Friday, July 31, 2015


Chaz wrote yesterday about the city having ended the fiscal year with a record surplus of close to $6 billion according to Comptroller Scott Stringer.  In May, just two months back, the Independent Budget Office was projecting a city surplus of only $3 billion for the fiscal year that just ended in June.

It is not that surprising when actual receipts come in ahead of forecasts but to almost double the surplus from the projections in just over two months seems a little unusual.

Notice there isn't much talk about this in the press. All we could find in a search was the Daily News piece that Chaz cited. Everyone seems to want to hide the fact that the city has so much money.

We will once again take the opportunity to criticize Michael Mulgrew for claiming that the cupboard was bare when he sold us his austerity style contract  with 10% salary increases over 7 years plus one month for UFT members and also taking the 4% +4% the city owed us from 2009-2011 in delayed payments that will stretch to 2020. Throw health benefits concessions into this contract and worsening conditions for Absent Teacher Reserves and it is truly a lousy deal.  The fact that Mulgrew was not able to make any real working condition gains under these circumstances truly shows how badly the UFT was taken to the cleaners by the city. Whether it was incompetence or a true sell out is up to readers to decide. It's difficult to swallow that Mulgrew and company could legitimately make the case that the city was in bad shape financially.

Instead of continuing to look back, let's try to look ahead.  Why are school budgets not at full funding for this year?  Look at this from the Department of Education budget page for schools:

"The transition from the 2014-2015 school year to the 2015-2016 school year ensures that schools are allocated the same base-lined funds they received in the prior year with adjustments only for changes in the number and needs of students, and for changes to the citywide average salary."

Translation: School budgets are frozen and, as I read this, budgets might even be cut if the average salary goes up because schools will have a higher cost per employee but the finding is the same as last year.

How is this possible when the city is swimming in black ink and the state is supposed to be providing an increase in school aid?

Why are we still operating basically under austerity conditions in the schools?

Where is our union to expose this?  Oh I forgot, they have their seat at the table. We wouldn't want to get Mayor Bill de Blasio or Chancellor Carmen Fariña angry.

Only groups opposed to Mulgrew's Unity Caucus such as ICE and MORE along with some parent organizations and other education advocates are fighting back.  If you have thirty seconds, you might want to sign this petition to lower class sizes.  The city can certainly afford it and has plenty of Absent Teacher Reserves available to staff the classrooms.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Key and Peele at Comedy Central report for Teaching Center.  Unlike UFT Teacher Center, Key and Peele's version is like ESPN's Sports Center. We see this year's college draft for teachers.  The school with the worst test scores picks first.

This is a hilarious take on what television would be like if our society went gaga over teachers the way we do about sports. The SAT scores rolling at the bottom are priceless as is the analysis of the teacher calling on the student who didn't raise his hand. It would be great if our salaries were about a tenth of what these teachers were signing for.

TimeSlate and even Bleacher Report have picked up on Teaching Center so why not ICE.

And for those with a bit of a memory, enjoy these substitute teacher classics from Key and Peele's character Mr. Garvey.

If the second clip isn't the Absent Teacher Reserve life, I don't know what is.  I am not talking about the language, just the absurdity of being new in a strange school and knowing nothing about the school's culture. When I had my first assignment as an ATR, I was directed toward these videos by one of the teachers at Aviation HS.

I apologize to anyone who is offended.  We'll get back to the usual stuff next post.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Journalist Michael Kinsley once explained that a gaffe in politics is "when a politician tells the truth - some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."

Chancellor Carmen Fariña's remarks on needing an asterisk for highly effective teachers in their ratings if they go to Renewal Schools is a Kinsley Gaffe of the highest order that needs to be exposed. This latest Kinsley Gaffe is just too important a flub for us to pass on even though Perdido Street School and NYC Educator have already covered it.

These are the Chancellor's words from a Capital NY Piece where a journalist covered her meeting with a Superintendent:

Fariña also said she wants to establish a so-called asterisk for highly effective teachers who move to Renewal Schools.  While Fariña said "its been easier to recruit teachers to Renewals than ever" because of strong professional development and a sense of mission, she's concerned that effective teachers' ratings will drop when they move from high-achieving schools to struggling ones.

Fariña said she was planning to follow one teacher who was leaving a high-performing school to teach at a Renewal School in Ames' Bronx district.

"She's going to do the same assessments she's going to do everything she did before," Fariña said. "But the scores are only going to go to a certain point.  How is that going to affect her rating?  It's not going to make her any less of a good teacher."

The UFT needs to plaster this all over. This is a perfect opportunity to show how rating teachers based on student test scores says nothing about the teacher but everything about who is sitting in front of that teacher.

In 2014 Jamaica High School teachers, especially my friend Steve Heiss, complained vociferously to UFT officials how the test score portions of our ratings were inaccurate because there was such a low sample size of students and many had very high needs.  The Department of Education ignored us as usual so seven out of the final eight teachers at Jamaica High School received either developing or ineffective ratings in 2013-14 according to the state.

Of the eight, three retired this year while I have been tracking the other five.  As of today, I am not aware of any adverse ratings and the test score portion should not change this when our final ratings are available for all of us in September.  We are working with different students now.

Did we all suddenly become better teachers overnight?  No, the populations we are teaching changed. Yes, I know it is a small sample size but it would hold up with a larger group I am sure. Fariña knows this too as does anyone who has ever set foot in a classroom as a teacher.

Do I believe the UFT will scream loudly about Fariña's latest major gaffe?  The answer is they more than likely will let this go as they love our Chancellor.  Union leadership seems to see teachers in Renewal or closing schools as collateral damage in school reform. If we are ATRs, they tell us to be thankful we have a job.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and AFT President Randi Weingarten have a seat at the table with the powerful Democrats to keep. It is a new kind of unionism. They play nice-nice with the reformers who want to base part of our ratings on student test score results knowing full well it is ridiculous, but they get to sit with the big-shots.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


In another move that shows there isn't much difference between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor Michael Bloomberg when it comes to running the schools, the Department of Education rejected its own Blue Book Working Group's recommendations to put lower class sizes into the school utilization formula.

Let's quote Pete Townshend of the Who as we have in the past:

"Meet the new boss; same as the old boss." 

From the song Won't get Fooled Again.

The press release from Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is below and at the NYC Public School Parents Blog.

For immediate release: July 28, 2015
Contact:  Leonie Haimson,; 917-435-9329
Wendy Lecker, , 203 - 536-7567

City’s rejection of class size recommendations of the DOE working group betrays top priority of parents and de Blasio campaign promises

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “It is deeply distressing that today, the Department of Education revealed it would reject the recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group, including parents, advocates and DOE officials appointed by the Chancellor, to improve the school overcrowding estimates by incorporating smaller classes in the school utilization formula.”

