Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Open Letter from Newer Teachers of New York State

February 21, 2011

Dear parents, students, colleagues, school administrators, elected officials, and members of the public,

Currently, New York State's seniority rule protects experienced teachers from layoffs, a policy sometimes known as "last in, first out." In recent budget negotiations, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Black have pressured Governor Cuomo to overturn this rule. We, the undersigned teachers who have been teaching in New York State for five years or less, stand in solidarity with our more experienced colleagues and strongly support maintaining the seniority rule.

As newer teachers, we rely on our more senior colleagues for guidance and support.  Senior teachers offer us their advice, their formal mentorship, and their connections with communities.  Without more senior teachers, we would lose our bridge to lessons learned through years of dedicated work in the school system.

In addition, the rates of black and Latino new teacher hires in New York City have steadily declined since 2002, while the vast majority of New York City public school students are black and Latino. Opening up more senior teachers to layoffs would risk further decreasing the already sparse ranks of teachers of color.  These teachers provide guidance for younger teachers of all backgrounds, and play an important role in the lives of our students.

We also believe that Bloomberg and Black's so-called "merit-based" system for retaining teachers will foster competitive, fearful school cultures that are detrimental both to teachers' professional development and to student learning. In addition, Bloomberg and Black seek to measure teacher performance by student test scores, an imperfect measure at best, and one that encourages narrowly test-focused curricula.

Finally, Bloomberg and Black's arguments against the seniority rule are based on the fact that newer teachers work for lower salaries than our more experienced peers; allowing experienced teachers to be laid off would therefore reduce the total number of necessary layoffs.  This argument, however, fails to account for the true cost of professional development and adequate support for newer teachers.  It also ignores the fact that teacher experience is one of the most reliable predictors of student learning.  If student achievement is the priority, then experienced teachers are more than worth their cost.

Ultimately, the debate over who to lay off is a distraction from the root causes of inequity that continue to affect our profession and the lives of our students; budget cuts should not include any teacher layoffs.  Education is an investment in our future, and cuts to education are ultimately short-sighted.  We reject political tactics that raise the specter of massive teacher layoffs in efforts to divide the workforce and pit parents against teachers.  In the interest of our students, we stand with senior teachers in supporting the seniority rule.



Newer Teachers of New York State 

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

“White Paper” on a Roll: How Ed Deformers Distort the Record on Seniority Layoffs

On February 14, 2011 Educators 4 Excellence, a mouthpiece for the current movement attempting to reverse the current law on seniority based layoffs issued a press release announcing what they termed a "first research-based proposal" contained in a "white paper" entitled, "Keeping Our Best Teachers: An Alternative to Seniority-Based Layoffs."

As our Union remains conspicuously silent on this issue, preferring to argue against the need for layoffs rather than the method, it is time to take this piece of alleged research apart to see what supports their recommendations and whether these recommendations truly support their main thesis; that seniority-based layoffs hurt students and cause some of the "best teachers" to be terminated.

The format of the "white paper" is fairly straight-forward containing an introduction, an explanation of the current system and recommendations.

The Law

The law on seniority-based layoffs requires all layoff decisions to be based on total seniority including substitute and paraprofessional service within license. The literature dealing with layoff scenarios misses this point. Not surprisingly so does the "white paper"." When a layoff decision is made the DOE can layoff certain licensed teachers and hold back on other licenses. Thus hard to staff licenses like special ed or ESL might be totally spared layoff or high school teachers might be laid off before junior high or elementary school teachers. Education Law Section 2588 already gives the DOE the discretion to choose which license and how many teachers to lay off.

The impact of this discretion is nowhere assessed or even discussed. Yet the "white paper" concludes in its introduction that the impact of a layoff would be greatest felt in schools with a large percentage of newly hired teachers which they conclude are more often concentrated in the lowest income communities.

The "white paper's" Introduction

In order to save our schools from being torn apart (their words, not mine) the E4E deformers recommend that layoffs be based on Chronic Teacher Absentees, Principal Evaluations and being assigned to the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool.

"These categories are clear indicators of teacher performance and student achievement," the paper claims. Yet the next paragraph cautions, "In the absence of a more comprehensive system, our framework is a better way to conduct layoffs because it protects great teachers."

This tautological expression undergirds the thesis of the paper. We can't really know who the best teachers are but somehow by laying off by measuring teacher absence, principal evaluations and the fact that you are an ATR will avoid terminating "great teachers."

