Tuesday, December 01, 2009


In a sharply worded decision, yesterday, Justice Walter Tolub of New York Supreme Court rebuked the DOE for affirming a "U" rating given by an elementary school principal to a 20 year veteran when few of the procedural safeguards were followed. Jill Budnick, represented by private counsel, decided not to accept the rating and had claimed that she was targeted by the principal due to her seniority.

Justice Tolub found that the teacher evaluations and appeals of unsatisfactory ratings must be conducted in compliance with the formal procedures set forth primarily in two handbooks prepared by the Division of Human Resources, namely, "Rating Pedagogical Staff Members" and "The Appeal Process." The Handbook requires a Rating Officer (in this case, the school principal) to complete a thorough performance review for the academic year before rating the teacher (Section 11, at 3-4).

The Handbook states that the Rating Officer should make informal and formal classroom visits in order to improve and sustain effective teaching (Ex. 4, Section 1, A, at 1). A formal observation may consist of one full-period observation or a series of short visits by the principal (Section II, E, at 7). Discussion with the teacher before and after an observation must be built into the formal observation process, along with a post-observation conference and a written report, which should include prescriptive recommendations for professional growth where appropriate.
The Rating Officer must characterize each formal observation of the employee's performance Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory and indicate why this is so (Section 1, A, at 1). In arriving at the rating for a school year, the Rating Oficer should take into account all events and incidents manifesting professional growth, pupil guidance and instruction, and classroom management (Section, II, C, at 4). A U rating has serious implications, as it is a compelling reason to file charges against a tenured teacher and may affect the teacher's ability to obtain additional licenses and salary increments (Section II, G, at 9).

Reports of observations must be included in a teacher's official file and a teacher is permitted to append a letter or note of explanation or rebuttal to documents placed in the file (Ex. 4, Section 11, I, at 9-10). This appended material is considered part of the original document and should be permanently attached thereto (Section II, I, at lo). Any material to be placed in a teacher's file must include a notation that it is being placed in the file and a space for the teacher to sign and to indicate when he or she received a copy of the material.

Justice Tolub found that the rating officer did not provide pre and post observation conferences or any meaningful way to correct Budnick's alleged deficiencies. Additionally the Court noted that documents appended to the file letters were not included in the record on appeal and the appeals officer refused to mark into the record supportive letters from colleagues and other teachers.

The irregularities, according to the Court required that the U rating be vacated, an S rating be substituted and the DOE ordered to make the changes.


Anonymous said...

It is shame that you have to spend a fortune to have an U rating overturned, how often does it happen? 1 in 500?

Anonymous said...

UFT leadersip ought to be ashamed. What good are our dues if the union does not fight for us? Perhaps they can use this case as precedent...and compensate this brave teacher!
Now, what is the sanction for the principal..NAME HIM/HER please so we are all warned!!! And to slow down the false "U" ratings and 3020a charges of dedicated and veteran staff members

Anonymous said...

I received a u-rating in June 2008, which had nothing to do with my teaching. In fact, all my observations except for one were s-rated. Yet, the u-rating was based on a sub filing a complaint about me to the principal (long story, sub was somewhat nutty) and another sub complaint because I told her that cell phones are not allowed in the classroom. At that time I was the dean. And as a chapter leader I got angry with the principal for not following Prof. Act. procedures. So I received 4 LIF because of this and the principal u-rated at the end of the year. When I went to the hearing I was assigned, as my rep, a retired chapter leader who had forgotten many parts of the contract. It was the saddest day in my life! The u-rating was not reversed and all I kept saying to myself is the following: "why isn't the union assigning expert people to represent the members who are unfairly u-rated? why are LIF that have nothing to do with teaching and these letters are not egregious in nature to rate teachers? Why isn't the union training chapter leaders in the art of arbitration with respect to fighting LIF and only chosen ones are sent for training in arbitration procedures?" Our dues need to be used differently especially since I am entitled to be represented by an expert not a retired chapter leader who does not remember the articles in the contract!

Anonymous said...

Let's make sure that DOE does not tie the matter up in further litigation in an attempt to get the First Appellate Division to reverse Justice Tolub's decision!

Write to Michael Best, Esq., General Counsel to the Chancellor, at MBest@schools.nyc.gov, and tell him why Justice Tolub's decision is correct.

Anonymous said...

Good luck in reaching out to Michael Best, the chief architect and strategist of dirty games against teachers.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Best is too busy directing the compilation of false and frivolous 3020a charges for veteran teachers to respond to your email. It is very important and very eithical work you know.
And he does not need a higher court to affirm the decision of Justice Tolub...he is sorry he did not settle the case before the judge's decision - now more falsely constructed U's will be reversed via private counsel actions.

ed notes online said...