Class size reduction has been the top priority of parents every year since 2007, according to the DOE’s own surveys, and Bill de Blasio promised during his campaign to reform the Blue Book “so it incorporates the need for smaller classes.” (See his completed NYC KidsPac candidate survey at )

Added Haimson, “De Blasio also promised that if elected, he would reduce class size to the levels set out in the city’s original Contracts for Excellence plan.  This plan involved average class sizes no larger than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students in high school.  The city’s rejection of the recommendations of the DOE’s own working group to incorporate these class size goals in the Blue Book is thus a betrayal of that commitment, as well as a refusal to be responsive to the top priority of parents and what research shows works to help kids learn. “

As Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Education Law Center pointed out, “In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE), New York's highest court found that large class sizes in New York City schools played a major role in depriving schoolchildren of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.  Both the Contract for Excellence (C4E) law, passed in response to CFE, and the regulations promulgated under that law, provide specific mandates for reduction of class size in New York City. “ 

“The Blue Book Working Group, recognizing these mandates, recommended the smaller class size standards set forth in New York City's C4E 5 Year Class Size Reduction Plan, as approved by the State in 2007.  Yet, despite these mandates, and despite the fact that class sizes have been steadily rising, the City is choosing not to adopt the class size recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group. Instead, the existing blue book standards will allow for and encourage class sizes to increase even more, in violation of the CFE decision and the requirements of the Contract for Excellence law.”

Monday, July 27, 2015


Verizon workers are threatening a strike.  This is what labor unions do.

I am aware that Verizon is in the private sector and their unions don't have to worry about the penalty of losing two days pay for every day on strike that public employees in NYS such as teachers have to put up with.  Still, it is great to see that there are unions that aren't afraid to use the tools labor has at its disposal even in these very anti-union times.

Meanwhile, we found out the leaders of the UFT were working with the AFT to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to our mayor at the same time that they were negotiating a sub-par contract for UFT members. NYC Educator has details.  We don't get anything back for our generosity.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I read this disturbing article from Capital NY  on Friday.  The city and UFT could negotiate to possibly replace the teachers in 62 "struggling" schools.  Here is the part of the clearly biased, anti-teacher piece that most concerned me:

Major teacher turnover in dozens of schools is not an initiative that most would associate with the U.F.T. But Joseph Viterriti, a professor of education policy at the CUNY Graduate Center, said this could be an occasion for the union to flaunt its progressive credentials.

Progressive now means test and punish teachers.  It is the status quo after years of teacher bashing from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

NYC Educator, as usual, beat me to the punch by showing how the advice to the UFT from the good Dr. Viterriti to offer up more teachers as sacrifices at the altar of education reform is a terrible idea. Unfortunately, our union has proven over and over how progressive our leadership is and they will more than likely throw more teachers under the bus in struggling schools to save themselves. It probably is too late for this year but expect many to have to reapply for their jobs in 2016.  What is the alternative?

How about trying to be a labor union?

On day one in an alternate universe UFT, after the 2016 UFT election when Mulgrew is ousted and there is a real union leader as president, things would change in a hurry. Besides cleaning house by dismissing most of the loyalty oath signing Unity faithful and opening up union positions to senior, qualified people (like comp time) and having elections for the District Representatives, we would need to change the whole conversation around education as quickly as we can.

We would immediately call for a South African style truth commission, as was recommended at the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's third term by my friend Marc Epstein, to expose what really occurs in the schools. Marc and I used to discuss this idea before he proposed it on Diane Ravitch's blog. A year and a half later conditions are now worse in the schools thanks to state legislation and a Chancellor who tries to have it all ways. If Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina say they won't cooperate with a truth commission, we would tell them good luck in the 2017 reelection without union support.  In terms of the schools, it hasn't much mattered whether a "progressive" or a billionaire is in charge of the city. According to City Hall, Albany and DC, teachers are to blame for inadequate student progress. It is high time we expose this fallacy and tell the whole truth about what is going on in our schools.

Schools in New York City basically fall into two main categories.

One group consists of schools who have no difficulty meeting their state statistical objectives. If schools in this category have a decent administration, they have pretty much survived school reform and many of their teachers might not even know what is going on in the rest of the system. If they have a UFT Chapter Leader like Arthur Goldstein from Francis Lewis HS or Kit Weiner at Goldstein in Brooklyn, they will offer to help members in less fortunate schools..

The rest of the schools are the schools that have to work in creative ways to meet their state mandated targets. These schools are almost always filled with large numbers of higher needs students (English language learners, students with interrupted formal education, overage-under credited [high school term] pupils, over-the-counter admits, special education students, free or reduced rate lunch kids). Schools labeled struggling usually contain many pupils who might not be motivated to learn for a multitude of reasons. We will focus our truth commission mostly on these schools although I am sure many of the top flight schools have stories to tell also but don't want to bring attention to themselves.

We then must divide schools that have more high needs students into two categories: Those who know how to play the game and those who don't know how to play the game. Those who haven't figured out how to play the numbers game are usually in trouble.  Now they are labeled "struggling" by the state. In the past, they were closed and reopened under new names.

By playing the game, some might think I mean cheating to meet state mandates but this is not necessarily the case. There are many ways to play the data game to make miracles appear in student statistics.  Some examples I have seen or heard of are schools that are excluding or strictly limiting the number of higher needs students described in parenthesis above that they admit. These schools are also famous for not replacing students who are counseled out or move out of the area.  This is the charter playbook.

There are many other ways to cook the books. Some schools narrow the curriculum so that all they do is teach to the state tests. This is not exactly motivating a love of learning but it could lead to success in having students pass standardized tests. Now onto more ingenious solutions from our high schools in New York City.

I have worked in the high schools for 29 years.  In that time I have heard many stories about creative ways to cook the school books.

I was told about one high school that took all of the students who had failed a Regents and put them in a separate class. They give the class a fancy title and instead of studying that subject, they did Regents review but the pupils still got course credit which they aren't supposed to get in a review course. If the school was undergoing a Quality Review, the teacher went back to teaching the real subject for a day or two until the reviewers from outside left.

We then turn to the many high schools who offer elaborate credit recovery programs. Some have been documented. Does anyone think Flushing, Bryant and John Dewey are isolated schools doing what students term "easy pass"? We also have principals who grant credit for students who are able to fog a mirror or sometimes even that test isn't necessary and transcripts just change by magic like at Jamaica.  From the information that has come to us at various meetings over the years, the vast majority of New York City high schools fall into playing the credit scheme game in one way or another. Only some are exposed.  Would most agree that it is the tip of the iceberg? Regents cheating is a little more complicated these days but we're pretty sure it goes on.  We just looked and we found some at Richmond Hill.

