Monday, December 03, 2007

Issues and Proposals in the GED-Plus Chapter Elections

By Marjorie Stamberg
GED-Plus Teacher, Manhattan Hub

Underlying the current election for chapter officers in GED-Plus are some important issues of broader significance. A crisis was opened by the “reorganization” of District 79, announced last May, in which more than 300 teaching positions were eliminated. The fact that hundreds of teachers were then thrown into Absent Teacher Reserve, instead of having the right to transfer to other positions, is a direct result of the union leadership’s giving up of seniority transfers in the 2005 contract.
Now in 2007, the union has agreed to introduce “merit pay.” Whether it’s called “school-wide bonus pay,” as UFT president Randi Weingarten prefers to call it, or “performance pay” as Mayor Bloomberg prefers, it sacrifices a fundamental union principle—equal pay for equal work.. This is a union-busting measure, for it will set one teacher, or one group of teachers, against another, competing for management’s favor. It’s also very bad for the students, particularly those in under-financed and minority neighborhoods, and where second-language and Special Ed students are struggling for an education. Do the math—basic economics dictates there will be pressure on teachers to drift to higher-performing schools if the pay is higher.
A third major element is the slashing of budgets for alternative education, whether for high school “drop-outs” (or more accurately, “force-outs”), adult education or other programs. In the fall of 2005, the DOE cut $5 million from the $30 million adult ed budget in NYC. In 2005-06, they cut $6 million and $8 million from the evening high school and GED programs. In 2004, Auxiliary Services for High Schools (ASHS) had 50 sites around the city. In 2005, this was cut to 19 centers; in 2006, it was cut back to 6 centers, and all nighttime programs were eliminated. And now the whole of D79 has been “reorganized”, slashing roughly 40 percent of the teaching personnel, while illogically claiming they were improving educational offerings. This has occurred while the overall budget of the DOE has gone up by 50 percent.
These three elements—elimination of seniority, introduction of pay tied to test scores, and the systematic elimination of alternative education programs are not isolated events. They are components of a master plan for “reforming” the public school system by corporatizing and partially privatizing the system. “I am a capitalist and I am in favor of incentives for individual people,” Mayor Bloomberg remarked at a press conference introducing the “bonus pay.” But kids aren’t widgets, and schools are not production lines, churning out “products.” Yet this is the agenda of Bloomberg, the Chancellor, the U.S. Department of Education and those who are dictating the lines of educational “reform” today.
A key part of this program is the replacement of public schools by “charter schools.” This is being pushed by Democratic Party governor Elliot Spitzer as well as Republican President Bush and is clearly aimed at busting teachers unions. Teachers are being made scapegoats for the problems of an educational system that has systematically under-funded and re-segregated inner city schools. The London Economist (November 10) just ran a special article praising New York City school reform in which it reported: “On November 5th, the Mayor and his Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, announced what is in effect the final piece in their grand plan to charterise the entire city school system.”
That “final piece” is the school “report card,” which will be used to close down scores of public schools. And where are the students to go? Charter schools or vouchers for private schools. Can they do this to an entire city school system? They already have—in New Orleans. As part of the “ethnic cleansing” following the Hurricane Katrina man-made social disaster, the schools were closed down and replaced by union-free charter schools. There are 5 regular public schools left, compared to 40 charter schools and 34 “recovery schools” run by the state! The NCEE’s “New Commission on the State of the American Workforce (of which Joel Klein is a member) wants to cut back the public schools to a core, cap them at the 10th grade (!!). The rest would be jobbed out to private contractors.
A briefing paper on the restructuring of the DOE’s alternative high school programs prepared by the Committee on Education of the New York City Council (November 14, 2007) ominously stated, “It may be the case that DOE intends to phase out D79 altogether.”
So if you think your job may be in jeopardy, you’re right. The entire UFT is as risk. Yet, rather than fighting against this threat head-on, the Weingarten leadership has made concession after concession, give back after give back, so that it has become an enabler for dismantling the public schools.
We need to see the big picture, and understand what we’re up against. The whole restructuring gimmick is a standard corporate take-over tactic in “leveraged buy-outs”: shut down the company, then re-open it as a new “entity”, while having canceled all the union contracts, and laid off half the staff.
I have emphasized that the present election for Chapter Leader is an opportunity for us to pull together as educators (teachers, paras, and staff) against the onslaught from the Department of Education we have faced over the past six months and continue to confront. My main opponent, Michael Friedman, has been running on a one-point program: “experience.” The problem is, his experience did not lead him to play any role whatsoever in fighting against the elimination of hundreds of positions in the chaotic “reorganization” of District 79.
Instead, Mr. Friedman has waged a vindictive personal attack on me, releasing a stream of frantic e-mails in which he accuses me of being “ignorant,” “angry,” “negative”, a “demagogue,” someone who “rants” and “raves.” (Where have we heard that before?) He wrote: “Her platform is anger and negativism…” “Do we want to be represented by someone so negative and angry…” “a one note, negative campaign; a call to just say no.” “Ms. Stamberg, like so many demagogues who want to rant…” “angry people who rant and rave…” Ask yourselves, who is ranting and raving here?