The introduction continues by asserting that based on a study done last year by the Calder Urban Institute demonstrates that "most of the teachers who would be laid off in a seniority-based system would be substantially more effective than even the best teacher laid off using a value-added system, or a system that includes teacher effectiveness." Does this mean that value-added systems don't measure teacher effectiveness?

Despite the inartful wording of the "white paper's" introduction the Calder Urban Institute (a collaboration of mostly southern university ed researchers who defend Waiting for Superman and most of the ed deformer agenda) claims, as the E4E paper does that seniority-based layoffs will cause effective teachers to be laid off. But how did they determine effectiveness?

The Calder study used 4th and 5th graders from New York City and the "value-added" model that has been demonstrated to be inaccurate and misleading to determine teacher effectiveness. A bit more academically responsible than the E4E crowd Calder states its assumption right up front, "assuming readily available measures of teacher effectiveness actually measure true teacher effectiveness, an assumption to which we return below, the differences between seniority and effectiveness based layoffs are larger and more persistent than we anticipated."

The distortions and inaccuracies continue as the "white paper" claims that the diversity of the teacher ranks would be adversely affected by seniority-based layoffs. The paper claims, without support, that "over the last decade, New York has hired many more African-American and Latino teachers to better reflect the population of city students." Seniority-based layoffs will, they claim, cause these newer, minority teachers to be laid off disproportionally. The fact is that minority hiring has dwindled in New York City and other areas served by programs such as Teach for America. No analysis is offered to support this proposition.

What is cited is the recent Los Angeles school system case as evidence of adverse racial impact. Again inaccurate and misleading. The case has been settled in which racial impact, by law, is permissible to be taken into account in protecting certain parts of the school district from layoff. The settlement is a creature of a completely incomparable set of circumstances. The types of abuses cited by the plaintiffs have not been documented in New York City.

The Recommendations

The first recommendation is based on teacher attendance. The "white paper" suggests that absent teachers be divided into 3 tiers in which teachers absent 15 percent or higher (as measured over the previous and current school year) would be in the first round of layoffs. Tier 2 would be at 10 percent and Tier 3 at 8 percent. They exclude absences with doctor's notes and calculate that at Tier 1 for the last 15 months year you would have to absent 41 days to meet the threshold. At an average of 3 days per month it is unimaginable that a teacher, without a doctor's note, would not have been brought up on charges, placed on disciplinary probation under our new time and attendance contract provisions or otherwise separated from employment.

The "white paper" again confuses teacher effectiveness and student affect by citing a New Teacher Project paper that supports their thesis. (The New Teacher Project was founded by ed deformer poster child Michelle Rhee who recently was caught in her own teacher effectiveness misrepresentation when she admitted that her resume could have been written clearer when it suggested she magically caused her own students to increase their test performance from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile).

The study cited as well as this "white paper" mysteriously neglect to mention a New York City Department of Education study, written just prior to Bloom/Klein in which absenteeism did not correlate with student performance. Other studies have demonstrated that there are more effective ways of dealing with teacher absenteeism including disincentives (termination, fine and other discipline) and incentives (buying back unused sick time).

The next recommendation involves using U ratings in layoff decisions. They support this proposed layoff criteria on the broken U rating system claiming that only 2% of the teachers get U ratings. While 2% is still 1600 there is reason to believe that this number is understated. However sine UFT and DOE statistics don't include terminated employees (both tenured and probationer) and teachers who voluntary resigned with U ratings the number is probably much greater.

The broken U rating system, however, in impeccable logic, supports the decision to layoff because, according to the "white paper," when principals give U ratings they must really mean it since they give it so infrequently. Then they take the next illogical step; if they really mean it then the teachers must really be bad. This is absurd and the very reason that seniority-based layoffs were codified into law.

U ratings are given for a variety of reasons many of which do not involve teacher quality. Political, economic, personality differences and age discrimination reasons are just a few.

U ratings rarely lead to teacher termination for tenured teachers due to the subjective nature of the teacher assessment by the principal and the incompetence of DOE administrators and attorneys. Just like students poor teachers can be taught and with the right mentoring an incompetent teacher can be taught to be competent. A U rating has nothing to do with teacher competence. Seniority based layoffs ensure that illegal and inappropriate discriminatory practices are not perpetrated in a layoff situation.