In addition, there are so many administrators out there who we have been told have passing percentage quotas for teachers.  If a certain number of pupils don't pass, the teachers get in trouble. Teachers have to document contacts made to failing students.  Teachers end up saying, "Why bother failing students? It isn't worth the effort and backlash." Many undeserving students pass.  Why do many administrators want to get rid of senior teachers and hire newbies.  For many it has nothing to do with the added salary on the budget and more to do with how easy it is to compel new teachers to pass almost everyone. Why is replacing entire teaching staffs is such a preferable school reform option?  New, non-tenured teachers are more likely to be pushed to pass just about anyone.

It is the rare principal that has to resort to outright fraud because there are so many weapons at their disposal to pass as many students as they need to in order to make the statistics appear positive. They even have data specialists these days whose job is to massage those numbers.

My favorite story was told to me about an attendance office staff in an unnamed school that figured out how to lower the denominator on the school's cohort ratio.  When certain student discharge codes are used, a school doesn't lose credit for a kid who is no longer at the school. Traditionally, a pupil who moved out of state or out of the country was the best kind of discharge because it reduced the denominator on the cohort. If a school had 100 seniors and one left the country, nobody dropped out. The school's graduation rate was then be based on 99 seniors. There was also no way for a computer to trace a foreign discharge but how did a school get multiple students to move out of the country or state?

It was as simple as using the copying machine when one kid left the country and then skillfully whiting out the date and name of the student on a school letter from a foreign country and putting in the name of a different pupil who had dropped out.  When I asked if they worried about an audit, the answer was that they didn't have to be concerned because the auditors usually only looked at a few of the discharges so they wouldn't be concerned that ten kids moved to India if the school had a significant population from that country. Do you think the auditor was going to call India? (Before anyone gets any ideas on turning this over to the Commissioner of Special Investigations or the Office of Special Investigations, the person who told me of this scam is no longer with us and it supposedly happened many long years ago.)  I don't even know how true this story is but I'm fairly certain scams like this are going on all the time as the stakes attached to student progress are just too high.  The public should know about all of them and the union should be exposing them loudly.

In my alternate world with a real union leadership we would have a public confession of every school's sins.  We hide nothing. We would be ready for the editorials from the Post and the Daily News that would say the cure for all of this cheating is to start more charter schools so we can have more school choice.  The answer to the Post's editorial board is easy.

Markets and competition do not work in public education as they only encourage cooking the books. More competition leads to more game playing.  (Someone get this message to democratic socialist Bernie Sanders please. He just voted for more test and punish.)  Add to this the fact that research has shown that children who come from poverty are at a huge disadvantage as they start school compared to their middle class and rich peers.  The American value of equality of opportunity does not exist in our education system and it is made worse by competition which favors those who can play the system.

The federal government originally became involved in school funding to try to fix the inequity of resources. Resources have not been equalized and having schools play with numbers to save principal and teacher jobs is resulting in kids receiving meaningless high school diplomas. All one needs to do to confirm how a NYC high school diploma does not signify a whole lot in most schools is to look at the remediation rates in community colleges at CUNY for NYC high school graduates. Those rates have not moved much after twelve years of school reform in New York City and they won't improve no matter how much pressure is put on teachers and how scripted the lessons are.

All that is likely to occur in what are now called "struggling" schools is a proliferation of new and old ways to play the numbers game

Instead of playing the game, how about we level the playing field by insisting that students in NYC get the same resources as students in Great Neck, Long Island? How can class sizes in the city still be going up when the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit was settled in 2007 and lowering class size was one of the ways to fix the equity problem?  How can city schools be budgeted with a 10-15% cut from full funding when state aid is flowing and the city is swimming in black ink? This all needs to be investigated and exposed.  We can start to have the conversations about how to improve student outcomes when the resources are the same for everyone.

A truth commission would be a good way to turn the discussion on its head. Don't hold your breath waiting for the UFT to call for one.* They would rather have their seat at the table with the politicians who want to fire teachers and tell us to play nice with administration..

That is why I am hoping for an alternate universe.

*UPDATE--Thanks to Phillip Nobile for pointing out in a comment that the UFT did call for a Truth Commission in 2013 to be convened after Mayor Bloomberg was gone to investigate misdeeds under Bloomberg.  Once Democrat Bill de Blasio took over, we never heard the idea again.  In this piece, we are calling for one to be used to expose what is occurring under the current administration as well as the prior one.  My point is that not much has changed in the schools.  It is still a blame the teacher mentality at Tweed.  The only difference is now the union spin is that everything is beautiful. We need to change the narrative.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


The Huffington Post just published a powerful open letter to Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders written by some of my closest friends who are among the finest human beings alive on this planet. Diane Ravitch posted a portion of the letter and a link on her blog.  I had every opportunity to sign and even contributed an edit to the open letter but at the end of the day I could not sign it.

For me, the yes vote in the US Senate from Senator Sanders on the Murphy Amendment to the new euphemistically titled "Every Child Succeeds Act" puts Sanders in the category of just another politician who wants to continue the George Bush-Barack Obama test and punish education policies. As Ravitch put it, "The Murphy Amendment would have continued, in fact intensified, the punishments attached to No Child Left Behind." Keep closing schools and firing educators.

This blog analyzed the situation in DC last week and concluded that anyone who supports public education should be satisfied that the Republicans united with two dissident Democrats along with one independent to defeat the Murphy Amendment before passing the overall "Every Child Succeeds Act".  Gone are the days when I am going to take a politician at his/her word that he/she loves public school teachers and parents.  The proof is in their record.  On that score, Sanders failed the test last week.

Therefore, to support a letter that states right in the introductory paragraph, "We are educators and supporters of yours, from across the country," is a step I cannot take right now. I refuse to endorse another Democratic politician, even if he says he is a democratic socialist, who would vote for such an anti-public school teacher and student abomination of an amendment that continues test and punish.  I may end up voting for Sanders as the lesser of the evils in the primary but no he is not our friend.  Do not be fooled by Sanders or anyone else.

Haven't we been down this road too many times in the past few years with Democrats who say they are with us and then stab us in the chest and the back?  See Barrack Obama and Bill de Blasio for some recent examples.  I'm no Hillary Clinton fan and voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party so they can increase their vote percentages to hopefully make a breakthrough in this millennium is not something to look forward to in the 2016 presidential election either.

I will probably vote for a Democrat for president hoping they keep control of the federal bureaucracy and make judicial appointments because Republican Party policy goes against working people, teachers, public school parents and labor unions, all groups I belong to.  However, the Democrats are not much better for us and on public education in particular, they are in some ways just as bad or worse.

