Sunday, March 30, 2008


by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School 

We have been writing for quite some time about what transpires at Delegate Assembly Meetings and how ICE and other opposition or independent Delegates as well as Chapter Leaders are completely frustrated because we are for the most part shut out of DA participation. We call on the UFT to make a simple change to enhance union democracy. There should be a pledge from the President to no longer ask delegates for a change in the rules to eliminate or reduce the time rank and file members get to speak unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

The UFT DA standing agenda calls for twenty-five minutes per month where rank and file Delegates and Chapter Leaders are recognized to ask questions or add new motions to the agenda.  The new motion and question periods have been consistently eliminated or shortened this year. We object to this constant changing of the rules by the Unity majority. Is it too much to ask that this simple twenty-five minute period each month should not be cancelled or edited in any way unless there is a Contract vote or strike authorization vote? This return to the regular monthly agenda would be very easy to accomplish. 

As we draw closer to the April 16 DA, we ask that all Chapter Leaders, Delegates and rank and file UFT members demand that UFT President Weingarten respect the twenty-five minutes we are given each month to have our say in making UFT policy or questioning the President. This is particularly important as there is no longer an elected opposition on the UFT Executive Board. For twelve straight years there was a tiny but viable opposition, including me for ten years, who could easily get the Executive Board floor to at least raise issues. 

Let's get back the rank and file's twenty-five minutes now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Under a new DOE program, those who teach lower-performing students likely will earn poor marks themselves. One Jamaica High School teacher asks: What kind of incentive is that? >

By JB McGeever

City Limits WEEKLY #632
March 24, 2008

Two times a year the New York State English Regents Exam descends on the high schools of our city, requiring juniors to compose four comprehensive essays over a period of two days. January's outcomes guided the makeup of the current semester's classes, where we're now getting ready for the next round in June. In my building, preparation for the exam begins in the ninth grade and continues right until the students enter class to take the exam.

"Hey, Mister!" a voice will ring down the hallway just minutes before the test. "Who wrote about those mice and men? George Steinbrenner, right?"

In line with the federal No Child Left Behind Act rules, everyone takes the exam in their junior year regardless of their proficiency in English. The student who's been in the system since kindergarten takes it, as well as the child who recently arrived in America and whose second, third, or fourth language might be English. Whether they have designs on going to college after graduation or going on to become mechanics and electricians, they are going to sit for that exam.

The more students a school gets to pass, the better the school looks. As a result, many schools have pushed up the date for students to take the test. Rather than taking it for the first time in June, why not usher them in five months early and see what happens? If they pass, great, if not, get ready for round two. Even better, let's start grading teachers on the results.

It came to light right around the winter Regents that the Department of Education initiated an under-the-radar pilot program where 2,500 teachers at 140 city public schools are being rated, based on student performance on standardized tests, without their knowledge. Sadly, some in the local media weighed in with typical lay comments and cliches regarding the teaching profession: "Imagine teachers treated like other professionals – having their performance monitored and quantified." But this kind of scoring just doesn't make sense.

Out of five classes taught last semester, I had one class of juniors, three groups of sophomores, and one senior elective. The juniors were an interesting bunch – bright, friendly, and respectful, one of the most enjoyable classes I've ever taught. And their results ran the gamut, lots of highs and lows. Some overslept and missed the exam, while others arrived early and pulled off stunning victories. Jamal got his 97, but Forrest received a 51.

As much as I would like to take credit for Jamal's grade, the truth is he's a self-starter who sits up front, takes good notes and never misses class. Forrest, however, disappeared around the holidays: "Going on vacation, bye." He was gone for nearly six weeks, missing a lot of Regents preparation. He was probably visiting family he hadn't seen in awhile, but should his extended holiday have any bearing on my teaching career?

There's also no need to congratulate myself when Clarissa scores a high 86. She's quiet, attentive, and likes to read. I did my job each day and she did hers. Or Victor, who managed to get himself suspended for three weeks, then recorded a 47. All four of these kids were in the same class and all four of them are responsible for their test scores.