The UFT will bring the teacher up in front of a delegate assembly and put a big article in the NY teacher bragging about how they "won" this case.

Anonymous said...

The UFT would never do such a thing. Well maybe.

Anonymous said...

The UFT would never do such a thing Norm. Well, maybe they would.

VEGA said...

Way to go Jill!!!!! I saw the digusting harassment you and others were subjected to by an incompetent administration. As a former UFT rep and whistleblower, I have also had to spend alot of my own money defending myself while the UFT left me out to dry. I even had to take the UFT to PERB court for non representation. The judge had to force them to assign me a rep. VOTE FOR ICE

Anonymous said...

How can an ordinary teacher's salary pay for a highly specialized lawyer like the one this teacher obviously had? This is a man bites dog story.
Most cases don't end up like this when you are left at the mercy of a sleeze ball incompetent UFT person.

Anonymous said...

I don't personally believe it takes a whiz-bang lawyer to defeat DOE. Just a lawyer that does not play footsie with the DOE lawyers (think NYSUT lawyers). Because of an odd sense of familiarity and faux 'professional courtesy" the NYSUT attorneys, by and large, tend to go soft on DOE attorneys...and the arbitrators play along. And so does Sandner
Been there...done that.

ed notes online said...

A warning: Don't throw out all NYSUT attorneys with the bath water. Sometimes that familiarity can work in a teachers' favor.

David Pakter's guy is fabulous.

I've been attending another hearing of someone who did not use a nysut lawyer and this is not turning out well. I think I could do a better job.

By the way, the DOE lawyer has been tampering with the witnesses called by the teacher. Even the principal (not the offending one) made some comment to one of the potential witnesses and this is something to keep an eye on as people are scared shitless to help the teacher, who they all know was greatly wronged.

An aggressive lawyer would raise hell over this.

Anonymous said...

Warning: carefully read commnets

I carefully said "by-and-large". In many cases it is out of the 3020a lawyers' hands when their NYSUT bosses (Sandner, Shane, etc) battle one case off of another. And it does NOT always work to the detriment of each respondent.

Jill Budnick said...

Occasionally justice can be found…even when doing battle against the DOE.

I encourage all of my fellow UFT members to stand up for themselves when the system lets them down. It isn’t easy. Being the little guy never is even when you have the facts and the law on your side.

For me the struggle was both energizing and eye opening. I’m still the same good teacher as I was before but now I can hold my head a little higher.

My fight with the DOE meant a financial sacrifice by my wonderfully supportive family. Not all UFT members who also have the facts and the law on their side are able to make that sacrifice.
No surprise there.

What we need is for this fact to be heard and addressed by the UFT.

If you have a grievance with the DOE, stand up for yourself. You have my support and that of tens of thousands of fellow union members. If I had a wish it would be for the UFT to have our backs in a more determined and more effective way.

Thank you for your supportive comments.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Jill. I hope this U-rating principal doesn't subject you to further harassment now that you won your appeal.

Laura said...

Any advice for someone facing a hearing, in March, to overturn a U (and denial of tenure) after having tenure outside NYC? I'm currently teaching teacher ed classes at 3 colleges (as an adjunct.) I can't afford a lawyer. This is ridiculous - any advice appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Dear Laura,

I hate being the bearer of facts, but untenured teachers are nothing else but at-will employees. I have yet to see an untenured teacher's u-rating reversed. The UFT will do their obligatory fight for the member because dues were paid. Unfortunately, the decision is always the same - termination.

If someone knows of an untenured teacher winning the reversal of a u-rating, please state it here. Sad to say but untenured teachers always lose out by both agencies - the DoE and the UFT.

Best of Luck.

Laura said...

Thanks, that's what I've heard. Still worth it - couldn't deal with what was going on, at least this way won't be tempted to continue. Seriously, there are better places, people don't have to deal with treatment like this!

Anonymous said...

Isn't it obvious to all that working for the NYCDOE as a teacher is fraught with peril, and that we are treated as if we were common criminals? Is there any other organization where people that are supposed to be professionals are treated this way?

Our union is a joke, takes the money and runs. Instead of venting the way we do, perhaps it's time for all teachers to coalesce, STRIKE, and bring the DOE to its' knees. It would be interesting to see how the schools would be run WITHOUT the teachers in the fall.

Anonymous said...

If we strike, we will give the DOE the ability to fire us all. I believe our contract forbid strikes as well as the Taylor law. Holding a strike while effective in other industries would not work for us, unfortunately. We work for an organization that does not value us. If I knew what teaching was really like when I changed careers in 2006, I may have reconsidered my choice. I would not recommend anyone becoming a teacher now.

