the difference between actual salary and step 2A on the salary scale). This subsidy will terminate once the excessed employee has been in the position 8 years.
5. Until November 15, 2010 a school that hires a centrally-funded ATR to fill a regular position (other than a school from which the ATR was excessed) on or after November 1st of the calendar year in which they were excessed, in addition to being charged in accordance with ¶ 4 above, central DOE will credit the hiring school’s budget one-half of the starting teacher salary that would otherwise be paid by the school under ¶4 above.
6. After November 1, principals can offer to hire centrally-funded ATRs for the balance of the school year on a provisional basis whereby ATRs accepting this offer can be excessed, regardless of seniority, at the end of the school year in which they are hired, or can opt to be placed in excess again at that time. If the ATR is not excessed again at the end of the school year, and does not opt to be placed in excess at that time, the ATR will become a regularly-appointed pedagogue at the school. The subsidies provided for in ¶¶ 4 & 5 above will not apply to ATRs hired provisionally pursuant to this paragraph, but will apply should such an ATR become a regularly-appointed pedagogue at the school.
7. There will be a city-wide posting consisting of all schools that have a high enough rate of absences to benefit from a full-time ATR and that do not have an ATR already assigned, or have enough students to warrant one or more additional ATR’s. With principal approval of adding one or more ATRs, centrally-funded ATR’s may apply to transfer into the district/superintendency and be placed in the selected school as an ATR up to a limit of one (1) ATR per 500 students, with city-wide seniority determining priority among multiple applicants.
8. Excessed pedagogues will not be separated from other job applicants at job fairs, though they will be given the option to decline to attend briefing sessions for new teachers.
9. ATR’s will be used for classroom assignments, e.g. push-in, pull-out, intervention, remediation, to cover day-to-day and long-term teacher absences, to reduce class size, and other assignments within the teacher job description.
10. DOE will make its best efforts to modify its systems so that, by school year 2009-2010, applicants for specific vacancies in the open market or the excess hiring system will be notified when their application is received, if they are hired and if the position has been filled with another applicant.
11. It is the mutual objective of the DOE and UFT in reaching this side agreement to reduce the size of the excess pool by 1) eliminating any financial disincentives to fill open positions out of the ATR pool; 2) creating a financial incentive for the school to hire out of the ATR pool; and 3) improving processes and procedures that will facilitate the hiring process for ATRs. The UFT and the DOE will review the results of this side agreement after it has been in operation for one year and, on that basis, will work collaboratively to determine if it is necessary to find additional solutions aimed to reduce the size of the ATR pool in a manner that serves the best interests of the students of New York City public schools and reflects the need to address the fiscal challenges we face together.
12. This agreement will expire on December 1, 2010 although paragraphs 4, 5 & 6 will continue to apply to hiring done on or prior to that date, according to the specific terms set forth above.
13. The UFT will hold its arbitration (case number A-079-C16257) in abeyance to allow this agreement time to go into effect.

Agreed to this ______ of November, 2008.

For the Board of Education For the United Federation of Teachers

--------------------------------- ______________________________

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.

Friday, November 14, 2008


By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

In what can only be described as another example of proof of the wide gap between the UFT leadership and its membership, the UFT at the Wednesday, November 12, 2009 Delegate Assembly would not go on the record opposing Joel Klein for Federal Secretary of Education. They will only go so far as to encourage members to send our thoughts about the Chancellor to the Obama transition people and they will send results of surveys we did last spring.

The Unity leadership spoke out strongly in opposition to an ICE amendment to a resolution that would share information about Klein and encourage UFT members to contact the Obama staff about Klein. ICE’s Lisa North proposed that the UFT oppose any nominee such as “Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Paul Vallas or any other potential Secretary of Education who supports corporate style, top-down, high stakes test crazed, teacher bashing accountability.” We wanted the UFT to go on the record and declare that twenty-five years of teacher bashing is enough. The UFT leadership declined to join us in saying enough is enough.

Instead, the normally sensible Secretary Michael Mendel gave a powerful speech against opposing Klein. He said that the teachers should be encouraged to make statements, not the UFT because then the battle lines are drawn. If I correctly understood this argument, he basically wants the rank and file to throw the snowballs while the UFT leadership stands back and watches. This way they can say, “It’s them not us Chancellor.” I have one question: Who does the UFT leadership represent?