We can delve into the reasons why most Democrats now vote against us and certainly the impact of the Supreme Court case called Citizens United, which has opened up the floodgates to corrupt money in politics and should be overturned, is right on top of the list.  However, that is not my purpose in writing today. If working people, teachers, public school parents, students and labor unions want to turn around our national 34 year slide since Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981, there is only one course to take, one that is seldom taken anymore.  It's called labor militancy.

  • How could New York City get away with giving teachers a contract where we won't get paid for work we did from 2009-2011 until 2020 and embeds second class status to members called Absent Teacher Reserves?

  • How can the city get away with keeping the anti teacher bureaucracy in place at the Department of Education even after the unions supported a so called worker friendly Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013?

  • How can the state of New York get away with changing the teacher evaluation system over and over as a way to try to fire teachers and say public schools are failing?

  • How can President Obams get away with anti-teacher test and punish policies and praising firings of whole groups of teachers?

I could go on and on and have done so on this blog.  The answer to all of these questions is they get away with it because labor militancy on a grand scale does not exist in the US. It is that simple.

Please don't tell me about the strike by teachers in Chicago or threats and local job actions elsewhere. These local actions are amazing but they only score small victories.  After the 2012 strike, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel still closed a bunch of schools and got rid of  masses of teachers and the union was powerless to stop most of it.  When we are threatened nationally, we need a national response that is strong and firm.  Will we get it from our union leadership at the AFT/NEA or AFL-CIO levels?  Of course not. We never do.

Let's spend our limited energy as NYSUT opposition Stronger Together Beth Dimino (who signed the Sanders letter) says "saving ourselves."  We know the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs case could end public sector unionism as we know it.  Without automatic dues coming in thanks to Act 10, Wisconsin has lost half of its public sector union members.  As the video above shows, this is a national model and it might just succeed.

We have to fight to make members believe in the union again.  We can't expect politicians who might be with us on some or even many issues to bail us out.  The House of Representatives has been so gerrymandered that very few districts are competitive so even if  the unlikely happens and Sanders wins the White House, the national political equation will not change radically.

Why there has not been a threat of a nationwide or statewide teacher or public employee massive job action or a general strike from the rank and file is beyond me? We have to stop expecting some ideal leader to save us at the government or union level because as my friend Sue Sutera said during the Jamaica High School phase out, "All we have is each other."

All of us together could be an unbelievably robust weapon if we would just try. More about that later.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


We had a fine time watching the Orioles play the Yankees this evening while discussing strategies to win a major victory in the 2016 UFT Election.

Spreadsheets, ground game, literature, other caucuses and much more were on the agenda along with baseball.

UFT veterans Ellen Fox and Ed Beller were also in attendance.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Chalkbeat is reporting that the latest surveys have come out and Chancellor Carmen Farina is a hit with the teachers.  She has gone from 31% saying they are satisfied with the Chancellor last year to 60% saying they are satisfied now.  Of course they don't give Absent Teacher Reserves the survey at all to skew the results. Even though I was on staff as a Leave Replacement Teacher at Middle College High School this year, I didn't receive a survey.

My wife was on sabbatical this year; she didn't get a survey either.  Anybody else not polled?

Are we the minority who are unhappy with the schools and is there a Richard Nixonish silent majority out there who are crazy about the Chancellor and the New York City system?

Here are the full results.

Here is the DOE's more selective results.

My very brief analysis is that nobody played with the surveys and having a couple of thousand angry ATRs involved would have changed things but not that significantly.  Some will say that people are too scared to say anything negative about the schools and they may have a point but I would argue that the UFT is mainly responsible for the Chancellor's improved rating.

The UFT's top down spin that everything is wonderful now in the NYC schools has resonated with many people.  To me this is more evidence that he/she who heads the union at the school level (chapter leader/delegate) relays the message that the rank and file receive.  In most schools those leadership positions belong to members of Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus where loyalty to the party line is a membership obligation. Mulgrew has decreed it's all hunky-dory in NYC schools. See any Delegate Assembly report for details.  The problems are with the state according to the UFT leaders.

If we want to change the union, we need respected UFT members like those who read this blog to present the alternative view in just about every school. To put it another way, get in touch with us and spread the word.

Monday, July 20, 2015


We knew the choice of ousted Hillsborough, Florida school Superintendent Mary Ann Elia for New York State Education Commissioner was not going to sit well with many educators and parents.  Less than a month into her new job, she has proven the critics were right.  She looks like just a different version of former Commissioner John King.

As reported on the B-LoEdScene blog via the Buffalo News, Elia told the media she is going on a listening tour.  While in Buffalo, she was pushing the same old blame the teacher garbage as her predecessor.

Here is what she told the school board: "It's important for you to understand there will be consequences if you can't move those schools forward," she said.

Improve or else.  This is Elia's grand new strategy.  The whole false premise that schools fail because of lousy educators is moving ahead full steam at the state level.

The list of schools going into what is now euphemistically called "receivership" was released by Elia's State Ed Department last week. Schools are now termed "struggling" or persistently struggling."  Who invents these terms?  One of their solutions for struggling schools is to replace the teachers as if bad teaching had much to do with lack of student achievement.

The best quote in response to Elia comes from Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore:

That someone's going to come in here and wave a magic wand, and all of these kids who have severe problems will start doing well, that's just not going to happen."

Rumore is no hero to me as he was one of the supporters of the NYSUT coup d'etat last year that gave us Revive NYSUT who have revived nothing but enhanced their own pensions.  In this case, however, Rumore has nailed it. His comment goes right along with something our friend Harris Lirtzman said the other day at Perdido Street school:

...where are all the magical teachers going to come from to staff these schools when their current roster get dumped in the ATR in New York City and straight fired everywhere else?  Will the State give the "receivers" special wands and hocus-pocus powers to make magical teachers appear from thin air? What "master" teacher anywhere would transfer to any of these schools when the State accountability system will turn a "master" teacher into a "developing" teacher in one year?

For those who have not been following, this is what the state said in their press release concerning struggling schools.

Struggling Schools are defined as schools that have been identified since 2012-13 as Priority Schools (i.e., among the lowest performing five percent of schools in the state).  Priority Schools that have been in the most severe accountability status since the 2006-07 school year have been identified as Persistently Struggling Schools.

Under the receivership law, a school receiver is granted new authority to, among other things, develop a school intervention plan; convert schools to community schools providing wrap-around services; expand the school day or school year; and remove staff and/or require staff to reapply for their jobs in collaboration with a staffing committee.

In the 20 schools identified as Persistently Struggling, the superintendent first serves as the receiver and is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a receiver to make demonstrable improvement on annual goals established by the Commissioner, including student performance.  Absent demonstrable improvement, the Commissioner will direct the school board to appoint an independent receiver within 60 days.  The Commissioner will work closely with the school board to ensure that the most qualified individual is identified and the appointment of all independent receivers must be approved by the Commissioner.  Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period. 

