Thursday, December 27, 2007

Do Community Based Organizations Hold the Keys to Small Schools?

Pick up today’s Daily News and you might get the impression that community organizations that sponsor small schools can basically decide whether those schools survive or not. The first article, Bushwick parents and kids celebrate exit of embattled Acorn High principal, Rachel Monahan describes how the ACORN School of Social Justice, with their CBO, ACORN, was able to oust a principal who was blamed for the school’s poor performance and a DOE letter grade of F. The school was obviously saved from closing with a change in leadership despite its poor grade. ACORN was willing to continue to help the school although it is unclear what they were doing to allow the school to take such a precipitous decline.

In another article, Slow death for Brooklyn high school, Carrie Melago, describes how the CBO, East Brooklyn Congregations pulled out of EBC/ENY High School for Public Safety and Law and left the school to be placed on DOE’s death list of closing schools. The school was making some improvements but without CBO support and other political considerations the Chancellor decided to close the school even though the school received a letter grade of D.

While only a mile apart physically, both schools are light years away in how they were treated by the DOE.

Are the differing CBOs the reason? Perhaps. But it is only a part of the story.

CBOs have been making inroads on public schools for many years. Some involvement has been limited and some has been more extensive. What is clear in most situations is the natural tension among the participants. Each stakeholder has its own goals and the political interplay will generally determine how the school functions.

A Case In Point

The Second Opportunity School and Suspension Schools have long operated with CBO involvement. The school for long term suspended students spanned four boroughs and at one point had 6 CBO’s working with its students. While it was never clearly defined collaboration was emphasized. What collaboration meant was the turnover of particular school functions to non-public entities under contracts. The CBOs were responsible for all counseling and group activities yet each CBO took their responsibility differently. What remained the same, however, was the displacement of DOE personnel in school functions, especially in mandated areas.
At the Manhattan high school site the CBO tried to maintain the site despite fierce opposition by the school’s administration. The site suffered from total mismanagement and the fact that the CBO hired well meaning but uncertified personnel did not help. Salaries for some of the CBO staff performing counseling and providing some IEP services were 1/3 of their DOE counterparts. It did not work.

At a meeting toward the end of the year the principal asked the DOE staff whether they wanted CBO involvement and most of the staff could not believe their ears…were they really being consulted on such an issue? Not long thereafter the school was shut down and reorganized. Most of the staff, DOE and CBO, went elsewhere.


At EBC/ENY it was clear that the abandonment of the school by the CBO was one of the reasons that the DOE decided to close it down. What happened?

East Brooklyn Congregations, a CBO whose parent organization the Industrial Areas Foundation was founded by Saul Alinsky, received approval for its new high schools as a way to build community involvement in education in East New York, Brownsville and Bushwick. Ironically they worked with a branch of the Manhattan Institute, the Center for Educational Innovation, a conservative think tank and DOE support organization for 55 schools.

At the time of the school’s founding EBC was involved in housing projects in the community and, as time went on, devoted more of its energies and resources to housing than education.

While EBC involvement with the school was minimal at best it was clear that when the school was placed on the SURR list three years ago it served as an embarrassment to both the organization and its senior education director, Ray Domanico.

Domanico, who became president of the Public Education Association (which later merged with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Educational Innovation) was known for his ultra-conservative views of public education. Appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s “Factor” Domanico stated in response to O’Reilly’s question about why Catholic schools do better than public schools, “We think there's a couple of reasons. The Catholic schools know what they do well, and they stick to that. They have a very focused and basic curriculum. For example, an immigrant student comes into the public school system in New York City and, often, the public school will keep that child in bilingual education for six years, not teaching them in English. In Catholic school, they'll pray with you in Spanish or in your home language, but they are going to teach you English in the first year.” (THE O'REILLY FACTOR, Fox News Network, Friday, May 18, 2001.)

Given his background it was no surprise that he was quoted in Elissa Gootman’s New York Times article that it was the fault of the school’s leadership that the school was being closed. Nothing about EBC’s changing priorities.

There were other factors which led to the school’s demise including the fact that EBC/ENY elected to become an empowerment school as opposed to one of CEI’s schools.

While we can speculate about the school’s closing what is abundantly clear is the need a full assessment about school closings and small schools. We have been calling for this for a long time…is it ever coming?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Randi: 14 Schools Closing is a UFT Victory

December 12 Delegate Assembly Report

by James Eterno UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

In over a decade as a Chapter Leader and Delegate and in ten years on the UFT Executive Board, I learned one indisputable fact: the UFT never loses no matter how bad conditions are in the schools or how many rights are given up in a Contract settlement. The UFT according to its leaders, has the same undefeated record as the Harlem Globetrotters or Perry Mason.

This unbeaten streak continued at the December 12, 2007 UFT Delegate Assembly. President Randi Weingarten reported that 14 schools were going to be closed. She admitted that 14 schools closing was 14 too many. However, instead of condemning Chancellor Joel Klein's decision to close any schools since the UFT has a policy that the Department of Education should refrain from closing schools until we can have a study done assessing the impact of school closings, Randi went in full spin mode implying that 14 schools closings is another UFT victory because Klein threatened 150 schools that received D or F report card grades but because of UFT pressure, only 14 were closed.

The UFT threatened a lawsuit because schools have to be closed using Federal and State guidelines. Therefore if we went to court, in the discovery process the UFT would've received information on the criteria on how schools are rated. With that "intense" Union pressure on him, Klein backed down and pulled a bunch of schools off of the list of schools to be closed. Randi wouldn't tell us which schools the UFT saved.

We need to talk about the status of the members in the over 100 schools that received F or D report card grades and were not closed Are UFT members in these schools going to be pushing to defend their union rights with the sword of a possible closing hanging over their heads? Why is the UFT not commissioning that study to assess the effectiveness of school closings on impacted schools and on neighboring schools? We didn't hear anything about this at the DA.

As for the members from the schools that are closing who will become Absent Teacher Reserves (full time teachers with full pay and benefits but no regular class), Randi said that the UFT is negotiating so that people who want to be placed will get a position.

In case you've been blinded by the spin here is the condensed version: 14 schools are being closed and over 100 others are being threatened with closing; the ranks of ATR's proliferate but it's a UFT win.

In other news from the DA, Randi reported that there may not be a special session of the State Legislature this month so 25-55 retirement plan might have to wait until early next year. She added that this isn't so bad either since if the bill passes later, then members have to pay less in contributions. She also told us that the war over whether to reduce class sizes has been won at the state level because of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit. The question now is whether the reduced class sizes will be an average of 20 for grades K-3 and 23 from grades 4-12 or will there be caps at these numbers in the next four years? She talked about the court cases on the letters for file as well (see the previous article for more on this issue).

Randi was away at a rally when the meeting started so she was not there when a number of resolutions were passed. These included the UFT examining the Unsatisfactory rating appeal process, actions to protest Klein's "gotcha squad" of lawyers who are going after tenured teachers; support for the environment; and support for transgender people.

Finally, a motion to have a UFT strike in sympathy for Local 32BJ was defeated.

All things considered, just another run of the mill great month for our Union. Hope all is well in your school too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


In a series of decisions by several different Justices in New York Supreme Court four teachers have gained what our Union gave up; the right to have negative letters removed from our files. As we all may recall our Union leadership saw fit to give up our precious right to grieve letters in the file as well as a step in our grievance procedure in our sellout contract a few years back. We have seen a precipitous increase in letters to the file, U-rated observations and U-ratings. This was no coincidence.

What our leadership gave away, however, might be partially saved if you decide to file a lawsuit. Joyce Sticco and three other teachers at P.S. 345 in Brooklyn did just that…and won.

The facts of Sticco v. BOE, Supreme Court, New York County, Index 105477/2007, decided 11/28/07 are, unfortunately, all too familiar. In April 2006 Sticco was questioned by investigators from the Special Commissioner of Investigations’ office (Condon’s office) about allegations of inappropriate touching of female students by a fellow teacher, Gregory Michaelides. In his report Condon found that Michaelides had engaged in the conduct and that Sticco and three other teachers either witnessed or gave inconsistent or inappropriate statements about Michaelides’ alleged misconduct. Condon recommended that Michaelides be terminated and that Sticco and the other teachers receive “appropriate disciplinary action.”

The appropriate disciplinary action was a letter to each teachers’ file indicating that they had “show[ed] a willful disregard for the welfare of children” when they failed to report Michaelides’ misconduct. With no way to contest the finding or the letter the teachers started a proceeding in Supreme Court.

The Courts found that the teachers’ due process rights were violated. Under New York State Education Law tenured teachers are entitled to hearings whenever the DOE contemplates disciplinary action. This law, Section 3020-a has certain procedural safeguards to make certain teachers don’t get the treatment that the principal of P.S. 345 gave to Sticco and her colleagues. Disciplinary letters to the file which come after a principal’s conference and without due process protection must be expunged.

