Sunday, February 28, 2010
Mulgrew’s lengthy report covered the teachers in Rhode Island who were all fired, our contract struggle, the “rubber rooms,” closing schools and more.
On the lawsuit to stop closing schools, it appears that Mulgrew is confident because clearly the DOE did not follow the process outlined in state law when they closed nineteen schools including Jamaica High School in January. He added that there was a major public reaction to our rally at the January 26 PEP meeting where all of the schools earmarked for closure were represented. He then said that the lawsuit will proceed with all legal vigor. As soon as we have any further information, we will bring it to you.
To show that the friendship between the UFT and the NAACP is solid, Mulgrew asked for a special order of business to allow an NAACP representative, Dr. Anna Lee Martin,( I think that was her name but I am sorry if I am wrong) to address the DA. She told us that if someone were chancellor for eight years and twenty of the schools he is responsible for are failing, then the chancellor should be unemployed. This was received by a rousing ovation from the Delegates. Dr. Martin also talked about the history of the strong bond between the two organizations.
Mulgrew told us that the DOE contract demands were leaked to reporters by the DOE and not the UFT. The demands are awful.
The President also informed us that Chancellor Joel Klein is purposely emphasizing the rubber room so he can get the state to change the law on teacher due process. Mulgrew then stated that we can try to fix this. He asked if there was approval for fixing the problem and he also said things would be much better if the DOE would just adhere to the law.
There was a resolution in support of the NAACP that passed unanimously, a Staff Directors’ Report followed by some questions. I stuck around to hear the new motions. One was passed for next months agenda saying that the UFT should be involved in any GED program changes. The annual motion to make May Day a national holiday was rejected as was a motion for next month to support the March 4 demonstration at the Governor’s midtown office and other actions to stop school closings. However, after this was voted down, Mulgrew emphasized that the UFT will be on board for the March 4 day of action in support of public education.
(UFT support or not, I will be out there on Thursday, March 4 at 4:00 p.m. after school at 40th Street and 3rd Avenue to protest school closings, charter invasions, the end of free metrocards for students and more. The more we show that we will not accept the closing of schools, the better chance we have of keeping this issue alive with the public. There are also City Council hearings Tuesday on school closings at City Hall where we should send representatives.)
After the new motion period ended, there were political endorsements that I didn’t really hear as I decided to rush to Chelsea to attend the PEP meeting and to try to get speaking time to talk about Jamaica High School. The agenda for the PEP revolved around charter schools being placed in public school buildings. I made it a little after 6:00 p.m. and the auditorium that seats well over 1,000 was packed with mostly charter school advocates. These people were well organized and enthusiastic as they praised their charter schools that were taking more space away from traditional public schools.
I do not understand how charter schools can be called public schools. They are selective as in general they take a lower percentage of special education and English Language Learners compared to public schools. To me this makes them basically private schools that use public funds. I will admit I was moved by their spirit but to hear stories about how selective some of these charters are and then hear about how public schools that teach everyone are so bad was unsettling. Any school that can select its students and then throw them out easily cannot be compared to traditional public schools. It’s not an apples to apples situation. We teach everyone.
I had to wait a long time to speak. I was able to take the mic at close to 10:30p.m. I told the Panel about “How the Other Half Lives” our lives at Jamaica High School where we are still starved of resources while we continue take in “Over the Counter” students even after we have been marked for closing. By that time the place was nearly empty as most of the elementary charter school pupils and their parents had gone home. Klein obviously supports the charters as their invasions into public schools were all accepted by the PEP. I left but it was reported to me that placing an Eagle Academy into IS 59 was rejected.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The New York Post has decided to become the cheerleader for Rubber Room reform and while the paper has publicized some of the more egregious cases they have left up to Mulgrew and Klein to come up with solutions. Predictably both miss essential points.
First, the record needs to be cleared.
Remember when the words "Rubber Room" were too awful to say and we were cajoled into renaming this area as the teacher reassignment center? Well, it is obviously ok for everybody to go back to calling it the rubber room because Mulgrew calls it that. In any case the Post has highlighted six claimed abuses of the rubber room system which both Klein and Mulgrew agree is a symptom of a complex, evolved system that needs to be changed.
Where does the abuse lie?
For years the DOE has removed teachers from their classrooms based solely on unsubstantiated allegations and forced students to be taught by day to day substitutes. As principals were given greater authority over hiring and firing thanks to UFT contract complicity the rubber room, predictably, became a dumping ground for teachers and other staff that principals and other administrators simply did not like. The numbers grew and the UFT stood silent.