We are all fully aware this was going to be awful after the State Legislature allowed receivership into state education law. We didn't know how bad it would get.  

All I can say here is every time we say it can't get much worse in education, it does.

My question is what are the unions going to do in response to the receivorship nonsense?  The answer to that in all probability unfortunately is not much.  It's up to the rank and file to move them in the right direction.

To see if your school is on the list, just scroll down to the bottom of the NYSED link.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Earlier this month we received the news that the Department of Education finally confirmed John Dewey High School was granting credit recovery to kids for doing virtually nothing in a program the kids called "easy pass".  Then on Friday it came out that nineteen cops were fixing crime reports. Both incidents were considered big news.

I've got some news for the news media: Manipulation of government data is not really news.

Once government policy made job performance for precinct commanders, principals and teachers dependent on lower crime numbers and higher test scores as well as improved graduation rates, it was an invitation to cook the books since much of what happens in terms of crime on the streets and achievement in the schools is beyond the control of individual police and educators.  People do what they have to in order to keep their jobs.

My brother Professor John Eterno along with Professor Eli Silberman have proven in a professional peer reviewed study how crime numbers in New York City are about as legitimate as $3 bills and the press has documented numerous reports of educators playing with grades.  Those of us who work in either field have all heard stories about how making the numbers look good, not integrity of the statistics, is the goal of management.  Teachers and cops do our best under the circumstances to do our jobs with dignity while many of us deal with direct or subtle pressure to keep the numbers looking right. One of the reasons Jamaica High School, where I worked for 28 years, was closed was because most of the staff refused to play the game and exposed transcript fixing as soon as it was discovered.*

Here is the major difference between crime fighters and educators: The police have real unions who defend their members with everything they have while educators are often abandoned by unions.

According to the Daily News, Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins said the downgrading of crimes has been a systemic problem in the NYPD for years.  Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch was quoted in the same article also and he stood by his members: "Police officers follow the dictates of their bosses. Management has consistently hammered police officers to reduce felonies to misdemeanors."

Next we hear from Captains Endowment head Roy Richter on Lorenzo Johnson, the Precinct Commander who is being removed from his post: "He's well respected.  He's been doing a good job."

Compare and contrast the police union responses to the reactions of teacher and principal union leaders when grade fixing in schools is exposed.  Do they stand by their members who receive the same kind of managerial pressure to play with numbers by passing students no matter what? Here is the answer from Chalkbeat when the John Dewey cheating scandal was finally confirmed by the Department of Education:

"Representatives for the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents (John Dewey Principal Kathleen) Elvin, did not respond to emails seeking comment."

What about reaction to the grade fixing scandal in Atlanta?

Here is a portion of a piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2012 that quotes Randi Weingarten:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the two major teachers' unions, told the AJC that the findings suggest the need for more investigation in many school districts across the country.

"It should go to another level," she said, such as systematic analysis of erasures on test papers and, if necessary, investigations by law enforcement officers--both of which helped prove widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools.

Note that there is no defense offered up by our union's President for the educators who ended up in jail. They certainly felt pressure from above.

You can bet the police won't end up in prison for doing essentially the same thing as the educators. Perhaps having strong unions that back their members does make a difference.

*Please note that I am not talking here about scrubbing where another set of eyes looks at a Regents paper that is close to passing to see if they can legitimately find another credit or two on an essay. If the score is off by more than one point after two readers in social studies have graded a paper, a third reader is in fact required. Scrubbing went on since the Regents exams began.  Having bulges of 65% scores is not a scandal. The passing score is set in Albany and the conversion charts are certainly questionable as to what constitutes a passing grade.  I am also not concerned about an appeal where the scoring rubric may have been applied inappropriately. Furthermore, I am not worried about administrators who question teachers who hold students to standards that are way above the grade level for the students they are teaching. I am referring to real pressure to pass students like having a passing quota or transcript fixing or erasures or  giving the hard sell to grant credit on state exams for students who write nothing that any reasonable person would think is correct. The pressure to manipulate grades is widespread because of the consequences to educators if the numbers are not what the state says they should be. I understand, although I certainly don't agree with, what administration did at Jamaica.

Friday, July 17, 2015


I am very thankful that there are people out there who are policy wonks who follow every last detail of the workings of Congress.  On education, I go to Mercedes Schneider and education historian Professor Diane Ravitch for insights. Both have been monitoring the federal lawmaking process on education very closely.

This morning I was sent information from Mercedes through Ravitch which kind of left my head spinning. In the re-authorization of what used to be called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which then was called the No Child Left Behind Act, and now the Senate is terming the Every Child Achieves Act, there were a number of amendments offered before Thursday's final Senate vote. One of them, the Murphy Amendment (put forward by Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy) would have, as blogger Gadfly on the Wall put it, continued the "Test and Punish" accountability for schools just like No Child Left Behind. The amendment failed but what is surprising was who supported it.

If it carried, the Washington Post reported that the amendment would have "required states to identify and take action in the lowest 5% of public schools as determined by the state; high schools where fewer than 67% graduate on time and any school where poor, disabled, minority or English -language learner students do not meet state-set achievement goals on standardized tests and other measures for two consecutive years."  Taking action could mean firing all the teachers according to the analysis from Mercedes Schneider. It looks like the same old blame the teachers for the ills of society nonsense. As Republican Senator Lamar Alexander put it, "Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it." The National Education Association opposed the Murphy amendment.  I don't know about the AFT.

This amendment's cosponsors included liberal favorite Elizabeth Warren along with long time anti-public school, former Newark, NJ mayor and now Senator Cory Booker.  They use civil rights language on protecting minority students to continue Test and Punish. All of the Democrats present except Jeanne Shaheen and John Tester voted for the amendment, It was almost all of the Republicans who voted this amendment down. The final senate tally was 43 in favor and 54 against.

How did left wing saint Bernie Sanders vote on keeping Test and Punish?  He voted in favor.

Ravitch in her report said that education politics are "strange" referring to where Republicans and Democrats stand on education issues.

The oh so ridiculously titled Every Child Achieves Act later overwhelmingly passed the Senate and a similar education bill called The Student Success Act has already been narrowly approved by the House of Representatives. Next there will be a conference committee to reconcile the two bills.

I don't think Republicans are our friends when it comes to public schools as their solutions are more charter schools, vouchers for private schools and killing our unions but Democrats are clearly not our allies either.  The Greens can't win so where do supporters of public education turn to politically?  I wish I had an easy answer.

All I can say we are on our own now more so than ever and need to mobilize to push the politicians in our direction.

