Sunday, January 28, 2007


The latest piece of literature from New Action (NAC) is laughable. New Action was the oldest opposition caucus (political party) in the UFT. Randi Weingarten's party, Unity, has run the UFT since the union was founded in 1960. New Action claims that President Randi Weingarten "changed a forty year policy of excluding opposition caucuses from having a voice in the UFT." When did she exactly change that policy? The answer is never. What was the actual change? The answer to this one is unfortunately quite simple: Weingarten promised and delivered paid jobs to New Action's leaders and they now support her.

There were members of New Action and other people opposed to Unity on UFT Committees making UFT policy throughout the 1990's, well before Randi was President. Even the supposedly important negotiating committee was opened up to NAC's Bob Dehler in 1999. Many of NAC's people were on all kinds of committees but they remained critical of Weingarten/Unity.

Weingarten's first collective bargaining negotiation as president fell apart at the last minute in 1999. At that time, she was willing to agree to merit pay for summer school teachers in the form of free airline tickets for staff if student test scores improved. New Action correctly predicted that based on Weingarten's first negotiating experience as president, she would be willing to give away our rights. New Action as recently as 2001 criticized Randi in its literature saying, "Randi Never Met a Giveback She Didn't Like." They were right to be critical of Randi/Unity at that time so they ran a candidate against her that year and won the high schools.

By the next election in 2004, however, New Action was not running against Randi. What did Randi do for them? She promised to put their leadership on the union payroll. In the past, New Action members served on UFT committees as unpaid volunteers, but the newly created organizing committee was a paid committee. As most of New Action's core leaders have been retiring the last few years, they have been able to move from the classroom into paid union jobs. What was the price to pay for their jobs? Support Randi as they are doing this year.

NAC's reluctant opposition to the 2005 Contract only happened because their few remaining active teachers were appalled by the givebacks. New Action certainly didn't oppose that contract with much fervor. Subsequently, NAC quickly returned to the Unity fold and their co-chairs who are now retired are running a pseudo slate that endorses Randi for president. For anyone who says that you should vote for NAC because of changes they are making from the "inside", ask one question: Since they stopped opposing Randi, what policy did New Action come up with that has improved our contractual working conditions or made the UFT a more democratic union? The correct answer: none.

You see ladies and gentlemen, singer Cyndi Lauper was right, "Money changes everything."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

ICE Platform - Countering the Attacks on Teachers and Schools

We demand:

1. A return to more manageable workloads for teachers and other school staff.

Two rounds of time-for-money swaps have severely compromised the conditions for learning in the city schools. We must fight the false notion that “productivity” can be increased simply by extending the time of instruction. The teacher's school day must include time for planning, student conferences and consultation among faculty.

2. Ending attacks and discrimination against senior teachers.

Experienced teachers are crucial for any school. Only the most short-sighted and irresponsible management would be so hostile to them. Teachers who have successfully taught for years in a school should be secure in their jobs.

3. Enhancing the rights of new teachers.

Klein and Bloomberg have worked to greatly increase the number of new teachers which has changed the makeup of the teaching force. We call for a shorter probationary period to increase the proportion of teachers with tenure. New teachers must be protected against abuse by administrators and supported with meaningful professional development, mentoring and support.

4. Small classes with enforceable limits.

Equity with other districts in the state should only be the immediate target. Ultimately class-size reduction should meet children's needs which are greater in high-poverty, urban areas than in the suburbs. The lack of funding for the upgrading and building of new schools is the main cause of oversized classes which is a violation of our students' civil rights and should be treated as such.

5. Ending high-stakes testing and all other inappropriate testing of students.

Testing should be primarily used for diagnostic purposes and support educational goals, not distort them. Examples of inappropriate testing are

· forcing all English Language Learners (ELL) to take the English Language Arts exams

· inflicting standardized reading tests on children before they reach the third grade

· making all high school students take the PSAT

Evaluation of students and decisions about their progress should be made locally by those most familiar with them. Students should be able to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.

6. A broadening of school curricula to address long-term educational goals.

Civic participation in a democratic society must be reincorporated into the education of New York City schools. We demand the restoration of subjects that have been shortchanged because of the craze for short-term results on math and reading tests, including music, art, vocational training, health, foreign language, sports and technology. This must also include an end to mandated methods of teaching practices and strong guarantees of academic freedom for teachers and students.

