Archives For nyc schools

by: Mike Schirtzer
Teacher/UFT Delegate (Leon M. Goldstein H.S.)
2013 MORE/UFT Vice Presidential Candidate

“The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory.” -Jonathan Kozol

This quote by the great writer and public education advocate Mr. Kozol leads one to infer that without a struggle there cannot be victory. One may also assert that there is victory in the struggle itself. The question of how an opposition caucus within a union can gain power and victory is one that must be answered in order for that caucus to progress.

Without power, there can never be victory. Power in any group is obtained when the individuals that make up the group feel empowered. Empowerment comes when each member is able to stand up and fight back against the corporate and political forces that seek to destroy public education and bust our unions. We empower our members by assuring them that their voices count, and by asking them for their input on all major decisions. An organization that allows for true democracy is one that empowers its members. We also empower our members by having a space where dissent and debate are welcomed, not suppressed. Empowerment comes when we stand together at delegate assemblies , rallies and school closing hearings, when we cheer each other on, and offer words of encouragement. Empowerment is when new activists who join our caucus realize their ideas are as valuable as  those of our founding members. Our caucus has power when each and every member feels as though they can stand up and speak even when they are the minority in the room, because they are empowered by the vocal and moral support of their brothers and sisters. Our members become empowered because each one is given a responsibility and they know the only way our caucus can be a success is by them fulfilling those responsibilities.

The caucus empowers our members by asking them to appear on panels, facilitate meetings, or join expert forums. We realize that the true experts are not paid off politicians, billionaire reformers, nor professors who have never stepped foot in a public education classroom. The real experts are the educators and parents whose lives are devoted to public education.

Power leads to victory when each of our members walks through the doors of their school, community center, union hall, or legislative building feeling as they have as much power as anyone in that place. Then we know we can achieve victory.

Victory is achieved when new members walk through our doors and say “thank God you exist,” having heard those very words out in the open that they hear in their head each day. They are feeling the very spirit that they wished they felt from their union and government leaders. But the real victory is when the members of the caucus turn to that new member and say, “No, thank God you’re here, because we need you.” That is real empowerment.  That is victory!

Victory is achieved when our members take what they learn at our caucus meetings and bring it back to their school, share it with their colleagues, and speak at Parent Association meetings. This is victory because the message is not being delivered by an out of touch media or an elitist politician, but it’s being delivered by someone who has a stake in the public education system.

We know we have won something when our members go back to their schools and organize a fund to help undocumented students attend the college of their choice, or when a member organizes a club for African-Americans and other students of color at their school where students teach their peers to respect one another and even organize multicultural fairs. When our parents opt their children out of the tests, we have won. They have done this because they realize social justice is more than just a slogan.

When our union brothers and sisters are offered a choice in a union election, an alternative to the current leadership, this is a victory for democracy. MORE’s very existence offers a beacon of hope to those who feel as though they are disenfranchised. Every time we stand up and voice our discontent that union leaders sell out public education for a seat at the table, we ensure that democracy thrives.

Victory is when the bonds of the members of our caucus become so strong that when one of us feels hurt we all feel that pain. We win every time we’re able to look past our political differences to advocate for public education, because we realize that what brings us together is stronger than what separates us.

We have won when we are able to look to each other for the moral and vocal support that is supposed to come from our union leadership, yet only comes from those in our caucus.

Victory is being the largest and loudest contingent at the rare march or rally called by our union leadership, leading the chants as we march across the Brooklyn Bridge. We win when the leadership has no clue how to organize an action and all union members look to us for what to say or do.

We have achieved victory when the media and the general public know that when they want to hear the voice of rank and file educators, they call you, read your blogs, look for your press statements. We win when our social media has as many readers, if not more, than the corporate reformers who pretend to be interested in our children, but only care about profits.

MORE has yet to achieve victory. When our entire union is organized and mobilized to lead the fight for a fair education for all, we will declare victory. When our leadership is responsive, transparent, and truly democratic, we will declare victory. When educators, parents, and students are treated with the dignity they deserve, we will declare victory. When every child is offered equal opportunity and equality of conditions in their education, we will declare victory. When the “new Jim Crow” policies of privatization and closing schools ends and proper funding for public education is restored, we will know we have won.

