Friday, January 30, 2009



By James Eterno; UFT Chapter Leader; Jamaica High School

Every UFT member should head straight over to EdNotes Online and watch the video of the wine and cheese information session at UFT headquarters put side by side with rank and filers rallying in the cold at Tweed in support of Absent Teacher Reserves. The video is aptly called, "A Tale of Two Rallies" and should be viewed by every UFT member. It's kind of Norm Scott's poor man's "Fahrenheit 911."  Norm's video led to the main resolution at the January 28, 2009 Delegate Assembly. This resolution bans us from transmitting or reproducing words and images from union meetings without permission of members.

Michael Mendel, who was chairing the DA, said that the intent of the resolution was to stop video recordings but after a question from John Lawhead from ICE on whether we can report back to our schools on what occurred at a DA, UFT President Randi Weingarten offered an amendment from the floor saying the UFT will honor past practices so we can report to our schools. She then said the resolution was about modern communications including emails but she did not mention blogging. Randi's amendment carried as did the ban on reproducing member words and images without their consent. I voted no on the amendment and the resolution; members deserve to know how their Union operates.

I don't know if this post violates the utterly absurd resolution so if it is a violation, this post could be the test case. Go see Norm's tape especially if you have never been to a Union function. It is quite telling.

Randi missed the first half of the meeting as she had to be with her mother who is ill. We wish Randi's mother well; our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

Michael Mulgrew gave the Chief Operating Officer report where he painted the monthly "doom and gloom" picture. Mulgrew reported that in Albany, Chancellor Joel Klein said there would be up to 15,000 city educators who will face layoff in the fall if we don't get more money from the State. I don't mean to be skeptical, but does anyone realistically foresee 15,000 teacher layoffs in September two months before a Mayoral election? With that said, I do believe the financial crisis is real; the recession is severe and we should join the UFT leadership in this fight for fair funding. I recommend that everyone go to and participate in any actions to help push the federal stimulus plan through Congress. I will also join the UFT in their scheduled huge rally at City Hall on March 5.


Since Randi is a regular reader of the blogs, I have a question and I will send this directly to her and some of the Unity hierarchy. How am I going to convince my members to attend a UFT rally at City Hall on March 5 when they feel abandoned by the Central UFT?

Back in 2007, the secretaries at Jamaica filed a group grievance saying that school aides were doing their jobs. In 2008, their Chapter Leader, Jackie Ervolina, came to Jamaica and urged us to support the UFT's citywide grievance on this issue. We agreed. Last spring the UFT told us they won the citywide case. To date, nothing has improved at Jamaica.

Part of this situation at my school goes back as far as 2006 and before. A secretary who had been doing evening school for many years was replaced by a school aide for most of her hours in 2006. She has been waiting almost three years for arbitration. In addition, two secretaries filed workload disputes. The disputes died at the Superintendent's level. One was supposed to be reconvened in February 2008 and never was.

Our secretaries stood together as a group and were told by the UFT to stand tall and fight. They are a shining example of trade unionism. What has the UFT done in return? When we email their Chapter Leader, or talk to our District Representative, we are told to wait and wait and wait and wait and then wait some more. Do you think I am going to be able to get these courageous UFT members out to a rally? They feel they have been abandoned by the UFT as three have since been excessed. Two of these are ATR's and the other is out of Jamaica.

Furthermore, how do I convince a teacher who can't get an answer from the DOE on her Family and Medical Leave Act request that she applied for in December, to come to a rally? A few days ago this person was told by the UFT that we have to be patient because the DOE is slow. Federal law gives the employer five business days to respond to a FMLA request; the UFT tells us to wait, and wait and wait some more.

How am I going to persuade the many teachers who lost parking permits to come to the rally? Jamaica lost many of our legal parking spaces, not just permits, under the new procedure implemented in the fall. We complained in September and haven't heard from the UFT in months on this issue?

How do I tell the Absent Teacher Reserves in my school that they should come to a rally when some aren't put back on our school's budget even when they are teaching full programs (planning, teaching, and assessing)? We've been working with Michael Mendel on this all year and the Principal basically refuses to move unless the situation is obvious and even then it takes a long time for action.

