Sunday, November 29, 2009


On the day before Thanksgiving, Mayor Mike Bloomberg went to Washington DC and gave a speech in which he basically declared war on teachers.

He said he is seeking state legislation that will fundamentally end the UFT as we know it. Teachers could be fired after one year if they are excessed and can't find a new job, excessing and layoffs would be based on principal evaluations rather than seniority, ten percent of schools would be closed, tenure decisions would be made based on student test scores, the process to fire teachers would be expedited and the charter school cap would be lifted.

The mayor added that he can tie tenure decisions to pupil test scores now even though the law says teacher tenure decisions should not be made based on student test scores.

Ultimately, he would turn us into employees who could be fired at will to kill the UFT. Lifting the charter school cap would in essence be a step toward killing the public schools by turning them over to private operators.

In response, UFT President Michael Mulgrew emailed a statement to us that was negative but did not rule out any specific proposal emphatically. He said in part, "Many of these measures would require either state legislation or negotiated changes in the DOE/UFT contract. The Department of Education created many of the personnel issues like the ATR pool and the rubber rooms that the Mayor now cites as problems. The Mayor needs to take responsibility for what he and his Chancellor have created. Our members should not have their lives and well-being put at risk because of mismanagement."

"We stand willing to work with anyone who wants to work constructively on these or any other educational issues, but we will not work with those who choose to scapegoat the people who have dedicated their lives to children. It’s the hard work and commitment of our members that has moved this system forward despite the mismanagement."

"Be assured the UFT will protect your rights and continue to fight for what we know is best for our students. We will not allow the DOE’s inadequacies and mismanagement to be put upon the backs of the members of this union or be allowed to hurt the children of this city."

In the NY Times account, President Michael Mulgrew used the words "very, very disappointed" in describing his reaction to the tone of the Mayor's remarks.

I would use words such as angered and outraged to react to the entire proposal. I would declare that this union will fight with our last breaths these virtual death threats that would destroy our profession, our union and the public schools. When an employer declares war on the union and on public education, it is up to the union to mobilize us to fight with every tool at our disposal.

We can't be afraid of negative editorials from the Daily News or the Post. The time for soft collegial diplomacy is over.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Help the At Risk Queens Schools

The Queens section of the Daily News reported on three schools in Queens that received D ratings. One of those schools is Jamaica High School.

The grading system the DOE uses is a joke as it penalizes schools who take in the most at risk students. Please help us rally support to save schools like Jamaica that have incredible histories and do not deserve to be shut down.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


President Michael Mulgrew at yesterday's Delegate Assembly convinced the DA to approve, by the usual large margin, a resolution to give the UFT the authority to declare, if necessary, that there is an impasse in bargaining. Our contract expired without fanfare on October 31. (Anna Phillips' piece at Gotham sums up the resolution fairly well.)

If the UFT seeks an impasse declaration, the state Public Employees Relations Board would then have to agree that there is an impasse and then they would appoint a mediator to try to help the parties settle differences. Fact finding and non binding arbitration would come next if mediation fails.

Many UFT members, including me, are very skeptical about fact finding because of how badly we did in this process in 2005. At that time, the fact finders set the framework for the horrible giveback laden 2005 contract that gave us the whole ATR mess as they had the UFT give up seniority and SBO transfers among many other concessions such as a longer day, weaker due process and a return to hall and cafeteria patrol for teachers.

Do we want to go down this road again?

What are the alternatives? The answer is to organize and mobilize.

In other DA news, we heard a report on organizing the community; we heard about special education complaints and there was a passionate plea from somebody speaking in support of Honduran teachers and the Honduran people. A resolution in support of their cause passed unanimously.

Welfare Fund Director Arthur Pepper told the delegates that the UFT will be improving welfare fund benefits.

One last item that is of great importance to those of us who work in D graded schools. President Mulgrew said that the progress reports that were just released don't mean crap. He didn't show up at the press conference where Klein announced them. Mulgrew explained a number of factors that proved the progress reports are unreliable measures of schools. We agree with the president here.

