Wednesday, August 30, 2006

School in August Brought to You By Unity-Weingarten



August 31, 2006


Welcome back to the first ever school year starting in August. The 2006-07 school calendar has a record 190 work days for teachers (more for several UFT job titles). The longer school year was endorsed by UFT President Randi Weingarten and the city during 2005 contract negotiations. Tens of thousands of UFT members voted against extending the school year. Keep this in mind as we slog through this interminable year because in the spring UFT members can decide who will negotiate the next UFT Contract where one of the main priorities should be to get us back a full summer vacation.

The Independent Community of Educators (ICE) is a caucus (political party) within the United Federation of Teachers. Union members join caucuses based upon common ideas. Randi Weingarten’s caucus is called Unity. Unity is an invitation only closed group that has controlled the UFT since it was founded in 1960. Unity has complete control of the Union’s policy making bodies. To join Unity, members must sign a loyalty oath that obliges them to “support the decisions of the caucus and leadership elected from the caucus in union and public forums.” In return, Unity members can receive patronage from Randi that includes union jobs, some of which pay over $100,000 a year with a union as well as a city pension. Opposing Unity does not make us anti-union. President Bush is a Republican. If you are against any of his policies, it does not make you unpatriotic. ICE opposed Weingarten’s policy to start school in August.


In 2004 and 2005 there was a huge debate between the political caucuses of the UFT over whether to extend the year/day for UFT members. Randi/Unity advocated negotiating for additional time in the school day and school year as a way to settle our contract dispute with the city. ICE and Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) said our day and year were long enough. We argued that adding extra time would not have any educational value and that we should not have to extend the day or year to get a decent salary increase. Instead, we backed educating and mobilizing the membership.

In the spring of 2005, ICE representatives at the UFT’s Delegate Assembly (the union’s highest policy making body) proposed a resolution recommending to the UFT that we reject adding days to the school year in contract negotiations. It was pointed out to the DA that NYC educators already worked a school year that was longer than many of the districts in the surrounding areas. ICE compared calendars in the city with calendars in suburbs and we found that in many Long Island districts the school year had a fixed 183 days for teachers but in the city we were already compelled to toil 185 or more days. We were working a longer school year for significantly lower salaries than educators in the suburbs earn. We saw no justification for lengthening the calendar; we argued that adding days before Labor Day was punitive.

President Weingarten took the rare step of leaving the podium to speak from the DA floor maintaining that she should be free to negotiate a longer school year. Her Unity followers agreed and several months later there was an extension of the school year buried among many givebacks in the new contract. Does anyone want her to negotiate the next contract? Don’t be fooled by the 350 person negotiating committee. It’s Randi and her Unity sycophants that make the decisions. What will they give up next?

It’s time to change UFT leadership. Support the ICE-TJC Coalition that will unite to challenge Randi/Unity in the spring 2007 UFT Election.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Welcome New Teachers

We thank you for reading our leaflet and exploring our site.

We are the Independent Community of Educators, one of the political caucuses within the United Federation of Teachers. We are made of up teachers, psychologists, paraprofessionals, social workers, retirees and other DOE staff members who are concerned that the current direction of our Union is being weakened by our leadership. This is most evident from our recent contract which negotiated away many of our rights to have a voice in the schools where we teach. Over 30,000 of our members voted against the contract.

As new teachers we understand a little about what you are going through and can help you navigate the maze of rules and regulations that engulf the DOE and the UFT. Our UFT leaders have lost touch with most of our members and have permitted the DOE to run our schools like corporations.

We ask that you keep an open mind and see what the DOE and UFT leadership has done to our schools. If you have any questions please call, write, email or comment on this blog. You need not give your name or other identifying criteria.

Good luck on your new position and drop us a line.

For those of you who did not get a copy of the leaflet distributed at the Brooklyn Tech New Teacher Conference it is reproduced below.


  • from the Independent Community of Educators (ICE)

The union representing teachers is called the UFT- United Federation of Teachers.

Like all large organizations, UFT members have more than one philosophy about what the main goals of the union should be.

Members have formed parties within the union called caucuses.

The caucus of the UFT president, Randi Weingarten, is Unity Caucus, just like the party of the US president, George Bush, is the Republican Party.

If you did not support President Bush or all of his policies, it would mean you had different beliefs than him and that you might be a member of a different political party, but, it would not make you un-American.

If you do not support President Weingarten or all of her policies, it means you have different beliefs and might be a member of a different political caucus, but, it does not make you anti-Union.

Some of the decisions made by incumbent politicians are for the good of the people they represent. Some decisions are made so that incumbent politicians will be re-elected and their party will retain control of governance.

Keep this in mind as you listen to and read about what Randi Weingarten is doing. Be aware that there are other ideas about our Union. Union officials, including the president will be elected by you this Spring.