After some longtime D79 teachers (including a former chapter leader) wrote to him to cut out the abusive personal attacks, Mr. Friedman has fallen silent. But in the course of his rants he deliberately distorts my position, as well as getting his facts wrong. He writes: “Ms. Stambergs repeats the oft quoted comment that the ‘Union gave up seniority’ and then tries to attach it to what happened in the 18D process. Neither is true.” What he is doing here, in order to confuse the question, is conflating two different criticisms I made of the UFT leadership. It’s called creating a straw man in order to knock it down.
Concerning seniority, what I wrote in my statement was “In 2005, the union ‘traded’ seniority—a fundamental union protection-for a wage increase.” And at the candidates forum, I said that we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today with hundreds of teachers thrown into ATR status, except for the fact that the union leadership gave up seniority transfers (and SBO hiring) in the 2005 contract. That ‘s an indisputable fact.
When a school was reorganized, if teachers were not rehired at the replacement school, they would have the right to be hired anywhere in the city, to any position for which they were licensed, according to seniority. Now they get thrown into the limbo of ATR land as “substitutes.”
This not only affects educators in D79. I used to be a mentor, and the entire mentor staff was ATRed, numbering more than 300 citywide, including some of the most experienced teachers in the system. How many of our members are in ATR status? We haven’t been able to get a straight answer. At one point it was said to be 1,000 or more. Meanwhile, the DOE hired between 5,000 and 6,000 new teachers, and now they’re saying they will use the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Funds to hire 6,000 more—while some of the best teachers in the system are still ATRd!
Mr. Friedman defends the elimination of seniority transfers by arguing that “more senior teachers succeeded in getting transfers under the Open Market Plan last year than in any given year where the Seniority Transfer ran.” Again, do the math. Because so many more teachers are being excessed than ever before, it stands to reason there are more “open market” transfers! This is a pseudo-statistical flimflam.
So if you are in ATR status, without an appointment, it is because of the giveback contract that Mr. Friedman defends, and that I voted against.
On the 18-D staffing provisions of our contract: At two heated union meetings in June, members demanded that all positions in the restructured school be filled by D79 teachers. Our union bargained hard for this and won this important concession, but with one proviso: the teachers had to be deemed “qualified” in interviews conducted under the 18D clause. That turned out to be a trap.
And here is where we needed to just say NO. Over the summer, as interviews were being conducted, it turned out that many colleagues who had never gotten a “U” rating in their careers, including some of the most talented and qualified educators – math teachers, teachers with PhDs – were been deemed “unsatisfactory.” We began to get reports of this in mid August. As soon as it became apparent there was a hatchet job going on, the UFT should have put its foot down and stopped the whole process.
There are various ways to do this. Union leaders could have taken a couple of egregious cases and announced they were grieving them on the spot. They could have insisted that in view of the chaos – where teachers were not notified, the criteria for selection were not properly communicated to them, some “interviews” consisted of a few minutes on the phone – all interviews had to be stopped. They could have gone to the press, TV and city council to publicize the fact that the DOE has carrying out a massacre of experienced teachers. We, the members, did this, my opponent didn’t.
So now with the election for Chapter Leader under way, we have to prepare for the coming months. Particularly in this giant local, with hundreds of teachers, paras, social workers and staff located in six hubs and 80 “spokes” spread over all five boroughs, the key is active involvement of the membership. We should set our key priorities in a chapter meeting at the very beginning of the new year, for which the preparation must begin now. Here are some proposals:
∑ For ATRed teachers, I have actively supported their demand for a functional chapter to discuss issues they face. We must also insist they have all rights within the school where they are placed.
∑ We need monthly chapter meetings to keep our far-flung unit informed and involved. These meetings should rotate between the different hubs, making it easier for all the teachers in the borough to attend.
∑ At the hubs, the site representative should be assisted by site committees that get together frequently. These committees should meet periodically with the AP to work out local problems as they arise. These committees should coordinate with UFT chapters in other schools at their sites.
∑ For the smaller CBO sites, a committee should be formed to discuss particular problems that arise and keep members at nearby locations in touch with each other.
∑ Although the DOE claimed it had set up an “easy-to-navigate referral system for students who have fallen behind in traditional high schools,” in fact they lost touch with many contacts. An outreach committee should discuss ways of reaching more at-risk youth and bringing them into the program.
∑ A committee should be formed to seek to restore enrichment programs that have been canceled and to raise proposals for curriculum improvement. This will be crucial if there is in fact a drive to shut down D79. If the DOE doesn’t have a program for educating at risk students, we do!
∑ A special effort must be made at the beginning of the year to ensure that each site is adequately supplied with materials and books.
∑ Concrete proposals should be formulated in collaboration with the school administration to respond to the lack of computers, libraries and science labs facilities. Sometimes this may involve sharing with other schools at the same location.
∑ A chapter-wide safety committee should be formed to deal with issues such as lack of medical personnel, chalk board dust (replace blackboards with whiteboards), etc.
∑ Some hubs have excruciating problems such as lack of hot lunches for the students and lack of phones which should be immediately resolved.
These are only some ideas. Let’s hear yours.
December 2, 2007

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