The Court found that there are two types of letters to the file; those that are disciplinary and those that are critical administrative evaluations. Ever since 1981 in the Matter of Holt the Court of Appeals has held that this distinction is critical in the determination of letters which violated teacher due process and those that did not. For the last 26 years the “Holt letter,” (ironically the principal in Sticco is named Wanda Holt but, it is believed, she has no relation to Jon Holt the disciplined teacher in 1981) as it became known allowed school administrators to place letters in teachers’ files that were evaluations. Thus observations and “instructive” letters were ok without a full hearing. However, letters which were disciplinary in nature must be taken out of teachers’ files.

At the Delegate Assembly last Wednesday Randi announced the Sticco victories but was less than enthusiastic about its implications or application to other teachers. At the Executive Board meeting last Monday a form entitled “Disciplinary Letters in the File” was distributed which recounted the 4 court cases and gave some guidance as to whether a letter was “disciplinary” and thus available to be removed by Court intervention. While the form indicates a procedure to evaluate whether particular letters are disciplinary, the form does not indicate where the letter should be sent for evaluation and possible Court action.

What’s going on? School administrators have been placing disciplinary letters in teachers’ files for years. Don’t you think our Union should at least try to make up for giving away our grievance rights with aggressively fighting these letters in Court and telling us how to do it?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

The Department of Education announced the closing of six schools on Tuesday and threatened that others will be closed later this month. The UFT's response was incredibly weak asking only that "everyone affected is treated with care, dignity and respect." The UFT added, "that staff members who choose to stay on during the phase-out years should have opportunities to work in other schools." Hundreds of more UFT members are about to be displaced from their schools and that's all the UFT has to say?

There is nothing in the UFT's statement even criticizing the DOE for continuing to close schools, even though the Union has passed resolutions saying that the DOE should refrain from closing schools until we can have an independent study done assessing its educational value.

The UFT's statement is more evidence that what the UFT leadership does at Delegate Assembly Meetings and at rallies is mere show for the members but when it comes right down to it, the Union does not oppose the wholesale closing of schools and displacement of even more teachers and other UFT members into Absent Teacher Reserves status (day-to-day substitute teachers with full pay and benefits but no regular class).

Where's the outrage from the Union leadership? We thought the Union opposed this policy. You wouldn't know it by their lame reaction.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Issues and Proposals in the GED-Plus Chapter Elections

By Marjorie Stamberg, GED-Plus Teacher, Manhattan Hub

Underlying the current election for chapter officers in GED-Plus are some important issues of broader significance. A crisis was opened by the “reorganization” of District 79, announced last May, in which more than 300 teaching positions were eliminated. The fact that hundreds of teachers were then thrown into Absent Teacher Reserve, instead of having the right to transfer to other positions, is a direct result of the union leadership’s giving up of seniority transfers in the 2005 contract.

Now in 2007, the union has agreed to introduce “merit pay.” Whether it’s called “school-wide bonus pay,” as UFT president Randi Weingarten prefers to call it, or “performance pay” as Mayor Bloomberg prefers, it sacrifices a fundamental union principle—equal pay for equal work.. This is a union-busting measure, for it will set one teacher, or one group of teachers, against another, competing for management’s favor. It’s also very bad for the students, particularly those in under-financed and minority neighborhoods, and where second-language and Special Ed students are struggling for an education. Do the math—basic economics dictates there will be pressure on teachers to drift to higher-performing schools if the pay is higher.

A third major element is the slashing of budgets for alternative education, whether for high school “drop-outs” (or more accurately, “force-outs”), adult education or other programs. In the fall of 2005, the DOE cut $5 million from the $30 million adult ed budget in NYC. In 2005-06, they cut $6 million and $8 million from the evening high school and GED programs. In 2004, Auxiliary Services for High Schools (ASHS) had 50 sites around the city. In 2005, this was cut to 19 centers; in 2006, it was cut back to 6 centers, and all nighttime programs were eliminated. And now the whole of D79 has been “reorganized”, slashing roughly 40 percent of the teaching personnel, while illogically claiming they were improving educational offerings. This has occurred while the overall budget of the DOE has gone up by 50 percent.

These three elements—elimination of seniority, introduction of pay tied to test scores, and the systematic elimination of alternative education programs are not isolated events. They are components of a master plan for “reforming” the public school system by corporatizing and partially privatizing the system. “I am a capitalist and I am in favor of incentives for individual people,” Mayor Bloomberg remarked at a press conference introducing the “bonus pay.” But kids aren’t widgets, and schools are not production lines, churning out “products.” Yet this is the agenda of Bloomberg, the Chancellor, the U.S. Department of Education and those who are dictating the lines of educational “reform” today.

A key part of this program is the replacement of public schools by “charter schools.” This is being pushed by Democratic Party governor Elliot Spitzer as well as Republican President Bush and is clearly aimed at busting teachers unions. Teachers are being made scapegoats for the problems of an educational system that has systematically under-funded and re-segregated inner city schools. The London Economist (November 10) just ran a special article praising New York City school reform in which it reported: “On November 5th, the Mayor and his Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, announced what is in effect the final piece in their grand plan to charterise the entire city school system.”

That “final piece” is the school “report card,” which will be used to close down scores of public schools. And where are the students to go? Charter schools or vouchers for private schools. Can they do this to an entire city school system? They already have—in New Orleans. As part of the “ethnic cleansing” following the Hurricane Katrina man-made social disaster, the schools were closed down and replaced by union-free charter schools. There are 5 regular public schools left, compared to 40 charter schools and 34 “recovery schools” run by the state! The NCEE’s “New Commission on the State of the American Workforce (of which Joel Klein is a member) wants to cut back the public schools to a core, cap them at the 10th grade (!!). The rest would be jobbed out to private contractors.

A briefing paper on the restructuring of the DOE’s alternative high school programs prepared by the Committee on Education of the New York City Council (November 14, 2007) ominously stated, “It may be the case that DOE intends to phase out D79 altogether.”

So if you think your job may be in jeopardy, you’re right. The entire UFT is as risk. Yet, rather than fighting against this threat head-on, the Weingarten leadership has made concession after concession, give back after give back, so that it has become an enabler for dismantling the public schools.

We need to see the big picture, and understand what we’re up against. The whole restructuring gimmick is a standard corporate take-over tactic in “leveraged buy-outs”: shut down the company, then re-open it as a new “entity”, while having canceled all the union contracts, and laid off half the staff.

I have emphasized that the present election for Chapter Leader is an opportunity for us to pull together as educators (teachers, paras, and staff) against the onslaught from the Department of Education we have faced over the past six months and continue to confront. My main opponent, Michael Friedman, has been running on a one-point program: “experience.” The problem is, his experience did not lead him to play any role whatsoever in fighting against the elimination of hundreds of positions in the chaotic “reorganization” of District 79.

Instead, Mr. Friedman has waged a vindictive personal attack on me, releasing a stream of frantic e-mails in which he accuses me of being “ignorant,” “angry,” “negative”, a “demagogue,” someone who “rants” and “raves.” (Where have we heard that before?) He wrote: “Her platform is anger and negativism…” “Do we want to be represented by someone so negative and angry…” “a one note, negative campaign; a call to just say no.” “Ms. Stamberg, like so many demagogues who want to rant…” “angry people who rant and rave…” Ask yourselves, who is ranting and raving here?

After some longtime D79 teachers (including a former chapter leader) wrote to him to cut out the abusive personal attacks, Mr. Friedman has fallen silent. But in the course of his rants he deliberately distorts my position, as well as getting his facts wrong. He writes: “Ms. Stambergs repeats the oft quoted comment that the ‘Union gave up seniority’ and then tries to attach it to what happened in the 18D process. Neither is true.” What he is doing here, in order to confuse the question, is conflating two different criticisms I made of the UFT leadership. It’s called creating a straw man in order to knock it down.

Concerning seniority, what I wrote in my statement was “In 2005, the union ‘traded’ seniority—a fundamental union protection-for a wage increase.” And at the candidates forum, I said that we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today with hundreds of teachers thrown into ATR status, except for the fact that the union leadership gave up seniority transfers (and SBO hiring) in the 2005 contract. That ‘s an indisputable fact.

When a school was reorganized, if teachers were not rehired at the replacement school, they would have the right to be hired anywhere in the city, to any position for which they were licensed, according to seniority. Now they get thrown into the limbo of ATR land as “substitutes.”