While all teachers pay UFT dues you need to sign a membership card to vote. Make sure you do.

If you want to find out more, log onto, the Independent Community of Educators’ website. We also have a web log which can be accessed at

Good luck as you begin your new career.

For more info please call us at (917) 992-3734 or email at

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Evening HS Obituary

ICE Warnings on Working Conditions Ignored for Years by Unity/UFT Leaders & DOE

By James Eterno; UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica HS & HS Executive Bd Rep.

The citywide Evening high school program in NYC for students who were at least sixteen years old and needed to make up classes that they failed or never had the opportunity to take in day school has been eliminated by the Department of Education. Evening schools were set up in a number of the city's high schools to serve a wide variety of students. Many of them attended classes in the day and some did not. Each evening high school in the centrally run program served students from several different day schools.

According to August 11 NY Sun, the Department of Education admitted that the evening high school program was "an abysmal failure." The Sun went on to explain that 28,000 students were referred to night school, while only 14,000 attended and only half of these passed courses. A close look at the evidence will reveal that evening high school did not die of natural causes; it was starved to death by educational neglect from the DOE and their accomplices at the UFT.

For many years teachers in evening high schools had been complaining about abominable working conditions, particularly when it came to overcrowding and lack of access to books and supplies. The DOE chronically under-funded its evening high school program. Evening school teachers spoke about a chronic shortage of supplies and books. They said that they had to use antiquated textbooks and put up with huge class sizes.

Classes were routinely packed with pupils since the contractual guidelines for class size limitations (34 students is the maximum for most high school classes) did not apply to evening school because it was a per session activity covered by Article 15 of the UFT Contract which says nothing about class sizes. Therefore, the DOE could place an unlimited amount of students into evening high school classes and not worry about grievances from the Union. The DOE routinely took advantage of this provision.

The normal procedure was to register 50, 60, 70, 80 or more students per class. It was not uncommon to have over 100 kids in a class. On the first few evenings of each semester, students would enter a mob scene otherwise known as a classroom. The lucky ones would find a seat. The remainder of the crowd was forced to fend. It was not unusual to see students in evening school standing in the back or the aisles or leaning on the window sills in the cramped classrooms. It is hardly the fault of the teachers or the pupils that so many students were not able to pass under these deplorable learning conditions. Most pupils simply gave up and stopped attending. When teachers complained to the administration or the UFT about the conditions, they were often told that they should be happy to have a per session job paying them additional income and they could be easily replaced if they didn't like it. A few fortunate instructors had their classes split but huge class sizes were normal.

Several years ago I raised the issue of evening high school overcrowding at the UFT Executive Board. UFT President Randi Weingarten asked me to provide specific information. Subsequently, a teacher took a great risk by giving me the list of class registers for Jamaica Evening High School. Class sizes were over 50 and 60 in certain classes. I was appalled. I faxed the list to Weingarten. Amazingly, when the UFT investigated they found that there wasn't a class size problem since by the middle of the semester so many students had given up and were chronically absent. Instead of being angry that the DOE was subjecting teachers and students to horrible overcrowding that forced many students to cut class, UFT leaders accused me of making stuff up. The teachers at Jamaica Evening High School knew that going to their union was a waste of time and basically resigned themselves to DOE's abominable evening school conditions.

For those that see the UFT Contract as the cause of virtually all of the problems in NYC education, the end of evening school should serve as a cautionary warning. If the UFT contract which is only moderately enforced now is completely eliminated, then day schools will become like evening high school. There would be nothing to stop administration from packing 60 or 70 students in a classroom, forcing the class to use dilapidated books and telling the teacher that he/she should be grateful to have a position. We need a stronger teacher Contract that is properly adhered to. As for evening high schools, the DOE should mend the program by fully funding it instead of ending it.

P.S. According to the NY Sun, money that would have gone to evening school will be spread to day high schools and principals will be told to offer their own AM, PM or Saturday schools for pupils that are behind so they can make up course credits. The Sun also said that principals should "combine these classes with the additional 37.5 minute classes added to the school day for struggling students under the recent teacher contract." The 37.5 minute sessions were not supposed to be for credit bearing classes. (During the battle over the contract last fall, ICE warned the UFT that the DOE would try to make the 37.5 minute sessions into classes.) Also, many high schools are already overcrowded so they don't offer the 37.5 minute sessions and don't have the space for the huge P.M. schools that would be needed to accommodate the many pupils who need to make up courses. To expect each individual school or a group of schools in the same region to offer the same diversified program that the night schools had (even in their chronically under-funded state) is unrealistic.

The losers: as usual it's the students. They will have fewer opportunities to take the courses they need to graduate.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Positive Spin on the DC 37 Tentative Raises that Don't Even Keep up with Inflation as the City Surplus Soars Disappointing!

