Everyone is hearing about the agreement to eliminate the rubber rooms for teachers and other UFT members who are reassigned. Let’s analyze the agreement very carefully to see how once again the DOE totally outwitted the UFT.
ON THE SURFACE IT APPEARS TO BE A STEP FORWARD
3020A cases, where the DOE is trying to terminate a UFT member, should move along faster now as the number of arbitrators has been increased from 23-39. In addition more arbitrators will be added for less serious cases where the DOE doesn’t seek a penalty greater than a four week suspension. Some of this looks good at first glance. I think all of us can agree that justice delayed is justice denied so having more arbitrators seems like it is a positive move. In addition, trying mediation for current people reassigned is a move in the right direction.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
If we are adding sixteen arbitrators to expedite teacher discipline (and more to hear less serious cases), then sixteen arbitrators should have also been added to expedite our grievances against the DOE.
There is a member in my school who has been waiting since 2006 to have a grievance heard at arbitration. I don’t see the NY Post, the Daily News or the NY Teacher complaining about our stalled grievance process being delayed justice. I am quite sure that there are many other UFT members waiting for years to have their cases resolved while the DOE continues to blatantly violate the contract. If the DOE wants to expedite cases against us, then a fair deal would have been for them to expedite grievances against them. That didn’t happen. The UFT once again gave in without getting equal value in return.
Here is our prediction on how all of this will go. As there will be many more arbitrators hearing disciplinary cases and extra hearing dates, there will likely be more members than in the past charged with incompetence or misconduct. Add to this the fact that the DOE will have sixty days after removing someone from a school to charge them, or put them back in school and charge them later, but UFT members only get 15 days to respond (I have been told we don’t even get a NYSUT lawyer until we are charged.). Therefore, DOE will most probably attempt to overwhelm the system with 3020A cases.
Incidents that a few years ago would have generated a letter for file will now be brought before 3020A arbitrators and the ranks of teachers who will be fined, suspended, or terminated will increase. Meanwhile, our grievances against DOE will continue to languish for years. I hope my forecast is totally wrong.
WILL THE RUBBER ROOMS BE CLOSED?
The new agreement will give the DOE four options as to what they can do with a UFT member they want to reassign. The DOE will be able to suspend someone with pay. More than likely they will use this option very sparingly. Other options will include suspending someone without pay for an expanded number of causes until their case is finished.
Another choice for reassigning people will be for someone to be reassigned within their own building to administrative duties. Imagine the indignity of coming to work in your own school and being removed from the classroom to sit on hall patrol all day. I foresee this choice will end up being very popular with the DOE as they try to wear people down and convince them to quit.
The final option for the DOE will be to send a member to “a DOE administrative office to do work consistent with law (an ‘Administrative Office Assignment’).” Sounds like the “rubber room” before Joel Klein’s days. Calling it a gain to have our members “alphabetizing paper clips” or doing other such administrative tasks is a huge stretch. If someone still can be removed from a building and reassigned to an administrative office based on the whim of a principal who gets a rubber stamp approval from above, it still is essentially the rubber room.
To put it all very succinctly, I saw Joel Klein interviewed on MSNBC last Friday. He was lauding the rubber room agreement while criticizing the governor’s veto in Florida of the bill that would have ended teacher tenure in that state. The UFT is also hailing the rubber room agreement but I have seen nothing yet at UFT.org or in the Chapter Leader Update about how teachers took matters into their own hands in Florida and emerged victorious. This tells you something.