Administration improperly excessed a UFT Delegate and it took us two months, a great deal of effort and a grievance to get her back. Both the delegate and I thanked Mendel personally for helping us in this arduous fight but the central UFT has allowed conditions to exist in the schools where Principals can try to illegally excess a union activist with impunity.

In addition, a teaching fellow was teaching a full time math program all fall but the school would not put him on our Table of Organization. The UFT was informed. Once again, patience was preached. This young teacher ended up finding a job at another school rather than risk getting fired on February 3. Subsequently, that full time math position was left vacant (filled with coverages) for the last two months of the semester. The UFT has told us nothing. Another math teacher who was excessed and is at another school, applied to return to Jamaica and grieved. How do I convince these people that the Union cares about them?

A colleague and I have emailed Randi several times on how the Principal habitually violated our Contract. There are plenty of other examples I could cite but let me just sum up by saying that if I had a dime for each time a UFT member came to me and said that they trust me but the UFT is full of you know what, I would have the salary of a UFT officer. OK that's a little exaggeration but you get the point.

If this is the situation at Jamaica High School where we are not afraid to stand up to the DOE as we rallied at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting last year and wrote to the state twice this school year demanding equity for our school, I can only imagine what is occurring at other Chapters.

To Randi and Unity readers: I'll be there on March 5 and I'll urge people to join me, but could you please give me some tips on what I can say to get my members to have some faith in a Union that is great for "lip service" but has let us down on so many occasions.


Michael Mulgrew gave a report on how there will be a federal, state and city phase to the budget battle. He said we would be lobbying quickly. He then reported on the fellows being allowed to keep their jobs until February 2 but they are gone after that. This leads to the question of whether or not there is a no-layoff agreement in the contract as the Union contends.

Leo Casey reported on a KIPP Charter School being unionized. Mulgrew returned to say that the Art Institute has a Contract. Then there was a report on how our drug plan has switched for the most part from Express Scripps to Medco. Benefits will not be diminished. Mulgrew then told us that Eric Nadelstern is the person who all principals will report to but the DOE is not saying this is another reorganization. He then stated that Garth Harries, the guy in charge of closing schools, will now run District 75 and the UFT is asking for a review of special education. Mulgrew then talked about the school governance report (Mayoral control). There will be a DA next week on this issue. At this point Randi showed up and the Unity crowd roared their approval.

Randi talked about the House of Representatives passing a stimulus plan and how this would be a lifeline for cities. She then said she is thankful that Obama, not McCain, is president but we will have fights at some point with Obama. She then told us we need 50,000 people on the streets on March 5 and how the Democrats call on unions to get things done. Leroy Barr then gave a Staff Directors' Report, mostly about a raffle.

This was followed by a question period. A question about a retirement incentive was answered by Mendel who said we have asked for one but the city has not responded. He continued by noting that even if the city agrees, it would still need to go to the state. A question on charter schools taking over space of existing schools was answered by Randi who asked delegates how many schools have just one school in their buildings. The answer was a surprise to me as most delegates present were from schools that share their buildings with other schools. Randi did say we are working on this issue and school communities have to become involved to keep small schools and charter schools from invading their space. Michael Mendel then angered most of the delegates when someone asked if supervisors would be impacted proportionately by potential layoffs and he said that principals and assistant principals are our labor brothers and sisters. This did not go over too well. He did then state that we would work to see that they were let go in proportionate numbers if there were layoffs.

Special Orders of Business were next. Mel Aaronson was nominated to stay on the Teachers' Retirement Board by Mona Romain. Mona told us how thanks to Mel's lobbying, we were able to keep out of a federal bill a provision that would have lowered the fixed rate on the TDA to between 3-4% from the 8.25% we currently receive. Nice job Mel. No opposition to this one.

There was very little disagreement to a resolution to support the Employee Free Choice Act which would make it easier to unionize and finally there was the anti-Norm video resolution. There was no time for nine other resolutions. Also, nobody raised a new motion during the new motion period. That was astonishing but I guess since we often don't have a new motion period these days, nobody was ready.

