Monday, February 29, 2016


If someone works for New York City and is a member of the United federation of Teachers, one becomes very cynical in a hurry. After all, every move looks like it is benefiting the elite at the top of the Department of Education or union pyramid while bad policy is dumped down on the rank and file and the students. Because of this I am very suspicious about the new healthcare cost savings but if we take a close look at the current increases in co-payments for GHI and HIP subscribers, this is a deal that Michael Mulgrew alone cannot be blamed for.

It is the entire 250,000 umbrella group known as the Municipal Labor Committee that made healthcare savings part of an agreement with the city to help fund the pattern setting meager contractual raises of 10% over 7 years in 2014 that all city workers are stuck with (uniform unions received a little more). All the municipal unions, except two, agreed to the healthcare cost savings. The UFT was not alone in giving back here and getting little in return.

In addition, the UFT, the city and even some of our friends will tell us that the Affordable Care Act is potentially a big part of the problem as this piece from the Huffington Post shows.  Although it has already been pushed back until 2020 by Congress and might never see the light of day, the Obamacare Cadillac Tax would charge anyone with a health plan that costs over $27,000 a year a 40% tax on the part of the healthcare plan that goes over that amount. Many are skeptical that the tax will ever become a reality since it is strongly opposed by unions and the majority of the Congress is against Obamacare .

For the record my W2 says the city paid $21,000 for my health plan last year so I am almost in a Cadillac plan. My wife -a NYC teacher too - only cost the city $2,400. City workers don't get extra health benefits from the city if their spouse is a city employee.

The idea of the Cadillac tax is to get employers to cut down on healthcare costs.  What will they do with the money they save on premiums? Theoretically, they will increase wages. In reality, employers would more than likely just shift more healthcare costs to employees via higher co-pays and larger health insurance premiums. NYC is doing both.

The Huffington Post piece says this:

Len Burman, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, noted that most economists believe the tax would ultimately raise wages, since employers would be putting less money into health insurance premiums.

But one other objection to the tax is that workers won't actually see those gains at least not right away.  Unions in particular, have said that their workers simply end up with skimpier health insurance, typically in the form of higher co-payments or deductibles -- and that they can't get better wages in return.  At a time when consumers worry as much about out-of-pocket expenses as premiums, that argument resonates.

Yes it certainly does.  Our plan in New York City is quite good but it will continually worsen as time goes by unless the MLC stands strong against the tax. Since I have been working, I have seen health insurance cover less while co-pays keep rising. To be fair, we city workers have it better than most however sometimes I just dream about working in Paris where there would be a general strike if the government dared to threaten people's health benefits.  I know I'm crazy to even conceive of this outrageous thought on this side of the Atlantic since even contemplating union action here is so beyond the realm of possible.

I can't help but thinking that the latest increases in co-payments for GHI and HIP subscribers - the vast majority of city workers - was planned in advance to be kind of onerous so hopefully we would all go into managed care at Advantage Care Physicians or more broadly it would lead to us accepting paying a share of healthcare premiums when the next round of $1.3 billion in health savings comes due next year.

Instead of just increasing co-pays in 2017, the city and Mulgrew might come to us and say we all have to share the pain equally as we cannot continue to put the cost burden for the required savings on our sickest members who have chronic conditions and use the system the most.  A union solidarity argument could be made to ask us to swallow a 1-2% healthcare payroll deduction to pay for part of our benefits. We will be informed that we are helping the neediest among us and we all must pitch in to care for them.

Who would not be persuaded by that argument? I'm already feeling guilty just thinking about how to oppose it. Here is that Board of Education/UFT/municipal worker cynicism coming out of me again. This giveback could just happen and many would be happy about it.

If we want to fight the whole system and say everyone deserves a Cadillac plan that we should all pay for - or at least a good Chevy plan - (I believe it's called single payer), we will be told we are dreamers or that we should shut up so nobody notices how good New York City workers' benefits are.

Oh and where is Mulgrew at fault on all of this?  He negotiated the abysmal pattern setting deal and apparently the health savings too.  I am OK with cost savings but we should have been told about what our part would be right up front.  Mulgrew should have leveled with us before the contract was voted on in 2014 and told us specifically what the the potential health benefit cuts, higher co-pays and/or payroll deductions would be before we voted on the contract.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


At the December Delegate Assembly Michael Mulgrew made it seem as though nobody was opposed to a Carmen Farina decision to close three schools in Brooklyn.

Our report indicated:

School closings:
We have been closing schools for decades.  Our problem was with Bloomberg.  For years, we have closed schools.  Farina says we are closing three schools for lack of enrollment.  Enrollment is up citywide but schools are in industrial areas.  We can't argue for a school to stay open with 50 kids in it.

According to DNA Info, one principal of the three did make the case for his school as did a member of the CEC 13 president's Council.

With less than 80 students this year, Foundations Academy saw a 55 percent decline in enrollment over five years, according to the DOE. The renewal school also had the lowest four-year graduation rate in the city at 22 percent in 2013-2104.

Neil Monheit, principal of Foundations Academy, acknowledged the school’s shortcomings Wednesday but pointed out progress he said the school has made in recent months.

“I understand that we’re here tonight to consider the closing of Foundations because we’re very, very small and we’re unsustainable at our current size,” Monheit said, adding that students have limited opportunities for “good social interactions.”

He told PEP members that, despite the challenges, he’s seen a “significant rise” in attendance, students have met college readiness goals for the year and he is anticipating an “uptick” in the graduation rate.

“And I think that comes down to they’re students with grit, students that have pushed through this and they recognize that they’ve had some adversity but they’re in a place that’s been nurturing for them.”

Celia Green, second vice president for School District 13’s President Council, worried that it would be difficult for high school students to find a new school.

“I know the educators will get other jobs, but I do feel strongly that the students and the parents really are at a disservice at this point,” Green said.

Disservice to students; rise in attendance and an uptick in graduation rate all sound good as does a principal standing up for his students and school.  I feel for the students in these three schools who will have to go somewhere else soon and of course the staff that I would guess would end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool which even the Department of Education admits isn't really shrinking much these days. Oh and just like old times, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to shut the schools.  We don't even have a Patrick Sullivan on there any longer to be a lone dissenting voice.

