The Panel for Educational Policy held their monthly meeting last Tuesday at Long Island City High School. It turned out to be a meeting that was filled with irony as Unity Caucus leaders of the UFT watched in vain as their excellent points were completely ignored by the majority of eight Mayoral appointees on the Panel. Those eight kind of operate like a mini version of the UFT's ruling Unity Caucus where you know in advance exactly what they are going to do before an issue is raised. A sort of parallel universe of phony democracy.
The big issues were co-locations (invasions) of charter schools in public schools and ridiculous expenditures.
As usual, the majority of the PEP ignored what the public school teachers said and voted to co-locate several new charter schools in public schools. In addition, Gateway Secondary School to Health Sciences will also expand to include a grade 6 against the wishes of the Gateway School Leadership Team and the community. This expansion will probably mean even fewer high school seats in Queens as this school will be capped around 800 but the PEP couldn't be bothered with this triviality. Next up on the agenda was expenditures.
The DOE asked the PEP to approve an allocation of $5,000,000 to recruit new teachers while at the same time they are threatening to lay off thousands of us. The excuse given was that DOE has to have teachers for our most needy special education students ready on day one as this is a shortage area. This is a laugh as I pointed out to the Panel when I spoke as Jamaica has special education classes that in May still don't have a regular teacher.
The UFT was in the house and they made a great case on the issue of this ridiculous expenditure. The best speaker was clearly UFT Secretary Michael Mendel who spoke for two minutes of the folly of the DOE's spending 5 million dollars to recruit teachers during these tough fiscal times when they are talking about layoffs. When the PEP chair tried to shut off Michael's microphone, Mendel resisted and refused to leave. He told them they would have to have him removed.
The auditorium, which was pretty much filled with UFTers from Queens and other supporters, howled their approval for Mendel and disapproval for the PEP. The PEP did not want to set a precedent of giving someone more than two minutes of speaking time but after hearing the raucous crowd and an appeal from Manhattan PEP representative Patrick Sullivan, they relented and gave Mendel an extra minute. Michael rose to the occasion talking about the horror of his own experience of being laid off in the seventies and saying how awful it was to pit teachers against teachers as the Chancellor is doing.
Speaker after speaker followed. They lambasted the $5 million DOE boondoggle but in the end it didn't matter. The four Borough President Representatives voted no (Staten Island was absent) and the eight mayoral representatives voted yes. There's another $5 million of our money that will go down the drain.
The irony was hearing the Unity Caucus people decry the undemocratic nature of the PEP by yelling "Shame on you" and "Rubber Stamp" after the PEP voted.
If anyone would know what it's like to be a rubber stamp, it's the UFT's elected Unity Caucus leaders who as a membership obligation require their members to sign an agreement to abide by the decisions of their caucus in public and union forums. They vote lock step to support every misstep large or small that the UFT leadership comes up with. Unity argues if you don't like it you can vote them out once every three years in UFT elections the same as the mayor says you can vote him out once every four years as if these citywide elections justify the day-to-day undemocratic governance structures.
At least the PEP allows members of the public two minutes to vent; the UFT seldom calls on more than one of us dissidents in debate at the DA.
OK, so Unity received a dose of their own medicine but in the end none of us are any better off.