7. An end to the over-reliance on standardized testing for qualifying teachers.

One of the results of relying exclusively on standardized tests and the labyrinth of requirements for new teachers has been a relative decrease in the number of black, Latino and non-native English speakers among the teaching staff. Alternative paths to qualify as teachers should be reinstated. School workers, including paras and school aides should have an opportunity to turn their school experience into better school jobs.

8. School improvement planning that provides a significant role for teachers.

Teachers must have a meaningful voice in the running of their school. Our union must take a clear stand against privatization of school services and management. We must resist the national crusade to punish and condemn schools on the basis of test scores. Let's push instead for transparency in school governance, oversight by elected boards and councils and broader community input into how schools function.

Monday, January 22, 2007

UFT Elections Are Coming:

Why We Must Say NO to Weingarten/Unity Caucus-New Action

The UFT has not stood up against the closing of schools

The Department of Education can no longer be allowed to mismanage and inadequately fund schools and then close them, displacing students and staff, even when consultants hired by the DOE give schools like Tilden HS in Brooklyn proficient ratings in quality reviews. Randi Weingarten’s Unity Caucus (her political party) has put up no real opposition and has in fact cooperated with the DOE. ICE calls for a moratorium on closing schools were watered down by Unity. The giveback-laden 2005 contract gave away preferred placement rights for UFT members, eliminating Article 18G5 that gave members “the broadest possible placement choices available within the authority of the Board.” Hundreds of experienced teachers were forced to become day-to-day subs. UFT leaders actually branded this as an “improvement” along with the Open Market Plan (which leaves all choice in the hands of principals).

Weingarten/Unity still refuse to oppose mayoral control of NYC schools

ICE has called for the end of Mayoral Control when the law (giving the mayor full unchecked authority over the schools) sunsets in 2009. Weingarten backed the law change that allowed the Mayor to assume control of the schools and the UFT passively sat by as a system without checks and balances, ran amuck, ignoring views of both parents and educators. When Bloomberg needed a waiver to get a lawyer appointed as Chancellor, Weingarten was silent. When privateer Christopher Cerf was recently brought in to continue the attack on public education, again silence. We need to get politicians out of education and set up a new system that truly gives power to teachers at the school level. Weingarten/Unity rejected our position, instead, creating a committee that will examine all forms of school governance, including the possible renewal of Mayoral Control. An honest poll of members would show an overwhelming rejection of mayoral control.

Lower class size must be priority contract demand

Teachers list class size as a number one working condition priority. NYC has the highest class sizes in the state, if not the nation. The only protection teachers have had for 40 years has been the contracts negotiated in the early 1970’s, before the UFT changed its policy. Yet, Weingarten-Unity-New Action refuse to make this a contract negotiating demand, using the bogus excuse that money would be taken from salary increases (note how prep periods and other basics like health care are never tied to salary). Weingarten throws up smoke screens with petition drives (twice so far and more to come) for referendums to lower class sizes, knowing full well this tactic is subject to the mayor’s veto, with virtually no chance of reaching voters.

New Action is a phony opposition group in bed with Unity

New Action had been the oldest “opposition” group in the UFT until they began to give uncritical support for Weingarten, even endorsing her in this election. New Action is claiming their alliance with Weingarten allows them to influence UFT policies but they can’t cite a single gain other than for themselves in getting New Action’s entire leadership on the union payroll. Their latest leaflet proclaims, “President Weingarten changed a forty year policy of excluding opposition caucuses from having a voice in the UFT. She opened the door and New Action opted to enter.” How can New Action call itself an opposition when it no longer opposes Unity policy? And if they support Unity, why not just run on the Unity slate instead of as a separate entity? Weingarten cannot tolerate even a few critics on the Executive Board and is using New Action in an attempt to replace the only legitimate opposition voices from ICE-TJC. No party should be allowed to monopolize power for half a century. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and the Unity/New Action alliance epitomizes a corrupt system.