We hope that the UFT will follow our 2007 resolution and not allow any school to be closed based on the progress reports.

Finally, time ran out at the DA without there being a new motion period. We hope this is not a trend that will continue.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


We appeared before the Panel for Educational Policy (replacement for Board of Education) last Thursday night to complain about the impact of severe budget cuts on Jamaica High School.

This was the third time that we have addressed the PEP. Our first appearance before the Panel was back in 2008 when 89 people from Jamaica went to advocate for our school. The second time was in June of that year when three of us went back trying to get more favorable funding for our school. This time, I was accompanied by a colleague as well as my wife and daughter. The meeting was held at an elementary/middle school in Maspeth Queens.

Our main focus was to tell the Panel that it is November and yet we are so short of money that ten of our classes do not have a regular teacher. We find this to be incredibly unsound educationally. Even as we can’t cover our classrooms, the DOE will allow us to hire a replacement assistant principal for one who recently retired. We questioned their budget priorities. We also told the Panel about how records have piled up in the general office as our records’ secretary was excessed and there is no money to replace her. We called it a dire situation.

Our friend Arthur Goldstein, the Chapter Leader from Francis Lewis High School, also addressed the PEP objecting to severe overcrowding that will eventually break his school. We closed our presentation by asking for help for Jamaica so we can alleviate overcrowding in neighboring schools such as Francis Lewis. Hopefully, we will hear a response.

The meeting started at 6:00 p.m. but we were not able to speak until around 9:30 p.m. because the PEP was handling a very heavy agenda. Patrick Sullivan from Manhattan is now joined by Anna Santos from the Bronx in questioning much of what the DOE is doing.

The part of the meeting that was covered by the press was the ravioli controversy. The DOE is paying $3.8 million for a contract with a company to provide beef ravioli to the NYC schools, an increase of 40% from last year. They were the only company who bid for the ravioli contract. Panel members questioned the $3.8 million deal. Go to NY 1 to see video of this.

As for Chancellor Joel Klein, he spent some time outside of the auditorium and hit it off very well with my four month old daughter Kara. If only I had Kara’s personality, Jamaica might actually receive equitable funding from the DOE. We will keep trying.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


The surprising closeness of the mayoral election (Bloomberg 51% -Thompson 46%) has to be studied closely. Many people missed seeing how much anger is out there directed towards the mayor.

The UFT passed up on a real chance to influence the outcome by staying out of it. My colleague at Jamaica put it best when she stated, "The UFT never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity." If the unions and the Democratic Party establishment rallied behind Thompson, Bloomberg could have been defeated in this very Democratic town.

The most interesting statistic for us to view is how parents with children in New York City public schools voted last week. According to a NY Times exit poll, parents voted for Thompson over Bloomberg 55% to 43%. That's a huge twelve point spread that proves that those who have kids in the schools know what's going on and they don't buy the mayor's education spin.

Will Tweed get the message and at least consider changing course? I know you think not but let's push them anyway. Now is the time to speak up.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Jamaica High School and Francis Lewis High School are featured in an amazing Sunday OpEd piece by Angela Montefinise in the NY Post. What a pleasant surprise that this was published in the Post.


Having an on-time contract used to matter. The deadline for when our contract expired used to mean something to the UFT back in its early years. I will concede that the UFT worked beyond the expiration date of the contract twice in the nineties and then again in 2000 and 2003.

However, as recently as after the disastrous giveback filled contract in 2005, then UFT President Randi Weingarten talked about us returning to a no contract=no work policy. Those days seem like long ago as yesterday the contract expired and the UFT didn't seem to even take notice.

I just looked at the current UFT Chapter Leader Update. There is not a word about the contract ending on October 31, 2009. We don't even get lip service any longer.

Of course the old contract continues in full force until we have a new agreement because of the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law. However, to not even note the expiration of a contract and have some kind of mobilization ready to put pressure on the city and the DOE for a new one shows just how weak the UFT is.