Friday, October 22, 2010


The UFT contract gives principals the first ten school days of a semester to lower oversize classes. After that, the chapter leader grieves (I filed for 83 oversize classes for Jamaica High School) and a month later there is a hearing at the American Arbitration Association in Manhattan. It would be easy to assume that a month and a half is sufficient time to reduce all classes in a high school to the contractual limit of 34 pupils in a class. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen at Jamaica or many other schools that were also grieving oversize classes.

At the hearing this morning, the principal, who is represented by a DOE lawyer, said he can't fix many of the oversize classes. I don't think there is enough space to start new classes in part because two new schools opened inside our building that now occupy many rooms. But that is not the argument administration made. The DOE lawyer asserted over and over the half class size loophole in the contract as justification for oversize classes.

Remember the class size limit is 34 for high schools so a half class would be 17 or less. Without 18 additional pupils in a subject area, DOE can claim there aren't enough students to start a new class. Therefore, in reality the half class exception allows for class sizes to go as high as 51 in a New York City High School although an arbitrator several years back did limit its use. As of today we still have a subject class with 48 at Jamaica and almost 50 classes remain oversize. This cannot be justified and yet the DOE lawyer repeatedly asserted the half class exception and the arbitrator in response asked the DOE to do their best to fix the problem or otherwise he implied he would allow the half class exemption.

It was so bad that DOE even utilized the half class clause when there were two English as a Second Language classes, one had 35 students and the other had 18. Anyone could resolve this as all DOE had to do was move one student from the class of 35 to the class of 18. That’s simple, right? No, because they meet in different periods so administration claimed that resolving this problem would cause massive disruptions in programs. Therefore, they had to use the half class exception. The arbitrator, to my astonishment, seemed to accept this logic and when I objected the UFT District Representative saw the arbitrator getting a little angry at me so after a pro forma protest, the UFT moved the proceedings ahead.

DOE is not supposed to use the half class exception as a rule but that is exactly what they did. In addition, establishing a precedent that they are abusing the exception takes years.

At overcrowded Francis Lewis High School an arbitrator said administration had to stop using the exceptions allowed in the contract as a rule. This happened last school year but even then the UFT still had to go to court to force DOE into compliance and it didn't happen until this school year. My guess is next year Lewis will go back to normal and there will be many oversize classes again. At a school like Jamaica that has a much greater percentage of at risk students compared to Lewis, we have a huge problem with students being discharged. Unfortunately, administration can use this to their advantage in the class size reduction process.

Administration over-booked the classes, as they have for a number of years and then they will wait for student attrition to bring class size down for the spring when it will be in compliance with the contract. In the end, the UFT can never say that the exception has become the rule. Therefore, we have no remedy for oversize classes. At the arbitration today the UFT showed last fall’s award where the administration used the half class exception. The arbitrator seemed to ignore it.

It should be noted that our school has no Pupil Accounting Secretary in our Attendance Office so it is inevitable that we will lose pupils. Pushing kids out is no way to solve the oversize class problem but attrition is why we can't prove a pattern of oversize classes as high schools are still technically organized on a semester basis twice a year.

Sadly, the real losers in this silly game are the kids who are stuck in oversize classes until they can't take battling for a seat every day and so they stop attending class.

This problem could be easily resolved by putting an absolute cap in the contract but the UFT won’t even demand this kind of modest class size reduction. The DOE agreed to lower class sizes to around 25 in the high schools to settle the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit but they won't even enforce an absolute cap of 34 on their principals. Of course, DOE will still always blame the teachers when things go wrong in a school.

They will more than likely soon claim it’s our fault that at risk students can't learn in a class of 48 at Jamaica so they will probably try again to close the school and start another new small school. The new small school will then be provided sufficient funding for them to have class sizes capped in the twenties and then the DOE will declare that there is more proof that new small schools are better when scores improve. Meanwhile the next generation of at risk pupils will be moved to the next schools targeted for closure to be packed in oversize classes.

What is so frustrating is how the DOE continues to get away with abusing the class size limits. I saw this farce with my own eyes today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I tried to do this from the Blackberry before but all that printed was the title.

Now that I am home from a super long day, here is the DA Report for the first Delegate Assembly of the year. Thanks to my friend Ellen for filling me in on the opening.

President Michael Mulgrew started out by talking about teacher bashing, the Waiting for Superman movie and more teacher bashing from NBC's week of blaming us for the problems of society.

He then told us how Chancellor will release teacher data reports. UFT had emergency resolution opposing it and saying we will take all actions to stop the release of these reports.

Mulgrew then made an election pitch and an appeal to do the phone banks. He followed up by telliing us there is no new evaluation plan in place as of now for teachers. New law was passed but it won't be implemented until we have negotiated a new contract. DOE is spinning test scores at CEC meetings. UFT is countering it with the truth. Nothing new on contract.

Mulgrew then said there is good news for daycare providers. He told us how the daycare workers now have healthcare benefits and they also have stronger protections with an executive order Governor Patterson signed. Mulgrew concluded by saying he would present delegates with Superman t-shirts.

Staff director gave some dates of meetings and thanked people for going to DC.

The Question Period followed.

Question on persistently low achieving schools was answered by Mulgrew saying that we have to change federal no child left behind law. Question on bullying. Mulgrew stated that UFT called DOE on conflict resolution and felt DOE doesn't care about this as it has nothing to do with testing and progress reports. Politicians want to push DOE to work on this issue.

Question about teacher who committed suicide after data reports in LA. Delegate wants bullying of teachers to stop . Mulgrew responded that we will reinstate Principals in Need of Improvement program.