This not only affects educators in D79. I used to be a mentor, and the entire mentor staff was ATRed, numbering more than 300 citywide, including some of the most experienced teachers in the system. How many of our members are in ATR status? We haven’t been able to get a straight answer. At one point it was said to be 1,000 or more. Meanwhile, the DOE hired between 5,000 and 6,000 new teachers, and now they’re saying they will use the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Funds to hire 6,000 more—while some of the best teachers in the system are still ATRd!

Mr. Friedman defends the elimination of seniority transfers by arguing that “more senior teachers succeeded in getting transfers under the Open Market Plan last year than in any given year where the Seniority Transfer ran.” Again, do the math. Because so many more teachers are being excessed than ever before, it stands to reason there are more “open market” transfers! This is a pseudo-statistical flimflam.
So if you are in ATR status, without an appointment, it is because of the giveback contract that Mr. Friedman defends, and that I voted against.

On the 18-D staffing provisions of our contract: At two heated union meetings in June, members demanded that all positions in the restructured school be filled by D79 teachers. Our union bargained hard for this and won this important concession, but with one proviso: the teachers had to be deemed “qualified” in interviews conducted under the 18D clause. That turned out to be a trap.

And here is where we needed to just say NO. Over the summer, as interviews were being conducted, it turned out that many colleagues who had never gotten a “U” rating in their careers, including some of the most talented and qualified educators – math teachers, teachers with PhDs – were been deemed “unsatisfactory.” We began to get reports of this in mid August. As soon as it became apparent there was a hatchet job going on, the UFT should have put its foot down and stopped the whole process.

There are various ways to do this. Union leaders could have taken a couple of egregious cases and announced they were grieving them on the spot. They could have insisted that in view of the chaos – where teachers were not notified, the criteria for selection were not properly communicated to them, some “interviews” consisted of a few minutes on the phone – all interviews had to be stopped. They could have gone to the press, TV and city council to publicize the fact that the DOE has carrying out a massacre of experienced teachers. We, the members, did this, my opponent didn’t.

So now with the election for Chapter Leader under way, we have to prepare for the coming months. Particularly in this giant local, with hundreds of teachers, paras, social workers and staff located in six hubs and 80 “spokes” spread over all five boroughs, the key is active involvement of the membership. We should set our key priorities in a chapter meeting at the very beginning of the new year, for which the preparation must begin now. Here are some proposals:

· For ATRed teachers, I have actively supported their demand for a functional chapter to discuss issues they face. We must also insist they have all rights within the school where they are placed.

· We need monthly chapter meetings to keep our far-flung unit informed and involved. These meetings should rotate between the different hubs, making it easier for all the teachers in the borough to attend.

· At the hubs, the site representative should be assisted by site committees that get together frequently. These committees should meet periodically with the AP to work out local problems as they arise. These committees should coordinate with UFT chapters in other schools at their sites.

· For the smaller CBO sites, a committee should be formed to discuss particular problems that arise and keep members at nearby locations in touch with each other.

· Although the DOE claimed it had set up an “easy-to-navigate referral system for students who have fallen behind in traditional high schools,” in fact they lost touch with many contacts. An outreach committee should discuss ways of reaching more at-risk youth and bringing them into the program.

· A committee should be formed to seek to restore enrichment programs that have been canceled and to raise proposals for curriculum improvement. This will be crucial if there is in fact a drive to shut down D79. If the DOE doesn’t have a program for educating at risk students, we do!

· A special effort must be made at the beginning of the year to ensure that each site is adequately supplied with materials and books.

· Concrete proposals should be formulated in collaboration with the school administration to respond to the lack of computers, libraries and science labs facilities. Sometimes this may involve sharing with other schools at the same location.

· A chapter-wide safety committee should be formed to deal with issues such as lack of medical personnel, chalk board dust (replace blackboards with whiteboards), etc.

· Some hubs have excruciating problems such as lack of hot lunches for the students and lack of phones which should be immediately resolved.

These are only some ideas. Let’s hear yours.

Sunday, November 25, 2007



by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

The Chief Leader civil service newspaper reported last week that there was a substantial increase in the number of teachers rated unsatisfactory in NYC public schools. In 2006-07 there were 1,333 teachers rated unsatisfactory compared to 981 the previous year. This amounts to a 36% increase in U ratings over the span of just one year.

Of the 1,333 rated U last year, The Chief reported that 918 were tenured up from 662 the year before. This means the increase in tenured teachers rated U is 39% over that same one year period. Also, the number of teachers denied tenure more than doubled last year when compared to the previous year and the amount of teachers who had probation extended increased almost fourfold in 2006-07. While statistical changes over one year are hard to use scientifically, it is fairly clear that the Bloomberg-Klein administration armed for a full school year with a new Contract that severely weakened our rights (no more letter in file grievances, suspension without pay, etc...) is using its punitive provisions to unfairly blame teachers for problems in education. We cannot wait for another increase in U ratings before we fight back assertively.

When the attack on teachers comes to your school, your only defense is to be a strong Union Chapter. Union solidarity has been tried in many ways since Bloomberg and Klein took over control of the schools. In too many schools, the UFT Chapter is now a union in name only. The grassroots level UFT will be tested over and over again in the coming months as Klein's "gotcha" squad of prosecuting attorneys and the data driven accountability system will most likely lead to an acceleration of the unwarranted attacks on educators.

ICE urges all UFT members to aggressively enforce all Contractual rights immediately by filing and supporting grievances as well as taking whatever other actions are possible when the Contract is not adhered to by administration (see the November 19 post on this blog). If we do not stand up for each other and protect what rights we have left, the consequences will be dire. We must stick together by fighting collectively if we are to survive.

If members are in a Chapter where they do not believe they can get support from their Chapter Leader, then they need to form their own groups of UFT members and work together to uphold their collective rights. If anyone needs help, please contact ICE and we will do what we can to assist. If we show the Chancellor, the Mayor and UFT leadership that we are not going to take unwarranted attacks against us lying down, they will have to start to seriously reckon with us.

Don't expect Randi to bail us out. We must begin the counterattack ourselves at the school level and then force the UFT leadership to climb on board.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Randi to Bloom-Klein:Apologize to Teachers for Witch-Hunt

ICE To Randi:Fight Back for Real This Time

The "first I love you then I hate you, then I love you" saga between UFT President Randi Weingarten and the Bloomberg-Klein administration seems to be moving back to the "I hate you" mode. Chancellor Joel Klein announced last week the creation of a new witch hunt office of prosecuting attorneys whose job will be to help principals go after ineffective teachers. Randi wrote a response that she sent to Chapter Leaders where she names the new office the "gotcha unit" and she calls on Bloomberg and Klein to "retract it and...apologize to the hard working teachers of this city."

Randi is so incensed that she has decided to support U Rated Teachers who have called for a vigil at Tweed headquarters on November 26, the night of the next meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy. ICE endorses the vigil and is glad to have Randi's support. However if this is to be more than the usual public relations' push to show UFT members that she feels our pain, then it is time for the UFT leadership to finally come to the realization that there can be no collaboration with this administration and we must fight back for real. You see we've seen the "Randi is Angry" show before and we didn't like how it ended.

Just as Randi is ticked off now as Klein's "gotcha" squad is announced one day after dismal test score results from national tests are released, she was incensed in 2003 only a few months after the UFT supported Bloom-Klein's first school reform. Soon thereafter, Klein was attempting to micromanage everything including how teachers should use classroom rugs. Randi challenged Klein to teach and then there was the UFT's protest that the city should "Let teachers teach." There was a giant UFT rally at City Hall with that theme.

Then, there was the protracted Contract fight from 2003-2005 where Randi was angry with the proposal to have an eight page Contract that would have eliminated virtually all of our rights, but she still ignored strong warnings from ICE members of the Executive Board and went to non binding arbitration where the UFT lost. She ended up standing next to Klein for that famous kiss as she gave away so many of our rights in the 2005 Contract (longer day, school in August, no right to grieve file letters, return to hall and cafeteria patrol, suspension without pay based on Office of Special Investigations' Reports that are often biased against teachers, no more seniority or SBO transfers so schools have become Principal's patronage fiefdoms, no placement for excessed teachers and more) in exchange for salary increases that were the same as every other Municipal Union received except that we work more hours and get paid at the same rate for that extra time. Since then, it's been mostly a love fest as the next Contract was negotiated a year early.

There was the bus route change fiasco earlier this year. Bloom-Klein were having a real hard time as the UFT joined with parent organizations in opposing Klein's latest reorganization of the schools. A major rally was planned for the spring, but was cancelled when Klein made some minor changes to the reorganization that appeased Randi. By the start of this school year, she was joining with Bloom-Klein to say how smooth the opening was and the UFT had commercials on the radio urging collaboration between management and UFT Chapters. Simultaneously, Klein was rewriting rules for School Leadership Teams which were rendering Leadership teams powerless.

