Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What was gained, what was lost?

Independent Community of Educators leaflet handed out at special Delegate Assembly, April 24, 2007

The growing coalition of teachers and parent groups opposed to the educational policies of the BloomKlein administration forced them on the defensive for the first time. The Feb. 28th rally at St. Vartan’s church was a shot across the bow. Though the UFT was clearly the major organizing force and the audience was packed with people on the union payroll with the usual assortment of politicians, the event also brought out an unexpected number of rank and file teachers and activist parents. It might have been the first time such a conglomeration of forces were in the same room at the same time and was a unique opportunity to build a base for further action, culminating in a massive rally of all these forces at City Hall on May 9.

Some parent leaders had the sense of “we’ve got them where we want them” expecting no concessions, wanting to hold out for a major modification or elimination of mayoral control. But their mantra - “put the public back in the public schools”- reflects just a pale shade of the impact of the mayoral control/corporate model on urban school systems around the nation. NYC has gotten the brunt of it.

With BloomKlein receiving nationwide accolades for their reorganization(s) of the school system, many for the destructive attacks on the UFT, the May 9th event would have made a splash nationally and focused attention on the increasing opposition to so many disastrous policies.

But UFT leaders, long-time supporters of the concept of mayoral control, would not go there, preferring to hold the message simply to the extremely short-term goal of killing the current chaotic reorganization and going back to the previous chaotic reorganization.

The UFT leadership sees the battle as a matter of tactics and strategy, not a much larger confrontation with a power elite intent on remaking things forever, in the process ignoring the bigger battle of the major assault on public education, along with increasing privatization.

A seat at the table

The UFT-led coalition made a deal at the biggest moment of weakness BloomKlein have faced, leaving all of the onerous provisions of the reorganization intact. Basically, for a seat at the table. To talk to - who? According to press reports, we won the right to sit down, in Randi Weingarten’s own words, with officials of the Department of Education who are “absolute and complete assholes” who “can’t be trusted.”

What was gained?

Principals will not lose a higher paid teacher’s salary when that teacher retires, though it leaves the decision on senior teachers who transfer to the grievance procedure (what are the chances of winning.) The NY Times report on the funding plan compromise said, “The change means that when a veteran teacher paid nearly $100,000 a year retires, a principal can hire a similar teacher or hire a rookie for about $50,000 and use the remaining $50,000 for other expenses.” Will a principal chose a senior teacher or take the 50 grand? It actually gives principals an incentive to encourage senior teachers to leave.

No school will have its budget cut for the next two years. A disappointed parent commented: I am concerned about what happens to this city long after my children graduate: tomorrow’s students will be our neighbors, our city’s workers, someone’s parents, etc.

Consultation on class size: No matter what is said or what committees they form, Tweed does not believe that reducing class size will have the same impact spending money on professional development will. Expect spinning the wheels. ICE’s position has always been that there will be no reductions in class size without contract negotiations.

Blogger jd2718 (jd2718.wordpress.com) comments on the other provisions are worth sharing:
* Extra funding for ELLs and Special Ed. Good. But why in the context of weighted student funding? Don’t we know better?
* Fair Student Funding? We’ve won a task force, empowered to make recommendations…
* Tenure? No changes for a year, then the UFT will participate in the process of developing changes. Huh? Why are we changing tenure?
* The rest doesn’t even pretend to deal with reorganization. Middle school reform (we’ll work on a pilot program). Parent engagement (a committee to study)…. A commitment (a commitment!) to improve college and career preparedness, graduation rates and college admissions.

What happened? Perhaps I have details wrong. But perhaps our negotiators were so focused on getting the DoE to include us in decision making, that we forgot about the threat to public education, the creeping privatization of our school system.
What was lost?

The BloomKlein response to the increasing threat of a growing coalition of people opposed to Tweed has forced BloomKlein into a very uncomfortable stance. This entire incident has shown that concessions will only take place in the cauldron of the threat of action. By giving the UFT and it’s partners a seat at the table, BloomKlein gained by reversing the momentum of opposition to their policies while nothing has changed for the people in the school community who have suffered over the past the past 5 years.

Tweed can say they are going to do A, B, C, D horrible things and when they modify D, as this agreement seems to do, we hear cheers like it’s a victory. For whom?

From day one of BloomKlein, the UFT leadership hungered for a return to their long-time seat at the DOE table, which BloomKlein has so long denied them. On the surface they seem to have gotten their wish, but in the process lost the potential of building a movement to fight back.

The focus on the reorganization, rather than the entire package of control of the schools by big city mayors and its impact on the teachers, parents and students, made a deal like this likely. Groups left out of the process will be very reluctant to get involved in the future. An historic opportunity to bring forces together to become an educational force opposed to the increasing privatization and attacks on public education has been lost.

David Bloomfield, Professor, Brooklyn College, parent, President Citywide Council on High Schools comments on nyceducationnews listserv:

I think [the] agreement allowed the Mayor to indulge in a classic divide and conquer strategy. Privatization and an extremely flawed accountability system, for example, were left unaddressed. Special education? The incoherent supervisory structure? The mayhem of principals disregarding their schools while they try to make sense of the restructuring and start the endless process of trolling for ESOs, LSOs, PSOs? One of the best mayoral initiatives – equalizing school funding and the distribution of quality teachers – has been left in tatters. Promises of consultation on class size, drop out prevention, and middle school reform seem little more than crumbs. Elected and statutory parent voices were abandoned. I am extremely disappointed, especially when many of us have stood side-by-side supporting our coalition colleagues, expecting reciprocity. The High School Council and others called for a broad public discussion of the interconnected pieces of the Mayor’s plan. Yesterday’s surprise announcement has done a great disservice to public school students by seeming to foreclose that comprehensive, transparent public review. But we should continue to fight for that debate and for constructive DOE responses to unresolved issues. While our bonds are strained, I hope they are not broken.

May 9th is still an option

In arguing for the May 9th rally at the March DA Randi pointed to the problems with the reorganization. Many of those points are still valid. Parents are still organizing for an event on that date. Both ICE and TJC are calling for the event to take place. Delegates attending the May 9th DA have an option. Leave the DA and go to Tweed or City Hall to tell BloomKlein a message that it isn’t over ‘till it’s over.

What if?
what if they gave a rally to replace the one now on the back burner, and
everybody came.
no, not the usual suspects.
no, not the “official” union folks.
nor the coalition of political personalities that arrive in time for the
rally and then scurry away, back into the shadows.

what if they held a rally for the disenfranchised
the teachers,
the parents,
and the children that are never really part of the equation anyways.

what if the all came together from near and far
by train, by bus, by car, by feet
what if they came en masse,

and their shouts echoed in the canyons of the city.
and said we dont accept the duplicity.
we dont accept the deals made in darkness.
we wont accept the use of our children as pawns in some elaborate power
driven chess game.
we reject the denigration of our lives, our hopes, and our dreams
we do not agree to the scorn heaped upon us by those we used to trust.

we want the cleansing action of sunlight, on a new day, on a new idea
we want to birth a new reality

what if?
by a NYC teacher

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