Friday, March 27, 2009

DA REPORT: Randi, Randi and More Randi but Next Month it's the Contract

The March 25 DA had a marathon Randi Weingarten report that was followed by a political endorsement and a resolution on special education. That was it except for a few questions and the annual resolution for the Union to support May Day activities that, surprise-surprise, was turned down.

The only part of the DA that I found to be truly interesting was that Randi said that with the Contract expiring at the end of October, next month we would need to set aside time at the DA to discuss our aspirations in bargaining. Please attend that meeting folks.

Today, at Jamaica we discussed the next Contract briefly at our Chapter Meeting and everyone strongly agreed that it is time for us to get back what we gave away in 2005. We hope that every Chapter will be having discussions on the upcoming Contract.

Reading through the rest of this unabridged DA report is kind of like going through a junk shop. There is plenty you might want to ignore but occasionally you could find something that is valuable. Happy hunting.

It was quite difficult for me to stay awake at the March DA as I was thoroughly bored listening to the President's Report that lasted over an hour. Randi Weingarten started by thanking us for showing up 70,000 strong at the March 5 rally at City Hall and she noted the lack of major press coverage.

She then stated that many of our members were dissappointed with President Obama's education speech. She said, however, that the federal stimulus plan would put $100 billion of federal funds into education for the next two years and this was almost double the current federal education allocation. She then told us that Obama was getting hammered because of the trillion dollar deficits and that his education speech was much like his education platform in the campaign and that's why we originally supported Hillary Clinton. She added, however, that there was a great deal to applaud in the speech including his saying that we need to develop student critical thinking skills and that testing isn't everything. Obama also noted that schools neeed resources.

Randi then talked about how people concentrated on Obama's support for merit pay and lifting the cap on charter schools. She said that we had convinced Obama that education reform has to be done with teachers and not to teachers. She then talked about how we have to drive education funds into the classrooms.

She moved on to the state and told us how lobby day was important and how we must use our political clout. She urged members to keep going to to send faxes to legislators. She told us about a potential new Tier V pension that the entire public sector labor movement was lobbying against but the newspapers would not run a UFT OpEd piece on our pension. Randi continued by saying our goal with the New York State budget is to make us whole, have tighter class size language and keep teacher centers. She concluded this section by predicting that we might actually have an on time state budget.

Randi then told us that after the budget is done, Mayoral control of the schools, which expires in June and must be renewed by the legislature, would be the next big issue. She noted Klein's popularity is down according to a recent poll.

She then praised Cathy Nolan and the hearings the State Assembly Education Committee is holding on school governance. She said the Committee was asking very tough questions to DOE officials and the Committee is as angry at the DOE as we are. Randi then talked about how it is ridiculous that we have to use the courts to force Klein to obey laws. She mentioned a lawsuit that was filed because the DOE is changing zoning rules without going to Community Education Councils.

Randi continued by talking about the UFT's "Principals in Need of Improvement" program which has been effective in MS 8 and PS 14. She told us that it helps when fighting a principal to have strong community involvement. She then stated that Eva Moskowitz is organizing against us in Harlem but we will engage the community.

She closed by saying the parents are as frustrated as we are so we are building the case for checks and balances in school governance and although we are not out of the woods yet, we are better off than most of the rest of the country.

UFT Secretary Mike Mendel then talked about how the DOE and DOT have violated the parking agreement. He said the situation is not acceptable for next year and there would have to be a new plan within two weeks.

This was followed by the District 31 representative talking about School Leadership Teams and Aminda Gentile speaking about reducing paper work.

Randi was then asked a question about layoffs and she answered that by law and contract, there is a system of last hired=first fired that must be protected. (Everyone who is saying that UFT leaders are preparing us for a massive layoff of senior teachers should believe Randi on this one. It's not going to happen.)

Contrast this to Randi's answer to the next question from Steve Hester who asked about healthcare. He stated that we have strong contractual language on healthcare in Article 3. He then asked why should we even negotiate on the issue? Randi's answer was that we rejected a Tier V pension for new hires and a 10% healthcare premium payment but in the seventies during the fiscal crisis, we didn't negotiate because we had a contract and it ended up causing a disprortionate share of teacher layoffs.
Translation and I hope I'm wrong: Watch out for healthcare cuts or some kind of increase in copays or GHI's basic plan not being free.

