Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Clueless Campbell Brown Lacks Common Sense.

In the New York Post today the clueless Campbell Brown wrote an article called A 'common sense' NYC teachers contract.  In the article she recommended what changes should be made in the next teachers contract being negotiated with the De Blasio administration.  Of course, she's still on the kick that teachers accused of sexual misconduct should be terminated by the Chancellor even when the independent arbitrator, who are selected by both sides, when presented with the actual evidence or lack thereof found no sexual misconduct.

Interestingly, Campbell Brown now suddenly demands that parents and students have input into the process.  Funny, when Michael Bloomberg was Mayor and excluded parent and student input, Ms. Brown never bothered to include that in her demands.  I wonder why the change of heart? Furthermore, Ms. Brown wants ATRs to have a time limit while failing to identify the real problem the "fair student funding" that forces principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their students. Moreover, Ms. Brown wants "merit pay" and eliminate seniority and education as a factor to determine salary level.  Finally, Ms. Brown wants teachers to be available 24 hours a day for parent correspondence, as if we teachers don't have families and obligations of our own.Her ideology seems to interfer with the facts but that's nothing new when it comes to the clueless Campbell Brown.

The bottom line is that Campbell Brown's 'common sense' contract lacks "common sense" since she ignores the root cause of the issues and her ideological bent is showing by first ignoring Mayor Michael Bloomberg's exclusion of parent input only to demand it now that Bill de Blasio is Mayor.  To me Campbell Brown is clueless, a hypocrite, and most importantly, an ideologue that ignores the facts just to get her warped point of view some attention.

Note:  As I predicted, Leslie Brody of the Wall Street Journal conveniently ignored my letter to her and failed to mention the role the DOE budgeting practice that resulted in the formation and maintenance of the ATR pool.  In no place in her article did she mention the "fair student funding" that required principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their students.  To me her failure to mention this shows that she is a corporate education reformer since these groups must  ignore this issue to demonize veteran teachers.   While her article didn't call the ATRs "unwanted or bad teachers".  Her failure to address the DOE budgeting issue was a "fatal flaw" and shows that she either doesn't understand the process or refused to write about it since it wasn't convenient to what she was telling the public.  In either case, Leslie Brody did a poor job explaining the problem.

Michael Mulgrew was quoted in the article that three quaters of the ATRs are offered positions.  However, he was being disingenuous since approximately 5% of them are actually appointed to a permanent position the rest are covering long-term leave replacements or "provisional hires" who will be dumped back into the ATR pool at year's end.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Retirement System Is As Good As It Gets.

One of the major perks that we educators have is the retirement system that goes a long way to provide us with lifetime security.  If I look at the three stools of retirement, our retirement system provides us with two of the three.  A pension, and savings, with social security being the third leg of the stool. Is it any wonder that the newspapers are always claiming that our pensions are too generous by calling it the "pension bomb".  However, many of my fellow educators don't take full advantage of what's offered to us and that's a shame.  We are known as New York City's "smartest" but when it comes to "financial smarts" we are lacking.  Hopefully, I will try to enlighten my fellow educators on how to take advantage of what the retirement system gives us.

Defined Benefit Pension:
We are blessed with a pension plan that can give us a 40% pension after twenty years of service and 60% after thirty years, using the highest three consecutive years of employment.  If one is fortunate enough to qualify for the 25/55 program, even better.  For tiers 1 to 4 it's very important to finish the twentieth year, since your pension jumps up from 31% after nineteen years to 40% after twenty years for the majority of teachers in the system.  Since tier 5 and tier 6 educators have few years in the system, the pension is far away and they have requirements that require twenty-five years for maximizing the pension.  Moreover, for tiers 1 to 4 educators, there is no employee contribution to their pension after completing ten years, the City must fund the entire cost.  For tiers 5 and 6, employee contributions continue throughout their employment (if you are in the tier 4 25/55 program, employee contributions of 1.84% for that program continue to retirement).  You can retire as early as 55 but unless your in the 25/55 program, or have 30 years of service, there will be a significant age reduction factor that will reduce your actual pension. See below. For tiers 2-4 vesting occurs after 5 years while for tier 5-6 you need 10 years.

Annuity Savings Accumulation Fund:
One of the real perks is the ASAF annuity that is added to the pension.  Once a teacher reaches their final step increase (8b), every year thereafter the teacher receives $400 yearly which has a 5% interest added to the balance.  Teachers who have approximately 25 years in the system can expect the ASAF fund to have about $15,000 in it and is annualized to add an extra thousand or so to the yearly pension.  For administrators it is $550 annually.