Now, Randi's furious one more time and demanding an apology from Bloom Klein over the "gotcha" team of prosecuting lawyers who are being sent in to help principals get rid of tenured teachers. Randi is supporting the vigil that U rated teachers had already planned and demanding an apology as well as the end of the "gotcha" squad. We are happy to see Randi supporting the vigil. However, Randi has gotten on and off the Bloomberg -Klein bandwagon so many times that it is quite difficult to figure out where she really stands.

Those of us who work in the schools have continually seen teaching and learning conditions deteriorate under Bloom-Klein. ICE has consistently opposed their anti-education, anti-union agenda and we have supported the parent groups opposing the administration. We have also called for an end to Mayoral Control of the schools to be replaced with real School Based Shared Decision Making between administration, parents and teachers with accountable oversight that is not tyrannical. Randi's support for the vigil and call for the apology are great but woefully inadequate. We need this to be the starting point to rebuild the UFT as a viable trade union.

Specifically, here is a ten point plan to revitalize the UFT which we would like implemented immediately:

1. Revitalize the trade union purposes of the UFT by sending out to the schools teams of UFT officials to encourage members to use the grievance process to protect our rights. No more officials coming to schools to push for the latest Department of Education "flavor of the month." Too many members feel little or no real union presence in their schools. That must change immediately if members are to have the confidence to stand up for their rights with rank and file actions.

2. The UFT created an award for Principals who collaborate with UFT Chapters; we would like to see an award and publicity in every issue of the NY Teacher for Chapters or individual members who stand up for their rights in the face of unwarranted attacks from administrators. Why should people be calling Norm Scott or ICE about their issues? They should be calling the UFT and the Union should be fighting assertively for its members.

3. Use the harassment provision of the Contract aggressively. Right now members are told to keep an extensive log before an intimidation/harassment case is lodged against a principal under Article 23 of the Contract. Why not make these cases routine as soon as the harassment of our members begins? Two negative file letters/observation reports should set a pattern and be enough for us to fight back and file a harassment/intimidation special complaint in most cases.

4. Encourage Chapter Leaders to tell their members that the Contract calls for us to be treated equitably and fairly (Article 22A) and if we are not, let's file grievances that are all moved forward quickly by the UFT and insist that the DOE follow time limits outlined in the Contract.

5. If the DOE refuses to hear grievances in a timely manner, let's go to court to force their hand.

6. Take the DOE to court or to the State Education Commissioner against U ratings that are unwarranted if the Chancellor will not overturn them. We have nothing to lose but our members must know that we are fighting for them with every weapon at our disposal.

7. Picket in front of schools where the UFT Chapter is not being respected by administration and call in the press.

8. Publicize the failures of management. For example, show how there is a huge problem with students who are mis-programmed in the high schools because there isn't enough time between the end of summer school and the start of the school year. Show examples of great teachers who can't get jobs because of a political hiring process that has turned schools into principal patronage fiefdoms. Tell the world about teachers who have PhDs who are watching students in cafeterias. Publicize how extra money that has been added to the education budget in NYC is not going to classrooms (Where are the lower class sizes from the CFE settlement?, etc...)

9. No more standing next to Bloom-Klein if they back off a little on their "gotcha" plan. We don't need any incremental gains. It's time to renounce their mismanagement of the schools and abuse of our members forever.

10. Demand an end to Mayoral Control of the schools. The system does not need to be fine tuned; it needs a major overhaul and now is the time to push for it as the law permitting the mayor unilateral control of city schools sunsets in 2009 and must be renewed by the State Legislature. We should not give a penny in UFT political contributions (COPE money) or any kind of support to any politician who does not oppose Mayoral control. It's time to mobilize our members to end it and not merely try to mend it.

We welcome our readers to add more suggestions to the list.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007



At the November 7, 2007 Delegate Assembly Meeting, UFT President Randi Weingarten motivated two amendments to a resolution that basically criticized the report card grades that the Department of Education is giving schools.  She made a long argument about how the UFT would oppose any school being closed based on the report card data and said she would support schools who want to challenge their grade with Union actions.   She turned down a similar request  on fighting school potential school closings with Union actions just three weeks earlier. 

Specifically the first of Randi's "President's Amendments" called for alternative accountability measures that would be fair and more transparent than the report cards that came out last week that gave schools an overall grade of A to F. 

The second amendment read as follows: "That, the UFT will support any school community that believes its score on the progress reports was not a fair or accurate reflection of the school's achievement or the hard work of it's educators; that support could involve appeals, demonstrations and other actions."  This wording sounds somewhat familiar.  A few weeks earlier at the October DA, Jeff Kauffman introduced two amendments to a resolution on Absent Teacher Reserves. 

The original resolved clause in an October 18 DA resolution talked about a hiring freeze until all ATR's are placed in a regular position.  ICE added two new resolved clauses as amendments to this resolution.  The first one tried to strengthen the UFT's position on school closings so that the closing of schools would be banned until it was proven to be educationally sound.  The second ICE amendment said: "Resolved, that the UFT use all available means including a publicity campaign, a mobilization of the membership, an appeal to the City Council, the State Legislature and the State Education Department to put maximum pressure on the Department of Education to implement the above Resolved clauses."  The Unity Caucus majority turned down these amendments on October 18.  Randi gave a speech saying we have lost the fight in court on schools being closed.

Fast forward three weeks and now Randi is writing her own amendments saying that the UFT will take strong actions to protect schools that feel they are being unjustly graded.   Remember Chancellor Joel Klein has said that he would close schools based on negative report card grades. Thanks Randi, it's good to have you taking an ICE like position on fighting actively to oppose failing grades that could lead to the closing of schools. 

We would gladly welcome Randi to take the ICE position on fighting to win back all of the horrific givebacks from the 2005 punitive Contract such as ending merit pay and starting school for us after Labor Day so schools can be fully prepared to open.  In addition, we would welcome Randi's support to help us win back the right to grieve negative file letters and observations, bring back seniority and/or School Based Option Transfers and get us out of hall and cafeteria patrol as well as ending suspension without pay based on biased Office of Special Investigations Reports.

In other DA news, ICE had its own resolution to present on Merit Pay that we did not get a chance to bring forward at the November DA because Randi ran the clock out on the ten minute motion period, allowing just one motion to be brought up.

Members of ICE also pointed out that a resolution that would help mobilize UFT members to support disaster relief efforts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic left out victims of recent hurricanes in Mexico, Jamaica and other countries in the Caribbean.  When this resolution was finally raised, there were very few delegates remaining in the hall and Jeff Kaufman called for a quorum (A quorum is the minimum amount of members necessary to conduct business and for UFT bodies that means 20%.)  The quorum call was ignored by Special Assistant to the President Michael Mendel who at this time was chairing the meeting as Randi had left for another engagement.  (We saw her about an hour later on NY1's Inside City Hall program.) The original resolution passed but Mendel did come to us after the meeting to assure members of ICE that he would draft a new resolution that would encompass all hurricane victims to be included in the UFT disaster relief efforts. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Letter from Chicago

By George N. Schmidt

Report Cards Spell Closings -- Welcome to Chicago

Colleagues and friends:

After reading the Sun story about the future fate of the "D" and "F" public
schools in New York City, my first thought was "Welcome to Chicago." We'll be
publishing a seven-part series on how Chicago has pioneered many of the most
odious aspects of No Child Left Behind since the imposition of the mayoral
dictatorship model of corporate "school reform" here in 1995. I'm starting the
series with a story about how many schools were closed, how many teachers were driven out of their professions, and how many kids (almost all black, here) were destroyed by that process, which began here in a big way in early 2002.

If you were to ask for two suggestions, here they are:

1. Fight like hell against any closings based on these rankings and sorting,
and fight like double hell against the system that is now in place to rank and
sort schools, but not capitalist exploitation in the community, as a way of
doing "accountability." Ultimately, our ruling class holds everyone but itself

2. Get all of the names, addresses, and other contact information of everyone
in every school before everyone is dispersed. Do not rely on professors or
other professional studiers of such things. In Chicago, a key component of the
destruction of more than 20 all-black schools (and their staffs, the majority
of whom in each case were black) required that the university people claim in
the press that they were going to "track" every child to make sure no one was

That was a lie, and I personally heard Tony Bryk (then at the University of
Chicago; now at Stanford) tell it to a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times
during the press briefing that launched the school closings (for "failure")
iteration of corporation school reform here in 2002. Bryk, along with Melissa
Roderick and John Easton (all of the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research) was a key player in covering up the destruction of so many children's lives in that process. The conflicts of interest for the three of them (at the time, Roderick and Easton were working for Chicago's Board of Education as well as for the Consortium, and Bryk's wife was head of a group that was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts) was a small scale version of the contracting and corruption scandals elsewhere (like Reading First) in the current education world.