By James Eterno, Jamaica H.S. Chapter Leader, UFT H.S. Exec. Bd. Rep.

I came home from vacation to find out that DC 37 had reached a tentative contract settlement with the city that many labor people including UFT President Randi Weingarten are not criticizing. Weingarten even took some credit for the deal because the UFT and 19 other municipal unions have formed a coalition to bargain with the City. She claims that the presence of the coalition forced the city to up its offer to DC 37. Maybe so but why not a word about how paltry the salary increases are for DC 37 when the city is so prosperous?

While the potentially precedent setting agreement is better than the pattern DC 37 established for city workers in the last round of bargaining, it still does not keep up with inflation. The NY Times described the terms succinctly: "...10 percent raise (compounded) over 32 months with no new concessions." The Times elaborated, "The agreement includes a 3.15 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2005, the day the union's last contract expired. The new pact also includes a 2 percent raise starting Aug. 1, and a 4 percent raise starting February 1." Why are these numbers not being roundly criticized in union circles when the city now has a surplus of over $5 billion? When the city is swimming in money, unions should be able to at least keep up with inflation.

Yes, the tentative pact calls for increases that go well beyond the 0% (with a $1,000 cash bonus), 3% and 1% raises over three years from the last DC 37 Contract (an extra 2% came with productivity givebacks). That agreement set a pattern that teachers and all other city workers were forced to swallow. When the current numbers are crunched, the proposed 10 percent over 32 months does not even keep up with the annual inflation rate that according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is now at 5.6% in the NY area and 4.7% nationally. DC 37's annual increases when compounded average roughly 3.75% a year. City workers will continue to have their standard of living significantly lowered under this deal. When it is taken into consideration that the city has a huge multi billion dollar surplus, this is an agreement that union leaders should at least be questioning. But thus far, I have not seen much negative except for some dissidents within DC 37. Meanwhile, the mayor is content.

The Times reports: "The mayor noted that the city continued to benefit from money saving concessions in the union's last contract like reduced vacation and sick days for newly hired workers." In addition, the mayor is still not ruling out givebacks.

"He added that the city and District Council 37, which represents 120,000 city workers, would set up a subcommittee to discuss pension changes and that he would urge the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for the city's unions, to negotiate savings on health coverage." (UFT President Weingarten heads the MLC; the UFT is a part of it.)

Let's understand the UFT's current situation. We now have a potential pattern settlement established by DC 37 that does not keep up with inflation while the city has billions in excess funds. The mayor will look to give all city workers including UFT members the same increases as DC 37 and history shows that if any union wants to beat the pattern, the only way to do so is with concessions in some other area. Since the 3.15% increase in year one of the DC 37 deal is already included in the final year of the current UFT Contract, our pattern would be 2% and 4% over twenty months for the next round. That translates into increases for us that are considerably lower than the current 5.6% NY area inflation rate.

Also, the pattern set by DC 37 won't help us win back any of the givebacks we surrendered in the last round of collective bargaining that include the 37.5 minute tutoring sessions each day, school starting in August, hall patrols, cafeteria patrols, lack of ability to grieve letters in our files, loss of seniority as well as SBO transfers, and more. Finally, the Mayor is still seeking to change the pension system and gain concessions in health benefits. Therefore, having us pay 1.5% of our salary toward healthcare (the Transit worker proposal) is still possible and who knows what other work rule changes will be demanded of us? Granted, we are starting out with a basic pattern from DC 37 that is better than in the last round but it clearly is not going to help us obtain anything remotely resembling a favorable settlement.

For President Weingarten to be taking any credit for the DC 37 agreement because the UFT is in a coalition of 20 unions who are bargaining together on financial matters with the city is somewhat strange. Instead, we believe she should be publicizing the city's huge budget surplus and saying how we have made sacrifices when the city had hard times and now we need to share in the city's prosperity. The UFT also should be preparing to mobilize for a real fight if we want to get a decent contract with raises that beat the cost of living without concessions, and we should be looking to initiate a major battle to win back what we gave away in the last round of bargaining.

(The purpose of this piece is not to try to influence the DC 37 ratification vote. Their internal debate is reported in this week's Chief Leader and should be read. This piece was written to explain the impact of the DC 37 proposal on UFT members and other city workers.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lost in a Sea of Charters

by Norman Scott

In a massive school system with about 1400 schools, not one single school is run by teachers. Some might dispute that, pointing to the UFT-run charter schools. In actuality, UFT bureaucrats run that school, not active teachers. To me a teacher-run school means a group of teachers get together to run a school, choosing the administration. This is the key point and is not part of the process at the UFT schools.

