2007-03-09 / Columnists

School Scope

What Was the Question?
By Norman Scott

Norman ScottNorman Scott This was the response to the last School Scope column "Travels to a Distant Word" on my visit to the University Club to cover Christopher Cerf, the Department of Education Deputy Chancellor for Something or Other at the Manhattan Institute luncheon. The answer is a long one and there are lots more fish to fry this week, so I'll keep people in suspense a little longer. It is suffice to say that Cerf is now being investigated as to whether he funneled business to companies he held stock in while a DOE consultant. I wrote in this space years ago that one day Joel Klein would be taken from office with his coat over his head. Can that day come soon enough?

Is Washington in Randi Weingarten's future?

UFT President Randi Weingarten will never have to leave office with her coat over her head, but she seems to have found a better way. With elections for the American Federation of Teachers Presidency taking place in the summer of 2008 (in Chicago) and with the UFT controlling an enormous block of delegates, that job is hers for the taking whenever she wishes.

Weingarten is quoted in an article in The Chief as saying, "I have a big agenda here. I'm not crossing any other bridges at this time. Ed [McElroy] is the president [of the AFT] and he's doing a great job. I hope he serves a long time and I look forward to working with him for years to come." Perfect lawyer language. Interpretation? Ed better not sign a long-term lease on an apartment in Washington. My guess is that she will not give up the UFT job when she goes to Washington but will leave the UFT in caretaker's hands the way her predecessors Al Shanker and Sandy Feldman did. At least until some sort of successor can be found. Former Rockaway resident Michelle Bodden is considered a front-runner, with up and coming VP for Vocational schools Mike Mulgrew being tapped as the enforcer to ride herd on the Unity Caucus faithful, though as one teacher at Mulgrew's former school recently told me, "Bodden better watch her back." Ah, the palace intrigues at 52 Broadway. In the meantime, the affable Michael Mendel will continue to run things in Weingarten's absence.

UFT Elections

Speaking of The Chief, reporter Meredith Kolodner wrote a front page article on the UFT elections currently in progress - "UFT Election: High School War Looms." To prove her power to teachers nationally, Weingarten wants a very large vote (she has told people anything less than 90% will be viewed as a lack of success) as proof she can shove bad contracts down people's throats and still manage and manipulate the membership into supporting her. Before I continue, I should make the disclaimer that I am a candidate running with the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a group running in the elections in a coalition with Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) against Weingarten's Unity Caucus, which is allied with the former opposition New Action. Got it? If not, read Kolodner's piece. So, why does a high school war loom? You had to ask. ICE-TJC took these 6 seats in the 2004 elections away from New Action (Weingarten did not run candidates, trying to reward new Action for their loyalty.) Now mind you, this gave the opposition only six out of 89 seats. But even those six opposition voices are too much criticism for Weingarten. Weingarten needs some kind of "opposition" to claim the UFT is democratic and not a banana republic. What better "opposition" than one you control? Seeing that in this election New Action could not win these seats back, and doubting the ability of her own party to win by themselves after the disastrous 2005 contract, Weingarten is running the six New Action and Unity candidates jointly. And New Action is running Weingarten at the top of their ticket. Nice backroom dealing. Oh! And New Action members also got union jobs. Can you run as an "opposition" to the very people that employ you? A question for the ages. Ballots go out March 9 and must be returned by March 28. They will be counted on March 29. If you teach in the public schools, you know my recommendation is to vote the ICE-TJC slate.

Teacher Arrested

In one of the more outrageous acts by a Leadership Academy principal who wanted to get a teacher who has been a critic of her policies out of her hair, a parent ally of the principal claimed the teacher abused her child when the teacher escorted the child to her seat after she had run out of the room twice. Five cops came to the school (the principal was seen grinning ear to ear), arrested the teacher and held her until 7 p.m., when they completed their own investigation, and they decided she did nothing wrong. They then released her saying, "it was all nonsense." The "arrest" was rescinded.

I spoke to one of the arresting officers and he told me that the principal could easily have prevented the arrest with just a few words, but "she clearly has an agenda." If you can't beat them using the contract, just manipulate a parent into doing it for you. The story is emerging that the parent herself is being investigated and it was all just a cover-up. The teacher will now sit in the rubber room (Teacher Reassignment Center) most likely for the rest of the school year and probably beyond.

What had been the response of the UFT? I took the teacher to a UFT Executive Board meeting to allow her to state her case. It is clear that the UFT does only what it has to do and nothing more. "We'll get you a lawyer for arraignment, but since you weren't arraigned…"

The teacher is helpless and the help from the union is minimal. It has been almost three weeks and the District Rep has not even returned her call.

The UFT sent in a Victim Support Specialist for the teacher and she said that is not what she needs. What she needs is for the principal's actions to be exposed so this will not happen to other teachers. Of course, the union doesn't do that. She also needs an advocate to try to get any paperwork that exists at the DOE and the police department, which is not all that willing to cooperate since it has to answer as to how a teacher can be so humiliated after 22 years without a mark against her record, in front of parents, students and colleagues. The UFT takes the position that all that is up to the teacher, responding with "What if they're guilty?" Duh! Let the DOE and police worry about the guilty. The UFT is there to protect the innocent. And, yes, to protect the rights of the guilty too.

The DOE will spend months investigating with a bias favoring the principal, who will have months to work over the story with the children. Where is someone to investigate for the teacher? The union just shrugs. When ICE's Jeff Kaufman tried last June to get the union to hire people to jump in and investigate on behalf of the teacher so both sides get told, the UFT Exec. Bd. led by Randi Weingarten said "NO" and accused Kaufman of playing politics. The teacher in the rubber room waiting for the ax to fall doesn't see that as politics. Just one more reason why I am running with and supporting the ICE-TJC slate in the UFT elections. More on this case that puts a chill up the spine of every teacher in future columns. Or you can check my blog (see below) for updates.

BloomKlein appoints Martine Guerrier as Chief Family Engagement Officer

I got to know Martine a bit from attending the Mayor's Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) monthly meetings and grew to like and respect her enormously. I found her to be the one person on the PEP who questioned Klein (gently, but firmly). BloomKlein have trumpeted this appointment (at $150,000 a year) as a sign they listen to their critics. She voted against the 3rd grade retention policy at the Monday Night massacre (March 14, 2004) when Bloomberg fired the panelists he controlled who were opposed. Martine, being appointed by Brooklyn borough head Marty Markowitz was immune to firing. That act made Marine a hero to many of us. But, since that time, in step with Markowitz's total support for Bloomberg, Martine's votes on the PEP increasingly veered toward BloomKlein. When it came to the 5th grade retention policy vote, she abstained. I noticed on other issues (which my dying brain cells refuse to pull up) a disturbing trend. That the press (The NY Times is the worst) allowed the BloomKlein PR machine to get away with declaring Martine "a persistent critic" is a sign of their cheerleading.

There was so much to cover this week, all the pieces were shortened. You can read extended versions on my blog at http://ednotesonline. blogspot. com/. Check it for daily updates.

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