The corporate style, top-down, test crazed blame the teachers and close down schools if the tests scores don’t go up fast enough accountability system has been a disaster for our schools and our members. That much is clear. Joel Klein is just one of a number of city school superintendents who have bought into the “It’s the teachers’ fault!” accountability. Randi Weingarten has talked repeatedly about how the Federal No Child Left Behind law is the real problem. Even after a favorable election where Randi spoke about how hard the UFT toiled to elect Obama and a Democratic Congress, our Union still will not take an official stand against the “blame the teachers” crowd that now run urban schools in many cities.

As for Klein himself, I have emailed back and forth with the Chancellor on several occasions about Jamaica High School issues. I have nothing against him personally. It’s the policies that try to quantify everything into data driven accountability that I find lacking as well as trying to apply the free market system to schools. It doesn’t work. We need to go in a different direction. If the leader of the UFT-AFT will not move us there, then we are in big trouble. The UFT’s decision to leave the rank and file out on our own to lead the battle against Klein while they stand back and watch from the sidelines might be indicative of where they stand.

After Mendel spoke, there was no suspense about the outcome of the vote. We knew we would lose in the Unity dominated DA, however Michael Fiorillo, the Chapter Leader from Newcomers High School, did suggest that when the UFT encourages teachers to tell the truth about the Klein administration while not directly opposing Klein, it is a distinction without a difference. I have to respectfully disagree with my friend from Newcomers.

For the membership, UFT leaders will say what we want to hear while behind the scenes they can wink and who knows what they are telling the Chancellor. Maybe they are saying they are just letting the teachers blow off some steam. Perhaps they want to be everything for everyone. The amendment to oppose Klein and company was defeated; the resolution to provide information to the Obama team on Klein carried.

ATR’s: Rally or Candlelight Vigil?

Controversy erupted at the DA over the November 24th rally at Tweed in support of Absent Teacher Reserves. The ATR supporters from the Ad Hoc Committee asked for clarification from President Weingarten if this was to be a raucous rally or a candlelight vigil. The latest word from UFT leaders is that this would be a vigil now but the DA in October called for a rally which Randi supported. Yesterday, Randi decided to mock the controversy and belittle the people who want a loud gathering. She said it gets dark early in November and candles would allow everyone to be seen.

ICE’s Julie Woodward took offense at being ridiculed by the President. Julie passionately voiced her feelings to the DA on behalf of the ATRs. At the end of all of this, I’m still not sure if there will be a rally or a vigil but I will encourage the members in my school and those who read this blog to attend either way.

In other DA News, we heard a long report from Randi about Obama’s election, the Democratic Party majority in Congress, control of the New York State Senate, the horrific State and City budget situations, budget cuts for schools in the middle of the year, No Child Left Behind, civil rights, an economic stimulus package that would hopefully include money for state and local governments, the DC 37 settlement that keeps to the 4% and 4% pattern, and possible layoffs. (If the city were to declare a financial emergency, layoffs would have to come in reverse seniority order within license citywide.) She also did not even hint that Bloomberg is close to declaring a financial emergency where there could be layoffs.

There were questions about parking and rubber rooms. Staff Director Leroy Barr reported that things are much better in the Temporary Reassignment Centers than last year. Finally, the UFT will rally in support of UFT members at the Art Institute today and at the Merrick Charter School on November 20.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No Klein Or His Ilk In Obama Ed Dept.

    ICE congratulates everyone who worked so hard to have Barack Obama elected US President. The multitudes of teachers who donated and worked for Obama expect that we will be respected by an Obama administration. We have suffered through a quarter century of teacher bashing in this country since the infamous A Nation at Risk was published. First, there was competency testing of teachers (supported by Hillary Clinton incidentally). Then, the one-way accountability system was introduced that blamed teachers for all of the social ills of the country. This led to the high-stakes testing movement which combined with Mayoral dictatorships over schools in many of our large cities. Blaming teachers became an acceptable form of discrimination. ICE states emphatically: TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF TEACHING BASHING IS ENOUGH! We must send real educators to Washington who will support an education policy that respects our work. ICE would like to see the following motion added to the agenda today:


Resolved, that the UFT will work to see that the Secretary and Under-secretary of Education share our values and we will toil to defeat any nominee such as Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Paul Vallas or any other potential Secretary of Education who supports corporate style, top-down, high stakes test crazed, teacher bashing accountability.