This was followed by Joan Heymont making the May Day resolution which is an annual DA motion that always fails and also allows a Unity person to rise and score some points with the leadership by opposing it. There was another
resolution on the Stella D'oro workers where Randi said that since it is already UFT policy to support them, we didn't need to have another resolution.

Finally, it was time to go but Randi extended so we could endorse Reuben Diaz Jr. for Bronx Borough President and then Carmen Alvarez gave a presentation on the UFT joining the ARISE coalition to support special education. This carried unanimously.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ICE Members Testify at State Assembly Education Committee Hearing in Brooklyn

Lisa North, from ICE, and I were able to testify at the State Assembly Education Committee's hearing in Brooklyn at the end of a long day on Friday. The Committee is chaired by Cathy Nolan.

Lisa talked about how the current system is flawed and she also advocated for the ICE School Governance plan. Other ICE members were in the audience also.

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by five hardy UFT members from Jamaica High School. We took the long F train ride after school from Jamaica to Brooklyn to make our case to the Education Committee. I did not get to read my entire testimony as time was short but I was able to explain how Mayoral control has affected Jamaica High School (see below) and push for democracy and checks and balances in school governance. The Committee seemed quite interested in hearing what we had to say. A few minutes later, a member of Chairwoman Nolan's staff came to meet with the Jamaica group at the request of the chair. We will keep our readers informed as we proceed.

Testimony of James Eterno, Jamaica High School Social Studies Teacher to State Assembly Education Committee

My name is James Eterno. This is my twenty-third year as a teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens. I also serve as the school’s UFT Chapter Leader. I am here to tell you how the current school governance system known as Mayoral control has affected my school, a school that has been a part of the Jamaica community since 1892. Jamaica is now subject to a wild accountability system that basically flies in the face of reason. If this school governance system is not changed to introduce real democratic governance with proper checks and balances, then not only will our century old institution be imperiled, but the educational opportunities of another generation of New York City children will be placed at risk. That is how urgent the task of this committee is.

In 2002 when the Mayor took over the schools, our school had its issues but so do all schools. Over the next couple of years, we started to notice that we were getting more and more incoming pupils who were not fully prepared for high school academically or emotionally. The school decided to take a zero tolerance policy and report every safety incident and punish it at its highest possible level. This produced a spike in our reported incidents. We tried to explain what we were doing to keep our halls clear so classrooms could be safe for learning but to no avail. The previous Principal and I pleaded with the police and DOE not to label us as dangerous because we never were. The DOE and police told us numbers don’t lie. Their computers flagged us as an unsafe school. The resulting mis-labels of persistently dangerous and impact school caused our enrollments to dramatically decline. In essence, we were punished for telling the truth.

School officials have figured out that if you just make the test scores, promotion numbers, number of safety incident reports and everything else look right on the computer, then nobody will question anything. Our administration learned and the consequences were almost deadly at Jamaica. A directive was put out telling staff not to call 911. Subsequently, a student fell ill and since there was a delay in calling for an ambulance, that student didn’t get medical attention fast enough and it is fortunate that she didn’t die.

As long as a school’s survival is based on making numbers look right, the temptation to play with the numbers is too great.

When you look at the numbers on our school’s budget this year, it looks as though we were provided with an extra $124,555 for an additional support position as this extra allocation shows up on our budget. However, we recently learned that the employee who was listed on our official school budget as working at Jamaica, does not even work for Jamaica High School; he works for Queens Collegiate, a new small school opened up in our building.

Concerned members of the Jamaica High School family have written to the State Education Commissioner three times in the current school year to complain about how our school is treated unfairly by the DOE. The DOE answers basically that all is well. If we have a phantom employee, the numbers can look good and DOE can tell the State that we are providing extra funding to Jamaica.

Due to our declining enrollments, the DOE said we have space to open up a new small school with modern up-to-date facilities in our building. Since this new school, Queens Collegiate, took over our space, the Social Studies Department at Jamaica was evicted in the fall and is now housed in a room that has one electrical outlet for the entire department. We have been waiting all year for the electricity to be upgraded. Nothing has been done. As the new school has taken space, it is clear that we will not have sufficient classroom space to lower class sizes at Jamaica as our enrollments have hopefully stopped dropping and might even go up.