UFT City Council endorsement for Nicole Paultrie Bell for city council then passed with no opposition.

Delegate Marjorie Stamberg then introduced a motion to get full disclosure of report on Rikers Island. Report had so much erased because it probably said that Rikers schools should not be closed. The schools have been broken up by DOE and many teachers and other UFT members have been sent to Absent Teacher Reserve pool. UFT will make a Freedom of Information Law request to get full report that probably was favorable to schools. Resolution passed unanimously from where I was sitting.Time ran out at this point so we didn't vote on anything else including a school closing resolution that was laughable.

More on this later.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Support Rikers' Resolution at DA Tomorrow!

by Marjorie Stamberg
Last Spring, the DOE decided to restructure the schools and programs on Rikers Island using the corporate model: close it down, excess the teachers, re-open with a far-reduced staff, and forget about the impact on the kids.

District 79 authorized an outside report by the Comer group at Yale University. But after the report was written, the district refused to release it. The teachers then filed a Freedom of Information Act demand to see the report.   Last week, it was finally released. But it is so heavily redacted (i.e., blacked-out) it is unreadable.  It looks like something the CIA would hand out when they're trying to cover up for U.S. war atrocities!

On Wednesday at the UFT Delegate Assembly, a motion will be put up requesting the union use it resources to demand the report be released in its entirety, which should bring some transparency to this whole nasty business.

Teachers at Rikers Island who work with incarcerated students are among the most dedicated in our system. Every day they come to work in very difficult conditions in order to teach the students who are most at-risk. These teachers deserve the thanks of all, not to be excessed and many thrown out of their classrooms into the ATR pool. 

What's happening in D79 casts light on the urgent situation of some 1,800 ATRs throughout the DOE.  As teachers are being made the scapegoats for every problem in this society, the  ATR teachers are the most vulnerable.   No one is "secure" in this era of privatization and public school closures..  As we all know, "if you're not an ATR now, you could be soon."

The Motion

  Rikers Island programs -- Release the Full Comer Report
Whereas the DOE commissioned a report from the Comer School Development Project at Yale University to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs on Rikers Island, and

 Whereas the staff as a condition of the study agreed to fully cooperate with the evaluation process including extensive interviews, and

 Whereas the evaluation was intended to guide the future of the programs on Rikers Island, and

 Whereas the report was delivered to the DOE long before the decision to close and reopen the programs on Rikers Island, and

Whereas the Comer School Development Project Report was used by the DOE and the Superintendent of District 79 to justify the closing of the programs on Rikers Island to be replaced by a new program resulting in scores of staff being excessed, and

 Whereas the DOE and the Superintendent of District 79 have refused to provide staff access to the report, and

Whereas the staff and others have made Freedom of Information Act requests only to receive a report with so many redactions as to make it meaningless, be it

 RESOLVED, that the United Federation of Teachers call upon the DOE to release the full report, without redactions, and be it further

RESOLVED that the United Federation of Teachers take such appropriate action, including but not limited to taking an appeal of the FOIA response, as it deems necessary to secure the full report so that the decision to close the programs and create scores of excess staff who are now ATRs will be made transparent .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Impact of Bryant Decision Yet to Be Determined

On Friday the New York Post reported that Charles Bryant, a probationary teacher with over 20 years as a paraprofessional, was reinstated to his teaching position after the DOE terminated him after an excessive corporal punishment allegation was lodged against him.

While the Post got the outcome right the impact and reason for the decision was not reported. Some of the important facts were also omitted.

Readers of this blog know that probationers can be terminated for any or no reason and Union lawyers will generally refuse to commence litigation in support of a terminated probationer and universally advise them to "forget about it" and get on with their lives. The Bryant case illustrates an important window for probationers…a window that should have been explored by our Union to protect impermissible probationary terminations.

Charles Bryant's excessive corporal punishment case was totally mismanaged by the Office of Special Investigations. The incident stemmed from Bryant's request to Cherry (a 16 year old and over 6 feet tall student) to go to the principal's office. A scuffle ensued after which the police were called. Bryant was reported by the police as the victim and Cherry the perpetrator.

Three student witnesses told OSI conflicting stories several days after the incident and Cherry told investigators that he was bleeding as a result of being hit by Bryant. The police report and the principal's vague memory did not support the student's account of the incident. No injury was ever reported.

Bryant's OSI interview was antagonistic and started with the investigator telling him, "I do not believe you."

Justice Emily Goodman of the New York County Supreme Court ordered the OSI files for an in camera or Court-only viewing review. The DOE refused. Additionally Goodman noted that Cherry was being held on Rikers Island on robbery charges.

Goodman noted the flawed investigation and found that "a probationary employee may be discharged without a hearing and without a statement of reasons so long as the act is done in good faith and not for constitutionally impermissible purposes."

Given the botched and biased investigation Goodman ordered Bryant back to work and ordered a new OSI investigation.

A victory for Bryant? Hopefully. However, the decision demonstrates that probationary terminations are not hopeless and our Union must take note of it and represent these Union members to the extent they deserve. (Bryant was represented by private counsel).

Saturday, October 16, 2010


We salute the teachers down in Charm City who voted down by a 58% to 42% margin a contract that would have in part tied teacher pay to student test scores.

Something really positive seems to be happening when teachers in Baltimore reject a lousy contract and voters in DC throw out Mayor Adrian Fenty who foisted Michelle Rhee upon educators in that city.

Could anti ed deform fever catch here in NYC?

I also heard that Waiting for Superman documentary isn't doing all that well at the box office. Maybe people are tired of hearing teacher bashing propaganda.

You can hear an interview with a Baltimore teacher here.

Read about the Baltimore story here.