Friday, February 26, 2016


We all received the email today from Arthur Pepper, Director of the UFT Welfare Fund, saying many of our co-payments would be rising for healthcare while others stay the same and a few have been eliminated.

Most UFT members use HIP or GHI, which are EmblemHealth. New York City employees are among the few workers remaining in the USA who do not have a deduction from our pay to pay for part of our health insurance except for the Medicare tax. That being said, it would be difficult to conclude that these changes are any kind of step forward unless you use Advantage Care Physicians for all of your medical care. The city and union are really trying to get as many of us as possible into some kind of managed care which severely restricts our choice of doctors unless we want to pay a small fortune.

Nobody who read the 2014 contract should be surprised by any of the increases.  Part of the agreement was that we would save the city money on healthcare to help fund our meager raises of 10% over 7 years and one month. The city must love our union for making this deal which helps them financially. The city surplus was close to $6 billion last year.  There could be a little less black ink this year as Wall Street has had an up-and-down ride lately but nowhere have I seen economists predicting a city recession soon and yet we still keep helping them. One would think they would treat us a bit more professionally in return. These healthcare changes won't necessarily stop here. The contract calls for $1 billion in savings this year and another $1.3 billion for next year and beyond.

It should be noted that an employee can keep virtually free healthcare if he/she stays in the Advantage Care Network but if he/she needs to go outside, costs are going up substantially.  Even HIP, which was traditionally free for doctor visits, will now cost $10 if a UFT members goes out of the new preferred HIP network which my guess will be Advantage Care.

GHI will be increasing co-payments for when UFT members see specialists, for lab tests as well as other services (see below) unless the member stays within Advantage Care in which case the cost will be $0.  Advantage Care facilities will probably end up being overwhelmed by an increase in patients.

Co-pays for emergency room visits are tripling from $50 to $150. According to Pepper, some of us are "over-utilizing hospital emergency rooms."  If Advantage Care isn't available and a UFT member still needs to see a doctor in a hurry, there will be participating Urgent Care facilities with a copay of $50 as opposed to the current GHI $15 copay.

The only real unexpected development here is that the changes were announced before the UFT election this May and prior to Mayor Bill de Blasio's reelection next year. This blog predicted co-pays to increase after everyone was reelected but UFT President Michael Mulgrew is so entrenched that he could care less about worrying how his members will react to changing healthcare rates.

We can just about be certain that the spin from the UFT will be that UFT member healthcare is the best in the country and it just got better. Whether that is true or not, the ICEUFT blog leaves that up to our readers.

The email from Pepper is copied below.

I am writing to inform you about coming changes to the city health care plans negotiated by the city and the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group of municipal labor unions of which the UFT is a member.  These changes affect our in-service members and our retirees who are non-Medicare eligible. As part of our last collective-bargaining agreement, we agreed to achieve health care savings.  By collaboratively working with the city, we have been able to preserve access to quality health care while meeting our savings obligation.

We are proud that public school educators and all other New York City municipal employees have access to health coverage without an annual premium. That will continue. When the changes take effect in the next several months, certain GHI and HIP copays will be adjusted.  Some will increase, but we also made certain to eliminate other copays to make low or no-cost options available for many health care services.

GHI subscribers currently pay $15 when they visit their primary care physician, the most utilized service in the plan. That copay will not change. Members using physicians at the Advantage Care Physician (ACP) offices will have no copay.  There will, however, be copay increases to see specialists and receive various diagnostic tests from other providers in the GHI network.

Members seeking to keep their health care costs down should consider visiting one of the 36 Advantage Care Physician (ACP) centers created by EmblemHealth in New York City and in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Members who receive care, including urgent care, at one of these sites will have no copays for their treatment, including high-tech radiology. Bronx-based members will have access to ACP-affiliated physicians at various Bronx locations to be announced.  We will also be working on extending this coverage north to Westchester, Rockland and other counties.

GHI subscribers will no longer have any copays for preventive health care. All preventive health services — including prescriptions for birth control, immunizations, mammography, prenatal vitamins and colonoscopies — will soon be available to GHI subscribers free of cost. Members will receive more information from EmblemHealth in the next few months.

One of the most expensive forms of care is hospital-based emergency room visits, which should only be used in a genuine emergency. The cost to the health plan for a visit to the ER is several times that of a visit to a doctor’s office. Our data show that some members are over-utilizing hospital emergency rooms. To discourage the use of ERs when a doctor’s visit would suffice, the copay for hospital-based emergency-room visits will increase from $50 to $150.  Please be aware that you can see a doctor at short notice at one of EmblemHealth’s Advantage Care Physician offices with no copay or at a participating Urgent Care facility with a $50 copay.

As part of our Wellness programs, we will also be introducing telemedicine, which will allow members immediate access to an Internet-based physician who can guide their care and even provide a prescription if necessary.  All members in a New York City health plan will also be able to join Weight Watchers at a substantial discount.

HIP subscribers will also see changes to their health plan. HIP is introducing a new plan called HIP Preferred. HIP subscribers can continue to use their HIP doctor with no copay if he or she is in the HIP Preferred network. HIP subscribers will now have a $10 copay if their doctor is not in the HIP Preferred network.

The chart below lists the GHI changes that will take effect in the coming months:

GHI – CBP BenefitsCurrent CopayNew Copay
The following chart shows the changes affecting HIP subscribers:

HIP BenefitsCurrent CopayNew Copay
HIP Preferred Network (new)No copayNo copay
HIP Non-Preferred PhysicianNo copay$10
Here are a few helpful links:
We will be sharing more information in the New York Teacher and on the UFT website in an effort to answer any questions you might have and prepare you for the various changes.


Arthur Pepper
UFT Welfare Fund Executive Director

UPDATE: Jonathan Halabi has posted the percentage increase for GHI copays:

Emergency Room 300% ↑
Urgent Care  233% ↑
All Specialists 50%↑
Blood Work  33% ↑
MRI 233%↑
Physical Therapy 33% ↑

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


One of the worst ways to react to bad legislation such as last year's Education Transformation Act is to accept it.  That is precisely what the New York State United Teachers and our own UFT are doing up in Albany this year.

