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.