Until then, we continue our struggles together. We will succeed because when we stand united, we can never be defeated!

MORE Motto

August 14, 2013 — Leave a comment
alt="our working conditions are our students' learning conditions"

the MORE motto

tenuredteacherhearingsfundchart In November of 2007, the Department of Education formed a new group, the Teacher Performance Unit (TPU); a team of five lawyers and consultants who were tasked with the job removing teachers that the department identified as ‘bad’. At that time, Dan Wesier, the chief labor relations officer for the DOE was quoted as saying that the TPU would “…ensure we have the capacity to seek the removal of all ineffective tenured teachers..”. He also said that the new team would “… also allow us to seek discipline where appropriate in a wider range of cases than before..”.

Former UFT president Randi Weingarten responded to the formation of this group by asserting that the DOE was .. relying on an unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive management style that is intended to create a climate of fear, rather than collaboration, in our city schools.”  She lead a candlelight vigil on the 27th of that month to protest the group’s forming.

Six years, and a brutal recession, have passed since this policy initiative was launched.  During this time, the ranks of lawyers who work for the TPU, and it’s sister group, the Administrative Trials Unit (ATU) have swelled, while many of us who teach in New York City’s classrooms have witnessed the numerous attempts to fire our colleagues, many for reasons that we can only be described as frivolous and petty .  The Movement of Rank and File Educators believes that it is time to begin examining how many teachers have lost or have been forced from their jobs by the department since this policy began.

This, to be clear, is no easy task. Anyone who knows anything about  the process of firing teachers in New York knows that much of that process is kept secret. Some of this secretiveness is by statute. The state law that governs the process, 3020-a, guarantees an accused teacher his or her confidentiality throughout the entire process (unless he or she chooses to have its proceedings made public). And some of this secrecy is because the DOE and the union have both agreed to keep the actual numbers -the specific amount of people who have been put through this process- secret. The resulting fact is that there is no data that tells people how many tenured teachers lost their job in New York City in any given year. As a consequence, no one  actually knows how many teachers the city has fired, or even how many it has tried to fire since the formation of what Weingarten termed the ‘Gotcha Squad’.  There are guesses and  nuggets and tidbits of information that has surfaced from time to time. But there is no real hard number that anyone can point to. This number could be ten or it could be ten thousand and none of us would know. The first step in finding out is to examine exactly how much money was spent since these years in the pursuit of firing teachers. 

It is, of course, is impossible to track every dollar that has been spent pursuing 3020-a charges of tenured teachers.  The school district who decides to fire a teacher pays much of this expense. It is responsible for any investigation related or leading to its decision to begin a 3020-a proceeding. It must also provide a venue where the hearing can occur, a place where that teacher will report to work while he or she is suspended and don’t forget  the salary of a replacement teacher during the time of the suspension. Most importantly, the district must pay the fees of the lawyer(s) who will try the case. The state teacher union (NYSUT) is, when a member so decides, responsible for the fees representing the teacher during his or her defense. It is simply not possible for us to account for all of the money has been spent.


But it is possible to track the amount of money spent on hearing officers. Those are the arbitrators who are tasked with presiding over a 3020-a case and ultimately decide whether or not a teacher should be fired. In New York State, nearly every teacher who faces 3020-a dismissal charges has a hearing officer assigned to their case and, as it so happens, every hearing officer submits their fees to the same New York Sate Education Department office;  the Tenured Teacher Hearing Unit. This unit

“… manages aspects of the statutory process, including receipt of charges, maintenance of case files and case information, and facilitation of the assignment and payment of hearing officers/arbitrators and court reporters.”

Referring to this unit, New York’s Deputy Commissioner of NYSED, Theresa Salvo described the state’s role in the disciplinary process like this (here):

“. The [Education] Department’s role in the tenured teacher disciplinary process is primarily ministerial.The Department has little or no ability to control costs associated with the Tenured Teacher Hearing (TTH) process.” (emphasis added)”

This unit also manages a  fund called the Tenured Teacher Hearings Fund. This is actual account out of which hearing officers and court reporters are paid. This account has an annual budget of approximately $3 Million. Its monthly expenditures are reported on their own line in the NYSED State Education Department Monthly Fiscal Report.