In one of our letters to State Education Commissioner Richard Mills that we sent in February, we told the Commissioner about how the DOE has taken the state class size reduction funds this spring and used them to plug a budget hole from a past year. Class sizes have increased substantially in social studies to UFT contractual maximums and a social studies teacher who was paid for with state class size reduction funds was moved out of social studies to teach in special education, a subject he is not qualified to teach. The state has answered our letter by saying that they will monitor our use of class size reduction funds in April. Meanwhile, the DOE sits by silently and nothing changes. Students are forced to sit in larger classes despite 150 million in state dollars that was allocated to reduce class sizes and some of our most at risk pupils are being taught by a teacher who is not certified to teach special education.

In the past, under the old Board of Education which certainly was no ideal governance system by any means, if we would have made such a complaint about misuse of state funds, there would have been Queens High School Superintendent officials here within days and classes would have been ordered changed. Under the current system, we wait and wait and wait for any kind of action. It looks to those of us who work at Jamaica as if there is no penalty for the DOE when they violate state law. What kind of message does that send to our children? We have no doubt that this is happening in other schools throughout the city as class sizes are on the rise in most grades this year despite the infusion of the extra state money.

There is more. Hourly employees at Jamaica now deal with much of the school’s confidential record keeping that by Contract and law licensed secretarial personnel are exclusively supposed to handle. DOE does nothing to stop this.

In addition, pupils are moved up to the next level in a subject course even if they don’t pass the first course.

This winter, Jamaica High School has followed other schools by starting something called “Credit Recovery.” A pupil who has failed a class can make up an entire course by showing up for three mornings for three hours during winter or spring break. The academic standards have fallen so much that teachers now joke that vehicles better roll up their windows when they pass by our school or they will have a “drive by diploma” thrown in their car. We understand why the SAT scores are down. Standards are virtually nonexistent. Kids are smart. They know this. We know we are not alone and that what is happening at Jamaica is occurring in many other buildings. We are told by administration that if the graduation and promotion numbers don’t improve, the DOE will shut down our school and get rid of us.

Only the State can turn this around. It will take a great deal of courage for the legislature to stand up to a super well funded public relations machine. But stand up you must or another generation of students will be subjected to a sub-prime education with virtually no rules or regulation. Schools need democracy along with checks and balances. It’s the foundation for our US governmental system and although far from perfect, it clearly is better than any other alternative.

First, neighborhood schools should be an integral part of every community as they are in the suburbs from Pre-K through high schools. School choice is fine for people who do not wish to take advantage of the neighborhood school but a strong group of elementary, middle and high schools that serve each community must be a central part of any new school system. For this reason, only the State should close schools. If a school isn’t working, the city has an obligation to fix it, not close it and start all over. Fixing schools means giving a school the resources such as lower class sizes, modern wiring and sufficient guidance and secretarial services we need.

Next, the idea of market forces running education is absurd and leads to the phony diplomas we’ve been referring to that really cheapen the work of the majority of students who work hard to succeed and live by the rules. Public education is government at the grassroots level and the teachers, parents, and at the high school level, the students must be empowered. Real democracy starts at the school level.

I echo what many people have already said to this committee that School Leadership Teams should have power over budgets and SLT’s should be involved in school based hiring too. The current system gives principals as middle level managers in a business model the responsibility for all hiring. It has led to a return of patronage on a grand scale. The Pendleton Act was passed to put in competitive civil service tests for hiring federal jobs in the 1880’s and end patronage. In the schools today, if you have a license, I would rather know someone than be competent. If you don’t have a license and want to be a chancellor, just get a waiver. That must be stopped.

At the school level, SLT’s with oversight from a Superintendent should be empowered to hire principals and others in schools. If the legislature can’t accept this democratic hiring, then return to job placement from competitive civil service tests and lists as just about every other city, state and federal agency does. The business model hasn’t worked in business and it isn’t working in the schools.