The November 24 Atr Rally Is About All Of Us

    Every UFT member is a potential future Absent Teacher Reserve. The DOE can easily set up a school to fail by giving that school the area's most challenging students and then blaming the educators when test scores don't rise fast enough. The November 24th Rally at Tweed in support of our ATR's and RTR's (teaching fellows threatened with termination in early December) should be used as a springboard to win back preferred placement rights for teachers who are excessed. Before the punitive 2005 giveback laden Contract, if a school or program was closed or reduced, teachers had "preferred placement rights" to vacancies. We didn't bump appointed teachers. In addition, in prior Contracts provisional employees were specifically covered by Article 18F: "No Layoff Agreement." It's time to mobilize to put these provisions and an SBO or seniority based transfers back into our Contract. The massive rally called for by the DA (We do not favor a candlelight vigil as an alternative.) should be used as an attempt to start the fight to win back what we gave up in 2005.


Ice Says Yes To Democracy In Schools; No To Mayoral Dictatorship

    The law giving the Mayor complete control of the schools expires in June 2009. The State Legislature must renew it or come up with something new. If they do nothing, the city system would revert to the old system of an appointed seven member Board of Education and elected community districts.

    ICE has spent over a year discussing a governance plan that would value the democratic participation of all constituents and restore dignity to students, staff and parents. This is a golden opportunity to right what was wrong with the system prior to 2002 and correct what can only be considered a seven year disaster under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein.
    The BOE must be politically neutral and removed from any one political office. A school system cannot change/adjust according to the whim, caprice, political aspirations, career, or ideology of any Mayor. It must be run as an independent office with responsibilities to the people of the City and operate within the regulations and laws of the NYS Ed. Department.
    ICE believes in democracy.  Therefore, the local and central Boards of Education should be elected by the voters and non-registered parents/guardians, and there should be checks and balances built into the structure.  Furthermore, the actions of theses boards should be transparent. At the school level, Shared Decision Making among parents, teachers, and administrators (also, students in the high schools) must become a reality.

    ICE has three members on the UFT's School Governance Committee. Underlying our proposal is the recognition that the doors of the schoolhouse must be open to all.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Letter from Marjorie Stamberg and John Powers to UFT President Randi Weingarten and and Executive Board Members

We have been informed that the November 24 Rally to Defend ATRs is now to be officially a "candlelight vigil." We strongly object to this change. The motion passed at the UFT delegate assembly October 15 said that "the UFT will organize a mass citywide rally to show our unity and strength." Instead of a show of strength, this turns it into a toothless gesture of "bearing witness" or silently standing by and observing as a travesty is taking place.

Furthermore, we were not consulted on this change, which was made without our knowledge, despite assurances from Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew that we would be included in the planning. The first we heard of this was in a changed rally leaflet we received this morning.

A candlelight vigil is a silent "protest at the suffering of some marginalized group of people, or in memory of lives lost to some disease, disaster, massacre or other tragedy."

We want to make precisely the opposite point -- that ATR teachers are not marginalized, that we stand by them, and the UFT will fight to ensure that they do not become "lost lives," a "massacre," a "disaster" or other "tragedy." We can "bear witness" all we want, but it won't stop Joel Klein from trying to drive out our colleagues. And it won't stop the likes of the New York Post from vilifying them and our union.

We will continue to plan for a mass citywide rally as "a show of our unity and strength" as the motion called for. I think many teachers will feel as we do that we need strong powerful action, and will not stand by in silence.

In the words of Joe Hill, the famous labor organizer, "Don't Mourn For Me--Organize!"

That is what we will continue to do and we encourage the UFT leadership to reconsider its plan.

John Powers
Marjorie Stamberg
for the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend ATRs