So tracking how much money is spent on trying to fire teachers isn’t so difficult after all: We must simply examine how much money is spent on the fees for hearing officers in any given year from the state’s Tenured Teacher Hearings Fund.  If NYSED was compelled to spend more from this fund than usual, then we know that school districts in New York tried to fire more teachers than usual.

 In New York State, the fiscal year ends on March 31. So, in any given year, any money that the state has spent through this date (called “actual expenditures”), and in NYSED’s case, any money that is earmarked to be spent through the rest of the school year (called “projected expenditures”) is reflected in the monthly fiscal report for March of that year.

Below is the total amount of money that was spent by the Tenured Teacher Hearing Fund between the years of 2005 and 2013 as presented in the Monthly Fiscal Reports for March (the end of the fiscal cycle) of each year. (As you may find the documents a bit dense, I suggest searching for the term “Tenured Teacher Hearings” in each of them.)

Year

Original
Budget

Actual
Money Spent

$2.1m $2.1m
2006 $3.3m $3.3m
2007 $3.3m $3.3m
2008 $3.3m $3.3m
2009 $2.8m $4.2m
2010 $3.1m $6.0m
2011 $3.6m $10.1m
2012 $3.6m $12.6m
2013 $3.6m

861,851

It isn’t difficult to see that, beginning FY 2008/2009, and continuing through FY ’11/’12, there was a significant increase in spending from this fund on fees for 3020-a hearing officers. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that during, and just before, this period of time, hearing officers -who’s only job is hear the 3020-a hearings of teachers who were in the process of being fired by their district- were presiding over a great many 3020-a cases -many more than usual. So much, in fact, that the fund ran in deficit. During these years, more money was spent on fees for hearings officers and court reporters than NYSED or the state legislature had anticipated.

You’ll also note an increase in spending from this fund just two years after the formation of the ‘gotcha squad’ of at least $2 million each year. In 2007, with New York City’s Rubber Rooms still open, it took approximately that long to bring a teacher to trial.  While some of this money is, indeed, carry over debt from previous year, an examination of the budget reports will show you that new money -at times at an alarming rate- was spent from this fund during the subsequent four years.

Just another look at the line graph depicting expenditures from this fund.

We now know that more teachers experienced the 3020-a termination process during these years than ever had before. While we hesitate to guess the amount of teachers, we anticipate that this number must be staggering. That money, however, reflects 3020-a hearings from all across the state, not only here in New York City.  In order to show that the lion’s share of this money was spent firing city teachers, it’s important to separate New York City’s expenditures from the Tenured Teacher Hearings Fund from the rest of the state’s 694 school districts. Fortunately, there is a way to do that.

In May of 2011, NYSUT’s Andrew Pallotta offered testimony to the New York State Senate about the process of disciplining teachers. During those remarks, he made it a point to draw a stark dividing line between New York City’s 3020-a experiences and the rest of New York State. Time and again he reminds the committee that, when talking about 3020-a, there is a difference between New York City and the rest of the state. He starts off here

 “There are over 120,000 tenured teachers in New York State, not including those working in New York City.”

And then reminds the committee here (twice)

“During the 2005-06 through 2009-10 school years, our office handled an average of 104 new cases annually outside New York City.  In other words, fewer than one 3020-a case is filed for every seven school districts per year outside New York City.

And again here

 “We have studied the results in the 351 cases handled by NYSUT attorneys brought outside of the City of New York, which began and ended in the last 5 ½ years. In about 35% of the cases, the teacher resigned soon after charges were filed.”

And when he addresses New York City’s 3020-a statistics, he specifically mentions that remarks pertain to (only) the city:

In New York City, despite a number of attempts to improve the disciplinary system in the last ten years, the UFT felt that this system was not working for our members or the DOE.

This difference between the city and the rest of the state when discussing the 3020-a process is no coincidence. Thanks to the 2005 UFT contract, the actual process for terminating teachers in New York City is much more different than it is in the rest of the state (see here).