When it comes time to give Jamal's family a call to congratulate them on their son's success, I discover that he lives in a group home. I'm taken aback. I expected to speak to the man Jamal identified as Dad on parent-teacher night, but he was really just the counselor on duty. It's difficult to explain Jamal. He defies Department of Education logic and statistics. Over a period of two mornings he left his group home, reported to a high school that's been labeled as "persistently dangerous," submitted to scanning and frisking on his way in – then sat down to record one of the highest scores in the state.

As the new school semester began, my class of juniors moved on. Many of them became friendly faces in the hallway, while a few return to my classroom. Jamal reports to an honors class, where he'll have the opportunity to take AP English next year. But Forrest is right back with me, preparing for round two. He sits up front this time, but still, his method of wiring himself for iPod use is ingenious.

Forrest has now been placed in a transitional English class, which means that every student in the room scored below 55 on their English Regents Exam. I requested this population because I enjoy the challenge of trying to reach them. Based on past experience, approximately one-third of these students will pass their Regents this June. Under the DOE's new Big Brother tactics of monitoring a teacher's success rate, why would I willingly volunteer for such a suicide mission? Shouldn't I have lobbied for an honors class full of Jamals to make me look good?

Also, the so-called "transitional" students tend to take more than one English class, so who gets credit for their success when they eventually do pass the exam on their second or third attempt? Instead of focusing on students, teachers are forced to worry about statistics and standings in their departments. That makes Forrest no longer a challenge in the classroom, but a number with the potential to make me look bad. Rather than marveling at Jamal's growth as a human being when I see him in the hallway, I might stare at him longingly, thinking, "Damn, there goes my meal ticket." The DOE's secret monitoring program is nothing more than a new way to instill fear and obtain control.

What makes monitoring or "proving a teacher's worth" even more absurd is the concept of equal playing fields for all. My building was mislabeled as an Impact School last year, which means it is now regarded as one of the most dangerous schools in the city. Once a school is branded as Impact, a script is then followed to shut the place down.

Coincidentally, before the DOE can get its hands on a school and chop it up into "smaller learning communities," it must first get it labeled as dangerous. Security is intensified. Letters are sent home to parents, notifying them that their child may transfer out of a "dangerous" building if he or she chooses, and incoming freshman opt to go elsewhere when it's time to select a school. The faculty is left to shrug and wonder where all these dangerous kids are hiding.

The crowds in the school's hallways then begin to shrink, teachers are "excessed," and the budget is cut. The atmosphere becomes bleak, like something out of an old Western. It's time to shoot the horses and circle the wagons because rations are low and the enemy is closing in.

Yet the DOE machine keeps rolling. During Regents week, my school was notified that a "brand new academy" will exist inside of our 80-year-old building next year. It will be virtually the same place, just with an imaginary border laid out. The new school will also be funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, while what's left of Jamaica High School is systematically starved to death.

But if the building is really as dangerous as the city claims, why would it pick this particular campus to establish a brand new privately funded high school? The only answer is that the building was never dangerous to begin with. The DOE just wanted the space, so it set Jamaica up for failure.

Do Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, or Bronx Science, three of the finest specialized schools in the city, have Jamaica's problems to contend with? They have waiting lists to get in, while Jamaica struggles with a two-year-long DOE chokehold. Whose secretly monitored test scores do you think will be more impressive?

One of my colleagues in graduate school recalled a recent incident in class. When she introduced herself and her school, the DOE official moonlighting as instructor explained that she was familiar with the building and that the school's fate had been decided long ago. "Jamaica High School is a warehouse," the instructor said. She then advised the teacher to stop battling the DOE, to comply with the inevitable, or transfer out.

A warehouse. Any adult who's witnessed children passing through metal detectors each morning, then frisked with scanning wands, not because they're dangerous, but for political reasons, knows what a disgraceful remark this is.

