2005-09-23 / Columnists

School Scope

A Few Facts About Fact-Finding
By Norman Scott

Well, the recommendations for a teacher contract settlement are out from the nonbinding fact-finding commission from PERB (Public Employee Relations Board) and the maelstrom is stirring. A recent Daily News front-page headline screamed with glee that teachers have been slamming both UFT President Randi Weingarten and Mayor Bloomberg in the UFT-sponsored blog (www.Edwize.org). The press has also been paying attention

to teacher blogs. The ICEUFT blog (http://iceuftblog.blogspot.com/) set up by Jeff Kaufman, my colleague in the Independent Community of Educators, has gotten a lot of notice locally and nationally. Jeff has been a cop, a labor lawyer and is now a teacher and the UFT rep at Rikers Island School (has he really changed careers or is it the same career with different uniforms?) Jeff doesn’t get fooled by the legal gobliddy gook that often emanates from the august headquarters of the UFT.

Unfortunately, a lot of teachers are going to get fooled by the mountain of GG from the UFT as to why the Fact-Finding Report can be the basis for a contract settlement as the verbiage comes spinning faster than the rinse cycle of your washing machine. With the spin comes an increasing attack on the voices of dissent in the union, even charging them with being anti-union. Calls for unity by Unity Caucus, the political party that has controlled the UFT since its inception over 40 years ago, have been ironic, since years of manipulation of the members through its total control of the halls of power (save for 6 out of the 89 Executive Board seats in the hands of the opposition) supported by a massive patronage and public relations machine, have led to a union with a head on top of a body being increasingly decimated by the Mayor and Chancellor. I can’t tell you how often Unity people tell us that we need unity in these “tough times.” In my almost 40 years as a UFT member I don’t remember ever not being told times are tough as a way of branding internal critics traitors.

The BloomKlein forces have been mostly silent, though the Mayor did say it wasn’t his choice to go to PERB in the first place – just a little dig at Randi. With chances of Bloomberg losing the election looking dim, the UFT options on trying to get a new contract are very narrow: support Ferrer, threaten a strike, run a public relations campaign. None of them would seem to faze Bloomberg in the least.

The UFT asked for an 18% raise to bring NYC teachers up to parity with the surrounding suburbs, while the FF report recommends 11%, which includes givebacks that seriously erode the contract. The UFT based its demand on the retention problem, noting that while the DOE has not had trouble filling positions since the starting salary hit $40K, there has been a serious problem in keeping teachers, as after they get a few years under their belts, they race to the suburbs. Some numbers show that 40% leave after 4-5 years. While we don’t see numbers from the DOE on the very expensive Teaching Fellows program (free or subsidized Masters), anecdotal evidence points to a major exodus after the completion of their two year requirement. Chosen supposedly in a competitive process that stresses a high degree of intelligence, it doesn’t take Fellows long to realize that teaching under the DOE is far from what they expected as they are micromanaged to death, killing the very impetus that drove them into changing careers in the first place.

The drain is not only coming from newer teachers leaving, but even people with experience are packing it in. The DOE says that experienced teachers are needed in high-need schools while at the same time act in a way guaranteed to drive people with the very experience they say they need out of the system. To some this is a mystery, but don’t worry boys and girls, Uncle Normie will explain it all to you.

  We start with the very real premise that Mayor Bloomberg and his henchman, former prosecutor and corporate executive Chancellor Joel Klein, want to break the “power” of the UFT (to a great extent a myth, as has been proven repeatedly). They don’t necessarily want the UFT to disappear, as having an organization with a head but no body to deal with is useful, and in the current UFT leadership, have a prospective partner that hungers to be co-managers of the school system, but have been denied that role by BloomKlein who want more than a pound of flesh and want it now. UFT leaders really want to sell off the meat of the contract in exchange for money, but want to use a slow IV-like drip system over a longer period of time so as not to threaten their power and control of the patronage system that pays over 100 people six figure salaries. The BloomKlein forces don’t have the time to dilly dally, having at most four more years before the UFT makes its big move to reclaim its influence by pushing close ally Bill Thompson (affectionately known as “Billy” to UFT insiders) into the Mayor’s seat in 2008. Don’t think the Anthony Weiner surge in the past two weeks doesn’t throw a monkey wrench into their plans, as many more rank and file teachers seemed to go for Weiner than for Gifford Miller, who was much closer to the UFT. When it comes to mayoral elections the UFT always seems to trip over its own feet, witness the oft-cited three failed endorsements in the last election that helped put Bloomberg in office.

While not really unhappy with an ineffective UFT leadership ready to deal and sell off the contract for money, the BloomKlein plan is to break the culture in the individual schools, a plan that has largely been succeeding. That explains why they initially went after entrenched supervisors as much as teachers and have established the enormously expensive Leadership Academy for training principals under the philosophical ideas of former GE chairman Jack Welch, whose mantra of “identify the lowest performing 15% and go after them” explains the U-rating blitz. The small schools movement is one of the major lynchpins of their strategy, particularly in the large high schools where the power of the UFT used to be at its height. I’m not saying that is the only reason for creating small schools but it is part of it. Another part of the corporatization of schools is to single out for attack UFT Chapter leaders who try to adhere to the contract and to reward those who “play ball” with the principal. At Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, the chapter leader cooperated to such an extent she became an administrator at the school. With added chutzpah, she then tried to appoint her own successor, but a revolt from the ranks forced an election, which was won overwhelmingly by the insurgency. A new principal at Lafayette is a Leadership Academy grad who has made it very clear that the UFT contract counts for nothing and has not hidden the fact she will be going after the new chapter leader who was given a trumped-up U-rating (after 22 years of teaching without one incident) last year by the outgoing principal after being charged with telling a kid to “shut-up” (a charge he denies even though I bet every teacher might have let these horrible words slip out at one time or another.) This one should be fun to watch as we see whether the UFT can protect him.

This type of “break the culture in the school to make the UFT totally ineffective at the root level” is what is causing the anger of teachers to boil over at both the DOE and the UFT. ICE, the opposition group in the UFT I am part of, has been so critical of the UFT leadership for allowing the decimation of the chapters, that UFT flacks often accuse us of being in the service of BloomKlein – the hot rumor at a Unity Caucus meeting a few years ago was that I was getting checks directly from Bloomberg to pay for my newspaper, Education Notes. (Thanks, Mike, I made the rendezvous with the submarine.) The UFT special Delegate Assembly on September 20 was as raucous as expected but 80% of the delegates and chapter leaders still voted to support the UFT leadership resolution to use the fact-finding report as a “vehicle” for a settlement. In future columns we’ll discuss how this is one vehicle that will drive straight over basic rights teachers have enjoyed for years.

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