The last recommendation and my personal favorite is the layoff of ATRs who have not found a permanent job in 6 months. The chauvinism and condescension toward ATRs is evidence of the "white paper's" true mission; the destruction of the collective bargaining system as we know it.

While the ICE/TJC members of the Executive Board when the 2005 contract came up for a vote were the only ones to vote against the contract on the Board and tried to warn the membership of the dangers of this provision (just skim this blog's early entries) the fact is the membership approved of the contract after listening to the lies of union officials who promises this would do away with bumping and the open market was a much fairer way than seniority in determining teacher placement.

In the aftermath of the creation of the ATR pool we have seen overt age discrimination in the attempt to cause more experienced teachers to quit or retire. ATRs fill full teacher programs and are not hired due to the heavier financial burden they place on shrunken school budgets.

When a contract creates an economic disincentive to hire a teacher it is outrageous to insinuate that the teacher's failure to obtain a permanent position is due to incompetence. As schools close ATRs are created. While there was an agreement at one point that recognized the economic disincentive to hire experienced teachers this agreement was never fully funded and totally expired last December.

Additionally the ATR system was established as a result of collective bargaining, where teachers and the DOE traded economic and non-economic demands. What did we give up for the ATR system? Should we permit the DOE to circumvent the collective bargaining process by an end run through the legislature?
And who says ATRs are incompetent?

The "white paper" is replete with inaccuracies and misstatements. It is sad that a group of teachers, who they themselves might, in the future, be U rated, excessed or be absent buy into the ed deformer argument that old is bad, young is good.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Overwhelming Controversies Defame NYC Department of Education

By David Pambianchi, Guest Contributor

Every education issue in the press put out by New York's Mayor, his administrative stooges or Yellow Journalist puppets is fallacious, misleading and corrupt.

The media releases a daily tirade of opinions and articles, spewing false information to unwitting readers who trust the papers, believing that they are being served by proponents of Liberty and a Free Press. The Media have become the proponents of Fraud and Free Gibberish.

The Student Standardized Test Score

The New York Post requested through the Freedom of Information Act the names of teachers whose students failed the state's Standardized Tests. The implication is that they are helping parents and students by exposing "Bad" teachers and giving the Department Of Education grounds for firing them.

The readers get brief arguments about test flaws and unfairness with an overwhelming slant that it is all a Union cover-up. The Logical Truth: Through no fault of his own, if Dr. Martin Luther King taught in a "rough" school and was given up to 150 students, many highly disruptive, disrespectful and emotionally disturbed that told him to "Shut the F... up or I'll kill your mother," and these students refused to do any work and subsequently failed Standardized Tests, Dr. King would be branded publicly as a Bad Teacher, Bum, Dead Beat and the like by the DOE and newspapers.

Bottom line for publishing names: Another excuse to print worthless news and stir up public support to fire teachers.

"Good New Teachers" vs. "Bad Old Teachers"
What exactly is Merit? Converse to common sense, it has nothing to do with ability.

By their own admission, the DOE "Good Teacher" is one that draws the least pay and uses the least benefits. Just out of school and less likely to use medical benefits due to illness, and less likely to have a family, dependents, mortgage and the like, the DOE calls this type of person a "Good" more efficient teacher with "Merit." By DOE definition, every year the teachers work, they are becoming "Bad", less efficient teachers. They draw more money, gain rights and experience and once they secure benefits and pensions, they are unfit for our children. They have less "Merit" and have become "Bad."

Under the new Tier 5 contract, a teacher does not become vested for 10 years (Pensionable), and needs 15 years to secure medical benefits for future retirement. Therefore, a new teacher is a "Good" teacher if he quits or is laid off (fired), before be completes 10 years. The DOE owes him and the family and life he started, nothing; no medical benefits or pension. A decade of his life has passed, his career ended and his license is not even helpful for a street vendor's permit to sell balloons. Seniority and Last in First out is his only protection.

With no logical and ethical alternative to seniority based systems that protect fundamental employee rights around the globe, insider and "specially funded" groups like Education Reform Now and Educators 4 Excellence still oppose seniority. With a false sense of security, they presuppose themselves "Excellent" and more caring of children than other educators, magically more effective, and naturally believe more deserving of remaining on the payroll as they age and become "Bad" teachers.