- JB McGeever

JB McGeever has been a teacher for 11 years and at NYC public schools for four. Students' names above are pseudonyms.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


by John Powers, Chapter Leader, Liberation High School

Unity at the DA is an interesting machine to observe. If it were to be rated according to the fairest and most practical methods used to evaluate classroom teaching and community building, it would undoubtedly receive an unsatisfactory rating. It rarely starts on time or ends on time. There is plenty of chalk and talk or just plain talk and no chalk. There is also no "accountable- talk" amongst delegates. Its agenda ("objectives") goes unchecked, unmet and off on tangential paths. Certain members of Unity feel comfortable hurling aloud words and moans meant to intimidate and stop others from voicing their ideas and disagreements about a given topic. All of the above, from my perspective, creates a culture that attempts to dumb delegates down, maintains the status-quo and ultimately makes it difficult to create a stronger, democratic union capable of beating back the no longer creeping, but rapidly advancing privatization of our school system.

It was no surprise then at last Wednesday's DA when Unity put much effort into not appearing to be caught off guard by ICE's resolution of opposition to the planned privatization of GHI-HIP (renamed Emblem Health). Ms. Weingarten's filibustering tactics successfully kept ICE's resolution from getting to the floor; however, with five minutes left, she allowed a Q and A session and encouraged anyone with a "burning question" to go ahead and ask it. This was a transparent invitation on Ms. Weingarten's behalf to entice someone from ICE to create an opening for her to minimize any potential blowback on the part of delegates who may have read and begun thinking about the seriousness of our anti-privatization health insurance resolution that was distributed to them. During these last minutes, Ms. Weingarten maintained that much had been said already about the topic and that the union continues to have reservations about the attempt to privatize 93% of city workers' healthcare plans.

"Much Said?" A recent look at the DA minutes from this school year reflects nothing about the GHI-HIP privatization issue. The only official union information that I could find was online at ( This report, written by Arthur Pepper, reprinted in a January issue of New York Teacher, and entitled, "Monitoring the GHI-HIP Merger," discusses the rationale behind the GHI-HIP merger and its attempt to privatize. Mr. Pepper casually states that healthcare mergers and privatizing are difficult to avoid today and that the GHI-HIP merger/privatization move will allow union members to receive quality healthcare and will create "premium stabilization." Sure it will!

"Reservations?" What reservations? None are hinted at in Mr. Pepper's report. But wait. Again, in an apparent attempt to undermine ICE's commitment to critical dialogue about such an important and sensitive healthcare issue, Ms. Weingarten unveiled 5,000 plus photocopies of a letter dated February 29, 2008 that she wrote to Eric Dinallo, NYS Superintendent of Insurance. In the letter she admits to a union "money-grab" motive regarding a pool of conversion money that will be available if GHI-HIP privatizes. She states, "both New York City and its unions must share in the proceeds since it was their assets and business that made possible the current financial viability of HIP-GHI. Any approval therefore, must make provision therefore." Ms. Weingarten and Unity plan to put union funds before workers' pockets and the quality of healthcare they receive. And to make matters worse, the letter also reveals an ominous sign that something might have changed between the unions and GHI-HIP (Emblem Health) from the time of Mr. Pepper's report in January and Ms. Weingarten's subsequent letter to Superintendent Dinallo. She admits that as of the date of the letter, both CEO's of GHI-HIP have not responded to her request that city unions share in the conversion proceeds. This should shock no one because CEO's do not care about workers; they care about money and profits.

What will Unity do now? How will they sell this to us if the privatization maneuver goes through and they receive a huge amount of money? How will they sell this to us if the privatization maneuver goes through and they do not receive any money? Like so much else about Unity, we will wait and see. They make the decisions, not us.