Ravitch has further analysis up today.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


ST Caucus is the statewide opposition group to Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten's ruling Unity Caucus.  I am a member of ST which stands for Stronger Together.  Here is their letter in its entirety opposing the way the AFT backed Hillary Clinton for President. 

Dear ST Caucus Members,

ST Caucus Leadership stands in opposition to the process and timing of the AFT endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Primary.  ST Caucus Leadership believes that the AFT Executive Board's survey of the membership was premature and not representative of the rank and file. Any survey this early in the process does not allow for members to  have sufficient knowledge of all the potential candidates and their positions and it precludes the fact that more candidates may enter the race.  

With 16 months to go before the election, ST Caucus Leadership believes that it is too early to endorse anyone.  AFT Leadership threw away its ability to advocate for the rank and file at a time when candidates should be sparring with each other to earn our endorsement.   Now more than ever, public education, teachers, children, and parents need a candidate who will champion their rights and include educators in all decision-making processes.  

The ST Caucus will be surveying its members to determine their degree of satisfaction with the process and the timing of the AFT endorsement. The survey results will be shared on the ST Caucus website, Facebook page, and Twitter, in addition the results will be emailed to all members of the STCaucus.

Chair: Beth Dimino—President Port Jefferson Station Teachers' Association
Treasurer: Beth Chetney—President Baldwinsville Teachers’ Association
Secretary: Laura Spencer—President Smithtown Teachers’ Association
Membership Chair: Michele Bushey—PAC, Saranac Teachers’ Association 

Vice-Chairs representing NYS by region 
1)   Central NY/Southern Tier: Angelee Hargreaves—President Port Byron Teachers’ Association
2)   Capital District: Megan DeLaRosa—President Shenendehowa Teachers’ Association
3)   North Country: Nate Hathaway—President Malone Federation of Teachers
4)   Tarrytown/Mid-Hudson: Mike Lillis—President Lakeland Federation of Teachers
5)   Nassau/Suffolk: Kevin Coyne—President Brentwood Teachers’ Association
6)   NYC:  Mike Schirtzer—UFT Delegate; MORE CAUCUS
7)   Western NY (Buffalo):  Joe Karb—President Springville Faculty Association
8)   Western NY (Rochester): Orlando Benzan—President Brockport Teachers’ Association

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


An Open email to AFT President Randi Weingarten

Good day Randi,

I know you are very busy with all of your duties as the President of the American Federation of Teachers. I apologize for taking up your time but I could use some advice and who better to turn to than my national union's President.

I have once again been excessed from my teaching position even though I have 29 years of teaching experience because I am an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).  I had a seven month regular teaching assignment at Middle College High School, which was a wonderful experience, but the school does not have the funds to keep me on their Table of Organization.

Therefore, I have a very difficult decision to make this summer.  I have examined the Open Market Hiring System for the New York City Department of Education and some decent schools have openings in my subject area, social studies.  However, if I obtain a position, the UFT says I will lose the seat at the UFT Delegate Assembly that the teachers of Middle College High School elected me to.

In the UFT's recent response to the election complaint four Absent Teacher Reserves sent to the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT said the following in footnote 10: "As discussed above, the UFT has made it clear that anyone elected can continue to serve, even if assigned to a different school. This is not to say, of course, that an ATR who accepts a position at another school, who is disciplined, who ceases to be a member, or who is otherwise ineligible to serve may continue to serve as a chapter leader or delegate."

According to the union, if I go on the open market and obtain a permanent position, I lose my cherished Delegate position. Being a union representative is an important way to be involved in the union.  However, finding a regular teaching job means I will have to break my pledge to the teachers of Middle College High School who I told I would represent faithfully next year if they sent me as an ATR to the Delegate Assembly.

My dilemma completely contradicts the UFT's stated goal for ATRs which they write about later in their response to our chapter election complaint: "Likewise, it is the UFT's goal to minimize the number of members without permanent placements and to make the ATR position a temporary one until a permanent position is obtained."

I would like your advice on how I should handle this.  We complained to you about how ATRs are not having our democratic rights at the school level upheld in the chapter election process and have heard nothing after the contradictory UFT response.

This is just one small example among many of how ATRs are treated unfairly by our union, the United Federation of Teachers.


James Eterno
Absent Teacher Reserve

Michael Mulgrew
Emil Pietromonaco
Adam Ross
Loretta Johnson

Monday, July 13, 2015


There is outrage on the internet over the American Federation of Teachers endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.  AFT President Randi Weingarten's Executive Council coming out for Hillary was about as surprising as a 7-Eleven store having a slurpee machine. Everyone should have known this was coming.  This blog predicted it three days back and nobody here is related to psychic Edgar Cayse let alone AFT's Leo Casey. Yet the reaction on Facebook from some of my friends seems to be total anger.

Beth Dimino, leader of statewide opposition to Randi's Unity Caucus in NYSUT called Stronger Together said, "This is Bull***t... All the teachers I know do NOT support Clinton!" Beth is known for being direct.

Fordham professor Mark Naison stated, "The AFT's endorsement of Hilary Clinton is at the very least premature and at the very worst, disastrous for defenders of public education."

Jia Lee from the MORE-UFT opposition caucus in NYC and Change the Stakes commented: "Am I shocked that the AFT leadership announced endorsement for Clinton? No. Am I continually disappointed at the leadership for its lack of democracy? You bet! At the same time, an endorsement is meaningless knowing we teachers have control over our vote, and we will vote for a candidate who won't sell public schools down the river."

You get the idea.

To be fair to AFT President Weingarten, I was called and listened in on one of those telephone town hall meetings for AFT activists and at one point someone broke in, called me by my first name and asked if I wanted to ask a question.  I was taking care of my kids at the time and just monitoring the discussion.  I very much doubt my question about Hillary's negative baggage and disapproval numbers would have made any difference in the AFT endorsement process and my two children were keeping me very busy while I listened in on the town hall so I just helped take care of my two kids, continued listening and didn't participate actively.

Maybe I should have spoken up as I didn't realize until this morning that I seem to be one of the few Hillary doubters who had a chance to be involved in any way in the process.

On the other hand, anyone with a pulse who was listening to the town hall or knows anything about the AFT knew the Hillary nod was coming and I do believe the AFT did scientific polling of the membership.

According to Randi, an early endorsement is better than a later one because when a union is with a candidate early on, they show they are truly a friend and there will be benefits later on. She said a later endorsement, when everyone is endorsing a candidate who is clearly going to get the Democratic nomination, would not have as much impact.  She also claimed Hillary in her meeting with the AFT Executive Council talked much more about PreK-12 education than Senator Bernie Sanders or former Governor Martin O'Malley and she added that Clinton had an in depth knowledge of education issues.