This piece from WGRZ shows that the governor and NYSUT have agreed that last year's horrible education law does not need to be changed. That law includes receivership for an ever changing 5% of public schools where an outside receiver can be assigned to take over these so called struggling schools based on flawed student test scores and replace the teachers, evaluations of teachers using student test scores for 50% of teacher ratings, two years of ineffective ratings leading to a presumption of teacher incompetence and the burden of proof then shifting to the teacher in dismissal hearings, three years of ineffective ratings leads basically to almost certain firing unless there is fraud and new teachers will need four years of  probation before being eligible to achieve tenure instead of three.

This year, instead of pushing to repeal this awful law, the unions are battling over funding supposedly because Cuomo's task force tweaked the law so it won't include the common core grades 3-8 tests in teacher ratings. Other tests will still be used to rate us.  The Education Transformation Act remains in place unchanged. While proper education funding is a worthy aim, we should be pushling just as hard to repeal last year's anti-public education law.

The unions may be giving up on repealing last year's law but New York State Allies for Public Education are still fighting. They're not taking the situation in Albany lying down.

From WGRZ:
Parent groups that helped lead the test-refusal movement aren’t pleased – neither with the governor nor the teacher’s union, which provided a boost to the opt-out protest last year by offering public support.

Bianca Tanis, a special-education teacher and member of New York State Allies for Public Education’s steering committee, said the union and state lawmakers should be taking steps to reverse some of the Cuomo-backed reforms through law.

NYSAPE is one of the parent groups who helped lead the opt-out movement. She’s also part of a new effort – New York Rank & File – calling on the union to call for more legislative change.

“Yes, there’s a moratorium on using state test scores to evaluate teachers, but the law says teacher evaluations must be based in part on a performance measure,” said Tanis, a mother of two from New Paltz, Ulster County. “So we’re simply swapping out one test for another.”

Is swapping one test for another progress?

I don't think so.

Nor does a group called New York Rank and File.  They want the Education Transformation Act repealed.  That is the exact position this blog has taken.

Here is their action page. Go there and help out please.

Monday, February 22, 2016


I kind of get a kick out of the fact that one of the main unions for educators in the United Kingdom is called NUT (National Union of Teachers). It's a really cool name because you kind of do have to be somewhat of a nut to be involved in trade unionism or education these days in the UK or the US.

Notice how right there on the NUT homepage is a ballot for strike action.  I know no Taylor Law in the UK but it is refreshing to see unions contemplating job actions.

NUT may need to muster up some of its collective strength in the near future if the current Conservative government makes good on their threat to hire an international union buster as the next chief inspector of English schools.

From the Daily Telegraph:

One of the favourites is said to be Dave Levin, co-founder of the KIPP group, which set up a network of more than 180 high-performing schools in the US.

Others likely to be approached include Doug Lemov, head of a chain of charter schools in New York; Eva Moskowitz, chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York and Joel Klein, who as chancellor of New York Schools district took on the teaching unions.

I have a question: Can they take all of them?

Not that I am wishing any of them on England but having to deal with NUT as opposed to the concessionary style leadership of the UFT, might be a different experience for these people who have played a great role in ruining public education in the US.

Oh and with Eva's name put out there internationally, Ed Notes is reporting how the Guardian is exposing how Success Academy's success is in part due to Eva playing the numbers game to make sure only the students who have the best chance of passing take standardized exams.

On a personal note, the family spent the week in Georgia visiting Camille's siblings.  We're back in NYC for the long stretch of the school year. Welcome back everyone.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


I was reading a piece from Labor Notes on Friedrichs this week while on vacation and a couple of parts really hit home concerning unions. The public sector unions received an unexpected reprieve this week with the death Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia which will likely mean they will survive to collect agency fees from non-members.

Will the unions see this as a wake-up call and start really organizing?  My guess is the answer is no but Labor Notes' Editor Alexandra Bradbury offers up some fundamental advice on what is necessary.

On organizing:
What’s required is no mystery. Unionists have known the fundamentals of good organizing for a century or more: listen more than you talk; find on-the-job problems your co-workers care about; take action to solve them; map out natural leaders and groups; act together instead of alone.

Is anyone in the UFT doing any of this work outside of a small group of people in certain schools?

On union power:
A union’s strength, after all, is its members—not just how many are paying dues, but how many have caught the spirit of solidarity, how many will stand together on the job, how many are training their co-workers to see through the boss’s agenda, how many will go to the mat for the union because it’s their organization, fighting for what matters to them.

Based on this very realistic definition of what makes a union strong, the UFT is one of the weakest unions out there.  We can probably count the number of people who would go to the mat for the UFT one one hand and have a couple of fingers left over. Such is the sorry state of our bureaucratic top-down union in 2016, featuring out of touch leadership that does little except go through the motions many times for the members and has encouraged the rank and file to do next to nothing as a union and therefore become almost completely apathetic.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


President Barack Obama's latest indignity toward teachers was selecting failed former New York State Education Commissioner John King to go from Acting Secretary of Education to permanent status.  He has to be confirmed by the Senate which his support for the unpopular Common Core might preclude but my guess is they already have commitments from enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to confirm him unless something drastic changes.

I ask our loyal readers: Has Obama done anything positive when it comes to K-12 public education?

From his appointment of Arne Duncan as his first Education Secretary to the awful Race to the Top with its mandates that states have high stakes testing where they rate teachers based in part on student test scores and the Gates funded Common Core. To top all of this, he gives us John King.  No surprise that AFT President Randi Weingarten had a positive reaction to the King appointment.

Since King became acting Education Secretary, we have seen both an understanding of the harmful effects of over-testing, and a willingness to promote both the reset of federal education policy and the collaboration with educators and parents that are at the heart of the new federal education law.