Teacher Deferred Annuity:
This is a 403b plan known as the TDA. Contributing to the TDA can make or break an educator's retirement plans.  Since this is a tax deferral instrument, the more an educator contributes to their TDA, the less they are taxed since the amount taken out of the paycheck is not subject to federal, state, and local taxes until the money is taken out of the TDA.  For teachers 50 years old and older, the "Fixed Income Fund" guarantees 7% return annually and in this low inflation environment (between 1-3%) its the best deal in town and most of the TDA should be in the "Fixed Income Fund".  For younger teachers, the "Fixed Income Fund" should be a part of your TDA and use it instead of the bond fund which has low yields and far lower returns.  Unfortunately, many educators fail to take full advantage of the TDA and put too little into it.  The more an educator puts in the TDA, the better retirement he or she will have.  For school administrators it's 8.25% until the next contract.  The maximum contribution is $17,500 and if over 50 years of age $22,500 for 2014.

Retiree Health Benefits:
For tier 4 and 5 employees, ten full years of service entitle the educator for lifetime retiree benefits and this is a godsend since health costs usually increase with age.  Therefore, its extremely important to achieve a minimum of ten full years of service to achieve lifetime retiree benefits as soon as age 55.   For tier 6 employees its 15 years of service. For tiers 1 to 3 its only five years.

A teacher can take up to 75% of their MACP funds from their pension or 75% of the TDA balance as a loan.  I strongly suggest that you take the loan from your MACF in your pension since, if you pay the loan back before you retire, your pension is unaffected.  On the other hand, taking a loan out of the TDA will reduce your balance and lose interest and appreciation during the time you take out the loan.  If you still have an outstanding loan, your pension will be pertinently reduced by $75 for every thousand dollars owed (amounts vary) and can result in almost $3,000 less in the yearly pension.

Pension Max:
Teachers close to retirement are tempted to take the single payer option, even if they are married.  This is called "pension max" and instead of having their pension reduced to 85-92% by covering the spouse, the educator takes out a life insurance policy on the spouse with the savings by taking the maximum pension.  I personally would not use this risky approach and I strongly urge all future retirees to compare their own circumstances and read up on the pros and cons of "pension max".

Realistically there are very few Tier 1 and 2 members left in teaching and I didn't include them in much of  my post.  However, the very few that are left have 40 or more years in the system and they are usually no longer in the classroom.  These educators can contact TRS for more information specific for their tier. Tier 3 members can and usually automatically convert to tier 4  since tier 3 employees have a social security offset that can reduce their retirement benefit by 50% of your social security benefit that came from public service.  Moreover, tier 3 educators who retire before age 62 have a steeper reduction rate that results in a more reduced pension.  Finally, tier 3 members are limited to 60% of their final three years for pension purposes while for tier 4 is unlimited. Therefore, almost all tier 3 educators convert to tier 4 status. Tier 5 and 6 employees must pay into the pension system during their employment and have slightly inferior calculation methods that may result in a reduced pension. Two years ago I wrote an article comparing the tier 6 pension to the tiers 4-5 pensions here. Further information can be found comparing the six tiers from the New York State Teacher Retirement System website.

Termination Pay.
An educator can convert their accumulated sick days into either termination pay until it runs out or get three lump sum checks every six months.  By taking termination pay the educator keeps their salary, contributes to the TDA, and accumulates pension credit until the sick days are used up.  In both cases the "2 for 1 rule" applies.  Meaning for every day of payment or termination pay, two days are taken from the CAR.  The termination pay is only good for one semester, if an educator still has days in the CAR, its converted to a lump sum payment and paid six months later.

Life Insurance:
Educators get three times their final three year salary if they die in service.  If they die within one year after retirement they get 50% and within two years 25%.  After that its 10%.

Buyback Time:
If you worked for any State or local government outside the DOE in New York State, you can and should buyback the time.  It's to your advantage to do so.  TRS will work out a buyback plan to ease your payments.  Remember for most of us, every year in the system will increase our pension by 2%.  Call TRS and send them a request to buyback the time.

Cost Of Living Adjustment:
The COLA to the pension is given to the first $18,000 of a retiree's pension and starts five years after retirement or 62 if the educator retires at 55, you must wait ten years for the COLA to kick in.  .The yearly COLA is 50% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI)  and has a 1% minimum but cannot exceed 3% in any one year regardless, even if the CPI is greater than 6%.