Furthermore, we need to have real democracy at the district and central levels. Only in five cities in New York State are parents not entitled to a say in who runs their schools. We need to have some kind of direct elections for some central board members and local school board members; for why should minority residents in New York City, as in the other four largest cities in the state, be denied the democratic input that citizens in every other school district enjoy? Money certainly could be set aside to publicize the importance of school elections that could be held on Election Day in each district. Elected reps should pick Superintendents with the Central Board having veto power. The Chancellor should be selected by a school board who would only have a minority of mayoral appointments. As Diane Ravitch told this Committee, the Chancellor must be accountable to the students and parents, not the mayor. As long as the Mayor has a say in the funding, he/she will still play a major role in the school system.

I realize that this plan would take a tremendous amount of political courage for the legislature to implement. However, think of the alternative. If the State approves a continuation of the current system or some little adjustment that puts some checks on the Mayor that will more than likely just be ignored, you will be effectively sentencing the school children of New York for the next generation to a school system where making the numbers look right and not education will be the school system’s primary goal. I hope you heed one school’s story as a symbol of what is wrong and listen to us on how it could be improved.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Board of Ed Issues New Calendar for 2009-2010; Longer School Year, Once Again

Our extended year contract shows its ugly head. The good news is that next school year won't start in August. The bad news is that the school year is 186 days….a week or more longer than most school districts in the New York Metropolitan area!

Thanks to our crack negotiating team we get to work longer hours and shorter vacations. Can't wait for what else they'll take away in the new contract.

August 03, 2009 - August 05, 2009

Elementary and Middle School Exams

Elementary and Middle School Exams

August 06, 2009

Elementary and Middle School Summer Instructional Program

Administrative/Portfolio Day (optional)

August 11, 2009

Latest instructional end date for high school students

August 12, 2009 - August 14, 2009

High School Summer Instructional Program

Regents and RCT Examinations

August 31, 2009

The following staff report: Assistant Principals and school-based intermediate supervisors not designated to work an increased work year

September 03, 2009

Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development related to the Regents High Learning Standards and Assessments

Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development related to the Regents High Learning Standards and Assessments. Classroom Teachers, Bilingual Teachers in School and Community Relations, Guidance Counselors, Attendance Teachers, Nurses, Therapists, Laboratory Specialists and Technicians, Educational Paraprofessionals (except for School Secretaries, Psychologists and Social Workers) report for a Professional Day - General staff orientation. School Secretaries, Psychologists and Social Workers report for a regular work day. Employees in titles not listed should consult the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Students will not be in attendance.

September 04, 2009

Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development related to the Regents High Learning Standards and Assessments

Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development related to the Regents High Learning Standards and Assessments (regular work day for School Secretaries, psychologists, and Social Workers). Students will not be in attendance.

September 07, 2009

Labor Day

No School / Offices Closed

September 08, 2009

All Students: First Day of School


September 09, 2009

Early Dismissal for non-District 75 Kindergarten Students Only

September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur

No School / Offices Open

October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

No School / Offices Closed

November 03, 2009

Election Day

Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development. Students will not be in attendance.

November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

No School / Offices Closed

November 26, 2009 - November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Recess

No School / Offices Closed. Students return to school on Monday, November 30, 2009.

December 24, 2009 - December 25, 2009

Winter Recess

No School / Offices Closed. Students return to school on Monday, January 4, 2010.

December 28, 2009 - December 30, 2009

Winter Recess

No School / Offices Open. Students return to school on Monday, January 4, 2010.

December 31, 2009 - January 01, 2010

Winter Recess

No School / Offices Closed. Students return to school on Monday, January 4, 2010.

January 18, 2010

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

No School / Offices Closed

January 26, 2010 - January 29, 2010

NYS Regents

February 01, 2010

Fall Term ends for high school students. Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development in all high schools. All other students will be in attendance.

No high school students will be in attendance, with the exception of high school level students in District 75 (these students will be in attendance on February 1). The high school spring term begins on Tuesday, February 2 with a full day of instruction.

February 02, 2010

Spring term begins for high school students

February 15, 2010 - February 19, 2010

Midwinter Recess

Midwinter Recess (including Washington's Birthday). Students return to school Monday, February 22, 2010.

March 29, 2010 - April 06, 2010

Spring Recess

Spring Recess (including Good Friday, Easter and Passover); students return to school on Wednesday, April 7.