The inimitable BLO Ed Scene blog summarizes the Weingarten years for us after seeing Randi's comments welcoming King.  Could Randi's public education record be worse than Obama's?  After all she is supposed to represent us.  From the B-LO EDScene:

Imagine for a second if Weingarten ever said I know I should never have involved myself with Gates. I should've kept my nose out of the Newark negotiations that led Chris Christie to declare it the most satisfying day of his life and hung Newark teachers out to dry with a merit pay contract. What if she took back the Cuomo/Hochul robocalls and admitted she'd fooled nobody and she really shouldn't have worked on behalf of a ticket that targeted teachers and described us a monopoly he planned to break up.  Then there's the Hillary endorsement and the TFA speech and as if she hadn't been busy enough she manages to squeeze out a little missive warmly welcoming the appointment of teacher basher, test and punisher John King to Arne Duncan's old cubicle. There exists such a huge body of misdeeds for Weingarten to choose from it's almost overwhelming. But Randi Weingarten is no Jacks Teller. She aint admitting squat. She's no Ragnar Lothbrock and she's not hopping out of any coffin to wreak vengeance on our behalf. Nor is she Tommy Shelby raining hellfire on our adversaries on her best day of collaborating and colluding with every ed reformer and Pearson rep under the sun. 

This blog is not only about exposing the negative.  We hope for a brighter future.  Stronger Together Caucus leader Beth Dimino reacted to the BLO EdScene piece on Facebook;

Weingarten does not represent students, teachers or public education and therefore needs to be replaced.  AFT Delegates: the election is this July...Please be there to vote for new leadership!

It's always hard to argue with Beth.

The ICEUFT blog asks: Who has been worse for public school teachers and students: Barack Obama or Randi Weingarten?

Please note that I write this as a Democrat who voted for Obama and thinks he has made some good appointments as well as pushing through and signing some decent laws. I am also someone who worked closely at times with Randi when she was UFT President.  I like Randi personally and think she can be very effective when she advocates for a school, a teacher or a cause.  I really respect that she actually responds to emails and tries to help even dissidents like me. It is the overall record we are talking about here.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


While the country mourns the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and sends condolences to his family, I find it remarkable that the death of this one man will probably have a huge effect on our country and our public sector unions. For union leaders, they are probably ecstatic today as the probable result of the Friedrichs case that would have denied public unions automatic dues or agency fees from members has now shifted considerably.

For all of those UFT members who were looking forward to not having to pay over $1,300 in annual UFT dues or  an agency fee of a little bit less, it looks like fate has just been very unkind. Free riding will more than likely have to wait for at least a year and maybe much longer as Friedrichs now looks like a win for the unions because of Scalia's passing.

Scalia was a leading conservative voice for the Court's 5-4 right wing majority. The balance on the Court would easily be shifted now if Obama nominated and the Senate confirmed a more liberal judge.  It is not very surprising that the Republicans in the US Senate do not want to consider any new justice nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Scalia. 

Even if Republicans have their way and delay the appointment of a new justice until after the election, for now the Supreme Court is evenly divided. There is a 4-4 split between conservative and liberal justices that probably will last until we have a new president.   It would take a five justice majority to overturn the lower court decision that upheld a 1977 precedent setting Abood decision. Therefore, it looks as though the Abood decision will stand for at least this year and public sector unions such as the UFT will be able to continue to collect fees from non-members.

 Friedrichs appears to be dead for now although one can never take a result of a court case for granted and another justice could die also.

I can only imagine the elation being felt this morning by leaders of the UFT, AFT, NYSUT  and other public sector unions. Whether or not they deserve this unexpected positive twist of fate I leave up to you.

I am somewhat relieved that the union will now probably continue as it is but still more than a little concerned that our arrogant leaders can move ahead misrepresenting us without consequences.

Friday, February 12, 2016


I am very excited about this year's UFT Election.  MORE-New Action, now running together as a coalition, nominated me to run for Vice President for Academic High Schools on the joint slate.  If members want the better half of the Eterno couple, my wife Camille has been nominated to run for UFT Secretary. We enthusiastically support the MORE-New Action slate and are working diligently to maximize rank and file backing for the slate.

Having been a member of New Action who was elected three times to the UFT Executive Board to represent the High School Division from 1997-2004, it feels good to be back working with New Action.  I was devastated when NAC decided not to oppose Randi Weingarten in 2003 and soon thereafter found myself as a man without a caucus. While Camille and I respected their decision, the NAC-Unity alliance caused many NAC members to say we want to be in opposition to Unity and we left NAC to help form the Independent Community of Educators. Teachers for a Just Contract was also growing at the time so we agreed to work together.

Winning the 2004 election over NAC and going back to the high School Executive Board was a real triumph for me personally.  I'll never forget being by the copying machine at Jamaica when the late, great activist Paul Baizerman phoned to tell me we won. Being able to serve the next three years with members of Teachers for Just Contract and ICE taught me so much.  It is an honor to be able to call people such as Jeff Kaufman, Barbara Kaplan-Halper and Ellen Schweitzer good friends.

During our three year term, we finally convinced the union leadership to oppose school closings and we led a 40% no vote on the disastrous 2005 contract. The giveback laden contract created the Absent Teacher Reserve mess by ending seniority transfers and preferred placement when a school closed along with many other indignities that have truly weakened our union and our profession.

I enjoy being in ICE to this day and although often skeptical, Camille and I went along when ICE became one of the founding groups in the Movement of Rank and File Educators before the last UFT election.  If we combined MORE's vote totals with New Action's in 2013, we won a clear majority of the high school division that voted (yes the turnout was low) however NAC cross-endorsed with Unity, not MORE, so their people sat on the Executive Board.

Now that NAC is no longer supporting Unity-Mulgrew, there is a tremendous opportunity for the opposition to put a real dent in the top-down Unity style of leadership. Camille and I couldn't be happier to be able to work again on the same political team with our old friends from NAC, particularly Greg Destefano from Staten Island. Greg is running for an officer position on our slate. You could not find a more dedicated, relentless trade unionist in the world than Greg. He has the determination of a bull.

From MORE's side, a truly inspirational candidate is running for UFT President in Jia Lee.  Jia is a conscientious objector who has opted out of giving state standardized exams.  She testified at US Senate hearings in Washington DC last year in part on the damage that high stakes testing is doing to our schools and our kids.  She is the Chapter leader from the Earth School where she teaches.