For more information call the UFT and ask for their "Pension Handbook".  I believe it costs $9 and tell them what tier you are in. For more detailed information and if you're within five years of retirement, then call the UFT Borough office for a pension consultation.  You are entitled to have one every year until you retire.  However, you can only have one "final retirement consultation" so use it the year you intend to retire.

Note: The age correction factor for the pension is 55, 0.73,  56, 0.76,  57,0.79,  58,0.82, 59,0.85, 60,88, 61,0.94, 62,1.00. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bloomberg Education Legacy Is One Of Failure.

With the advent of a new administration who has struggled to change the educational landscape, its time to look back at ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education legacy and see what has actually transpired over his twelve years in charge.

Student Academic Achievement:
In the twelve years of the Bloomberg Administration student academic achievement has remained basically flat, based upon the federal baseline test, the NAEP.  All the touted reforms by the Bloomberg Administration is all "smoke and mirrors".  At the high school level, the SAT sores also showed little upward movement in the twelve years of his tenure.

Racial/Income Academic Achievement Gap:
More disappointing is the actual widening of the racial/income academic achievement gap in the twelve years of overseeing the DOE.  That means that all his bragging about education reform resulted in no real academic improvement for the most needy of students.

Lack Of Parent Involvement:
Parent concerns were totally ignored and excluded from any decision making or policy issues concerning their children.  In fact, the establishing of the useless "Children First Networks" required many parents to travel to different Boroughs to find out what was happening in their school.   The Bloomberg Administration  was deaf to parent voice and only used parents when they wanted to deceive the media in supporting some of the Bloomberg policies.

Largest Class Sizes Ever:
Compared to the end of the Giuliani Administration, the class sizes are larger and are the largest in the State, despite the City winning a CFE  lawsuit to reduce class size.  The State money to reduce class size was diverted from the classroom to Tweed who used it for other purposes.

Teacher Morale Lowest Ever:
The Bloomberg Administration's attack on teachers is unprecedented in history of the City and if he had his way, the entire teaching profession would be composed of temporary workers who will teach for five years or less and have class sizes double the contracted limit.  The classroom environment has become increasingly hostile and incentives were put in front of principals to rid themselves of outspoken teachers by filing false, frivolous, or embellished charges, knowing that Tweed will remove them from the school payroll in sixty days.  At the peak there were over 800 teachers "reassigned".  Before the Bloomberg era it averaged about 125 "reassigned teachers"

Education On The Cheap:
The Bloomberg Administration policies forced schools to survive on ever shrinking budgets since 2007 and required schools to pay for unnecessary services such as the useless "Children First Networks", and all those "bright ideas" that turned out to be failures demanded by Tweed.  During the Bloomberg years the Central Bureaucracy has bloated beyond belief. Worse was the "fair student funding" which required principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers".  Is it any wonder that student academic achievement has not improved?

The ATR Pool:

The Bloomberg Administration convinced the UFT to eliminate the excessing requirements and combining that with the "fair student funding" and tight school budgets, along with closing schools, the ATR pool expoloted to 2,400 members and has stayed relatively consitant over the years.   Approximately 60% eventually land in a classroom for varying lengths of time as leave replacements or "provisional appointee's" but are back in the ATR pool at year's end.

The Gang Of 18 Non-Educators Running The DOE:
Surrounding the three non-educator Chancellors were the "gang of 18" non-educators (one or two at most had some classroom teaching experience) that implemented Michael Bloomberg's education reform rhetoric.  They exponentially increased the unnecessary paperwork that teachers and principals were swamped with by their "accountability measures".  Furthermore, the "gang of 18" hired hundreds of accountability managers and lawyers which were used to generate more data mining and paperwork at the school level with the lawyers used to persecute teachers charged with alleged incompetence and misconduct.  This group was responsible in diverting much needed funding from the schools to their pet projects and hiring high priced consultants.

Little Change In Student "Career And College Readiness" Scores: 
At the end of the Bloomberg Administration only 22..7% of the students were ready for college or careers and I suspect most of them came from the top 33% of schools in the City.  His claims of improving education rings hollow when one looks behind the rhetoric. He also claims that quality teachers and not social-economic conditions are most important in student outcomes.  Of course, poverty does matter.