The Fraud of Charter Schools and School Closings Smokescreen

Last fall, the DOE revved up their attack on public school teachers eagerly anticipating high state test scores for Charter Schools. Nothing less than a miraculous odyssey, the Charter Schools that had hand-picked "New Good" mostly duped nonunion teachers, cherry-picked top level 3 and 4 students and had extensive tax payer money pumped into them. They were OUT SCORED by regular under-funded public schools with "Bad Old Union Teachers" who were left with lower functioning 1 and 2 level students, English as a Second language learners and anyone else the Charter Schools rejected.

We do not hear the outcry every day in the press to close them, that the children and public have been deceived. No. We hear the call for MORE Charter Schools. Bottom line: Continue to squeeze out so called "Bad Old Union Teachers" by dumping them into the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR). The DOE wants to keep hiring new teachers, coming and going with revolving door policy, wants them coming in from Teach Across America to stay a few years and disappear, wants any NYC Universities to be able to claim they have high college placement for their graduating students, by temporarily dumping them in the school system despite half of them leaving within the first year.

More and more schools MUST be closed in order to get rid of union teachers and redirect the subsequent savings to fund the vast, useless and ever growing administrator positions and outside agencies. (Not to mention their benefits and larger pensions. Teacher pensions average $39,000 of those who can make it to retirement before being hounded until they quit or are forced and coerced out.)

["I counted 22 DOE administrators who earned at least $180,000 as of last June - most of whom I have never heard of; and 74 who made $150,000 or over. What's most interesting is how many administrators there are - including hourly workers: 11,796! More than 10,800 are listed with annual salaries."]

Some Math

With a 3 to 4 ratio, these administrative salaries equal 30,000 to 40,000 teachers, teachers that could be in the classroom with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction. (Remember the number of teachers in the entire system; 80,000.) Meanwhile, instead of having teachers already in the system become Principals and Assistant Principals, the Leadership Academy is pumping out principals by the hundreds that have as much to do with NYC Education as Chancellor Cathie Black.

More Math

In addition to the above numbers, multiple storey schools (similar to recent phasing-out Jamaica H.S.), staffed a Principal and around 5 Assistant Principals (APs). These schools were closed and replaced with 5 new schools, one for each floor. That means at least 5 Principals and 10 or more Assistant Principals. (They have to find someplace to put the ever increasing number of administrators.) The additional salaries of these administrators equal what could have been another 15 teachers or more in the classrooms of the building.

Furthermore, the strangulation of low achieving "Close Out" schools by deliberately funneling away funds, making false evaluations and comparisons to other schools and withholding support is nothing less than Racism.

Ethically, Often the Best Schools are the Close Out schools

Obviously, Close Out schools are not fudging data. If anything, they are honest in their struggle. Unfortunately in MOST schools, fearful of retribution for having an "Academically" failing school and being targeted for teacher "U" ratings or "Excessed" into the ATR pool, teachers protect their livelihood and forgo ethics. Suddenly, students pass Regents and classes after tests are "Scrubbed" (reexamined through special interpretation), or worse, and students who can barely read, nor do a simple math equation, graduate. Students tossed into the local college to make the High School look "Good," discover they need remedial courses. Many soon drop out.

Some principals manage an "A" School Rating this way. Sometimes these principals and some of those aforementioned administrators, who never stepped foot in a school building get bonuses upward of $25,000. That's more than halfway to hiring a new teacher for a year. For hard working teachers, this is simply an extra slap in the face.

The Absent Teacher Reserve

If the DOE cannot move public opinion and the legislature to overturn Seniority rights, the ATR system (that the DOE created and wasted a fortune on), is another avenue to accomplish teacher removal with the Open Market Scam. Rather than veteran teachers choosing new schools to work by seniority after a school downsizes or closes, Principals now have "Discretion" in hiring. They are "inclined" not to hire ATRs. They hire the aforementioned "New Good Teachers" and not "Bad Old Teachers."

First, "Starve the Beast." Bloomberg's administration mismanaged the budget in order to create a hungry, monstrous deficit, now they want to use the ensuing financial crisis as an excuse to "Feed this Beast" the salaries, benefits and pensions of fired veteran teachers and cover some financial loses. Year to year, ATRs are bounced around the system like ping pong balls (even if they have the skills of Aristotle), and still teach classes usually relieving the parent-school's teachers of their workload by getting a newly formed class-mix of aforementioned Dr King's disruptive students. (ATRs can also fill in as daily substitutes if a teacher is out sick.)