Contract givebacks extended through 2009 while salary does not keep up with inflation

Weingarten gave away many hard-fought rights (seniority, hall patrol, grievance procedures, etc.) in the 2005 contract for salary increases (much of which were time for money swaps) that didn’t even keep up with NY area inflation. In addition, NYC’s 190-day school year is the longest of any district in the Metropolitan area. A raise is when you get more money for doing the same job instead of accepting whatever DC 37 negotiates with the city and saying “me too.” We need to organize a strong militant membership aligned with other unions so we are the ones to set the pattern on our terms.

Democratic reforms are needed to repair the UFT

Unity Caucus has controlled our union since 1960. Absolute power breeds an unhealthy climate for the kinds of decisions needed by a dynamic union to fight the attacks on public education and unions. Unity’s major interest is in holding onto power so that they may augment their own salaries and privileges at the expense of the working conditions and salaries of working teachers. ICE supports: election of divisional vice presidents (academic high schools, vocational high schools, middle schools, elementary schools) by the teachers in that division instead of by all the members, including retirees (who make up over 1/3 of the members) and reinstitution of elections for District Representatives. Dues increases should be subject to vote by members.

Weingarten/Unity Caucus/New Action have:

given away seniority rights and weakened tenure protections

not been able to stop the wave of micromanagement

allowed massive erosion of the contract

stood by while the ability of UFT members to fight harassment withers

allowed an emasculated grievance procedure

allowed a longer day/year (37.5 minute small group periods in most schools/2 days in August)

still not delivered on promised 55/25 retirement plan

Vote the ICE-TJC Slate in the Upcoming UFT Elections

ICE-TJC Officers (AdCom) (CL: Chapter Leader, D: Delegate)

President Kit Wainer - Goldstein HS, (CL)

VP Elem. Lisa North – PS 3K, (CL)
Secretary Camille Johnson - Humanity & Arts (D)

VP Middle Josh Kahn – MS 443 K
Ass’t Secty Ellen Schweitzer - Stuyvesant (CL)
VP HS Arthur Colen - FDR HS (CL)
Ass’t Treas. Yelena Siwinski - PS 193K (CL)

VP Spec. Ed Joseph Wisniewski - PS 163 (D)
Treasurer Marilyn Beckford - Hillcrest HS (CL)

Voc. HS Gerard Frohnhoefer - Aviation HS (CL)
VP At-Large Ellen Fox – Ret.

[Schweitzer and Colen are current Ex. Bd members and Fox served for yrs.]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

ICE Platform: Union Democracy

We need a union that is structured to insure that no matter who is elected to leadership they will be accountable to those of us who are working in the schools. An active, well-informed and honestly represented membership is the necessary backbone of a union that is capable of standing up to the attacks on teachers, children and the public schools.

Instead, what we have is a union that has gotten progressively weaker, a teaching staff that is defenseless, demoralized, disengaged from unionism and resigned to tolerate all manner of abuse, and now fears that any change will be for the worse. A large part of the problem is the fact that our union is led by people who are removed from the reality of our schools.

Since its inception in the early 1960s our union has been dominated by one group, Unity Caucus which constantly adjusts its methods to insure that it monopolizes decision-making. President Randi Weingarten knows how to portray herself as a concerned and responsible leader at union meetings and in the pages of the NY Teacher, but her number one concern is to manage the membership rather than advocate for us and represent our interests.

The three levels of decision-making in our union are the ADCOM (citywide officers), the executive board, and the delegate assembly. All three are tightly controlled by the overwhelming presence of Unity Caucus members, who rubber-stamp all of President Weingarten’s policies, even when they themselves disagree.

In order to make each one of these bodies more representative and democratic we propose the following:

1. Divisional vice-presidents (high school, middle school, etc.) should be elected by those they serve, members in their respective divisions.

2. The number of at-large members of the executive board should be reduced and a method of proportional representation should be used to elect them, with seats awarded to caucuses on the basis of their proportion of the vote.

3. The number of retiree members of the delegate assembly should be reduced and their election should also be on the basis of proportional representation.

4. District representatives (a full time UFT position to support the chapter leaders and members in a district) should be elected.

5. Every issue of the NY Teacher should be opened to opposing viewpoints, with space available for the printing of statements both for and against ratification of proposed contracts.