May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Observed

No School / Offices Closed

June 10, 2010

Chancellor's Conference Day for staff development

School staff report to work if required by their collective bargaining agreement. Students IN ALL FIVE BOROUGHS will NOT be in attendance.

June 15, 2010 - June 23, 2010

NYS Regents

Grades 9-12 and eligible grade 8 students.

June 24, 2010

Regents Rating Day

In non-District 75 high schools having to administer Regents Exams from June 15 through June 23, students will not be in attendance on Regents Rating Day, Thursday, June 24.

June 25, 2010


An early dismissal of students is to be scheduled on this day.

June 28, 2010

Last day for all Classroom Teachers, Bilingual Teachers in School and Community Relations, Attendance Teachers, Nurses, Therapists, Laboratory Specialists and Technicians, and last day for Paraprofessionals. Students will not be in attendance.

June 29, 2010 - June 30, 2010

All other staff report except Classroom Teachers, Bilingual Teachers in School and Community Relations, Attendance Teachers, Nurses, Therapists, Laboratory Specialists and Technicians, and Paraprofessionals.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Another Open Letter to the State

We wrote to the State again about how the class size reduction funds were "moved" at Jamaica High School and class sizes increased this spring.

February 10, 2009

Mr. Richard P. Mills
State Education Commissioner
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Via email:
& fax: (518) 473-4909

Dear Commissioner Mills:

Concerned members of the UFT Chapter at Jamaica High School have written to you twice in the last year about the situation at Jamaica High School with regard to the separate and unequal schools that exist in the building. A new selective school, Queens Collegiate, has been inserted in our building, offering smaller classes and better facilities and equipment to its mostly better-prepared students.

We are also concerned that there are several discrepancies between the amount of funding that the New York State Education Department reported that our school was allocated out of Contract for Excellence funds -- $530,123, while our school budget only shows $337,184 in C4E funding. Where is the rest of that money?

In addition, the educational climate at Jamaica is now worsening as even these limited Contracts for Excellence funds have been diverted away from the classroom in social studies. The result is that class sizes have increased this spring in this subject.

In the fall, Mr. Lucas Rule was rehired at Jamaica using Contracts for Excellence (C4E) funds. Mr. Rule is a teacher of social studies; he is listed on the school's Table of Organization (budget) under "Class Size Reduction."

Class size reduction was one of the ways schools could utilize their state C4E money. At the end of the fall semester, Mr. Rule was informed that he would no longer be teaching any classes in the spring in social studies. Instead, he has recently been directed to teach classes in special education, a subject that he is not certified to teach. Mr. Rule is now replacing a special education teacher who has become a dean of students. Subsequently, the number of classes offered in each grade in social studies was reduced, and class sizes have increased significantly.

In grade twelve social studies (participation in government and economics), average class size was 29 in the fall and was projected to be lowered to 27 for the spring. However, with the elimination of one class, class size is now up to 35.

In grade eleven US history, the average class size was 29 in the fall and originally projected to be lowered to 27 for the spring. However, with one less class, class size average is now up to 34 in the spring.

In grade ten global history, the average class size was projected to be lowered to 27 in the spring but with the elimination of one class, class sizes now average 33.

In grade nine global history the average class size for the spring was projected to be 27. However, with the elimination of an honors class, the average class size for grade nine history classes now stands at 30.

No additional collaborative team teaching classes have been created and we are not aware of any new programs. We were told that classes had to be cut to plug a budget deficit from a prior semester. As you know, supplanting is not allowed according to the law that created the Contract for Excellence program, and yet it is happening here. We have no doubt that it has happened throughout the city as well, considering the fact that class sizes rose in all grades but one this fall, despite $150 million in state dollars, that was supposedly allocated to reduce class size.

Furthermore, here at Jamaica High School, two additional classes for students who previously failed social studies have been eliminated thus decreasing student opportunities to make up credits in a proper classroom setting. Instead, three day make-up sessions called “Credit Recovery” have been created where students receive a full class credit for three days of attendance and completion of a project.

Please investigate this situation immediately. This funding belongs in the classrooms of Jamaica High School. It appears to me as though the NYC Department of Education is being allowed to continue to violate state law in the most flagrant of ways. How can they be permitted to deny our high-needs students an adequate chance to learn?


James Eterno
UFT Chapter Leader
Jamaica High School