Last I want to thank Ms. Weingarten and Unity for feeling compelled to show delegates in attendance such an important letter. This type of transparency is a welcomed relief. However, as of this writing, there is still no mention of the letter on the UFT website. How could there be? Too many people would have access to it and might question why our union is behind the privatization of 93% of city workers' health insurance in exchange for filling its pockets. By the way, almost all of those 5,000 plus letters to Dinallo sat near the podium untouched after the DA ended. This is not surprising. So with that, let me ask Unity to lay down on this couch right here. That's it. Relax. Lay down. Close your eyes. Good. Relax. I'm going to count down from ten and you are going to become sleepy. You will listen very carefully to some comments and questions. These are comments and questions that a strong and democratic union might ask in regards to an attempt to privatize workers' health insurance. Ok. You are getting sleepy.






Good. You are getting sleepy. Sleep is good. You are good at sleeping.






We must not sell out to a healthcare corporation. Say it. We must not sell out to a healthcare corporation.






When you sell out, there are no guarantees except profit motives. We must not sell out. Say it.






There are many questions to ask. Yes. That's right. It's ok to ask questions. It's ok to ask all the workers you represent what they think about an issue. I know that's tough work. I know it's messy work. But it's good work. It's democratic.




So here are some questions to get you started. Here are some questions to help you initiate union democracy. Many of these questions can be found on the internet. It took only a few minutes for me to find them. You have a few minutes. Don't you?


What is the value of nonprofit assets?


Will the privatization preserve the assets for nonprofit purposes that will enhance the health care of New Yorkers in the long-term or serve as a one-time budget fix?


Who will reap the windfall when the privatized company issues its IPO? Will it include any union leaders or executives?


Will premiums be raised? Are there any guarantees they will not?


Will the privatization increase the number of uninsured in NYC?


Will the new privatized corporation be flipped?


Will regulators be asked to commission an independent health impact study to answer questions?


Will there be more public hearings at times that are convenient for workers. One time on January 29th at ten in the morning is not good enough?


Will privatization reduce competition?





Sunday, March 09, 2008

Merit Pay Proposal Defeated in GED-Plus

By Marjorie Stamberg, Teacher, GED-Plus, Manhattan Hub

The merit pay proposal in GED-Plus has been solidly defeated--ballots were counted on March 6. Many chapter members worked very hard to express their opposition, at site meetings, borough meetings and chapter meetings. Since we are divided into 80 sites and borough hubs, it was quite a task to reach everyone so they could make an informed decision. I am very pleased that we can join the list of other UFT chapters who have had the courage to vote this down.

As a strongly advocate to vote down merit pay, I am personally very relieved that our chapter made such a strong statement. Merit pay is highly divisive -- it puts us in competition with each other, instead of fostering collaboration. It also hurts our students. In GED-Plus, as a D79 GED Program, we are particularly dedicated to working with the neediest students, and we are already working to the best of our ability. If our pay goes up or down, depending on which students come to school, or how well they do in tests, there would be a strong tendency not even to admit these students to the site.

However, our chapter leadership, and the UFT officials have stated they intend to float this again early in the next school year. It keeps on coming back like a bad penny, no matter how many times, and at how many meetings, we express our strong opposition. So we will have to keep up the struggle -- against merit pay, charterization, privatization, and all these schemes to chip away at public education for all.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

Many of us came home on Wednesday wondering why we keep attending Delegate Assembly Meetings. The two periods during the regular agenda that give rank and file delegates a chance to ask questions to the President or make new motions have been consistently eliminated or cut short in many of the this year's meetings. Many delegates sitting near me including those from Jamaica, close friends and my wife, were asking me why they were here. They were tired of Randi Weingarten's filibusters and now filibusters from people brought on stage. Unfortunately, they had a point. We constantly urge people to attend union meetings but frankly this is becoming embarrassing. The business that was transacted could have been accomplished in about a half hour tops and left plenty of time for people to ask questions, raise motions and vote on everything on the agenda. However with the strong Unity majority at the DA, it is a very depressing experience as the agenda now means next to nothing and changes at Randi's whims are rubber stamped by her supporters.

