At the February High School Committee meeting, UFT Academic High School VP Leo Casey asked for ideas about how we should proceed in the school closing fight after the Mayor's rubber stamps on the Panel for Educational Policy voted to shut down 19 schools on January 27 at 3:00 a.m., despite enormous public pressure opposing the closures.
I introduced a three part plan that could keep the mobilization efforts moving ahead in defiance of that vote. It was received positively but as of today, I have yet to hear any follow-up from the UFT so let’s see what the readers of this blog think of these proposals. Of course you are welcome to add ideas but understand that this is a public blog and the Department of Education does read this cite. If you have a confidential idea, email Jeff, Norm Scott or me privately.
To begin, I totally support the lawsuit that the UFT, NAACP and others filed earlier this month saying the school closures did not follow the school governance law. We hope it succeeds but people with knowledge of history are aware that a legal strategy on its own without a supporting mobilization plan has less chance of success.
For example, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit that said New York City kids are shortchanged by New York State was filed in 1992 and was won years ago. We are still waiting for the lower class sizes promised in the settlement and will probably not be seeing them in the near future. While the courts can be a good place to go, Joel Klein and the DOE basically try to work around court decisions or grievance losses so the legal strategy must be one part of an overall strategy. Here are three ideas to start.
1. Change the tone of the UFT advertising campaign
I know the cynics are out there saying that the UFT put on commercials the last few weeks because it’s election time and they want to show how wonderful they are to increase Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew’s party) vote totals in the upcoming UFT election. Even if that is true, the commercials must change. The tone of the cartoon advertisement that has been on the air is way too friendly. The UFT tells us we are at war with the Department of Education but you wouldn’t know it by these ads.
They should be replaced with hard hitting spots showing video from the recent protests in the schools that followed the DOE's announcements that they wanted to close 20 schools and their pronouncement that charter schools would continue to be allowed to invade public school space. This footage is out there already on You Tube and it is powerful stuff. If anyone wanted to see the public outrage with the way the schools are run on display, look at some of the video. It could be edited into a strong 60 second commercial showing real rank and file union activity along with parent, student and community activism. A tough ad would show the public and our members that we are outraged and we are not going to lie down and accept what is being done to our schools.
If the UFT would like, they can take some of the footage from Jamaica High School. We are not at all ashamed of the fight we have put up, with UFT support, to save our school . Show it to the world.
2. PICKET THE PEP MAYORAL APPOINTEES AT THEIR PLACES OF BUSINESS
Targeted picketing of these “rubber stamps” might make them realize that there is a price to pay for their vote at Brooklyn Tech on January 27th to ignore the will of the public and close schools. Virtually nobody during the nine hour public comment period spoke in favor of closing the schools while thousands of people at the public hearings and the PEP meeting on January 26th-27th came out in support of the keeping the schools slated for closing open. Let’s take the fight to where the Mayor’s appointees make their livings. Let them know that we are not going away quietly and that they must be held accountable for ignoring the will of the communities. A roving group of protestors should shadow them at their places of business and other public appearances.
3. LOBBY THE STATE TO CHANGE THE LAW TO TAKE SCHOOL CLOSING AUTHORITY AWAY FROM THE CHANCELLOR
Let’s make our number one state legislative priority this year a change in the school governance law that would take the Chancellor’s power to close schools away from him and compel the state to review the current list slated for phase out too. Many people at a number of schools claimed that the DOE was misrepresenting state statistics so the state legislature should step in to reclaim state power over the schools. If the DOE won't follow the will of the people and their elected representatives, the politicians need to assert their authority. Education has been a state function since the 10th Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1791. New York State has basically ceded the power to the mayor in 2002 and again last year; there is no need to wait six years to reclaim some of it when the will of the people is being ignored.
For those who want to take it a step further, maybe now is the time to try to convince the state to no longer allow a waiver from state certification regulations for a Chancellor who lacks proper education credentials.
Just as with a legal battle, a legislative campaign needs to be supported with huge actions. Let’s mobilize the UFT, the parents, the students and the community groups behind this lobbying campaign to amend the school governance law.
To move ahead we should then start to merge the campaign against school closures with the fight for a contract that will hopefully improve teaching and learning conditions.
This is just my three cents. What do you think? All ideas are welcome.