The other officer candidate positions in the coalition are being filled by very capable people. My wife Camille is without a doubt among the most robust trade unionists in this city.  She was Chapter Leader at Queens Gateway to Health Sciences for years. Administration knew they better adhere to the contract or face Camille's wrath.  Camille voluntarily stepped down from the Chapter Leader position when she took a year long gig outside the city.  She came back and has been a UFT Delegate from Humanities and the Arts High School in Queens since 2006.  Camille is highly respected and sought after for union help. Our phone doesn't stop ringing with people from our schools and many others looking to us for support which we provide to the extent we are able to.  We hear so often from UFT members that he/she reached out to the UFT and they did little or nothing to help.  That has to stop.

Speaking of strong candidates, MORE-New Action is running Lauren Cohen for Elementary School Vice President. Lauren famously stood up to hundreds of booing Unity Delegates at the 2014 NYSUT Representative Assembly. They couldn't take hearing the truth that they are obligated to vote as Michael Mulgrew and Leroy Barr tell them to. You can see the video below.  Lauren is a Chapter Leader too.

Mindy Rosier is also on the MORE-New Action ticket.  Mindy worked with me on the resolution to get MORE to ask the UFT to fight last year's awful Education Transformation Act.  I challenge anyone to find better people to run this union.

Carol Ramos Widen, Kae Martin-Bridge, Margaret Shand, Nelson Santiago and Christine Gross round out the officer part of the MORE-New Action slate.

The UFT Executive Board is made up of many at large positions where the Unity strength among retirees will make them hard to beat.  The same is true for officer positions where for example, retirees vote on who will be the Vice President for Elementary Schools. However, each division exclusively elects their own Executive Board.

When it comes to the seven High School Executive Board positions, MORE-New Action is putting together a kind of union all-star team led by MORE's Mike Shirtzer and NAC's Jonathan Halabi. Both are leaders in their respective caucuses.  Add to this mix Francis Lewis High School Chapter Leader Arthur Goldstein as the straw that stirs the drink and we truly have the makings of an all-star High School Executive Board with other activists, some new to caucus politics, also on the slate.

All of these good people won't have the chance to do anything without your help.  We must get out the vote if we are to win representation on the UFT Executive Board. Getting out the vote starts with running around and having petitions signed so people can secure a place on the ballot.  For Mulgrew's Unity Caucus, this is easy as there is so much patronage that they can all sign each other's petitions at Unity gatherings.  For us it means running around to schools and meeting the members to organize.

I've been traveling around Queens after school all week to leave literature with contacts to put in teacher letterboxes and asking for help in the petition campaign.  I have met some fine people on the campaign trail and spoken to old friends. I'll have more to say in future posts.

For now, I urge everyone to support MORE-New Action and just as importantly to spread the word.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


NYSUT has sued to strike down State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia's decision to abrogate the collective bargaining agreement in five Buffalo schools.

I am not a lawyer and don't know how strong the case is but I don't believe a lawsuit will be enough to stop receivership. Receivership is part of the anti-public school Education Transformation Act of 2015.

While I support the lawsuit, fighting to get rid of the law that created receivership is necessary as it seems to me the law allows the State Education Commissioner to appoint a receiver who can put aside union contracts in certain schools. If the Commissioner didn't follow the law to the letter, then a lawsuit is not a bad idea. However, a movement to repeal the law that created receivership would seem like a much better tactic or at least one that should be used along with the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, it seems our state union as well as the local leader up in Buffalo does not wish to consider such a movement so we might win a battle here and there but it doesn't look good in terms of winning the war against Cuomo's anti public education Education Transformation Act of 2015.

In addition, this lawsuit only impacts schools not labeled persistently struggling if I read it correctly. Those in persistently struggling schools might be thrown under the bus.

Can someone please explain to me why our union is not attempting to repeal Cuomo's awful education law?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


As the Friedrichs Supreme Court case decision nears, smart minds would think that leaders of the United Federation of Teachers would be a little humbled as they try to keep the union together. After the Supreme Court rules, UFT members may be able to quickly stop paying union dues.

Those dues for teachers added up to a not so inconsequential $1,297 for 2015 plus whatever extra was taken out of the first installment of the arrears payments that the city paid us last October. Over $1,300 is a big chunk of change that possibly could be saved after the Court makes their ruling.

My guess is the UFT's reaction, as well as many other city and state unions, if we lose will be to run to state court to say the Friedrichs decision doesn't apply here as it contradicts with the state Taylor Law.  Then, the unions may try to tie things up in court for years while forcing people to keep paying union dues and/or agency fees. That is just an educated guess and could be way off.

However, if one wants a hint at how the UFT will act in the future, just look at their latest piece that was distributed at last week's Delegate Assembly meeting. Unity is in full spin mode and their spin cycle is better than any washing machine.

Take for example this claim in the Unity list of accomplishments:

In service UFT members overwhelmingly approved a contract that includes raises of 29% over seven years.

Hmmm?  Well I just added up the increases and can't figure out Unity's creative accounting.  In May of 2008 when we received our last raise under the previous contract, senior teachers were earning $100,049. When the final raise for the current contract of 2% kicks in (now delayed to June 16, 2018), senior teachers will make $119,471. Therefore, ten years and roughly a month later the top salary will be a little over 19% higher than it was before the contract.  How does that translate into 29% over 7 years?  Who is Unity's accountant?

Then there is a further claim that doesn't hold up at all:

NY state suspended test-related teacher evaluations for at least four years.

That's news to us.  New York State suspended Common Core grades 3-8 exams and Regents exams tied to growth scores for teacher evaluations for the next four years.  The state will still administer the tests and rate schools on them and Regents exams tied to Student Learning Objectives or local exams are still part of teacher evaluations for sure. Next year these exams will count for 50% of our ratings. This blog debunked the myth that test scores are no longer part of teacher ratings last month.

Unity will bombard the schools in the coming months with District Representatives, Officers, Chapter Leaders and others to spread their gospel according to Michael Mulgrew.  Why let the truth get in the way of their good story?