I would expect that BloomKlein will roll out some professors to assuage any
guilt about how they results will impact kids, and unless you are constantly
ready to challenge those professors (even the ones who talk sweetly and come
with a "progressive" pedigree) you will be weaker in this horrifying process.

I know you've already challenged some of the nonsense that's come with school semi-closings, like John Lawhead's work around the "small schoolsization" of Bushwick. There, too, you have to challenge the professors. Here in Chicago, Billy Ayers and Mike Klonsky's "Small Schools Network" got more than a half million in CPS contracts in the late 1990s to dismantle minority schools and often attack the local union leadership -- as at Bowen High School where I was union delegate. If you are mesmerized by people who write books and prance around in front of university seminars as "progressives", you're in for a terrible shock. But it will be the children who suffer most from this next and ugliest iteration of "school reform."

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance

Monday, November 05, 2007

Drawing a line in the sand: Stop making concessions on vital education issues!

What's wrong with making an extra $3,000 dollars?

By: Lisa North

As a union that represents the profession of educators, we have the responsibility to speak for the profession. What are we saying when we agree to a plan that will reward educators for test scores? The Bloomberg/Klein/Bush administrations believe the answer to improving urban education is for teachers to work harder to raise test scores. Despite our union leaders' claims that indicators like attendance, graduation rates, and parent surveys will be used, 85% of the bonus money will be based on scores. Our union, the voice of professional educators, has now signed on to that premise.

It is well known, as recently pointed out by Diane Ravitch, that test scores fluctuate from year to year based on how easy or hard they are (Daily News article 9/4/07). The UFT High Stakes Testing Committee spent a year studying the issue and concluded, "those who advocate for the misuse of student test scores to evaluate individuals, schools, and entire school systems are ignorant of or choose to ignore the fact that the makers of these tests never intended them to be used for those purposes."

Our union told us that by signing this bonus/merit pay program we avoided individual merit pay. Where is the line in the sand? Do we continue to make concession after concession until we have lost the battle for high quality education?

Improving urban education requires addressing the social and economic inequalities of our society. Our students need better health care, housing, and jobs for their parents. Our schools need more resources to lower class size, provide real time to collaborate on how best to improve teaching (not collaboration to raise test scores), high quality summer and after school programs in every school (not test prep programs), and high quality parent education programs.

School wide bonus/merit pay plans are a retreat in the face of this mission.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pension Deal & Merit Pay Plan Breakdown: The Good, The Bad and the Utterly Insulting

by James Eterno, Chapter Leader Jamaica High School

(The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent pension advice. We recommend that for pension advice members should call a qualified pension consultant. )

There has been a great deal of discussion on the blogs and in schools about the pension deal and the merit pay plan. Before we begin please note that currently Tier IV members need to have 30 years of service and be at least 55 to retire without penalty or they have to be 62 years old and meet other criteria.

It is also important to note that the proposed 55/25 will provide a pension without a penalty. If someone retires at 55 with 25 years of service, the final pension you receive will be 10% less than if you retired with 30 years. Obviously, the more years you work, the greater the pension.

Listed below is the actual 2005 Contractual language for pension legislation along with much of a letter from city Labor Commissioner James Hanley to Randi Weingarten. Hopefully, after reading this piece UFT members will have some factual information for when the parade of Unity representatives come to the schools to try to sell yet another questionable deal, even though we won't even get to vote on this one because we already approved most of this in the 2005 Contract.

Article 4C from the 2005 Contract called Pension Legislation:

1. A Labor-Management Pension Committee will be established to investigate legislation allowing all current and future members of the TRS Tier II, III and IV to retire without a reduction of benefits due to early retirement upon age 55 with at least 25 years of service, as well as other relevant pension issues.

2. The Committee will analyze the actual costs and additional contribution rates required to provide this benefit (including any additional health insurance benefit costs) without any cost to the City.

3. Upon mutual acceptance of the Committee's recommendations, including plan design and costs, the parties agree to jointly support the legislation necessary to implement the benefit changes.

The Four main provisions of the pension agreement that were written in a letter from city labor commissioner to UFT President Randi Weingarten last week that goes now to Albany for approval.

(1) An "opt-in period" of six months in which any incumbent employee who wishes to participate in this optional program must affirmatively submit a written election to participate.

(2) Additional Member Contributions (AMC) - in addition to all currently required statutory contributions, an Additional Member Contribution (AMC) of 1.85% shall be paid by those employees electing to participate in this optional program as well as by all newly-hired employees participating in the TRS and newly-hired UFT-represented above listed members participating in BERS retirement systems. These additional member contributions shall become effective on the first business day after the enactment of the enabling legislation.

(3) Current incumbent employees including those on leave who elect to participate in this optional program and who pay the requisite AMC shall be eligible to retire at age 55 with 25 years of credited service with immediate payability of pension benefits without any reduction. Assuming the legislation is effectuated in 2007-08 school year, those who elect this pension will be eligible to retire 6/30/08 or later.

(4) Employees hired after enactment of this enabling legislation shall be eligible to retire at age 55 with 27 years of service and receive immediate payability of pension benefits without any reduction. This will not be construed to change the eligibility for retiree health insurance benefits (i.e., ten years of credited service and pension payability) as determined by the City and the Municipal Labor Committee and in accordance with the Administrative Code.

So Who Wins and Loses?

The Pension Agreement

The Winners

1. Generally, UFT members who started in the system (or another system but got city TRS pension credit for it) between the ages of 26 and 36 should consider opting in on 55/25 even though they will have to pay 1.85% of their salary for the rest of their career into their pension. They will be able to retire when they complete at least 25 years of service as long as they are at least 55 years old without the substantial percentage reduction in pension income that exists now. (If someone opts in and changes their mind and decides to stay the full 30 years or until age 62, I doubt they will get a refund of those additional contributions so if you opt in, you will probably need to retire as soon as you can to stay a winner.)

2. Anyone who started in the retirement system younger than age 26 but took substantial time off on un-credited, unpaid leave (child care, restoration of health without pay) which means they won't have the required 30 years of service that is needed to retire at age 55 without opting in to 55/25 . Anyone in this category also should consider opting in if they want to retire at age 55 with at least 25 years of service without a reduction. Remember, however, you will have to pay 1.85% of salary into the retirement system for the rest of your career if you opt in.

3. People who cover classes gain as coverages will be counted as income when figuring out the Final Average Salary that pension payments are based upon.

4. The City of New York- The NY Times reported last Thursday that Bloomberg expects the city will gain tens of millions of dollars over the long term from this agreement. For more on how the city gains, read on.

The No Gainers

1. Anyone who started before age 26 (and will work straight through until retirement) cannot retire a day earlier because of this agreement as far as we can tell. They will still need to work at least 30 years to collect a full pension upon retirement.

2. Anyone who started at age 37 or later cannot retire a day earlier because of this agreement as far as we can tell because they won't have the years of service that are necessary to take advantage of the new program. At age 62, their retirement won't be subject to a reduction in benefits.

3. Tier I members

Note that all of the no gainers could gain from coverages being pensionable.

The Big Losers

Teachers not yet hired-

Right now UFT members have to pay 3% of their salary into the pension for the first ten years of service and then nothing for the rest of their career. Under the new system they will have to pay 4.85% for the first ten years and 1.85% thereafter but they will not be permitted to retire at 55 with 25 years of service as was agreed to in Article 4C1 of the Contract. Instead, the new agreement says they have to complete 27 years and be at least 55. In addition, a teacher hired right out of college at age 22 will have to work 33 years to be able to retire and unlike those teaching now, they will have to make pension contributions for their entire career, not just the first ten years of service. That is why we are calling this provision a de-facto Tier V and this is how the city wins.

We would like everyone who reads this blog who would like to question a Unity representative to ask why Randi gave up so many of our rights in the 2005 Contract but she couldn't get what the city agreed to in the Contract: "legislation allowing all current and future members of the TRS Tier II, III and IV to retire without a reduction of benefits due to early retirement upon age 55 with at least 25 years of service?" Emphasis on future members added by us. 55/27 for yet to be hired teachers is not 55/25 and pension contributions for new teachers for their entire careers is a step backwards.