Let’s take another quick look Vice President Pallotta’s testimony about the 3020-a statistics outside of New York City:

“During the 2005-06 through 2009-10 school years, our office handled an average of 104 new cases annually outside New York City.  In other words, fewer than one 3020-a case is filed for every seven school districts per year outside New York City.

The number he sites reflects only those teachers who were charged, who chose the free legal defense from NYSUT (a great number of teachers opt to hire their own private defense attorney) and who’s charges were not settled before the hearing concluded. Anecdotaly , we know that the overwhelming majority of charges  filed end up in settlement. A settlement is an agreement entered into between the department and the teacher who has been charged whereby the teacher agrees to some type of penalty. In the past, this penalty has included a letter to file, a course (that the teacher must pay for) and in many settled cases, a monetary fine that is deducted from the teacher’s pay over a series of months. The numbers Mr. Pallota cites represent the smallest fraction of teachers who have been charge: Those who were charged, were not offered (or didn’t accept) a settlement and did not opt for private attorney representation, instead choosing the services that NYSUT offers. However,  using this number, which we have no reason to doubt, we are able to estimate that approximately 208 teachers outsideof New York City experienced this process through it’s entirety (with NYSUT representation) between September of 2009 June of 2010.

Vice President Pallatto accounts for this same period of time, and the same percentage of teachers who experienced the full process and opted for a NYSUT attorney, when revealing how many teachers within New York City:

Over the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, a period which covers both the backlogged and the newly filed cases, we have completed 561 cases.

That’s 561 cases (counting the backlogged cases that lead to the famous April, 2010 agreement to end the rubber rooms and speed up the process) that were handled by NYSUT attorneys within New York City. We can now see that, according to NYSUT, 353 more teachers cases were handled by NYSUT inside New York City during the same period of time.

There are 120,000 tenured teachers across the rest of New York State, where 208 cases were settled during this time. In New York City, it is generally understood that approximately half of that amount, 60,000, enjoy the same protections. Yet it seems the amount of city teachers who have faced termination charges double. In fact, using these numbers, it becomes clear that city teachers during  were at least 4.6 times more likely to face 3020-a charges than were teachers from across the rest of the state.

We can now see that between the years of 2009 and 2012 New York City spent the lion’s share of $32.8 million in state funds, running the state into a $19.7 million deficit in the process, to dutifully try to fire more than four times the amount of teachers as anywhere else in the state. Only two possible conclusions can be drawn from this realization: Either an astoundingly high amount of teachers here in the city are bad, or our employer, the city’s Department of Education, has zealously pursued a course to fire as many teachers as it can.

We  believe the latter: That, instead of spending badly needed money on children and on schools during the depths of the recession,  the department engaged in a zealous attempt to fire as many teachers as possible and used the state’s money -more than $19 million of which it did not have- to prosecute those attempts. We also believe this policy continues to today.

Former president Weingarten’s  prediction was correct; the DOE has created a climate of fear and intimidation in our schools.  This climate of fear has had an adverse effect on the working conditions of our colleagues and must end.  We must establish an open environment of collaboration if we expect our teachers to excel. In addition, the department must  direct as much money as possible to the actual classroom -to actual students-  instead of using it in an attempt to fire teachers (at a rate at almost five times as frequent as other districts throughout the state) if they expect their schools -our schools- to be successful.

MORE Winter Retreat December 28, 2012

Attendance ~ 50 throughout the day

I. Social Justice Unionism

 

Discussion was wide ranging, starting out with a basic question of how to deal with a wide range of political beliefs amongst our coworkers on social justice issues. There was consensus on the importance of relating to the immediate needs of educators faced with deteriorating working conditions.

 

Action Steps decided on:

The Platform committee will produce two vision documents with specific policies and positions

1)   Specific working conditions issues (Tenure, Evaluations, Paperwork, Danielson, Common Core, Class Size)

2)   Social Justice issues (SLTs, Mayoral Control, Restorative Justice, Testing, Wraparound Service, Curriculum etc.)

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