The UFT refused to hire investigators or supplement teacher defense strategy except to assign a couple of untrained people to act as a liaison to an already overwhelmed and under-funded NYSUT attorney defense team. As a result new rubber room occupants know as little about their case and are ill-prepared for arbitration hearings as they have always been.
The DOE hasn't done much better either. Knowing that UFT attorneys will gladly delay cases there is little pressure on them to move cases along. Both Mulgrew and Klein cite the lack of arbitrators as one of the main causes of rubber room expansion but the dirty little secret allows both DOE and UFT incompetence to delay cases. DOE attorneys have no authority or discretion, unlike other agency prosecutors, to withdraw cases and are generally forced to, at least, seek some plea agreement so that principals don't have to take the removed teacher back. The pleas, for the most part, involve monetary fines, but almost always require the agreeing teacher to become an ATR. Even totally exonerated teachers are forced to become ATRs.
Who is in the rubber room?
Klein wants you believe (and Mulgrew tacitly, by his silence, agrees) that the rubber room is made of totally incompetent teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of teachers in the rubber are senior teachers with misconduct allegations, with a sizeable portion of the allegations coming from outside of the school system. Administrators have known for a long time that removing allegedly incompetent teachers from the classroom via charges of incompetence was extremely difficult because it required that these administrators actually prove their incompetence. While it easy to "U" rate a lesson thankfully most arbitrators recognize that 3020-a incompetence is not just a series of bad observations.
The Klein/Mulgrew Solution
Reading their op-eds you would think the rubber room "problem" (as they term it) could be easily solved. They want to suspend the accused (they already have this power in sexual allegation and felony cases conceded to by the UFT), hire more arbitrators or make them full time and put them to work doing administrative assignments (we will finally get those lunch forms in).
Just how would these "solutions" have changed the Post's so-called dirty dozen? Almost imperceptibly. They can't be suspended because they all had their hearings…just the DOE didn't like the outcome. More arbitrators would do nothing as they had timely hearings (unless you mean more arbitrators that didn't bother to listen to the facts) and putting them to work in administrative assignments is something that is routinely done for certain removed teachers and except for DOE ineptness could have been done for the teachers cited by the Post.
It is clear both the DOE and the UFT don't really care about the disruption to students' education or due process for tenured employees. The removal process is too swift and effectively unchallengeable. As long as the DOE permits principals to remove less favored employees and as long as the UFT refuses to effectively represent them the rubber room or whatever you want to call it will remain. It's a shame and we all lose.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
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.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Thursday, February 04, 2010
At the January Delegate Assembly meeting, I couldn’t understand why it was so crowded. There was standing room only in the auditorium at 52 Broadway and the overflow had to go on the fifth floor to watch on closed circuit TV.
The main resolution to pass at the DA said that we would support relief for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. That one was an obvious no brainer to pass. Building for the January 26th rally at the PEP meeting was also discussed as was the usual reminder of how bad the budget is. A resolution from the floor to support the march at the Mayor’s home on January 21st was defeated and some questions were asked but there was nothing on the agenda that would account for such an unusually large turnout. Alas, looking around the back of the room I discovered what was so important: multitudes of Unity Caucus members were circulating their nominating petitions for the UFT election.
For those who are new to this blog, Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew’s faction of the UFT) is the closed, invitation only group that has controlled the UFT since the sixties. They rule the UFT with a top-down corporate style system that one time AFT President David Selden said made the union function more like an insurance company rather than an organization that is part of the labor movement. His book, The Teacher Rebellion should be required reading for anyone who wants to become involved in UFT politics. Selden’s description of the UFT under Unity rule forty years ago is as applicable today as it was then.
The Unity machine is one of the last huge political machines to remain potent in the US. Here is how it works. The leadership (Mulgrew, Randi Weingarten or whoever) dispenses patronage to its followers in exchange for complete loyalty. If a UFT member wants a free trip to AFT and NYSUT conventions or a UFT job, one has to join Unity Caucus or their wholly owned subsidiary since 2003, New Action. Unity makes a big pitch for newly elected chapter leaders to join them. After someone is accepted to the caucus, they have to drum up 100 signatures to get on the ballot for the UFT election to win those free trips to conventions.