The Graduation Rates Are Bogus:
The news media claims the Bloomberg education legacy was a success because of the
graduation rates.  However, the graduation rates are bogus since it comes with large amounts of  phoney "credit recovery courses", principal pressure on teachers to improve the school letter grades, and a grading policy that allows a student to fail one semester but pass he other and get a passing grade for both. If it was truly a success, the abysmal "college and career readiness" scores would be much higher.

Closing Schools Do Not Result In Academic Improvement In The Long Run:
The Bloomberg Administration closed 163 schools, many of them large comprehensive high schools and made small themed schools out of them.  At first, it appeared successful since these new small schools were fully funded and more importantly,  they excluded"high needs students".  Therefore, the schools didn't take the students that struggled academically and the first few graduation classes showed superior results.  However, once these schools were firmly established, the extra funding was withdrawn and the small schools found themselves having to take "high needs students" and the Regents grades of these schools have fallen back to or even below what the closed comprehensive high school had.  Furthermore closing schools means excessing teachers and the small schools pick up very few of them, the "Bloomberg" small schools have "Leadership Academy Principals" and an untenured staff.adding to the ATR pool.

The Bloomberg years has irrefutably harmed the New York City Public Schools and his corporate reform approach has not showed any significant student academic achievement.  His education improvements are all "smoke and mirrors" and his legacy is one of failure.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Reason Why ATRs Should Be Put Back Into The Classroom. It Helps Student Academic Achievement.

The Wall Street Journal's education reporter, Leslie Brody wants to talk to ATRs about their situation and what should be done to the ATR pool.  She contacted Norm Scott and told him that the she wants to "untangle the weeds of the ATR pool and see it's very complicated".  Ms. Brody claims she will write a fair and accurate article.  Personally, since she works for the Wall Street Journal, and like all the City newspapers who continually call us "bad or unwanted teachers", I highly doubt it and even if she tried to be fair, I'm sure her editor will make sure the ATRs are cast in a negative light.  However, while I will not speak to her, my blog represents my view of the ATR pool and what should happen next year. Here is my letter to Leslie Brody.

Dear Ms. Brody:

The ATR pool consists of over 2,000 (not 1,000 the DOE or 960 the UFT claims) ATRs.  Included in this group are teachers, guidance counselors social workers, assistant principals, and school secretaries.  The DOE and UFT, to avoid embarrassment, do not include ATRs who are temporarily in schools as "leave replacements" and "provisional appointees" and who will be back into the ATR pool at year's end.  The ATR pool is composed of mostly senior educators with the average age in their 50's and fifteen or more years of experience.  These educators came from closing schools or schools that needed to reduce staff, and educators targeted by principals that survived their termination hearings.

The ATR pool was formed when the DOE and UFT agreed in the infamous 2005 contract that no excessed teacher need to be placed in a school in their district and that Principals can hire outside of the school system regardless of how many excessed teachers in the subject area were in the district.  To ensure that highly experienced teachers would not be appointed, the DOE imposed the "fair student funding formula" on the schools and forced principals to include teacher salaries in their budget.  The result was that principals had an incentive to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their school since it would save money in their increasingly tight budget.  To make matters worse the UFT unwisely proposed the weekly rotation where ATRs are sent weekly to different schools and the DOE eagerly agreed to it for the 2011-12 school year going forward.  The weekly rotation has proven to be a disaster, its dehumanizing, non-professional, and wastes talent and money which costs the DOE $160 million annually for "glorified babysitters".  How depressing it is to be a "stranger in a strange land" in a different school every week.  I personally put in over 20 requests for vacant positions through the Open Market Transfer System in the last three years and received not one interview!

Many in the ATR pool are "quality teachers" and are long-term teaching professionals, we are the teachers that Mayor Bill de Blasio should want to retain since we are not likely to leave for greener pastures as less experienced teachers do.  Furthermore, by placing the ATRs back in the classroom where we belong, the City achieves their goal of reducing class sizes without additional cost since we're being paid anyway.  Finally, we bring with us deep curriculum knowledge,  classroom management skills, and most importantly a passion for teaching and connecting with the children to see them achieve their academic goals.

Unfortunately, that will not happen until Chancellor Carmen Farina ends the destructive "fair student funding", freeze outside hiring, and once again make educator salaries as a unit and come from DOE Central as it was done for decades.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to give principals an incentive to hire us as they did once before. ATRs should be back in the classroom if the City really wants to put "children first" and see real academic improvements for the public school students.