Randi announced, before my wife and I arrived, that she would be deciding in six to eight weeks whether or not to be a candidate for the soon to be vacant American Federation of Teachers presidency. She said that she would continue on at the UFT even if she took the AFT position. This information was reported to us when we arrived. Randi doing both jobs at the same time is not a surprise and was predicted in a recent ICEblog post. Randi also did her monthly promotion of Hillary and some Obama bashing. We'll see where the National Education Association goes on the two Democrats soon.

We also found out more about the 55-25/55-27 retirement legislation that the governor signed recently. Randi reported that if someone opts in and then decides to stay past 25 years, they can get 1/2 of their 1.85% contributions back with interest if they last until they are 62, providing they are in service six months prior to retirement. This is a major victory according to Unity. You can get half of your contributions back if you decide to stick it out until you're 62. Why not everything because under the current system you don't have to make the 1.85% contributions if you stay to age 62 or work 30 years and are 55?

Even though ICE has pointed out on this blog that there are winners (Those close to age 55 or over age 55 who started service between ages 26 and 36 with no break in service and with 25 years in the system can retire soon without paying much for it.) and losers (Those yet to be hired who will have to work 27 years to retire and be at least 55 and under the new law they will have to pay 1.85% extra in pension contributions for their entire careers. Most new hires will pay more and receive no added benefit compared to the current system.), Unity put out an open letter from Jeff Zahler saying that the ICE blog piece pointing out the good and the bad of 55-25/55-27 is a "smear tactic." Now, we're not even allowed to point out the facts of a questionable deal or we're criticized. We offered to retract a story on 55-27 if our Unity friends could prove we were wrong. Needless to say we have not had to retract a word. According to them, if we don't line up behind Randi and show blind faith, we are divisive. We call that corporate style unionism.

It is not a smear to tell people 55-27 is a de facto new pension tier for yet to be hired teachers who won't be eligible for the 55-25 that was promised for them as well as those already in service in the giveback laden 2005 Contract

It is not a smear to tell our members 55-27 is not cost neutral but will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars. That's not an attack. Jeff Zahler, the Unity Chair, in his letter critical of ICE says we can only cite two sources who wanted to remain anonymous. That's totally untrue. Actually, the city's chief actuary is quoted in the Chief Leader. His name is Robert C. North and this is what he told the Chief: "The change is expected to reduce the average long term cost of the plan." Anyone with a calculator and a brain can figure out how the city wins. When an older teacher leaves the system, he/she can be replaced with a younger teacher at about half pay. However, Randi's people quite correctly argue that the city now has to pay the health benefits for the retiree and the new employee in addition to the salary and pension so it should break out about even. What they don't mention is that the city no longer has to pay the payroll tax (the employer's portion of the social security tax) for the retiree and they get the additional 1.85% contribution for 27 years for the new hire(a de facto pay cut for the unborn). You don't have to be a financial expert to see how this adds up to a healthy saving for the city and it gives them another reason to push the senior teachers out.

It is not a smear to tell our constituents that in exchange for a pension deal that nets the city extra money and penalizes most of the unborn, we agreed to school-wide merit pay.

Mr. Zahler's title needs to be scrutinized closely. It is interesting that he calls it an open letter. That's exactly what Jamaica High School's letter to Randi was called on our blog. Can't Unity even come up with original titles? Oh well, imitation is the best form of flattery and we do want to say hi to all of our readers from inside 52 Broadway. Feel free to use our titles; we won't be like Hillary and call it plagiarism.