Unity also quotes Theodore Roosevelt who once said, "...remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that in the end, progress is accomplished by the people who do things."

TR also stated, "The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything."

When was the last time you ever heard Unity admit they made a mistake? Try never. Does that mean they don't do anything?

Monday, February 08, 2016


Bertis Downs IV is the manager of alternative rockers and my favorites R.E.M.  He is also on the board of the Network for Public Education.  He has some advice for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on public education.  He wrote a speech that either one of them could give to show they are not for business as usual on education.  It is at Salon. Please read it.

Bertis says this speech could seal the nomination for either one of the candidates.  I am not holding my breath waiting for either Bernie or Hillary to give it. Hillary is the embodiment of the status quo and Bernie voted for the Murphy amendment last summer supporting the continuation of test and punish education.

However, we can hope one of them comes to their senses on moving public education ahead by working with real teachers,parents and students, not just top-down union leaders.

Bertis, in his proposed speech, sees of one of the candidates talking about the sorry state of public education today including the mentality that blames teachers for problems such as poverty that are way beyond our control.  He points out that this is leading to an impending teacher shortage.  Then, he makes the case that K-12 education has not been a major campaign issue yet.  His would-be candidate says:

Thus far, there's been very little campaign time devoted to public education policy.  I guess that's not surprising given the amount of money and power at stake.  Someone recently joked that on the Democratic campaign trail it's as if children go straight from pre-K to debt-free college and there's no such thing as K - 12 education in between.  Well, I want to change that mistaken perception.

Bertis goes on:

Well, in recent months, I have been quietly talking with teachers, principals, parents and students. These are the true stakeholders in this debate, after all.  Many of these true stakeholders are affiliated with groups like the Network for Public Education, the Badass Teachers Association, Parents Across America, Class Size Matters, Education Opportunity Network, National Education Policy Center, Journey for Justice, FAIRTEST, Save Our Schools, United Opt-Out and the growing movement of student activist groups in many of our major cities,  These are grassroots groups with smart, dedicated and hardworking people who believe in the value of public education and work hard every day to strengthen and improve the system.  Groups like these will have at seat at the table in my administration.

He continues a little later:

I am listening to educators and parents - the true stakeholders - and I will put some educators with actual real-world, real-school experience in positions of power in my administration.  For a long time now, we have pursued so many of the corporatized policies: test and punish, drill and kill, stack, rank and close. These practices are not helping our children learn.  And from my lifelong travels around the country and the globe, I know that no other country uses standardized testing the same way we do.  There's a better way.

He then describes community based schools and discusses how integrated public schools can succeed.

Are Bernie and Hillary listening? Or as many of us fear, Hillary will be a third term of the Obama administration's corporate driven education disaster and Bernie will be a national version of progressive Bill de Blasio, who has not exactly transformed public education in New York City.

Most of my friends are leaning toward Sanders as the best hope but didn't we hear about hope and change with Obama and were burned and didn't we listen to de Blasio promise real change on education in NYC and when elected he retained most of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's people in education and continued many of Bloomberg's anti-teacher policies?

By the way I write all of this as an educator who has two friends on Facebook who are relatively recent Jamaica High School graduates who are working for Bernie and regularly posting on Facebook about their experiences on the campaign trail.

Friday, February 05, 2016


At the last two Delegate Assembly meetings, I have been trying to propose the following amendment to a UFT resolution to oppose receivership (State Education Commissioner takes over certain schools and can appoint a receiver who can abrogate collective bargaining agreements.). Receivership is part of  Andrew Cuomo's anti- public education law called the Education Transformation Act of 2015 that is still fully on the books.

The MORE Amendment
and be it further Resolved, that the UFT make repeal of the anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Education Transformation Act of 2015 and Education Law 3012c a main 2016 legislative goal in Albany and plan significant rank and file actions around this objective while urging NYSUT to do the same.

The Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew's political party that runs the UFT) strategy is to not make fighting receivership or anything in last year's horrific state education law part of this year's legislative agenda.  In order for the leadership not to have to go on the record that they support keeping the law, they just stall by putting the resolution on receivership further down on the agenda every month.  Mulgrew then filibusters so the automatic adjournment hits at 6:00 p.m. and we never vote nor can I bring up my amendment.  The text of the full resolution is below.

The next DA isn't until March 23.  Since much state legislation is done around the April 1 budget, it is clear the UFT will not be doing anything to oppose the awful teacher evaluation system or receivership this year. The fact that Unity will not will not go on the record on this says a great deal about the leadership.

Resolution in Opposition to State Receivership
WHERAS, New York State law establishes receivership for schools that have been or will be categorized as "persistently struggling" and "struggling," and based on the  state's accountability system, there will always be 5 percent of schools in receivership;

WHEREAS, 144 public schools serving mostly low-income students fro Buffalo to Albany, Utica to New York City and Yonkers to Rochester have been placed in receivership; and

WHEREAS, the federal government has changed its misguided education policy, giving states the flexibility to design accountability systems that truly support struggling schools, and

WHEREAS, New York State Education Department regulations need to be revised to reflect this change in federal policy; and

WHEREAS, receivership undermines collective bargaining by granting the receiver broad power over staffing, length of the school day and year for each individual school in receivership; and

WHEREAS, the UFT is on record in strong opposition to any law that usurps union members' collective-bargaining rights; and

WHEREAS, the state receivership law requires "struggling" schools to improve in two years but provides insufficient additional resources or funding to those schools; and

WHEREAS, receivership does not address the great inequality in funding for urban schools, but rather doubles down on affected districts by labeling them as failures and giving them one or two years to "improve" without additional resources in most cases; and

WHEREAS, the UFT is on record as opposed to the underlying premise of the state receivership law that removing local control of public schools benefits children; and

WHEREAS, State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia invoked the state's new receivership law in November 2015 to give Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash special powers to bypass the union contract after the union and the school district failed to negotiate a special agreement regarding these five schools in 30 days; and

WHEREAS, under the receivership plan, Cash is being given the extraordinary authority to unilaterally lengthen the school day and year, have any or all the staff reapply for their positions, supersede the school board and make other significant changes without regard to the collective-bargaining agreement between the district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the UFT strongly opposes receivership; ad be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT denounces State Education Commissioner Elia's decision to abrogate the collective-bargaining agreement in Buffalo and to deprive teachers in these five schools of their rights and voice; and be further

RESOLVED, that the UFT supports Buffalo teachers and parents in addressing the root causes of chronic underperformance in these schools, including class size, teaching and learning conditions, and the need for wraparound services to help low-income students and their families; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT will vigorously challenge attacks on due process, collective bargaining and other fair labor practices that are a consequence of receivership; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT will commit to the authentic and substantive improvement of all New York City public schools, particularly schools serving students with the greatest needs; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT will work to educate members about receivership as well as determine and advance actions to respond to the demands of receivership at the school, city and state levels.