6. All caucuses (political parties) who have met requirements to run in an election should be able to mail at least one piece of literature to all the members at union expense during election time. All caucuses should have access to teacher mailboxes for distribution of union-related literature and each caucus should be able to email campaign literature during the election. (Rejected by Weingarten at the Jan. 9, 2007 Ex. Bd. meeting, ICE will continue the fight for this right throughout the elections and beyond.)

7. There should be an open microphone at all union meetings.

8. Retirees should not vote for UFT officers, who are responsible for negotiating the contract for active members. But they should vote for the three teacher members of the Teachers Retirement System Board, something they presently cannot do.

Most important for democracy is an underpinning of active school chapters where meetings are held monthly and school issues are discussed openly. Chapter leaders are there to protect the interests of the members with respect to the administration and also to see that the flow of information between the chapters and the various levels of leadership of the union travels on a two-way street. This means that chapter leaders must do everything possible to encourage attendance at meetings and to carry out the wishes of the members, both within the school and as a representative to other union bodies. It is the concerns of chapter members, who are the best informed about the issues, that should be driving union policy.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Executive Board Report – Elections Are Coming…Unity Controlled Executive Board Moves to Silence Opposition

Spending more than an hour in acrimonious debate the Executive Board approved, over ICE-TJC opposition, rules for the conduct of the coming election for union officers and others that clearly demonstrate that our Unity leadership knows no limit when it comes to their attempt to stifle the voice of the opposition.

Amy Arundel, chairperson of the Election Committee, reported that a unanimous Election Committee approved rules that would prevent opposition caucuses from using union membership mailing and email lists to distribute campaign literature, provide assurances to members placing campaign literature in mailboxes without fear that they will be prevented access to the mailboxes by principals or others acting on their behalf, and providing space on the UFT website which would publish the rules for the election.

The message was clear…opposition caucuses must be silenced at all costs.

While it is true that space is provided on a limited basis in the New York Teacher to the caucuses this space is clearly not what Congress intended when it provided in Federal Law that "a union must comply with all reasonable requests by a candidate for distribution of campaign literature at the candidate's expense."

The UFT has, for past several years, collected email addresses of our members and controls the only available list of home addresses of union members. The New York Teacher is dripping with stories and pictures of Unity candidates that are prejudicial to opposition campaigns. When only one statement from the opposition is published in the NY Teacher, it is obvious how unfair that is.

Resolution after resolution calling for Weingarten to comply with Federal law were defeated by the Unity dominated Executive Board. Our interpretation of Federal law, according to Special Assistant to the President Jeffrey Zahler was "wrong." This was echoed by Weingarten, who claimed many years of labor law practice to "prove" that Calhoun v. Harvey and its progeny as well as Section 401(c) of the Landrum-Griffin Act did not provide for opposition candidates to have access to these lists, whether or not Unity decided to use them.

This is the first time in our Union's history that approval of the Election Committee's rules was not unanimously approved," commented Weingarten after the vote split the body along caucus lines.

And for good reason…Don't try to silence the opposition and don't try to violate our right to distribute campaign literature.

In other Executive Board business, James Eterno, ICE's High School Rep, submitted a resolution calling for the UFT to get off the fence and call for a moratorium on the closing of schools before an independent evaluation can be concluded.

While hundreds of our members face excessing Weingarten showed how she can fiddle while Rome burns and substituted a watered down resolution which called for the DOE to "refrain" from closing schools.

Thanks, Randi. Way to stand up to BloomKlein who close schools for political reasons and to create large pools of excessed teachers. But what could we really expect, especially when you completed a sweetheart deal to continue the decimation of seniority, loss of grievance rights and other basic rights of our members? You showed your true colors when you "agreed" with the closing of Lafayette. The teachers and staff at Lafayette thank you as well.