We'll be back next week with a report on governance. ICE strongly opposes Mayoral Control of the schools.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

ICE’s Newest Leaflet….

Rockin' the Schools

This is the dream team for "urban school reform." Michelle Rhee, current Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor, not yet 40, was raised in Toledo, a classroom teacher in Baltimore for three years and founder of The New Teacher Project. Al Sharpton is a long-time community activist and radio commentator, often controversial but not previously known for much advocacy on education.

Joel Klein, the former federal prosecutor and corporate lawyer, is the longest-serving NYC schools chancellor over the last fifty years. But he is loath to be considered part of the Education Establishment. As a self-styled "reformer" he has a lot of contempt for the school system he's charged with managing. That sentiment was on display during his propaganda tour with Sharpton to Washington, D.C. this month.

Teacher Unions are the Target

On Martin Luther King Day Klein and Sharpton led a rally at a Washington D.C. high school. They attempted to garner moral authority with lots of references to Dr. King, while heaping scorn on Washington's public schools. But while they preached for change and prophesized destruction, not everything they said was gloom and doom. Washington, D.C., despite being what they call among worst school systems in the nation is right now closer than most places to the promised land of deregulated, teacher union-free schools.

In an article published this month in The New Republic, Klein and Sharpton called Washington "a mecca" for charter schools. They praised Dr. King as someone who would have rejected any "inchworm gradualism." Their suggestion was that King would have given a cheerful endorsement for the new shock therapy being practiced on the schools of Washington and New York City. It's arrogance on a scale that must give serious pause. But let's also consider the wrongs being done to the living.

Michelle Rhee has declared she will rid the D.C. school system of a "significant share" of its teachers, according to the Washington Post. Her plan calls for outright firing of teachers with provisional certification, buy-outs, and placing a large number of teachers on a so-called 90-day plan of evaluation. She is also attempting to unilaterally impose a plan in which teachers can choose to give up tenure in exchange for the chance at a huge lump of merit pay. The Washington Teachers Union has refused to negotiate this plan. Rhee threatens with direct appeals to the membership. As a recent resolution of the Detroit Federation of Teachers rightly declared, the D.C. teachers are "fighting for all of us." [continued other side]

Independent Community of Educators


Praise for Weingarten

Meanwhile, Klein and Sharpton praise Randi as a welcome contrast to the "intransigence" of WTU leader George Parker. They approvingly singled out Randi's statement in November of last year that "With the exception of issue should be off the table." The School Reform Team is mightily cheered by such an open prospect, especially by Randi's willingness to negotiate over tenure and differentiated pay. That and the proliferation of charter schools is the shape of the battle today. (The last public test of school vouchers was the defeat of California's Proposition 38 by a 2 to 1 margin in 2000. What can we do to bring Randi up to date?)

Shock and Awe for New York Schools

The Bloomberg Era has brought the destruction of dozens of neighborhood schools, replaced with theme-based academies that have turned away the neediest students, including those with IEPs and English Language Learners. The new small schools have very rarely been a magnet for racial or ethnic diversity and are often more "ghetto" that the schools they replaced. Whites and Asians still flock to the specialized schools (which have declining minority enrollment) and large stable schools in "safe" neighborhoods. This year it is mostly elementary and intermediate schools that were closed (at least one to be replaced with a charter school) but the pattern remains the same. In September principals are gagged by the DOE from making a public comments about the school grades. Autumn passes with no public hearings, community input or advance warnings. In the dead of winter another round of closings. A principal in one large Brooklyn high school got the news from the school's chapter leader. A teacher in a the Rockaways, Queens, though being rehired a few years ago when her school was reorganized now finds her school is closing again. Newly expanded schools closed. Bonus-winning schools closed. The beat goes on.