A friend informed me that the leadership is asking that Unity members submit an officer petition along with their own petition. Therefore, the Unity faithful will circulate a petition for Mulgrew along with their personal one. They are able to link themselves with Mulgrew so he gets school level recognition and support. In return, he dispenses the patronage. The system works very well for Unity and it explains why so many of the Unity believers were at the DA in January. They were exchanging their nominating petitions.
For a Unity member, showing loyalty to the Caucus is the main goal. Caucus obligations require that Unity followers support the decisions of the caucus in union and public forums. People who dissent are liable to be thrown out of the caucus and lose their perks. These perks include the aforementioned convention trips as well as part time union jobs after school and the ultimate goal which is a full time UFT job with a salary well over a senior teacher coupled with a union pension in addition to the DOE pension. The main requirement for the jobs is that one stay loyal to Unity and not the membership in the schools. They must sell the party line in their schools.
This breeds cynicism and mistrust among the rank and file in the schools as when the Unity crowd sold the awful giveback laden 2005 Contract (longer day, extra small group class, return to cafeteria and hall patrol, loss of ability to grieve letters in file, loss of seniority rights which created the ATR situation and more). Most UFT members respond by not voting in UFT elections. This is a mistake.
Norm Scott and I have written extensively about how the Unity machine operates. To watch them function at the DA last month was something I observed with a combination of grudging admiration mixed with frustration as so few UFT members are aware of how their union really operates.
How can we beat this well oiled political machine? It won’t be easy. We need your help.
If the UFT rank and file really wants to see change within the Union, members should help ICE-TJC. This means voting for us of course. It also involves distributing literature (you have a right to distribute in letter boxes) in your school and in neighboring schools. We also must spread the word on line and through word of mouth that there is an alternative to Unity Caucus. Please get in touch with ICE and become involved in our campaign. Without organizing from the bottom up, we will have no chance and the Union will more than likely continue on its current downhill trajectory no matter who the leader of Unity is.
ICE stands for a democratic union with an involved membership. We will go back to union basics if elected. Our people running for office have proven track records of activating their chapters. If we had the resources of the UFT at our disposal, we know we could activate the members throughout this city. Our public relations campaign on day 1 will be much more hard hitting. No more cartoon commercials; we will show the public the protests that have been occurring at closing schools. Elected officials and PEP members will also be held accountable for what they are doing to us.
This election is too important to sit out. Please join our campaign.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
With the recent smearing by the New York Post of Alan Rosenfeld, a teacher assigned to the rubber room since Levy was Chancellor, the UFT has demonstrated, once again, it has abandoned any sense or responsibility of being a labor union and is content to cash our dues but afford no real protection to us.
As reported in Sunday and Monday's Post Rosenfeld was charged almost 10 years ago while teaching at IS 347 in Queens, a school which was sharing space with other schools in District 75. The allegations concerned statements that certain female students made about him that were considered lewd. Rosenfeld went through a 3020a hearing and the arbitrator threw out all of the allegations as not credible with the exception of one double hearsay statement relayed to the arbitrator in an investigator's memo.
The arbitrator found that Rosenfeld may have made the one student uncomfortable, dismissed the other allegations as not credible and refused to discipline him except for a one week suspension. Rosenfeld "served" his suspension by staying out of the rubber room for a week.
What was left out of the Post story was the fact that Rosenfeld, at the time of the allegations was supervising Teach for America teachers and had been provisionally appointed as an Assistant Principal. His promotion was blocked and it was decided, according to Klein in Monday's NY1 interview, that "he didn't belong back in the classroom."
So the story breaks in the Post and now the Chancellor and the Mayor team up to make Rosenfeld the poster child of what is wrong with the teacher termination process. The UFT remains silent.
Since Rosenfeld has been in the rubber room he has been instrumental in helping teachers in the rubber room get their jobs back and advising them how to proceed while the Union and NYSUT lawyers ignored them. Several years ago when ICE and TJC had elected members of the UFT Executive Board Rosenfeld was invited to speak to the Executive Board about teacher maltreatment by the DOE and neglect by the Union. Rosenfeld brought other rubber room teachers to address the Board and has continued to argue on behalf of them at most meetings.
You would think that a person who remains in the rubber room through no fault of their own; who regularly fights for and advises accused teachers; and is well known by Mulgrew and Howie Schorr and the UFT top brass would get some kind of help, some communication…a phone call, some defense in the media.
How does one teacher counter a concerted press, Mayor and Chancellor lynching?
Mulgrew..at least SAY SOMETHING........I guess your silence says it all.