In other DA news, Randi said that anyone who wants to take Holy Thursday for a Religious Observance day should cite the Joseph Griffin grievance decision (We don't know if we spelled that right as we are going from Randi's remarks.) and apply for the day as a R.O. or personal business day. (For R.O. you pay for the substitute but for personal business you lose a day from the sick bank.) She also brought up people from PS 345 to talk about how they fought harassment in court to have file letters removed. She bought a Chapter Leader to the podium who was a whistleblower and had his U rating overturned. In addition, people from Unite Here came to the podium to talk about their campaign against Aramark and we unanimously supported them. Also, a teacher spoke in support of the teachers in Puerto Rico who have been on strike and a general resolution supporting teachers in Puerto Rico was passed. We also heard from VP Michael Mulgrew and a chapter leader and principal as well as Abe Levine on how important it is to have a student removal process. An amendment on not criminalizing student behavior that Joan Heymont introduced was rejected but a resolution was passed on having a student removal process in every school.

Between all of these speakers, Randi of course spoke and Staff Director Leroy Barr also tried to inspire people to bring out their members for the March 19 rally against the budget cuts. We want to point out to Jeff Zahler that we support the rally and are fighting budget cuts too. Michael Shulman also spoke in favor of a rally against the Iraq War scheduled for March 22.

All of these matters could have been done in ten or fifteen minutes as there was no opposition that we could see, however all of the filibustering meant there was no new motion period again and the question period was cut short. John Powers did bring up some of the pitfalls of the GHI-HIP merger. Randi had a letter to show the delegates that the unions are concerned about this issue and she stated that the unions want a guarantee that we do not lose any benefits if the health plans merge and go to for profit status. Other matters such as the UFT's legislative program, a resolution on closing schools and a proposal on career and technical schools never made it to the floor.

I could go on filibustering all day and all night but ladies and gentlemen this was a meeting that took two hours to do what could have been done in twenty minutes as there was not much to debate and we felt bad that we could not speak on motions that were important but never made it to the floor. Maybe at some point the DA will start following Roberts' Rules of Order again and not having Randi change the agenda every fifteen minutes to suit her whims.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


55-27/55-25 SAVES CITY MONEY;

Now that 55 years of age and 25 years service in the system retirement buy in is a reality after Governor Elliot Spitzer signed the legislation last week, we would again like to briefly point out who should consider buying in, who should probably not buy in and who wins and loses. Please consult with a qualified financial advisor before making any retirement decision as this blog contains our opinions and not official pension advice.

Anyone who started service betwen the ages of 26 and 36 could benefit from opting in for the new benefit and someone who started service earlier than age 26 but took a break for a restoration of health, maternity or some other leave could also benefit.

Everyone who started service at age 25 or younger and works straight through can only benefit if they want to retire early but not receive any payment until they are 55. It's also interesting to ask this question: If someone is eligible and opts in during the six month opt in period, can they get their additional 1.85% contributions back if they decide later to change their mind and work the entire 30 years one needs to work to receive a full 60% of final average salary pension?

Persons yet to be hired will have to be 55 and work 27 years and pay pension contributions for that entire time unlike current teachers who only are compelled to make pension contributions for ten years. In the Contract, the UFT agreed that it should be 55-25, not 55-27, for "all current and future members of the TRS..." Fiscal experts and the city's Chief Actuary cited in the Chief Leader have confirmed our analysis of the deal in the February 29, 2008 edition: The Chief's in depth article by Merideth Kolodner pretty much backs up what ICE has been saying about 55-25/55-27.

"The United Federation of Teachers' early retirement plan, despite reports of heavy costs to the city, will easily pay for itself and potentially result in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to the city in the long run, according to fiscal experts."

Here's the part that really caught our eye. "Two fiscal experts who requested anonymity, estimated that the city would save money in the long run, up to $300 million over 25 years. That's because most of the cost of the plan is carried by the unborn, who will eventually pay more into the system than they take out in added benefits. The same was true for the Correction Officers Benevolent Association in 1990 and District Council 37 in 1996 when they got the retirement age reduced for their members."

Selling the unborn? We thought the UFT refused to do that. And in exchange for selling out the unborn on pensions we also agreed to schoolwide merit pay.

We recommend you pick up a copy of the Chief Leader to see the details explained by budget experts and read an explanation from Randi as well as quotes from James Eterno.