Teacher Recruitment Still Going Full Throttle

Klein's strategy has been to create a surplus of teachers, competing for scarce positions and accepting worse conditions with diminished protections. As of February 3, any newly hired teaching fellow who has not yet obtained a permanent position is gone. Scores of newer teachers will be impacted. The UFT has been telling us since 2005 that the Absent Teacher Reserve clause, that replaced the seniority and SBO transfer plans, guarantees excessed teachers the right to a full- time Absent Teacher Reserve position and that it is therefore a de-facto no layoff agreement, unless the city declares a financial emergency. This turns out to be another myth. The teaching fellows were forced to sign a pre-employment letter saying they would obtain a permanent position by December 5, 2008 or face termination. The UFT grieved saying there is a job security clause in the Contract that supersedes the pre-employment letter. In a letter UFT President Randi Weingarten sent to the fellows earlier this month, she said: "We contended that the job-security clause in the UFT/DOE contract protected teaching fellows from layoffs, but the arbitrator rejected that argument." Meanwhile, the subways are bristling with teacher recruitment ads.

ICE Calls for a Stronger Response

The Independent Community of Educators is commited to an sustained effort seeking justice for ATRs and an end to school closings and we call on you to join us. We recognize that there can be no resolution of the ATR issue until we reverse some of the disastrous consequences of the 2005 and 2006 contracts. We demand a hiring freeze until all ATRs and RTRs are placed, and a return to school budgets based on average teacher salary applied to each school to prevent discrimination. Join us in this fight!

The ATR/School Closings Committee of ICE will be meeting Wednesday, February 4, 5 p.m. at the Skylight Diner on West 34th Street (9th Avenue). The next general ICE meeting is February 6. See our website for details.

Independent Community of Educators

P.O. Box 1143

Jamaica, NY 11421 email: Tel.: 718-601-4901

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How are funds from Obama's stimulus package going to be spent, vis-a-vis education?

Michael Fiorillo, Chapter Leader, Newcomers High School

Are they going to be spent on reducing class size and improving facilities and opportunities for ALL students, or is it going to be funneled to charter schools based on a chain store/franchise model, testing and high tech surveillance companies that develop programs for tracking students and teachers?

Randi Weingarten's piece in the January 18 "Week In Review" section of the Times gives a dispiriting and Pollyanish take on Arne Duncan as Education Secretary. Rather than calling him out on his political logrolling and duplicity, demonstrated by his signing on to both Klein and Sharpton (and Broad's and Gates') Education Equality Project and the more progressive Bolder, Broader Approach, while in fact acting aggressively to close public schools and replace them with contract schools, charter schools and military academies, she lauds him as someone who is "committed to working with all stakeholders to strengthen and improve public education."

Well, yeah, I guess he'll work with teacher's, so long as they shut up and get with the program.

Randi says that Obama and Duncan are willing to "move beyond the polarizing rhetoric that has characterized the education debate for so long." Perhaps they will, but actions speak louder than words, and in his actions Duncan has shown himself to be a smooth, slick enemy of public education, running errands for the Commercial Club of Chicago, which has set the agenda for the public schools there since the advent of mayoral control in the 1990's.

Randi speaks of "bipartisanship and collaboration," but frankly I have no desire to "collaborate" with people who openly seek to eliminate tenure and pensions - Klein is on record stating that these are his two dream goals - and turn the public schools into franchises (KIPP, Green Dot, et. al.) that train youngsters for a lifetime of docility, low pay, overwork and tedium.

By suggesting that we "collaborate" with people who time after time act on their contempt for teachers, students, communities and democracy, Randi is either being dangerously naive or has consciously made her peace with the privatization of the schools, and is just looking for the UFT/AFT to get its cut of the action.

When it comes to the education debates in this country, the reality is that we need more, not less, polarization and struggle around these issues, otherwise we are cooperating in our own demise.


The UFT has been telling us since 2005 that the Absent Teacher Reserve clause, that replaced the seniority and SBO transfer plans, guarantees excessed teachers the right to a full time Absent Teacher Reserve position and is therefore a de-facto no layoff agreement (unless the city declares a financial emergency). This turns out to be another myth.

