It is the middle of the UFT election season and I am running on the MORE slate so this is clearly a Delegate Assembly report from my perspective. With that said, I don’t think any fair minded person would be proud of what happened at the March 20, 2013 Delegate Assembly during the discussion on mayoral control. UFT President Michael Mulgrew, and his followers in the Unity Caucus, didn't want to discuss their School Governance Report much but rather tried to engage in personal attacks against two people on the UFT School Governance Committee who opposed it. Unity also voted down a presidential candidates' debate. No surprise there as they wouldn't dare risk having Mulgrew debate Julie Cavanagh from MORE.
SCHOOL GOVERNANCEThe only controversial item on the DA agenda was a School Governance Report being presented by the School Governance Committee. Back in 2009, this same committee issued a report to reform mayoral control of the schools by limiting the power of the mayor over the schools in several ways. That Committee was chaired by Special Education Vice President Carmen Alvarez and Staten Island Borough Representative Emil Pietromonaco. In 2013, they came together again to basically dust off the old report and update it a little. The UFT is calling for some checks and balances but a continuation of mayoral control of the schools.
In Mulgrew’s Presidents' Report, he basically motivated the resolution to accept the School Governance Report by saying that if the report was to be accepted by the Legislature, it would take away three of the mayor’s votes on the Panel for Educational Policy, leaving him/her with five members, instead of the current eight, while the Borough Presidents would retain their five members. The other three would come from the Comptroller, City Council Speaker and the Public Advocate so the PEP would remain at thirteen members. The mayor would need to convince two panel members he/she did not appoint that his policy is right for it to be approved. The UFT calls this a check on mayoral control.
There were other minor tweaks such as giving School Leadership Teams a greater say in choosing candidates for principal’s positions, no waivers for education requirements for Chancellors, fixed terms for PEP members and Superintendents, and a mandate that Community Education Councils approve all school co-locations.
I would call it mayoral control light as it would pretty much take us back to the 1996 law that limited the power of the old school boards. In those days the mayor appointed two members to the Board of Education and the borough Presidents appointed the other five. Therefore, the mayor's appointees had to persuade two other Board members to approve a policy. That is the same number he/she would have to convince under the new UFT proposal.
My own opinion is that this better than what we have now but it does not nearly go far enough in creating a democratic school governance system. I don't understand why we have never had a democratically elected central school board in NYC. I also cannot fathom why the UFT would endorse letting the School Leadership Team pick three finalists for principal positions and then let the Chancellor pick from them. That is so similar to the old system when the C-30 Committee chose five candidates for principal positions and then the Superintendent picked two and then the Chancellor made the final decision. The system was so easy to manipulate (people would drop out until the person the Superintendent wanted was the only one left even if the C-30 Committee at the school rejected an applicant). When I was on the UFT Executive Board, I introduced a resolution to form a UFT committee to reform this system because the supervisory selection process was a joke. The resolution passed and I served on the Supervisory Selection Committee. I recall that we called for elected leaders in that report. Now we want to go back to a form of the system we called a joke back in 1998.
Yes the School Governance Committee is proposing an improvement from what there is now but it isn't that much better. Why doesn't the UFT ever ask for everything we could possibly want and then settle for a few gains instead of starting out asking for only a little and then getting next to nothing?
Mulgrew in his report emphasized that the Governance Committee worked hard and volunteered their time. He also said that mayoral control should not equal mayoral dictatorship.
Later in the meeting, the resolution to accept the report came to the floor. A Unity person spoke and then someone tried to quickly end the debate. To his credit Mulgrew didn't allow this and asked if someone would like to speak against the report. Gloria Brandman from the MORE caucus rose to oppose it. She said that the tweaks in the report would not change much as it would still be mayoral control. She stated that all the mayor would have to do is buy off two politicians and then he has his dictatorship back (Staten Island’s representative on the PEP usually votes with the current mayor as does the City Council Speaker on many issues so it might not be too difficult for the mayor to keep a majority.) Gloria asked for a democratic system of governance run by communities, parents and educators.
This would have been a routine discussion and the Unity majority could have put their rubber stamp on the report but Gloria said something that apparently Mulgrew did not like. She stated that Mulgrew erroneously reported that the vote to approve the report by the committee was unanimous. Gloria said she was present at the early March meeting and as she remembers it, she voted against the report. Being a fair and decent person, she stated that perhaps it was possible that the chairs did not see her hand raised when she voted no. That is why she was correcting the record at the DA.
Mulgrew responded by saying this was serious. He wanted to know if the committee made a mistake so he asked the people on the committee to speak to see if they saw a no vote. The majority Unity caucus committee members, who sign an oath to support the Unity leadership in union and public forums, jumped at the low hanging fruit. They put their hands in the air to obtain the floor and were recognized by the president and one one by one they declared that they did not see anyone vote against the report in committee, thus attacking Gloria who at this point was asking for a point of personal privilege since she was now essentially being called a liar.