Merit Pay

The little ugly merit pay provision was snuck into the last Contract in an Article 8L which you won't find much about in those glossy "fact sheets" and special NY Teacher editions selling the punitive giveback laden Contract that among other indignities forced us back to hall patrols and gave us work in August. The school-wide bonuses for improved student performance are there also. Article 8L says:

Labor/Management Committee On Long Term Reforms

With regard to the long term recommendations the 2005 Fact Finders made subject to adequate CFE funding, the parties shall establish a Labor Management Committee to discuss the following issues: a)bonuses, including housing bonuses, for shortage license areas; b) a pilot project for school-wide based performance bonuses for sustained growth in student achievement c) salary differentials at the MA-5 through MA-7 levels; and d) a program for the reduction of class sizes in all grades and divisions. If the parties agree on the terms of any or all of these issues, they may be implemented by the Board using whatever funds may be identified.

You see ladies and gentlemen we voted for merit pay when we voted for the 2005 Contract.

Is anyone holding their breath waiting for the class size reduction program in Article 8L to be implemented?

The Winners


The Grand Losers

New York City educators, parents, students and anyone nationally who attempts to follow NYC and implement such a dumb merit pay plan. We will see millions of dollars that could go to worthy projects such as lowering class sizes, adding more guidance counselors, social workers or paras, or starting up more after school programs that instead will be raised for a completely useless merit pay plan whose underlying assumption is that if the city dangles a possible $3,000 in front of a school staff, then teachers will work harder than they are working now and veteran teachers will run to transfer to difficult schools for that potential 3 grand. This merit pay plan is a combination boondoggle-slap in our faces.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


We often say that teaching and learning conditions cannot possibly get any worse in the New York City Public Schools and we are constantly proven wrong by the Chancellor and the UFT leadership. UFT President Randi Weingarten went in with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein and made the lives of educators she is supposed to represent even more unbearable by agreeing to school-wide merit pay. The deal was announced at the first UFT Delegate Assembly meeting on Wednesday and approved by the delegates. While Randi has been urging us to write faxes to Washington opposing individual merit pay, she was negotiating a deal with Bloomberg that will give us school-wide merit pay for student achievement gains in up to 200 low performing schools this school year and 400 next year. This is supposed to be a pilot project with 55% of UFT staff in each pilot school having to vote to opt in the program and the Principal has to agree to be a part of it as well.

Also, if a school agrees to be in the merit pay program, then it could be a positive factor in determining whether the "Participant School" is to be phased out or given a year's moratorium on a possible phase-out. The DOE in consultation with the UFT will set the criteria for awarding funds to schools. The amount will be $3,000 per member in a school. How that money will be divided will be decided by a committee made up of the principal, an assistant principal and two UFT members who are elected. This group must reach a consensus on how to distribute the bonuses or the school will receive nothing.

Clause twelve of the Memorandum of Agreement states: "Among the topics each Participant School compensation committee may decide to consider, after receiving guidance from the DOE and UFT, are whether to make equal individual awards to all eligible UFT staff, equal awards to all those in the same title (teachers paras, secretaries, counselors, etc...), or whether to make differential awards." As we read this, there is nothing that would stop a compensation committee from awarding various members nothing or they could give teachers more than counselors, or any combination that the committee wants. If a simple majority of the UFT Chapter votes to accept what the committee comes up with, then that's the award. Therefore if a school has fifty UFT members and the school's compensation committee decides to give 26 of them $6,000 and everyone else gets nothing and the twenty six agree to this, then everyone else would get nothing. That of course is an extreme example but we know it is not out of the realm of the possible. In addition, a vindictive principal could block consensus to spite a staff and give them nothing. There is an appeal process but all administration would have to do is prove they were not acting in an arbitrary and capricious way.

Merit pay could prove to be very divisive. For example what if there is a teacher who has tougher grading standards, there will be major pressure on that teacher and all teachers to pass everyone. The potential for cheating on tests and marking or playing with attendance numbers will be enormous.
What is most insulting about the merit pay program is the assumption by Randi and the city that the only reason any of us will be motivated to do our best in the classroom is so we can get an extra $3,000.


The other big news from the DA was that the promised 55 years of age and 25 years working in the system retirement program should become a reality now that the city and the UFT have agreed to its final cost. The only step left is to get the Legislature and Governor to sign off which should not be a major hurdle since the city and UFT are now working together. When we looked very closely at the details of the letter that City Labor Commissioner James Hanley sent to Randi, it became obvious that this isn't a pension improvement for most UFT members but rather it is a new retirement tier, a De-facto Tier V for teachers yet to be hired.

For those currently in the system, there will be an "opt-in period" of six months to decide whether to participate. Weingarten told the DA that 36,000 members out of 100,000 active members would potentially be eligible. A member would have to make Additional Member Contributions of 1.85% for the rest of their career to be eligible to retire at age 55 with 25 years of service without the penalty that exists under current law.

For members not yet hired the situation is not at all positive. Anyone hired after this legislation is enacted would have to pay 4.85% of salary toward the pension for their first ten years of service and then new hires would have to pay 1.85% of their salary as contributions to the pension for the rest of their career. However, the new employees would not be eligible to retire with 25 years of service but instead they would have to be 55 and have finished 27 years of service.

Someone who starts teaching right out of college at age 22 is totally abused by the new system as they would have to pay pension contributions (4.85% for ten years and then 1.85% for the rest of their career) for 33 years before being eligible to retire without penalty. Right now the same college graduate who started in the system this year only has to make a 3% pension contribution for their first ten years of service. This is why we are calling this system a de-facto Tier V. It is another disincentive to teach in New York City for a young college graduate. ICE would also like to point out that once again we were right when we said the following on this blog last November when the Contract was proposed: "Let's remember that we have still not gotten the 25-55 year retirement that was supposed to have been won in our last contract. Will the 7% raise turn out to be much less?" For a teacher hired after the new law is passed, much of that 7% is gone for their entire career. Young teachers would be better off in yet another way working in a system in New York State outside of New York City or starting in the city, gaining experience and then going to a suburban district.

Both the De-facto Tier V and the merit pay scheme were overwhelmingly approved by the delegates but there was an enthusiastic opposition. Hopefully, word will get out in the schools about how future teachers will be hurt by the UFT pension scheme and we now have merit pay which we have opposed for years.


In other Delegate Assembly news the delegates rejected a proposal by Peter Lamphere from Teachers for a Just Contract that called for the UFT to lead an AFT fight that would culminate in a rally in Washington opposing of all things, merit pay. The delegates also rejected two ICE amendments to a resolution asking for a moratorium on hiring new educators until all Absent Teacher Reserves (UFT members in excess) are placed. ICE believes that the resolution has little or no chance of being accepted by the Chancellor because there are no union actions that would support it. Randi at the September 25 Chapter leaders meeting said that it would be difficult to get the Chancellor to agree to the moratorium on hiring until ATR's are placed. We believe it will be impossible if the Union does not back the resolution with a full scale mobilization of UFT resources.

Jeff Kaufman motivated the amendments by telling Randi that she was in effect telling the ATR's "to go to hell," because she will not put the full weight and force of the Union behind the resolution to help them. ICE also believes that one of the biggest causes of the ATR problem is the closing of schools where again the Union needed to mobilize its members to get a moratorium on closing schools until we can have studies done assessing the effectiveness of closing schools on the educational process. Randi said we lost that battle in a court case years ago. The UFT won't even consider a real fight to keep its chapters together. When it comes to working for its members, this union once again proved it knows only one word:


When will the people who work in the schools say, "Enough already?"

Monday, October 15, 2007


In a recent New York Sun article UFT newly hired "Rubber Room" guru Betsy Combier is reported to have joined forces with two New York Teacher journalists and dubbed themselves the "SWAT Team of the Reassignment Center." As previously stated on this blog the three person team is Randi's answer to the increasing pressure to do something about the burgeoning rubber room. But, alas, more of the same.

The real issue in this fiasco is the lack of union leadership in dealing with the DOE's increased use of the rubber rooms as a place to dump, what it considers, troublemakers, questioning staff and others it does not like. The fact that the UFT has totally failed in representing these accused members zealously is lost in the shuffle.

When a principal gets the o.k. (which is freely given in this age of principal autocracy) a member is ordered to report to a rubber room. Many times these members have little or no inkling as to what they have done to deserve the removal from their school and students. The union's reaction to such removal is basically nothing.

There is no investigation. There is no consultation with a labor attorney. There is no explanation of rights. In most cases the Union doesn't even know a person has been removed.

As the case against the member gets old the DOE has fully investigated the allegations and has spent months (and even years) preparing for a hearing to terminate the member. The Union's response…until charges are served there is no investigation. After charges are served the matter is referred to a NYSUT attorney where the "investigation" begins…by the same NYSUT attorney. There are no paralegals, investigators or anyone with knowledge about employment law, the DOE or anything else that will be involved in the case.

NYSUT attorneys do not issue subpoenas (too much work to go to court) or FOIL requests or interview witnesses other than those supplied by the member and at this point the issues are stale and memories have faded.