ICE grows weary of being proven right over and over again about our warnings concerning the giveback laden 2005 Contract. The latest example is the teaching fellows (RTRs) who were forced to sign a pre-employment letter saying they would obtain a permanent position by December 5, 2008 or face termination. The UFT grieved saying there is a job security clause in the Contract that supersedes the pre-employment letter. The arbitrator has made a decision and the UFT could only win to the extent that Article 5C3 prevents the Board of Education from terminating the fellows in the middle of the semester. As of February 3, any newly hired fellow who has not yet obtained a permanent position is gone. Scores of newer teachers could be impacted.

In a letter that UFT President Randi Weingarten sent to the fellows earlier this month. she said the following: "We contended that the job-security clause in the UFT/DOE contract protected teaching fellows from layoffs, but the arbitrator rejected that argument. You now have until Feb. 2 to secure a permanent assignment."

Although we have not seen the full decision, it appears that ICE is correct again as this blog has been saying that the UFT no longer has an ironclad job security clause in the Contract like we had in a 1991 agreement and the 1996 and 2002 Contracts. We are not trying to panic anyone. We are fully aware that layoffs would have to come in reverse seniority order by license citywide and we don't think massive layoffs are coming right now, but without a real no layoff agreement like the one we gave away in 2005, layoffs are always a possibility.

The following two paragraphs were taken from our October 2008 DA report on this blog.

Footnote: Randi's President's Report was quite detailed but when she talked about job security she again made what in my opinion is a great mistake by referring to the provision that ended seniority transfers and preferred placement for educators if a school closed in exchange for the ATR provision as an iron clad job security agreement. It is not better than what we had in the past. She said we only had job security clauses in 1991 as part of a mid-year loan to the city and 1996. This is not true. The ICE fact meter researched previous contracts.

We discovered that there was a provision in the 1995 Contract that was Article 17F, "Job Security." It stated that "no 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)." This job security provision lasted from 1995-98. The Tentative Contract at a Glance for the 2000-2003 Contract continued Article 17F. The UFT stated at the time: "No layoff agreement. For the duration of this contract, no UFT member shall be terminated except for cause." Article 17F was removed from the giveback laden 2005 Contract and its successor agreement and replaced by the ATR provision. I wish the UFT would just once admit that it made some mistakes in the past and stop trying to spin the terrible 2005 contract into something that it is not.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

According to a press release from the UFT and the Union's weekly Chapter Leader Update, a ruling from State Education Commissioner Richard Mills has given the UFT and parents a major victory on School Leadership Teams. In December of 2007 the DOE had changed Chancellor's Regulation A-655, which covers SLT's, so that principals were given final decision making authority on school Comprehensive Education Plans, thus making parents and teachers only advisory members of the SLT's. Mills' December 31, 2008 ruling said this was improper. The UFT Chapter Leader Update from yesterday said, "The ruling means that your (the Chapter Leader) role on your school's leadership will again be decisive, not just advisory." Principals, however, will retain final authority over school budgets so this is not a complete win.

A parent from Queens, Marie Pollicino, had complained to the State that the 2007 revision of Regulation A-655 that gave the Principal final say on Comprehensive Education Plans violated State Education law. The UFT and other parents joined in the appeal to Mills. According to the UFT press release, the DOE will now have to revise the language of the regulation in consultation with the UFT, the Principals' union (CSA) and a committee representing parents. These groups will need to approve the new regulation also. UFT President Randi Weingarten said, "This is a great victory for parents and educators."

She didn't mention anywhere in her statement nor did the UFT in their press release or Chapter Leader update that it was me who called for the UFT to join the parents in their appeal to the State. I made the proposal in an amendment to a UFT Delegate Assembly resolution on SLT's last January. (ICE sponsored that DA amendment.) The amendment carried unanimously at the DA and in February the UFT joined the appeal.

We thank the UFT for joining with the parents and we hope that the UFT will acknowledge our role in involving the Union in this case.

As we look ahead, we now need the Union to explain to each of our members who sits on a School Leadership Team and each parent on an SLT what our roles really are. Every school needs true shared decision making. Maybe this ruling from Mills will be the first step in moving toward real parent, teacher and student empowerment.