Mulgrew refused to recognize Gloria but instead let the Unity faithful continue their attack. MORE’s Peter Lamphere called for a Point of Information and asked if Mulgrew was aware that Joan Seedorf was also on the committee and voted no. Mulgrew would not recognize this and instead called on another Unity person to say that nobody voted against the report. At this point it was becoming ridiculous as Gloria was again trying to be recognized and nobody was discussing the substance of the report so I raised a Point of Order to scream out that I was not going to allow the personal attacks to continue. Mulgrew would not permit me to make the Point of Order and called me out of order. He then told Delegates that they should confine their remarks to the School Governance Report so I basically was able to get what I was asking for. Soon thereafter, the usual Unity majority rubber stamped the report.
MOTION FOR PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE FAILSMike Shirtzer from MORE made a motion that there should be a UFT presidential candidates' debate that should be live streamed between New Action-Unity’s Michael Mulgrew and MORE’s Julie Cavanagh sometime between now and April 10. Since this motion was for this month, no discussion was allowed but the Unity majority overwhelmingly defeated it. (I guess they are afraid of Mulgrew debating Julie. Having seen both Julie and Mulgrew in action on numerous occasions, I can understand why Unity is afraid of a debate.)
PRESIDENTS’ REPORTBesides the School governance Report, President Mulgrew updated the delegates on a number of issues.
Mulgrew declared it is the best budget in a decade proving that our lobby day efforts and our political action have done wonders. There will be an increase of around $800 million in state aid.
FACT FINDING FOR CONTRACT
Mulgrew said the UFT wants the report as soon as possible. The City strategy is to stretch out the process. May 6 is the first hearing date; we are in the process of scoping now. The mayor does not want the report to be part of the campaign for who his successor will be.
Mulgrew told Delegates that the UFT has gone back to the arbitrator for the fourth time. DOE owes us money. The time has been extended to March 22, 2013 for when people must be paid for work done on SESIS during non-school time. While the President does not want members to be insubordinate, he says if members are asked to do work outside of regular time, they must abide and then call and email the UFT that they can’t do the work during the regular day. DOE must also start paying the back pay for work done on non-school time by the April 15 pay period. The arbitrator said all titles deserve time to do this and the DOE must start the impact bargaining he called for in his award.
Mulgrew stated that the DOE is finally acknowledging we deserve a curriculum after 11 years. DOE also agrees we should not be doing Units of Study. City is paying Pearson and McGraw Hill for curriculum we have never seen. All are expecting test scores to plummet. Mulgrew wants to know how 48 states can use Common Core but how can we do it without a curriculum?
Mulgrew thanked volunteers who are working on political endorsements. He said the Political Action Department makes recommendations to the officers and then it goes to the Executive Board and finally the DA. He stated that we have done 150 interviews.
On the mayor’s race, he said that some unions are pushing not endorsing in the Democratic Primary but the mayor’s race is more important to us than other city unions. Mulgrew then called for debate in the DA in April about the mayor’s race. He concluded this section by noting that we are the only big city teacher union that has avoided layoffs in this economic downturn.
Let me see if I have this right: Yes we should debate who we want for mayor but not debate who should be UFT President. That says all I need to know about Unity Caucus.
STAFF DIRECTORS’ REPORTStaff Director Leroy Barr gave a number of dates for UFT functions including a rally against gun violence.
QUESTION PERIODQuestion about state budget impact on the classroom
Mulgrew answer: Mayor looking for 9 year contracts and making future co-locations already. It is difficult to get state money actually into the schools. City budget could be a tough one. We must talk to parents about test score drop when it inevitably happens.
Question about if Chancellor Dennis Walcott and his deputies will stay beyond January 1, 2014 when there is a new mayor
Answer: New mayor will choose the Chancellor. Transition and structure will have to be discussed.
Question about evaluation negotiations
Answer: It’s all games now. We have to see the language in the state budget law. Nobody expects much from talks now.
Next was the aforementioned motion on a presidential debate and the School Governance Committee Report resolution. The MORE people left after the governance business as many were going to the Panel for Educational Policy to support schools that were being closed or subject to co-location.
UFT ENDORSED CANDIDATES
New York City CouncilManhattan 05--Micah Kellner
Bronx 14—Fernando Cabrera
Bronx 16—Vanessa Gibson
Queens 27—Daneek Miller
Queens 29—Karen Kowlowitz
Queens 31—Elizabeth Crowley
Brooklyn 37—Raphael Espinal
Brooklyn 43—Vincent Gentile
Brooklyn 46—Alan Maisel
Staten Island 51—Vincent Ignizio
All candidates are Democrats except for Ignizio who is a Republican
I was not around for the vote on these endorsements or any other regular agenda items but I assume they all passed.
After this month’s fiasco with the way the governance discussion was handled, I am beginning to finally think that maybe my friends are right and there is no reason to go to the DA as it is pretty much an affront to democracy. It looks like what the French writer Alex de Tocqville once called "The tyranny of the majority" in his famous book Democracy in America.