We repeat our amendment here.  This is what a real union would do to support its members.
and be it further Resolved, that the UFT make repeal of the anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Education Transformation Act of 2015 and Education Law 3012c a main 2016 legislative goal in Albany and plan significant rank and file actions around this objective while urging NYSUT to do the same.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Why have UFT elections been pushed back to May this year?  Traditionally, they have taken place in March or April. The 2013 ballots were counted on April 25.  In 2010 it was early April and back in 2007 it was in late March. It is strange that elections are taking place this year in May. Ballots will be mailed to member homes on May 5 and will be counted on May 26. According to the UFT Constitution, this is permitted but the cynic in me thinks the reason for postponing the election is to increase the Unity Caucus vote.

Unity Caucus is Michael Mulgrew's faction of the UFT that has run the union since the sixties.  They are a well oiled machine and will do anything to keep power.

Why May and not the traditional late March or April for the election? Well May is precisely the month where UFT members will be receiving a 3.5% salary increase. Unity's thinking seems to be that people will get some money and reward Mulgrew with their vote. That looks like a major reason to delay the voting this year.

Unity will send their army of District Representatives, Special Representatives, Chapter Leaders and Chapter Advocates around to remind people in the schools about their May 1 salary increases right while they simultaneously make people aware that the UFT election ballot was mailed on May 5.  

Do you think anyone without an opposition person in a high profile position in a school is going to remember that 2% of this 3.5% is money from the last round of collective bargaining that most other city unions got back from 2008-2010.  Half of the 8% raises the city owes us from those years will still not have been added to our paychecks even in May. In addition, 87.5% of the arrears that has backed up since 2009 still has not been paid to us.  That money will not be released to us until 2017 through 2020.

Add to the money that there will be a huge pro-union publicity campaign culminating in May that Mulgrew talked about at the Delegate Assembly yesterday around the Friedrichs Supreme Court case. This case is horrid as it would deprive the unions of agency fees so people would not have to pay anything to the union and would still get union benefits if the unions lose which looks likely. However, why not do actions in June when the case will be decided or right now? The union campaign will have no impact on the five conservative Supreme Court Justices so why do it at the same time as the UFT election?

As I see it, the campaign is for the membership.  Its goal is to maximize the Unity vote and subtly call anyone who says anything against the leadership anti-union.

Am I being too cynical?  Is all of this timing just a coincidence? If I was on the Election Committee I would be questioning the calendar of the election coinciding with the Friedrichs campaign and the salary increase but I am not on the committee. I will tell MORE-New Action.

I have a grudging kind of respect filled with disgust at how the Unity Caucus machine operates. Vladimir Putin, or for that matter Mao Zedong, would be envious of the loyalty Unity gets from its members as working conditions in the schools continue to deteriorate. All I hear about is tears and resignation from more and more UFT members about a job that is becoming impossible in the schools while the UFT spin is that things have never been better.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


The February Delegate Assembly has started so here we go and with an apology in advance for any errors since I am doing this from my smartphone which often has a mind of its own and I am a bit late.

Mulgrew Report
State fight over charters this year. Missed the rest of state report.

Safety: Looking for something that would work between zero tolerance and nobody getting suspended.

Family leave: It will cost money. Trying to navigate through this in talks.

Special ed: People have tools to fight special ed violations.

Half the school year is over. Did not want to close schools for blizzard because of tight calendar. Lucky snow fell on Saturday.

We have many chapter advocates going around to schools.  They are building chapters.

Renewal schools: For over 50 years nobody has figured out how to solve problem of schools in communities with a great deal of poverty. Community learning schools on path to solving problem. Chancellor at UFT conference. If this model is mandated, it won't work. PROSE combined with renewal schools. Collaboration is a key ingredient to success of both programs which are based on trust.

Friedrichs: Mulgrew shows video with him talking to teachers but video does not work.

Mulgrew then tells Delegates that Friedrichs is an opportunity. Action campaign on Friedrichs. Email asks us to sign up to be activists.  After people sign up, push  grassroots stuff to social media. Get everyone to work so by May we have maximum energy. UFT hands out buttons to delegates.

We must stand together if case goes down. (Mulgrew didn't want other stuff about Friedrichs plans out so I won't say anything more.) Wisconsin unions that were prepared for Scott Walker assault are ok. Those that were not are gone.

Staff Director's Report
Leroy Barr told Delegates it is national school counselors month. March 9 lobby day. He gave some other dates of upcoming events including next DA on March 23.

UFT election season starts today. March 10 petitions due. May 5 ballots out. May 26 ballots counted.

Question Period
Question: NY times article says pensions in bad shape. What is the truth?
Answer from Trustee Mel Aarronson: Pensions in good shape. Cannot manufacture investment results. New Comptollers always ask how to get most out of pension system. Sufficient money to pay all of us pensions for the rest of our lives.

Q: What is going on with diversity resolution on declining African American and Latino teachers?
A: Leroy Barr said we are working with an outside group and DOE to get young people in teaching. YMI getting money from city to get 1,000 teachers of color in addition to what are already being hired by 2017. President Obama working on this nationally too.

Q: Can principals get UFT buttons? Can we wear them at work?
A: Yes for principals and technically no on wearing them at school

Q: Discrimination at Brooklyn Tech. Uncover patterns in one school, can we make an issue of racism and seximt citywide?
A: Up to school community.  We can deal with difficult stuff. Need to do it at school level.