Randi also stated that a candidate should be electable to get AFT support and she clearly felt Hillary could win.  There were callers in favor of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who made very good points on why he should be endorsed.  Unfortunately, Hillary's negatives never came up while I was closely listening.   Randi also reported that not one of the many Republican candidates running for president wanted any part of the AFT.

This morning can anyone say they are even mildly surprised by the AFT endorsement? We all know that being a Democratic Party leader and having a seat at the table of the powerful is very important to Randi and that the AFT is a top-down organization.

In the final analysis, Jia Lee is right as we still have the power in our votes and ability to influence others.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


The Public Advocate Letitia James and the group Class Size Matters were in court at the Appellate Division yesterday as the Carmen Farina led Department of Education is appealing a court ruling saying that School Leadership Team meetings are subject to open meetings law, meaning they have to be open to the public.

Here is some of what came from the NYC Public School Parents Blog on the case.

On April 16, 2015, Justice Peter H. Moulton of the State Supreme Court concluded in the case of Michael Thomas v. NYC Department of Education that the DOE's decision to close these meetings to the public was "arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law."  Thomas, a retired teacher, had been prevented from attending an SLT meeting on Staten Island, and had sued the DOE.  The Public Advocate and Class Size Matters subsequently intervened in the case as petitioners on the side of Mr. Thomas.

Justice Moulton's decision for the petitioners and against the DOE was emphatic, based upon state law and Commissioner's decisions that clearly demonstrate that SLTs are public bodies, have an important role to play in school governance, and thus are subject to open meetings law.  State law and Chancellors regulations even require that notice of all SLT meetings shall be made in a manner "consistent with the open meetings law."  As Justice Mounton concluded, "The proper functioning of public schools is a public concern, not a private concern limited to the families who attend a given public school."

Yet following this decision, the DOE sent a message to principals on June 9, 2015, ordering them to close these meetings to the press and general public while their appeal of this decision could be heard.

Where in the heck was and is the United Federation of Teachers on this case?

Is the UFT backing the Public Advocate, Class Size Matters and the retired teacher or have we decided to sit another one out so as not to embarrass our friend the Chancellor?

Can somebody please help me here as I was not a Delegate last school year so maybe something went by me?  If the UFT is supporting the parent, Class Size Matter and the Public Advocate, we would like to acknowledge it by updating this post.

Back in 2008, the UFT Delegate Assembly unanimously voted for a motion I introduced calling for the UFT to join an appeal of a parent to the State Education Commissioner claiming School Leadership Teams are decision-making bodies.  We won the case with the State Education Commissioner.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


It seems that panic has set in as public sector unions worry about being decimated if there is an unfavorable ruling by the US Supreme Court  in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case should be decided in 2016.  It involves public employees saying they should not to have to pay any union dues because they don't agree with actions the union takes. They are claiming it is a violation of their free speech rights.

Supreme Court precedent from back in 1977 in the case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education says it is constitutional for public employees who do not join a union (if they have one for their job title.) to still have to pay what is called an agency fee payment to the union since they benefit the same as union members from a union's collective bargaining work. Agency fee payers (those who don't join the union) can petition the union to receive a portion of their dues back if they object to the political work the union is doing.  Agency fee payers do not belong to the union officially and cannot vote in union elections.

Unions rightfully accuse people who don't want to pay any union dues of getting a free ride as they still benefit from the contracts the unions negotiate just as scabs who cross picket lines during a strike benefit when the union obtains a contract with a raise.

What will happen if the Court overturns the Abood precedent and rules public employees can ride for free?

Many believe that defections from public sector unions will soar to the point where unions will be broke if not broken entirely.  Maybe so but then again maybe not. Let's take the UFT as an example.

While thousands would leave the UFT if they were not compelled to pay dues and the UFT treasury would suffer a severe blow, a negative Supreme Court decision would force the union to actually become a union again.  Right now the leaders know member dues money is coming, whether or not the teachers are in the union, vote in union elections or care at all.  To put it simply, our union's leadership can take the members for granted. Some would argue they treat us with outright disdain. Add to this how one time UFT President Albert Shanker set up an electoral system where it is next to impossible to defeat the leadership from his Unity Caucus in an election so there is virtually no accountability to the members and plenty of cynicism.

I do not want the California Teachers Association to lose this case.  Precedent and even some conservative status quo thinking would seem to favor the unions prevailing but we have no idea what the Court's five conservative Supreme Court Justices will do. (We are optimistic that the four more liberal Justices will vote to uphold the precedent by siding with the union.) As we wait for this case to be argued and decided, union leaders should use the time to wake up and start supporting the membership as a union and not just looking for a seat at the table with the power brokers of the Democratic Party.  Sitting at the table to discuss our latest surrender terms and then claiming victory is not a strategy that can be used any longer.

I would recommend a different approach.

Some have told me how the UFT is really a company union, one that is basically part of management while others have said the union has totally sold us out. I would not go this far but with automatic dues being threatened, the union might want to consider some steps to save itself.  Some possible questions for the leadership to grapple with here in New York City:
  • Can they find out why over 80% of active members don't vote in union elections?
  • Could they investigate why so many members believe the UFT is irrelevant to their lives?  It can't all be the fault of the membership.
  • Would the UFT consider putting in structural democratic reforms so high school teachers could once again exclusively elect their vice president?  
  • Would they agree to in school elections or some kind of proportional representation (get 20% of the votes and win 20% of the seats) to elect delegates to the NYSUT and AFT conventions and seats on the Executive Board that runs the union so more members will participate in the process? 
  • Would they be able to stop calling each new disastrous teacher evaluation system a victory?
  • Could they actually support the opt out from testing movement that parents are leading throughout the state but has not caught real fire in New York City? 
  • Could they tell us the truth that the city has money instead of saying that the cupboard is bare come contract time?
  • Can they support their members against what are unfortunately too many tyrannical principals?
  • Can they push for something more than a modest increase in Teachers' Choice but also emphasize working for lower class sizes as part of the contract and safe environments for all children to learn?
  • Can they agree that teacher autonomy in the classroom is an important goal for all teachers that will help students learn?
  • Can they stop saying they are supporting the Absent Teacher Reserves and actually end this madness by demanding ATRs are placed in schools we would agree to go to?
  • At the very least, can they give ATRs a chapter of our own so that people who have walked the ATR walk can negotiate the next ATR agreement with the Department of Education?  (The current one expires in 2016.)
  •  Are they capable of actually listening to their members?  
Instead of using this time as a wake up call, I expect it is likely that the UFT leaders, New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers leadership will yell loudly for unity in this storm. They will also call for some symbolic actions that will have little or no impact on the Supreme Court Justices. All eggs are likely to be put in a Hillary Clinton for President campaign. In addition, they are probably going to call anyone who disagrees with them anti-union, thus furthering the cynicism.