How to fire a "Senior Tenured Teacher:" Blackmail and Criminal Harassment

In essence, Tenure means Due Process and almost every American knows the meaning of "Due Process." It is the core of our justice system and the backbone of freedom and the American spirit. The 80,000 teachers of NYC do not argue that a teacher convicted of a criminal sex act against a child or a drunken buffoon (front page news for certain), should remain in the system. Tenure does NOT protect this type of employee. But the DOE has a different definition of Tenure. Due Process is a hindrance to removing employees that draw higher salaries and benefits.

The newspapers finally published a rare view of what a NYC school has become. An unstable Staten Island Principal made headlines for ranting and raving, threatening to garnish wages over teachers being 5 minutes late who car pooled and managed to struggle to work after a snow storm. But here is what the public does not know. That incident is not even the tip, of the top, of the iceberg. Imagine what the daily animosity between teachers and administrators and the abuse of authority that goes on in this school must be like and then realize that this is becoming the norm in the school system.

Principals are openly blackmailed by the Bloomberg Administration into giving teachers "U" ratings. They must find fault in teachers (preferably those drawing higher salary), or THEY are getting an "Unsatisfactory" rating. Administrators that are a product of the NYC Leadership Academy are more inclined to act accordingly and like the Staten Island Administrator would be considered by the DOE as a "Strong, GOOD principal with vision for the children."

The Principal's "Discretion" translates into Principal's "Discrimination and usually involves Criminal Harassment with impunity."

Once marked for an "Unsatisfactory" rating, the innocent victim can expect any or all of the following:

A. No matter how many years of experience, how well a teacher plans or how excellent their lesson or teaching ability may be, the result will be "Unsatisfactory" observation after observation.

B. Letter after letter of problems with the teacher will be placed on file, some absurd and petty as to stagger thought (like the Staten Island Incident, but the publicity probably saved them that letter)

C. Continuous harassment of various sorts, computer removed from the teacher's room and given to another teacher, along with furniture, or supplies

D. constant walk-ins and class disruptions

E. Threatened with a "U" rating unless he or she transfers or threats they will be brought up on some kind of "charge" if they do not resign E. Classes with disruptive students disciplined for some teachers, but not for the marked teacher left to fend for his or her self causing indirect encouragement of student disrespect toward marked teachers
F. Public humiliation and reprimands before fellow teachers and/or students, even over the loud speaker

The school can expect:

A. A hostile work atmosphere
B. Most teachers afraid to speak out in general
C. Teachers siding with administrators against other teachers in an attempt to look "Good" and avoid targeting
D. A teaching and working staff that hold contempt for the NYC teaching profession
E. Students that sense all of the above

I have seen a highly qualified and intelligent elderly English teacher go through the gauntlet. This teacher took a normally a tough disruptive group of students, using his dramatic style and the fact they respected his age, he got them to do class work and they learned about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. But he was given the harassment treatment and the more he resisted, the more inflamed the principal became. Some students referred to him as grandpa, and he would buy a birthday cake and take a few "school photos" for students now and then. The principal used one of these "cake photo episodes" to report that the teacher was some kind of pervert to be investigated, and had him sent to the infamous Rubber Room. The principal even coerced a female student to tell investigators that "She felt uncomfortable." She later told investigators she was coerced by the principal. The teacher was exonerated after a year or so and made it back into the school system, but not all teachers are as fortunate.

I have seen a teacher blamed for students starting fires in the class when he turned his back to write on the board.

I have seen a principal and AP, badger a physics teacher over her lesson, once she was marked for a "U" Rating. If she were Albert Einstein, it would have made no difference. Neither administrator had the intellectual capacity to determine anything going on in the room, on or off the board. The teacher was lucky enough to get a transfer.

On and on, just ask a teacher. There are countless stories.

Tenure and Seniority is the only barrier between racism, bias, nepotism, harassment and corruption.

Why does someone become a teacher?

Usually someone first becomes a teacher because he or she believes they can make a difference in a child's life. Second, they discover, what an idea? To make this endeavor an honorable career, have a family, children and retire with dignity. But now in New York, knowing how the current system works, only an insane person would become a teacher. After 6 plus years of college, degrees, certificates, subsequent training and testing, as soon as they put in time and start to draw benefits and salary increases, the DOE by definition determines they are old and "Bad" and must be fired.