Anonymous said...

I just got an unfair U rating and now they will not renew my susbstitute license. I am so upset--I have been a substitute for 20 years and have never had this happen to me. What should I do?

I am so lost on who to go to for help. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

The time for rating is coming again. I am worried about a U
rating. I have all the satisfactory observations from AP
and principal and have not received any negative feedback so far
this year. However, last month, the principle wanted me to
sign a disciplinary letter regarding a complaint filed by a
few students. I denied the charge and went to the union.
The union now is filing a grievance on my behalf. Few days
ago, I suddenly got a letter from the principle, stating I
might get a U rating or even discontinued (I am in my
second-year probation). The past two years, they have been using
me for translation (I am a foreign language teacher),
during my perp time, lunch time, evening, and even pulled me out of the classroom during my teaching and asked a sub to fit it, so I can go to the main office to translate for parents. I
don't get paid for most of this. I never complained because I
was willing to help my kids and their families. They even
called me during summer vacation to help apply for a grant.
After all of this, just because I refused to sign that damn
letter immediately without fair trial, they threaten giving me U. I
came to realize this system is hopeless. We are
professionals, not slaves. Don't we deserve some a little respect and appreciation?

If I get an U because of this letter not signed, I will consider fighting. I am still in my probation. However, it does not mean they can treat me like that because I am not tenured yet. This is the problem of legal issues, not tenure issues.

If you know any good private attorney you have used before, please refer.

I came to DOE to teach and help kids, not to sue, why does it end like this?

Anonymous said...

This is my 1st year teaching in the DOE despite being a veteran teacher. Until the DOE, I have been very successful and highly regarded in all my prior positions. I received a "u" for the year which I feel is unwarranted & unfair! If I treated & assessed a student in the manner I was treated this past year I would be regarded as a "bad" teacher for sure!

I did not even receive my 1st formal evaluation until December a few days before vacation, and this evaluation was canceled and rescheduled last minute for an even later time! My second evaluation was in April even though admin was “very” concerned about me. I listened to the admin's recommendations & incorporated their suggestions on both evaluations, I reached-out & worked with my mentors & other experts" in both instances but ultimately wound-up with a “u”.

I have more than one advanced degrees, I am a Fulbright Scholar, published articles, presented at conferences, lead departments, trained teachers, but now somehow I've turned into a "unsatisfactory" teacher! It is shocking really!!
I’ve repeatedly been spoken to in an unprofessional manner by certain administrators throughout the year. The administration has tried to bully & intimidate me.

Interestingly enough other highly regarded teachers came to this school also only to discover all of a sudden they are "bad" somehow subpar, there seems to be a pattern...

I feel like a decision was made about me & my ability to teach independent & prior to my evaluations. I am a school with a predominately younger staff and I feel like the administration is threatened by anyone who expresses an opinion, no matter how constructively, or respectfully that does not go along with the status-quo. I also think the fiscal fact that I came in at Masters plus thirty 8B salary scales is a motivation to get a more “expensive” teacher off the administrator’s budget. Bottom-line the admin just didn't like me and I was well aware of this by November!

My UFT representative is a nice enough person but has been aware of the situation since December and has given me unclear and inconsistent information throughout the year. I think she was hoping since I was “kissing-ass” trying to make the “improvements” the administration wanted to see that I would ultimately get an “S”.

This is the first time in my career as an educator that I've seriously considered just leaving the profession! The whole experience at the DOE leaves a bitter, bitter, bitter, taste in my mouth!!!!

crazyworkingmom said...

I will help any tenured teacher if they are in similar situations. If you are not tenured, you basically have no rights. Unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

I was rated "U" in June, a 24 year veteran teacher who never had any formal observations during the 2013-2014 school year, and two letters in my file, which were both full of lies and exaggeration . Any advice ? Does anyone know how a u rating will combine with a rating in the new evaluation system if the U isn't overturned ?

crazyworkingmom said...

Jill Budnick says:
I will help anyone who has received a U rating which was unjustified. I have received many phone calls from teachers in similar situations. All I am asking is you need to follow through-do not give up. I have found a lawyer in NYC who specializes in education law. (Not my lawyer) I will also help teachers prepare for their appeal hearing.

Unknown said...

Hi Jill:

I am a "U" rated teacher who already had one "U" turned over - through a rebuttal with a demand to turn it over and they did - now I have a U for the next school year =I have a private attorney = but I'm going to my U appeal on April 19th

Unknown said...

Jill - Need help preparing for my U rating

Unknown said...

Jill - Need help with a U rating hearing