2006-06-02 / Columnists

School Scope

The Cirque d' UFT

The ink wasn't even dry on the announcement (in School Scope and in Education Notes) that ICE and TJC were going to run a joint slate (headed by Kit Wainer of Goldstein HS) to oppose the UFT leadership before the Unity Caucus machine was on the attack: "What a perfect couple! They (ICE & TJC) share exactly the same solitary interest - and it's nothing so messy as say, standing up for the UFT members' rights, and improving working conditions. Nor is it as complicated as getting class sizes reduced, securing tougher discipline measure of protecting UFT members' healthcare benefits and hard-earned pensions."

Let's see now, ICE and TJC are being attacked by the very union leaders who have allowed members' rights to erode to the point where there is barely a grievance procedure (see last contract negotiated by Unity) and members are under attack every day from vicious supervisors.

Can Unity come up with even ONE working condition they have improved, say, in the last 10 years? And has anyone noticed any reduction in class size recently as opposed to talking about it? In Unity parlance, public relations substitutes for real results. As to their securing tougher discipline - excuse me, I am on the floor holding my sides with laughter at this one. Sorry, let's continue.

Protection of health care? When a resolution was proposed calling for

no givebacks on health care in the next contract, Unity overwhelmingly TURNED IT DOWN! As for protection of pensions, these are people who meekly accepted a 4-tier pension system (with more to come.)

Notice there's no mention in the Unity diatribe of one key word - democracy. This is certainly something that the UFT/Unity leadership considers messy. When members of the opposition Unified Teachers Party attempted to present a resolution calling for the reinstatement of election of district representatives, which Weingarten eliminated years ago, they were ignored. Yes, democracy in the UFT certainly is a mess.

Hell Must Have Frozen Over

James Eterno, Chapter Leader of Jamaica HS, one of the few non-Unity reps on the UFT Executive Board (he was elected with ICE/TJC support two years ago) recently wrote on the ICE blog:

"A little over a year ago when Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) and the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) wanted the UFT leadership to hold the line and demand that all offers to add time to the school day or year should be rejected, the UFT Leadership attacked us through a December 2004 Unity Caucus flyer entitled 'Hell Will Sooner Freeze Over.' Saying that UFT delegates have no right to tie the hands of the Negotiating Committee, Unity stated: 'Placing prior constraints on the negotiating committee is a blatant attempt to usurp the rights of UFT members to make the ultimate decision on what they will or won't accept in contracts.' "Fast forward a little over a year and the leadership has completely reversed its position, recently passing a resolution at the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly that says the UFT will not accept any offer in the next contract that adds extra time to the school day or year. The leadership has adopted the TJC-ICE position that extending the school day or year should be non-negotiable issues. A little late, isn't it? (Expect teachers to give thanks on the 2 days before the Labor Day weekend when they are back in school.) A year ago hell would have to freeze over before there could be prior constraints on the negotiating committee, but now it's ok to tie its hands when it comes to extra time. Forgive us for being a tad cynical.

"A look back at the 2002 Fact Finding Report that led to the first extension of the school day shows that the UFT, not the city, implicitly put extending the school day on the bargaining table. The Report states, 'While no proposal was made by the UFT, its arguments seem designed to invite the panel to recommend that any above the pattern increases be funded through extending the work day for teachers.'"

With 40 percent of the teachers voting against the last contract additional work time will not be an issue in the 2007 negotiations. The UFT leadership, thus sending a message that all other givebacks will be on the table, rejected a recent proposal that the UFT reject any and all givebacks in the next round of negotiations.

"What givebacks?" Eterno asks. "We will probably be asked to pay for part of our health care like the transit workers; more merit pay schemes such as Lead Teacher; more housing bonus plans for certain people - issues sure to create divisions amongst teachers. We might be asked to give up even more of our due process rights; maybe we'll see a Tier V pension for new hires. Whatever we will be asked to give back, expect the leadership to try to sell the contract by claiming how they beat back attempts to have an even longer day or a 12 month school year."

Galleries Lafayette II

Our last column reported on the Reign of Terror at Lafayette HS.

Principal Jolanta Rohloff, a graduate of BloomKlein's Leadership Academy, a training ground for union busting, has continued to make news. The Daily News reported on May 24 ( Students rage at principal ) "Two hundred students walked out of classes at troubled Lafayette High School yesterday to protest a decision to paint over a colorful mural they created. Carrying homemade signs demanding the school's new principal be replaced, students had a litany of complaints, including the reassigning of as many as a dozen teachers to other schools and apparently false rumors that uniforms will be required in the fall."

I'm intrigued when I see signs of alliances between teachers and students, especially when students defend teachers who are under attack by administrators for not being good teachers.

A teacher at Lafayette writes: "Several teachers are filing grievances over the Log of Assistance (and other matters) at Lafayette HS. The Log is a compendium of information for the teacher's file, which violates contractual provisions as to what can and cannot go in a teacher's file and is meant to justify upcoming year-end U-ratings.

The principal's response has been to schedule conferences on these grievances after school, sometimes one or even one and half-hours after the end of the school day. This is seen as evidence of the low priority in which the principal holds teacher grievances. If our union had held the contract in higher esteem last fall instead of bargaining much of it away, principals such as ours would not now be so cavalier with regard to hearing our grievances."

Rohloff made news back in March when she offered to pay teachers for cleaning classrooms to prepare for a visit of an official. That lady certainly has a knack for news.

On the day Rohloff arrived at Lafayette this past summer I received phone calls claiming she came in with a horrible attitude, threatening a rain of unsatisfactory ratings. And good to her word this is exactly what she has done.

Rohloff had her secretary email me to challenge my reports, claiming I was defining her attempts to supervise as harassment. I responded that threatening people with U's before seeing even one teacher teach is harassment, not supervision. Even worse, she has the power to make sure they cannot teach anywhere else in the NY school system.

To assume that her judgment is so final that someone is not capable of doing a good job in a smaller school or one with fewer problems than Lafayette is beyond outrage. To have no consideration for the fact that people have spent years preparing to be a teacher and might be able to improve under another principal or in another situation is the height of arrogance.

With the new push for "empowerment zones" that would give principals unprecedented power, principals like Rohloff should make us think twice about handing over too much authority to the hands of power hungry, ego-driven people.

A friend, who is a chapter leader at a large high school, was just released from the rubber room and is back in his school, exonerated after an investigation for supposedly making an inappropriate comment in class.

Being the union rep could not have had anything to do with this, could it?

He went through hell for 6 weeks, not knowing what he was charged with. We often think in terms of the teacher in these cases, but what about the disruption to his students, who missed all this time with their teacher?

For such a relatively minor issue the investigation should have taken a few days at the most and he should never have been removed from the school.

I ran into Frank Davis, a former teacher at Beach Channel HS and likely a victim of some of the above-mentioned people, at a UFT Executive Board meeting. Frank has spent most of the past four years in the rubber room - er, excuse me -Teacher Reassignment Center, fighting attempts to dismiss him.

The Wave is working on a story about Frank and teachers and others at Beach Channel can send information to Howie Schwach or directly to me at norscot@aol.com.

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