But we now have the SWAT team who will come to the rescue. And they threaten a lawsuit. A lawsuit for what? How do you sue for better representation?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Randi Reports Smooth School Opening at Citywide Chapter Leader Meeting in Brooklyn

by James Eterno Jamaica High School Chapter Leader

UFT President Randi Weingarten told us Tuesday at a Citywide Chapter Leader meeting at the Brooklyn Marriot Hotel that there was a smooth opening to the school year. She added that it was the smoothest opening she had seen in years. She went on to say that there were only 4,000 class size grievances filed compared to 6,000 to 17,000 in years past. Randi also stated that the open market transfer plan has led to 3,400 people transferring and members at all seniority levels were taking advantage of the open market in greater numbers than under the old seniority plan.

Randi continued by saying that there were two problem areas that the UFT was focusing on: Absent Teacher Reserves and people in Rubber Rooms. She noted that there were about 500 Absent Teacher Reserves who were funded centrally and that the UFT was seeking a Board of Education moratorium on hiring until all of the ATR's who want a position are placed. She added that people from closed or redesigned schools should have preferences for available jobs. She also noted that members can't be laid off unless there is a city fiscal crisis. For people with unsatisfactory ratings, Randi said that justice delayed is justice denied and that she is pushing Joel Klein, who she noted cannot fire tenured teachers, to move forward cases that by law will be heard by independent arbitrators even though she understood that some of our members are so traumatized that they don't want their cases to be pushed. She said she put a three person team together to work with people in the rubber rooms.

Randi also told the Chapter Leaders Teachers' Choice allocation has been increased. Finally, she reported on some good news and bad news. The bad news was that reauthorization of No Child Left Behind might include a mandate for individual merit pay based on student test scores so she wanted all of the Chapter Leaders to sign letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their local Congressperson objecting. She also said that 55 years old and 25 years in the system retirement plan proposed as part of the last Contract is still being negotiated with the City but talks may have been slowed down because of the United Auto Workers strike. Other topics touched upon were helping a school library in New Orleans, the organizing drive for the home day care workers and an update on grievances.

Since the UFT leadership gave a relatively upbeat assessment on the start of the school year, it leads to a few questions that we would enjoy hearing answers to from our readers:

Is the opening of this school year as smooth as Randi portrayed?

Is 2,000 fewer oversized classes a cause for celebration or disgust considering how the city's school's budget has increased over the last few years? Is the money really going to the classroom if there are still 4,000 oversize classes?

Is the open market transfer plan a true improvement over the old seniority and SBO plans?

It seems that whenever the UFT leadership compares the situation today with the process that existed before the punitive 2005 Contract, they only compare seniority transfers with open market transfers. This is an apples to oranges comparison. Before the 2005 Contract, approximately half of the schools were using the SBO Transfer and Staffing plan where hiring committees (not Principals alone) selected staff while the seniority plan was limited by its nature since only half of each school's vacancies had to be posted. In addition, in the new system people who are excessed who find a job on the open market are counted as transferring. The point is if we add all of the seniority transfers, SBO transfers, people who were excessed and then placed in a different school, members who used the integration transfer plan, hardship transfers as well as administrative transfers under the old system, then we would have a little more of an apples to apples comparison of the new and old plans. The UFT spin is obviously tilted toward the open market plan which we maintain has turned school staffing into a patronage mill for principals.

Why not push every UFT member to sign a letter to Pelosi and their local congressperson opposing the current reauthorization of No Child Left Behind? Couldn't this be a great organizing tool in the schools?

Please comment as we want to know what members who follow this blog think about the state of the schools today.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rubber Room Redux

In an incredible reversal of Union policy, Randi and the New York Teacher are using the term “Rubber Room” to refer to the those staff that have been removed from their schools, most without knowledge of the reason for their removal and almost all without formal charges. In the past we were told to only use the DOE term "Temporary Reassignment Center."

While the terms have reverted the Union’s handling of this issue has not changed.

The New York Teacher article, September 20, 2007 at page 7, reveals the true low priority that our reassigned teachers receive from our Union. While quoting the Sixth Amendment and the right to a speedy trial and witness confrontation Randi would have us believe that the Union is an effective advocate for our teachers. Her solution to burgeoning numbers of teachers sent to the rubber room; get three more Union over-paid reps to act as a team to “help” the borough reps.

Help them do what?

Last year ICE warned that with newly gained power over our members, principals would remove our us from schools at an ever increasing rate. Well we are here. The numbers in the Rubber Rooms are exploding. At one site, 25 Chapel Street in Brooklyn, the numbers have nearly doubled from just 2 years ago.

The opposition on the Executive Board moved to have true representation of our members. We sought paralegals, investigators and a true legal defense team to aggressively defend our members.

When a teacher or para is removed from their school they are entitled to know the reason. A basic tenet of speedy and fair trials is notice….the principals and the DOE know why a Union member is removed, why don’t we?

We encourage a policy to empty the rubber rooms but Randi would have it done by ill-prepared NYSUT attorneys who don’t get your case until the DOE decides and then months have gone by without out any real investigation being done on behalf of the member.

The Three Stooges will not be investigators, paralegals nor will they have any incentive to aggressively defend our members.

As Dostoevsky once said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." The effectiveness of the UFT as a true Union and advocate for its members can be judged by entering the Rubber Rooms.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jamaica Chapter Thanks Randi

by James Eterno UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica High School

We criticize the UFT leaders when we believe they are wrong but we should also applaud them when they do right by us as they did today. There is no doubt at all that UFT President Randi Weingarten was 100% supportive today with regard to events happening at Jamaica High School.

Jamaica was in the news because of a leaked memo from last spring that directed deans not to call 911. Unfortunately, a girl suffered a stroke after this memo was put out and there was a delay in her receiving help because of the ridiculous directive.

We fought the directive and it was soon thereafter reversed with the help of the UFT.

Now that the issue has hit the news in full force, the UFT leadership has been in our corner at Jamaica. Randi spoke to me twice this afternoon and she also had Chris Policano and Ron Davis from the UFT communication's department talk to me. In addition, they were very encouraging when I was talking to the media.

Even though I ended up on the cutting room floor at CNN, I felt completely supported by the UFT leadership as well as ICE as Jeff Kaufman provided valuable advice too. The statement from the UFT President is printed below.

Statement by United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

"What happened at Jamaica High School is a horrible consequence of the pressure many school communities, particularly principals, feel to not report serious incidents in their schools or to minimize their significance in order to avoid schools being labeled as ineffective or persistently dangerous. For a school administrator to forbid calls to 911 shows how far one can stray from common sense and basic decency when the system is set up to discourage the reporting of incidents in schools.

"Accountability systems -- school report cards, for example -- must give credit for complete reporting of incidents, not penalize it. We must reverse the "Catch-22" that now exists, in which schools that step up and report incidents are punished. The system needs real incentives that make it possible for administrators to be open and honest about what is going on so that their schools can get the help and resources they need and parents can make informed decisions regarding their children's well-being."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Teachers, Parents, Students to Lose Power on School Leadership Teams if Chancellor's Regulation A655 is Changed

UFT Opposition to Changes so far Quite Low Key

by James Eterno UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica High School

The school year is under way and all appears wonderful on the outside.  Last Tuesday on the first day of classes for students, UFT President Randi Weingarten , Council of Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn were with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein and Governor Elliot Spitzer in a show of unity for the start of the year. Some of you may have heard the latest optimistic UFT radio commercial.  This is the ad that is running on major radio stations where a male voice is requesting that it is time for the city to work with its teachers to create a  learning environment in the schools where teachers are partners with administration and share in decision making.  Then, Randi comes on and says that the message is brought to you by the UFT.  The timing to release this commercial calling for a collegial school environment is ironic to say the least as currently the Department of Education is attempting to strip parents, teachers and students of decision making authority on School Leadership Teams. 

School Leadership Teams are supposed to exist in every school.  They consist of parents, teachers (including the chapter leader), administrators in all schools and students are involved at the high school level.  The SLT's are responsible for making up each school's Comprehensive Education Plan and to develop a budget and staffing plan aligned with the CEP.  Decisions are supposed to be made by consensus between all constituencies on the SLT.  State law calls for shared decision making between parents, teachers and administrators.

At our first District Chapter Leader Meeting, UFT Queens High School District Representative James Vascuez handed us a packet and buried inside was a flyer asking us to "Take Action Now" because the Chancellor is attempting to weaken School Leadership Teams.  Under the proposed change to Chancellors Regulation A655 which covers School Leadership Teams, the teams would go from being collaborative to working under the principal.  A draft of a new A655 says, "...the principal makes the final determination on the CEP and the budget allocation."  Since SLT's are responsible for developing a schools' Comprehensive Education Plan, giving the Principal final say on the Leadership Team renders the SLT powerless and gives the principals even more dictatorial authority over schools.  This flies in the face of  part 100.11 of state education regulations which mandates shared decision making among parents, teachers and administrators.  The UFT is quite correct to oppose the change to Chancellor's Regulation A655.  The question is why is the UFT publicly talking about teachers sharing decision making with administration while Chancellor Klein is rewriting a regulation to strip away the authority parents, students and teachers have in schools? 

