by Norman Scott
In what was billed as a round-table discussion with the NYC education press corps on Friday Sept. 1, NYC schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended many of his policies that have come under recent attack. Particular attention has been focused on the high number of no-bid contracts, the most prominent of which has been the $17 million given to the consultant firm of Alvarez and Marsal, better known as corporate turn-around specialists than for expertise in the field of education.
A&M has come under scrutiny for their management of the schools in St. Louis which led to drastic cuts that included the closing of 16 schools, cut staff and charges the corporate management turn-around mentality had taken a school system in severe trouble and made it worse. A&M was also hired to manage the schools in New Orleans not long before Hurricane Katrina struck. While it is hard to judge their performance given the conditions, their main focus seems to have been on creating a privatized school system.
Klein defended the contract, which pays up to $1.7 million in salary to some individuals involved in what is claimed will lead to savings of $200 million. He said $87 million had already been saved leading to the hiring of 275 additional teachers.
There are reports that up to 500 teachers remain unassigned in addition to between a reported 1000-1500 experienced excessed teachers from schools that have closed who Klein said will be used as a reserve substitute corps. Klein defended his decision not to assign these teachers to understaffed schools because he wants to affirm the right of principals to choose their own people. This decision will cost around $5 million.
Questions were raised about the expense of the 44 unassigned Assistant Principals, who Klein said he would be forced to carry because of the contract with the Supervisors’ Union (CSA), whose head Jill Levy, has been extremely critical of Klein, claiming he denigrated the unassigned AP’s by hinting they could not get jobs because “no one wanted them.” Some have threatened a lawsuit.
Klein was asked about the expense of the Teaching Fellows and Teach For America programs where a high rate of teachers choose not to remain in the system after only a few years. He said retention rates were going up. He seemed to negate the experience factor in teacher quality when he said even if teachers do leave after 3 years the system benefited from having such high quality teachers for even a short time, pointing out that this is better than having some 20-year teachers who do not function effectively. He did not address charges from some experienced teachers that they have been systematically discriminated against, with some schools openly advertising positions would only be open to first year teachers and openly stating “They must not be a transfer from another NYC public school.” Some have surmised that the move to newer teachers is merely a cost-cutting device.
In addressing issues of the DOE having to pay numbers of teachers languishing in rubber rooms around the city, Klein said this was a matter of future contract negotiations.
He attributed many of the gains of his administration to the success of his negotiations with the UFT, which has allowed him flexibility in the placement of teachers without having to deal with seniority questions. He also praised provisions that have allowed him to pay certain teachers more based on the DOE’s needs through the creation of housing allowances and Lead teachers. He praised the UFT for its willingness to negotiate on many of the items he deems most important and expressed hope for cooperation in future contracts.