Q: What happened with Campbell Brown case?
A: Appeal on whether case can be dismissed is being heard at appellate court.

Q: What is our position on State Ed Commissioner's position on timing of tests?
A: Test is shorter but no time limit for kids. School community should talk about it and let administration call time instead of us.

Motion Period
Mary Ahern raised a point of order on how to raise a motion. She said the way it is done at the DA is against Robert's Rules.  Mulgrew accepted it but Leroy Barr protested based on policy and practice of the DA. Mary appealed but Mulgrew ruled against her and put it to the body.  The Unity majority agreed with Mulgrew.

(Editor's Note: Mary of course is completely right but it doesn't matter.  She could have argued her case on the appeal but did not and what would be the point?  Unity's super majority can vote on any rule it wants and there isn't much anyone can do. Stopping the madness requires having over 1/3 of the Delegates but most Delegates don't show up.)

Motion to support state bill against workplace bullying.

It will be investigated.

Time ran out before other motions could be raised.

Special Orders of Business
City Council Distict 17 endorsement of Rafael Salamanca came next. It carried.

Next was a resolution to recommend putting Debra Penny to replace Sandra March on Teachers Retirement Board. It carried unanimously. March spoke.

Mulgrew then spoke on behalf of March.

Next there was a special ed mandate relief resolution that carried easily.

Resolution to mandate paras join the pension system was next. Some paras don't join. Need a bill in legislature in Albany for this to happen. It carried unanimously.

Time then ran out.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Without Perdido Street School to go to each day, some other bloggers are picking up some of the slack.

For some expert national and statewide analysis of the union and politics, I would head over to B-Lo Ed Scene where you get Sean Crowley's inimitable style. Sean has a very interesting take on the state and national unions and their lack of responsiveness to their members. He notes how presidential endorsements are made and if they come top down, the union usually endorses Hillary Clinton but if the rank and file are involved, they want Bernie Sanders.

Norm Scott joins in with some Randi bashing over at Ed Notes. Norm criticizing AFT President Randi Weingarten is like the sun rising in the east but here his analysis of Randi Weingarten working the ground game for Hillary Clinton in Iowa is worth thinking over even though I disagree with the conclusion from Mike Antonucci that Norm cites. Mike claims that having Randi and NEA President Lili Eskelson Garcia working for Hillary doesn't help teachers because Hillary won by such a small margin yesterday.

I think one of  the lessons to be learned from the Iowa Caucuses is that ground game really matters in politics. Donald Trump doesn't have one and he did not win. Having people going door-to-door for a candidate is very important to winning elections. Word of mouth publicity can't be beaten so Randi probably had an impact. Whether or not the early Clinton endorsement was wise is a different matter. I don't know of too many Hillary Clinton supporters at work and certainly she gets no love among my blogger friends who think of her only slightly more positively than the devil.

Speaking of ground game, in a union election this means having real live people in a school to spread the word about candidates in that election.  Mulgrew's Unity starts every UFT election with a huge advantage simply because of their huge reach in the schools. Whether or not these people are bought and paid for is irrelevant.

As for the Democrats, having the party establishment behind Hillary Clinton means Bernie Sanders will be fighting a huge uphill battle and will need to do more than come close to a draw, as he did in Iowa, to win the nomination. Don't forget those Democratic super-delegates will be overwhelmingly behind Hillary.  Turning them around requires Sanders to knock out the favorite.

The establishment has kind of rigged the process in a similar way that the UFT has fixed things so the retirees vote in union elections but nobody but Unity can get to them except in one NY Teacher ad every three years. Add to that the patronage Unity hands out for their people in the schools and you have a very non-level playing field.  Bernie Sanders is playing on a similar tilted field so I truly identify with him.  If he didn't vote for the Murphy amendment that continues test and punish education policy, I might be one of his enthusiastic supporters.

Switching gears totally, for some analysis on New York City healthcare for municipal employees, go to DOE NUTS blog. While almost every teacher he knows has GHI-CBP, plenty of teachers use the other part of Emblem Health called HIP. There are no co-pays for doctor visits in HIP but one must stay in the network and get referrals for specialty care. I do concur with most of DOE-NUTS analysis and think we are about to pay more for less healthcare.

Finally, it's always good to take a look at NYC Educator each day.  Today he is blogging about how teachers are overworked and evaluations are ridiculous.  Well worth a read.

So there are just some quick suggestions on where to look while we miss Reality Based Educator.

Monday, February 01, 2016


Karen Magee is the Michael Mulgrew-Unity Caucus installed president of the New York State United Teachers.  Below is her latest message to the members taken from the weekly NYSUT Leader Briefing.  

Karen gives new meaning to the term vague.

I have no idea what specifically she is talking about or why she is boasting but I'm sure glad "We're not done!" even if I don't quite know what it is we're not done doing.

The ICE blog will give gold stars out to anyone who can tell us some of the particulars about what NYSUT is doing during this Albany legislative session to improve the lives of actual teachers or students. 

But for now, we present obscurantism at its finest from President Magee. Enjoy. If readers want more of Karen's thoughts, just go over to the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association blog for her email response to their queries. It is just as enlightening. 

Karen's notes: We're not done!

We are in the thick of it now -- the state budget negotiations, and the legislative session beyond the April 1 budget deadline. This is our opportunity to make things right, to get things done, to educate lawmakers and the public about what's important for our students, health care institutions and public schools and colleges.

We are making progress through our advocacy, and preparing for upcoming and ongoing challenges. Continued momentum is essential to long-term success.

With intense, widespread activism by parents and educators, we're achieving genuine breakthroughs. In our ongoing advocacy, we make two points: Thanks to all of us working together, we're making great progress -- and just as importantly, we're not done yet.

New York educators, from preK-12 teachers and SRPs through graduate school faculty, will be at the forefront of the union work necessary to transform public education. This includes redesigning standards so they are New York standards developed by New York teachers for New York students.

We're just getting started, and the united front we present will further our progress. Leaders, activists, members: With your help, we will continue to be the voice that cannot be ignored.