Perhaps the UFT's leadership believes that the only way to win favor with Bloomberg and Klein is to privately push to stop the changes in the SLT regulation and not mention it in public.  The Mayor constantly tells people not to yell and scream if they want something.  This may be the case however there is a public comment period until September 16, 2007 on the proposed changes to Chancellor's Regulation A655.  Why isn't the UFT at least informing its chapter leaders though multiple special emails and the weekly email newsletter or better still sending emails to all of our members who have email accounts and our parent allies about yet another attack on teacher, parent and student rights? 

We should be mobilizing to bombard the DOE with emails to opposing any change to A655 that would weaken shared decision making.    Wasn't the revitalization of the School Leadership Teams, not their weakening, one of the gains we supposedly made in negotiations to "postpone" the big rally last spring with the teachers, parents and students?  It looks like the UFT is waging an extremely low key opposition to yet another attack on us.

This is not the time for the UFT to  join along with the Bloomberg-Klein happy talk about the schools.  We need to lead the battle now to enhance teacher, parent and student shared decision making authority on School Leadership Teams.  ICE urges everyone to send an email to before September 16 opposing the weakening of the School Leadership Teams and send Randi a copy if you would like to also. It's not too late to make this a real campaign.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007



by James Eterno UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica High School

Those of us who work for the City of New York are well acquainted with pattern bargaining. One municipal union settles on a contract with the city that has a certain percentage salary increase, and other unions are then basically certain to receive the same percentage salary increase for the length of that particular round of collective bargaining. DC 37 set the pattern for the UFT's current Agreement when they agreed to a contract in 2006 and we took similar terms so this year we will get a 2% increase on October 13 and a 5% increase on May 19, 2008. Our Contract will expire October 31, 2009.

Two city unions have already extended past 2009. The NYPD sergeants' union and later the NYPD captains' union agreed to set what we think should be a new pattern that extends for roughly two more years through 2011. The annual increases for the sergeants and captains in those two new years are 4%. Since they are uniformed services who traditionally often get a slightly higher increase than civilian unions like the UFT, we cannot guarantee increases of 4% and 4% for 2010 and 2011, but there is no reason why we shouldn't get close. DC 37 is in salary negotiations now. They could set a civilian pattern possibly sooner rather than later. (The PBA [New York City police officers' union] is attempting to obliterate pattern bargaining in arbitration but it's debatable as to whether they can succeed.)

With the financial pattern for city workers probably established for 2010 and 2011 by other unions long before the UFT even starts to negotiate, we recommend a strategy of emphasizing non economic matters when the UFT goes back to the bargaining table. We need to start by winning back what we gave away in the punitive 2005 Contract.

The UFT should be out there emphasizing how these two days of school in August before Labor Day are generally a waste of time. Administrators should use this time to properly reorganize so school openings won't be so hectic every year. The UFT should not be touting the open market transfer plan, but instead we should inform the public about how much teaching talent is being wasted out there as Absent Teacher Reserves because of the current system for excessed personnel that no longer guarantees placement in a school. We should talk about how not having a grievance process for objecting to file letters and negative observation reports has lowered morale (other grievances remain in the Contract). We should find out how much taxpayer money is wasted because of insane charges against teachers. We should also demand an end to hall and cafeteria duty citywide. It is demeaning to get a masters degree to walk hallways.

In addition to getting back what was lost in 2005, we should push for real class size reductions and real caseload limits for guidance counselors and other UFT titles; no more loopholes for the Board of Ed. We are well aware that the city will say these are economic issues but they can use the money from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit settlement. In summary, we need to insist upon professional treatment for all UFT titles.

The nation as a whole is coping with high teacher turnover according to the Monday, August 27, 2007 edition of the NY Times. We should make the next contract about improving our professionalism so quality teachers will want to stay in teaching as a career. We need to show the world the value of veteran educators who have been degraded in recent times.

Finally, the law that permitted unilateral Mayoral control of the NYC public schools in 2002 will expire in 2009 and will have to be renewed by the state legislature where we have some friends, so we should have some real leverage in the next few years. Teachers must be empowered in any system that is developed for school governance as well as in the next Contract.

What do you think? Please let us know.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

UFT To Members: Seniority is No Longer An Issue Because We Eviscerated It

When I was in college I studied labor history. We studied the development of unionism as an agency for change and protection in the workplace and then as a strong political force in both local and national politics. As unions developed in the various sectors of society certain fundamental concepts of unionism developed.

It is axiomatic that unions represent the best interests of their membership. When they don't they no longer have the legitimacy to be exclusive bargaining representatives. One of the concepts that has developed to protect all union members is seniority.

Seniority, simply put, provides special benefit to union members who have been members the longest. It provides a mechanism to protect members by ensuring that employer decisions are made in a fair, non-discriminatory way and without regard to union activity.

So important is seniority in organized labor that union officials are often given "super-seniority" to protect the union and the unit from arbitrary and discriminatory action by the employer.

Seniority works in a variety a ways. The most important is layoff seniority. Here, employees are laid-off in a way which prevents an employer from discriminating against individual workers. The UFT has not had a teacher layoff since my college days but there have been layoffs for paras and other titles much more recently.

In 2003, in a feeble effort to destroy the para title, the DOE decided to layoff large numbers of paras when the UFT allowed a no layoff provision to sunset. I can remember a meeting of almost 30 paras in the Rikers chapel in which the principal explained that there was nothing he could do but hope that the DOE would reverse its decision. Speaking on behalf of the UFT as the Chapter Leader I advised all the paras in my Chapter that the "no lay-off provision" was no longer in effect. I assured them that the layoff would be by seniority order and that any rehiring would also be done that way.

I had some difficulty getting a district-wide para seniority list but eventually obtained one. I made sure all of the layoffs were done properly and that paras were listed correctly.

To my surprise, when we returned at the start of the next school year, all of the paras were back to work in my school. The principal told me proudly that he had worked out a deal that allowed their return even though paras with higher seniority in other schools were not called back.

I was in an awful bind. How could I fight against the principal's deal when my Chapter clearly benefited from this discrimination? How could the Union approve the clear violation of seniority rules?

I did not have to live with the dilemma for long as within a couple of weeks the DOE reconsidered and hired back all of the laid off paras. I found out later there was no "deal." Rather the Union had decided not to do anything about it at that time. They were just happy that some of the paras were called back and were not willing to risk political capital on asserting a seniority right.

In hindsight it is now abundantly clear that the UFT has no concern for seniority because it has stopped acting like a Union for some time.

While layoffs, in this economy, seem unlikely (at least for teachers) seniority also plays an important part in most organized sectors in work assignment. The UFT, since its inception, jealously guarded seniority in work assignments including mounting a strike to protect it.

The seniority transfer system became an institutional mechanism to protect this right and while never perfectly implemented it clearly allowed some protection for senior teachers. The DOE developed ways around the seniority transfer system such as not listing all vacancies or working deals with the Union when new schools opened but on the whole the system provided a safety valve based on non-discriminatory criteria for teachers, who needed to move to another school for any reason or no reason at all.

Then along came our new contract and the eradication of seniority transfer and in its place the "open market." The "open market" couldn't fly in the face of historical and fundamental union values any more. It permits the wholesale discrimination against senior and other disliked teachers, Chapter Leaders or anyone else. No longer do teachers have a union-protected work assignment right on transfer.

At the time that the contract was ratified Randi and her union-paid supporters heralded the loss of the seniority transfer system as a great victory for the union. "No longer would less senior teachers be bumped" and "now all vacancies would be listed" were some of the arguments they made.

After a short time it became clear that not only was the "open market" a fraud but an underclass of absent teacher reservists would give the DOE what it wanted…unfettered discretion in teacher work assignments. Teachers could be moved around the system at the whim of administrators.

Whole districts reorganized, Bronx and Brooklyn High Schools closed and principals mostly fill vacancies with untenured Fellows. Where's the Union?

In a recent article published in Washington DC's CityPaper
our Union's spokesperson is quoted about the loss of the seniority transfer system, something they are contemplating in DC. The article ends, aptly:

Ron Davis, a spokesperson for the New York teachers' union, declined to say how happy his group has been with the new system but says the union has indeed moved on. "I'd have to say we have other concerns [now]," he says. "It would not be an ongoing bone of contention for the membership."