All that is left is your children

Tainted press and phony politicians chant the mantra that they care about your children. But from the beginning, it has always been the teachers who care about spreading knowledge to children. They know what is best, and what children need. Teachers must be given the tools, the authority and respect to do their jobs.

Visit David's Website: "Writer's Edge"

Thursday, February 17, 2011


First many teachers in Florida walked out of schools to defend tenure and won. Now teachers in Wisconsin have walked off their jobs in a huge sickout and they have been joined by students and other public employees to descend upon the capitol to defend public employee collective bargaining rights. They appear to have won a temporary reprieve by their actions as Republicans can't get a quorum to vote on their horrible piece of anti-union legislation.

We are under assault nationally and must fight back to survive.

Friday, February 11, 2011


UFT President Michael Mulgrew is being criticized for comparing Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after a raucous protest in Brooklyn on February 3, 2011. The mayor is angry at the UFT and others for disrupting a Panel for Educational Policy meeting because we knew in advance the PEP would vote to phase out our schools. The crowded auditorium shouted over Chancellor Cathie Black’s opening remarks and then there was a walkout led by students, parents and teachers. If the obvious risk of jail, torture or worse that Egyptian protesters face is removed from Mulgrew’s comparison, but instead we just focus on government not responding to the cries of the people, then the analogy between Bloomberg and Mubarak holds up quite well when it comes to New York City public schools.

Just as years of ignoring the needs of the majority in Arab countries has resulted in massive protests, a mayor who has controlled the schools since 2002 and has disregarded the voice of public school parents, teachers and students is now facing our wrath. The only surprise is that it took so long for the frustration and futility of trying to work within the Department of Education’s system to finally reach the boiling point as it did last week. Consider the case of Jamaica High School, where our organized school community has attempted on numerous occasions to reach out to two Chancellors and the PEP, only to be ignored, dismissed or retaliated against for speaking out on behalf of our school.

Back in 2007, the Jamaica High School family signed a letter to then Chancellor Joel Klein asking for the Department of Education and New York City Police Department to reconsider making Jamaica High School an Impact School (unsafe school designation). We told Chancellor Klein that the DOE was misreading a Zero Tolerance discipline policy where we were reporting certain minor incidents that other schools would sweep under the rug. The response from DOE was not to reconsider their decision, but to make us an Impact School and then instead of reviewing our numbers, they were sent to the state and we were mislabeled a Persistently Dangerous School. That led to DOE writing a letter to parents telling them that the school was persistently dangerous and offering them a transfer. When hundreds of students transferred out in 2007, the DOE did nothing to help the school but instead slashed the budget in midyear, forced us to let go of most of our younger staff and decided to co-locate a new school, Queens Collegiate, inside our building.

Concerned citizens that we are, we thought it would be advantageous to make our case personally to Chancellor Klein so in April of 2008 we chartered a bus on our own and 89 teachers, students, alumni, other staff, parents and friends went to our first PEP meeting to tell the Chancellor how our budget was slashed mid year and how over a dozen teachers were being forced to sit around as Absent Teacher Reserves, not permitted to teach regular classes. We asked for assistance in recruiting from the DOE so that we could alleviate crowding in neighboring schools in our oversaturated borough. We apparently impressed Manhattan PEP representative Patrick Sullivan who emailed Klein asking him if he could do something for us. In return, the Chancellor wrote to Mr. Sullivan with a copy to me saying: “It’s not about resources. They have significant amount. Do you think you know anyone who would send child there?” Put aside the Chancellor’s poor grammar, he didn’t give us any support and he insulted parents who sent their kids to Jamaica. When we later returned to the PEP to show how Jamaica’s per pupil spending was significantly less than the new school in our building, the Chancellor directed us to his budget people who dismissed us.

In 2009 as our freshmen enrollments were finally starting to increase, we went back to the PEP and made a desperate plea to Klein and the panel because we were so strapped for funding that our student records were piling up. We no longer could afford records or pupil accounting secretaries and at that time we actually had classes that for months still had no teacher. Instead of directing teacher or secretarial help our way, a month later the Chancellor proposed phasing out Jamaica.