Ten years ago, I saw charter schools as an opportunity for teachers to run their own schools, hoping the UFT would take the lead by setting up an office of charter school support, where teachers could go for assistance. My experience with most school administrators from the school level on up was that they were a hindrance to education reform and that it was frustrated teachers, especially those fairly new to the system before they became cynical and jaded, who wanted to see changes. Thus, charter schools seemed a way for entrepreneurial teachers to begin to take control of schools.

All these dreams ended with the increasing implementation of high stakes testing, intensified by No Child Left Behind, that has distorted the education process to such an extent that any school started by teachers would be under the same pressures to teach to the test as all other schools or be branded a failure. (The most elite private schools in Manhattan, with extremely small class sizes and a lot of teacher input, just ignore NCLB).

The charter school movement now often seems like a wedge to undermine public schools in the mania to prove anything public is bad and privately run schools, even those for profit, somehow justifies capitalism. The BloomKlein mania for charter schools is noteworthy in that they run the public school system but promote charters as alternatives to the very system they run even though charters drain funds away from public schools since money is funneled to schools based on the number of pupils.

But if one views BloomKlein cheerleading for charters (even going so far as to toss out a school at the Tweed Courthouse DOE HQ in favor of the Ross Charter School) through the prism of anti-unionism, it all becomes understandable. Charters are not required to be run by union rules. Recently a teacher at a charter was fired for merely bringing in a salary chart that demonstrated just how the teachers were being exploited. Joel Klein has often pointed to the UFT contract as the obstacle to fixing what’s wrong with the public schools. Even now with a gutted contract, Klein still rants on. When the time comes (sooner rather than later) that the UFT sells so much of the contract that it will be boiled down to merely a salary chart, Klein will still be blaming his inability to reform the system on the contract. Klein’s goal is to establish 1400 privately run charters, kick back, relax and claim victory – victory over the union that will leave the UFT as a head without a body.

Klein has maintained that charter schools and the small public schools being set up by the DOE do not engage in creaming – choosing less difficult students to ensure a higher rate of success. Many of us suspect that this is not true but have a hard time getting a handle on how lotteries and other means of choosing students can be distorted.

So, we turned to our old friend George Schmidt in Chicago, where the school system went through a mayoral takeover many years before we did and has faced many of the same issues. George has been the editor of the alternative newspaper Substance ( for almost 30 years. (I modeled my newspaper Education Notes on the work George has done.) George wrote in an email:

Any charter school study that compares a charter school with local non-magnet elementary or high schools is biased and statistically invalid. Chicago pioneered this form of dishonesty.

Charter schools require conditions that do not apply to neighborhood public schools.

1. Charter schools require that children apply for admission. The most at risk children come from families that can barely get the information together to prove the child lives in the public school attendance area.

2. Charter schools require that students and families sign performance agreements that result in "voluntary removal" if the child or family fails to comply. Depending upon the charter school, the compliance can even include Saturday classes (for the children) and mandatory "parenting" sessions (for the family).

3. Charter schools exclude the most severely disabled children and families, either by having inaccessible facilities or by telling the families they don't have the staff to provide the services.

The first and pioneering dishonesty in these reports was compiled by Greg Richmond about seven years ago, on orders from the Chicago Tribune. Since that "report," Richmond has moved on from his job as Chief of charter schools at the Chicago Board of Education to the national charter school bureaucracy (he is currently head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers; he was recently featured in a news story on New Orleans). Richmond's study claimed that the charters surpassed neighborhood schools, but left out the conditions I cite above. On several occasions, Richmond simply ignored FOIA requests for the data underlying the claims made in his "study." To date (more than four years after the original FOIA request), the Chicago Board of Education still refuses to make available any data used as the basis for the Richmond report. That report, like "A Nation at Risk" and similar stuff, has since taken on a life of its own, thanks mainly to the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, which simply asserts its conclusions now, as "research based."

If comparisons between charters and public schools are going to be made, at least in Chicago, the comparisons have to be between Chicago charters and Chicago magnet schools.

A study that used this standard of comparison would show Chicago charters are performing less well than Chicago public schools.

But that's not a study that will be done in Chicago, because the party line here is that charters are good and publics are bad.

One thing I've just begun looking into is the really primitive level of discrimination against children (and families) with disabilities here in Chicago, especially those with the most severe disabilities. Most Chicago charter school buildings are inaccessible to many disabled (e.g., wheelchairs). This is the result of the charter schools being an indirect subsidy to the Catholic schools. When inner city Catholic schools have been closed in Chicago, they are rented (by the public school budget) for charter schools. But the Catholic schools we're talking about were never brought into compliance with accessibility regulations, and the Chicago Board of Education is not trying to force its growing number of charter schools into compliance. This alone is a major scandal, but also reveals, among other data, how the charters cherry pick students to provide the "results" they want.

And even with all the cherry picking, they are not doing very well in Chicago when compared honestly with those public schools where comparisons can be made.