We hope the UFT, NYSUT, NEA, AFT and other public sector unions will face the crisis this year by acting like real unions and making the needs and wants of the membership the main priority. Put members in the driver's seat. The unions should work as if they already lost the Friedrichs case and do what is necessary so that few will want to forfeit their union membership if we do not prevail.

Monday, July 06, 2015


The Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a founding member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) in 2012 along with other activist groups in the UFT, voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm its support for MORE at its June meeting.

ICE also voted unanimously to reject a take it or leave it offer for a coalition in the 2016 UFT election from a novice UFT caucus.  This caucus has already decided who their presidential candidate and some other officer candidates will be and told ICE to accept their candidates for officer positions or not bother with a coalition.  They offered to let ICE run for positions they haven't found anybody to run for yet.

In a discussion held after a presentation at the meeting by the novice caucus, not one ICE member expressed political support for the novice caucus. Their ultimatum to support the presidential candidate of the novice caucus as a condition of running a united slate against Michael Mulgrew and Unity Caucus was unanimously rejected by ICE as being divisive to the long-term efforts to create change in the union. If the new caucus truly wanted to form a coalition, they would be willing to work together to form the slate. Not being willing to democratically form the coalition does a disservice to those who truly desire a stronger union.

ICE was founded as a caucus in 2003 and ran a slate in the 2004, 2007 and 2010 elections with another caucus, Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC). The joint slate for high school candidates won the 6 high school executive board seats in 2004. In 2007 and 2010 ICE and TJC JOINTLY decided on the presidential and other leading candidates. In the 2013 UFT election, ICE supported the unified MORE slate. 

ICE members will be working with MORE in the upcoming summer series.

Friday, July 03, 2015


Tom Siracuse, a long time activist who is a UFT member, was interviewed on the Malachy McCourt's WBAI show "Talk Back - New York, Thee And We Edition" about rent regulations.

To listen, go to WBAI's archive page at and scroll down to the "Talk Back - New York, Thee And We Edition" for Wednesday, July 1. Tom's interview starts at almost exactly 60 minutes into the 2-hour show. You can move the bar to the 1:02.38 mark and then listen. It lasts for about 30 minutes.

Tom also recently penned the piece below on how tenants suffered a setback with the recent rent regulation renewal legislation in Albany that was part of the bill called the big ugly.  Nice to see our friend and Jamaica High School alum Senator Leroy Comrie was among the legislators who voted no. Comrie also opposed the new teacher evaluation law. The parallels with education are kind of obvious.

Voting out the politicians who say they are our friends but vote against us is the obvious answer.  The UFT has supported stronger rent laws but will we punish those who vote for these watered down bills?

Governor and State Legislature sell out tenants

Once again the renewal Charade is repeated.  The Democratic controlled NYS Assembly votes to renew the rent regulations or even at times, improve them.   The Republican controlled NYS Senate refuses to vote to renew the rent laws with real reforms.  The Governor sides with one chamber or the other.  This creates a deadlock and the word is sent out by the mass media, the two political parties and the tenant organizations that we have a crisis.  Over two million rent regulated tenants now fear they may face unregulated market rate rents that they cannot afford although many cannot even afford the "regulated" rents they already pay.  Sometimes the renewal date goes by and this creates even more fear.  Then the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Leader of the Senate get together and renew the rent laws, either weaker than before or essentially the same, with very minor adjustments.  

On June 24 the NYS Assembly voted for a disgraceful sell out to landlords proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader John Flanagan .  Supposedly only those vacated apartments whose monthly rents exceed $2,700 can be deregulated.  However, in practice this is meaningless because landlords deregulate vacated apartments regardless of the previous rent.  The City or State do not automatically inform new tenants what their rents should be.  New tenants would have to file a challenge but most are unaware of this or are afraid to anger their landlords.  

That means NYC will continue to lose  thousands of affordable regulated apartments every year.  It is estimated that over 300,000 regulated apartments have already been lost to market rate rents. New prospective low and moderate income tenants will continue to find it almost impossible to find affordable apartments in NYC.  Vacancy decontrol has led to gentrification and the disappearance of "mom & pop" businesses as property values go through the roof.  Vacancy decontrol also leads to landlords harassing regulated tenants to get them to vacate their apartments.  Vacancy decontrol has destroyed the ethnic character of neighborhoods exacerbating the segregated character of NYC. 

To add insult to injury, the Assembly extended for 6 months or more a billion dollar a year tax exemption (421-a) for up to 35 years supported by Mayor Bill DeBlasio to put up high rise luxury residential buildings.  In return these developers must provide up to 30% of the units as "affordable" but affordability is defined in such a a way that these rents are often the same as the market rates.  "Affordable" units can rent for more than $2,500 a month!

What would have happened if the Assembly had voted against these sell out rent regulations?  They would have expired as they had twice before in the past.  The Rent Stabilization Association  (RSA), the landlord organization, has stated that it is not against the rent regulations as they are and if they expire, it has instructed landlords not to take advantage of the expiration.  Why?  The RSA knows that it is better to gradually end rent regulation through vacancy decontrol, than to end it all at once and risk creating a revolt among over two million tenants.  To avoid a growing crisis, the State Legislature would have to reconvene and pass new rent regulations without vacancy decontrol.  Congratulations to five NYC  Assembly members who had the guts to buck the landlords and vote against the sell out:

Charles Barron -Brooklyn
Brian Kavanaugh--Manhattan
Diana Richardson-Brooklyn
Joanne Simon-Brooklyn
Joseph Lentol-Brooklyn.

What happened to the other  "pro-tenant" legislators who constantly decry the plight of tenants and small businesses?  Tenants are told to be glad that the sell out rent laws have been renewed so they can stay in their apartments until the next renewal charade comes up in 4 years  And what about the tenant organizations who ritually lobby these politicians?  Not until tenants organize rent strikes and stop voting fo those politicians who vote to renew the rent laws without real rent reform will we see any significant change.

Tom Siracuse
Committee to Protect Rent Controlled Tenants

State Senators voting against the sellout:

Congratulations also to those twelve NYS Senators who voted for the tenants and against the sell out renewal of the rent laws (The Big Ugly):
Gustavo Rivera- District 33-Bronx
Serrano, Jose-D 29-Bronx & Man
Espaillat, Adriano-D 31-Man
Krueger, Liz-D 28-Man
Hoylman, Brad-D 27-Man
Squadron, Daniel-D 26-Man & Brooklyn
Hamilton, Jesse-D 20-Brooklyn
Montgomery, Velmanette-D 25-Brooklyn
Gianaris, Michael-D. 20-Brooklyn
Sanders, James-D 10 Queend
Dilan, Martin-D18-Brooklyn
Comrie,Leroy, D 14- Queens