We then nearly filled up our 1,000 plus seat auditorium twice for meetings and hundreds of people spoke out in support of Jamaica High School. The Chancellor was not moved to assist us even after I emailed him to show how the data that they were using to close us was wildly inaccurate. (A subsequent investigation basically proved we were right.) In the spring of 2010, after the UFT, NAACP and others won a lawsuit to keep us open, the DOE again sent a letter out discouraging students from going to Jamaica and another encouraging current pupils to transfer out. Subsequently, we once again appealed to the PEP to let us re-canvass our zoned areas to help our recruitment and to try to alleviate crowding in neighboring schools like Francis Lewis where school lasts until 7:00 pm.

Not only were our pleas ignored, this time the DOE decided to co-locate two more schools in our building and again slash our budget way beyond citywide cuts so 30% of the teachers were let go. We made our case again at a July 2010 PEP meeting that the draconian cuts to students of Advanced Placement classes, many other electives, tutoring, the entire music program, all of our educational options programs for freshmen and more were unconscionable. In the fall the lack of teachers caused over 80 classes to go over the class size contractual limits and they had to be grieved. (Many remain oversize to this day.)

The DOE left us so bare that we had to file grievances in the fall for three teachers who were sent packing even though classes in their subject area existed so they should have been allowed to exercise their UFT contractual right of return. The contract says in Article 17B, Rule 8: “A teacher who has been excessed to another school may request an opportunity to return to the school from which he/she was excessed if within a year a vacancy should occur in that school. Such a request will have priority over any other transfer or appointment to that vacancy,” but that rule doesn’t apply to Jamaica. We had vacancies in math, physical education and social studies however DOE would not allow our teachers their right of return. We had to file grievances and five months later DOE finally acquiesced and permitted two of the teachers to come back. Unfortunately, for the fall term some of these classes had to be taught by teachers who were not teaching in their subject area license. Meanwhile, the DOE filled the social studies vacancy with someone from the outside while the teacher who was excessed, Dena Gordon, is forced to remain at another school. This in spite of the fact that during the latest Joint Public Hearing on closing schools the students protested with a long, loud chant of, “Bring back Ms. Gordon.” Since Ms. Gordon found a position after being excessed, DOE has the nerve to claim she transferred and forfeited her right of return.

We went through the school closing ritual again this December and January by showing facts and figures to prove that the DOE was wrong and that we face the challenge of having many more English Language Learners compared to the other schools in our building while we have a much higher teacher to student ratio than they have. We wrote petitions that close to 2,000 people signed in support of the school. We spoke in front of new Chancellor Cathie Black at her first PEP in January. Our kids even wrote a play criticizing school closings but administration tried to ban its performance. Our school community would not quit.

Students, parents, teachers, UFT officials, community activists, Senator Tony Avella, and Assemblyman David Weprin all told Deputy Chancellor John White at the January 20, 2011 Joint Public Hearing that Jamaica needs to remain open and receive support from the DOE. We told White how our pupils are forced to use obsolete equipment while new schools in our building have the most up to date technology. We told him we are also the only school in the building that has self contained special education classes (the most restrictive environment) and bilingual Spanish classes and in spite of all the cuts from DOE, state figures show our graduation rate has improved between 2005 to 2009 from 38% to 54%. Our rate of increase is actually greater than the city as a whole for that time period. Over 50 speakers, including PTA President Charm Rhoomes, student leader Kevin Gonzalez, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel and many others took to the microphone in defense of Jamaica. Community Board 8 also passed a resolution to support us. Deputy Chancellor White responded by saying that the community, the parents, the teachers, the students have spoken but the DOE disagrees with us!

We have repeatedly tried to reason with the DOE to no avail. I am fairly certain other schools slated for closure have some similar stories to tell. In the end it is amazing that those of us in schools that have been treated miserably for years have taken so long to respond with indignation that finally blew up at the February 3 PEP meeting. Mayor Bloomberg is lucky we have been so civil. We have shown remarkable restraint. In countries like Britain, France and now Egypt, the reaction would have been much more militant.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Part I of the latest school closing Panel for Educational Policy meetings was depressing on Tuesday with ten schools facing the PEP axe and we had to compete with charter school supporters who came in masse to the meeting.

Today at Brooklyn Tech is part II as 13 schools face execution. Before the meeting, the UFT is planning a rally. Please be there for both the rally and the meeting. We need all of our members. The anti union atmosphere is getting worse.

Rally is at 4:30 p.m. and the PEP meeting is at 6:00 p.m.

Brooklyn Tech is at DeKalb Ave. and Greene Pl. in downtown Brooklyn.