The resolution follows:

January 2007 Resolution Calling for a Moratorium on Closing Schools

WHEREAS, the Department of Education (DOE) chronically mismanages schools, refuses to provide schools with adequate funding and then blames staff for failing results; and

WHEREAS, there is no valid evidence that proves the educational benefits of the DOE’s policy of closing schools, not admitting new students, displacing staff, and then reopening the same building as a different school or group of schools; and

WHEREAS, there is no clear standard for what constitutes a failing school yet the DOE in December announced the closing of five more schools; and

WHEREAS, the resulting period of uncertainty can have a deleterious impact on students in the effected schools as well as in neighboring schools that become severely overcrowded by accepting incoming students who would have gone to the schools being phased out; and

WHEREAS, new/redesigned schools do not have to accept special education and Limited English Proficiency students in their first two years of existence, thus creating fewer educational options for some of our students most in need, and concentrating disproportionate numbers of these students in other facilities, straining the resources of those schools too; and

WHEREAS, the 2005 UFT Contract eliminated Article 18G5, which gave staff in closing or phased out schools the “broadest possible placement choices available within the authority of the Board;” and

WHEREAS, the current Contract throws staff (experienced and new) from closing/phasing out schools en masse onto the “open market” where they must look for their own jobs or become Absent Teacher Reserves (day-to-day substitutes) thus discouraging UFT members from wanting to work in difficult schools; and

WHEREAS, many of the schools that replaced previously redesigned schools are now themselves failing and in danger of closing; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the UFT call for an immediate moratorium on the closing down/ redesigning of schools by the Department of Education until independent studies are done to assess the effectiveness of the newly redesigned schools as well as the overall impact of closing/redesigning schools on students, staff and communities throughout the system; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT use part of its “Teachers Make a Difference” campaign to publicize the need for full funding of all schools, with particular attention paid to calling for extra funding for troubled schools in order to: lower class sizes, provide modern up to date facilities as well as safe and stable environments as an alternative to closing schools, displacing students and staff resulting in overcrowding of neighboring schools.
It’s time for the UFT to use its resources to stop allowing the Department of Education to get away with holding teachers and students accountable for their mismanagement.

The DOE is successfully implementing the Grover Norquist “Starve the Beast” policy and it must be stopped. Norquist recommends tax cuts and more tax cuts so that government won’t be able to function and then his people complain that the government is doing a terrible job and needs to be cut some more.

The DOE chronically under-funds schools. The courts have declared that the city doesn’t even give adequate funding for a sound basic education. The DOE adds to the problem by chronically mismanaging schools and then blaming us when schools don’t get everyone to be proficient.

Instead of thanking the teachers and other UFT members for performing educational miracles with so many students in situations that are virtually impossible, our schools are deemed failing by some criteria that nobody knows about. The schools are then closed down, we are displaced and have to apply for our jobs back in our own schools. Kids who would have gone to the school closing are directed to other schools which become more overcrowded and then they are deemed as failing. The new schools don’t have to take special education students or ESL students for two years so they look like they are succeeding but the success and extra funding later dry up and certain new schools have already been deemed as failures. This has been going on for years. This cycle must cease as nobody has shown any concrete evidence that any of this works for students

The UFT’s position on all of this has been to wait. In 2003 the Manhattan High School Chapter leaders came up with a resolution calling for a moratorium on the breakup and redesign of large high schools. I cosponsored the introduction of that resolution in this body and it was tabled. The UFT put together a small schools task force that called for among other things a study to be done on the effectiveness of small schools but it didn’t call for the DOE to stop closing schools until we have the data.

In 2006 the Parents Citywide Council on High Schools called the Chancellor to substantially delay the implementation of small high schools in part because of the issue of special ed and ESL students not being accepted in new schools. I asked last year at this body if the UFT supported that resolution and I was sent a copy of the small schools task force and later the UFT sponsored a resolution reaffirming the value of large high schools but not calling for the DOE to stop closing schools.

Now we need to go further. When the DOE brings in an outside agency to review schools and they find Tilden High School is proficient and then soon thereafter it is announced that Tilden will be closing, there is something that doesn’t smell right. Small schools versus big schools is not the issue. The issue is what constitutes a failing school? It’s not only large high schools that are in danger. Schools that have already been redesigned are in trouble. Many of us are being threatened with being closed because we exercise our contractual rights. I have been told that I better tone it down or Klein will come in and shut us down.

What this resolution asks is for the DOE to stop shutting down schools until we can get some fair, independent studies done to assess the effectiveness of newly redesigned schools including examining the impact on neighboring schools. This resolution also asks for the UFT to publicize the need for fully funding all schools but particularly schools that are in trouble so we get what we need to succeed and stop the madness of closing schools, displacing students and staff and then overcrowding other schools where they then are deemed as failing. That cycle must end now.