Ms Brody, while I only speak for myself, I suspect I speak for the majority of ATRs who just want a chance to be back in a classroom with our own students and help them reach their academic potential.

Note:  There is a deliberate misconception that the DOE picks up part of the ATR salary if a school selects an ATR to fill a leave replacement or vacancy.  The DOE only picks up the difference in salary between the ATR and the salary of the teacher the ATR is replacing for the first year only!   If the school decides to pick up the ATR for the second year the ATR's salary must be included in the average teacher salary of the school and comes out of the school's budget.  Therefore, very few, if any, ATRs are picked up the second year since it will cost the school money.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Why Teacher Due Process Rights Are Important.

There's little question that there has been a coordinated attack on teacher "due process rights"  State after State and school districts throughout the nation have various proposals and sometimes new laws that either diminish or eliminate teacher tenure and their "due process rights.

The latest is the State of Kansas which has eliminated teacher tenure and is awaiting the Republican Governor's signature to become law in the next school year.  This follows a deterioration of teacher "due process rights" in many places throughout the nation.  This attack on teacher tenure follows similar laws passed in North Carolina, Arizona, Virgina, and Connecticut. These changes follows the State's adoption to the "Race to the top" federal funding that requires that a teacher's evaluation be attached to high stakes testing using the "Common Core" standards.

In every State in the nation corporate education reformers have attacked teacher "due process rights" for example a major plank in StudentsFirst is the elimination of teacher tenure.  While the corporate reform mole, Educators 4 Excellence, published a white paper asking that layoffs be based upon evaluations and the enemy of all teachers Democrats for Education Reform wants to eliminate teacher "due process rights" entirely. Other corporate reform funded groups have proposals that eliminate teacher tenure, scale back  "due process rights" and include merit pay proposals.  Even in labor friendly New York State, the corporate education reformers and their media allies continue to attack teacher tenure and "due process rights".  Lately in demanding a time limit for ATRs  and making the teacher evaluation system a termination program.  For the former, ATR NYC has an article dealing with how the nation handles excessed teachers. In the latter case the hypocrite Governor insists that the badly flawed high stakes testing be up to 40% of a teacher's evaluation despite his acknowledgment that the tests should not be used as student scores. Finally the clueless Campbell Brown wants the Chancellor to terminate any teacher accused of sexual misconduct regardless if it's true or not.

The reality is that teachers need tenure protection and "due process rights".  Teachers interact with between 32 and 150 students on a daily basis.  These children have incomplete personalities and are very implosive and take offense to the most innocent action.   A student can have a bad day and take offense what a teacher says or does and if the administrator doesn't like the teacher, charges of incompetence or misconduct will be the result.  Without teacher "due process rights" any accusation would result in the teacher's termination.  With teacher "due process rights" the school district needs to prove the accusations were true and that means gathering real and relevant evidence, not relying on gossip, hearsay, or innuendo as is the case when OSI and SCI commence their investigations and "substantiates the charges based upon talking to the Principal who wants to teacher gone from his school, evidence or not.

If it wasn't for our "due process rights", I could most certainly would have been terminated in 2007 when SCI "substantiated" the hearsay, gossip, and innuendo that is common in high schools.  It made little difference that there was no real or relevant evidence of the charges since the Principal wanted me gone from the school and SCI  obliged him.  Would the Chancellor give me a fair hearing?  Just look at the UFT's record on "U" rating appeals (0.2% was successful) to know my fate.  Instead because of my "due process rights" I had a hearing in front of an State arbitrator who ruled in my favor and gave me a "slap on the wrist".  That's why teacher "due process rights" are important.  It can and will mean your job if we don't have it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why Aren't Administrators Being Brought Up On Corporal Punishment Charges For Their "Sit & Stare" Policy?

Thousands of parents rightly refused to have their children sit for the poorly-devised and high-stakes NYS testing using a "Common Core" curriculum that was not readily available to the schools.  While most school administrators allowed the students who "opt out" of the tests to either go to the school library, watch a movie, or sit and read a book, some vindictive administrators practiced corporal punishment.  These vindictive administrators forced the children to "sit and stare" in their seats while the rest of the class was taking the State ELA test.

What is "sit and stare"?  it is a punitive weapon used by school administrators to punish parents by having their children "sit and stare" by giving them nothing to do during the State test.    While there is no physical abuse, there certainly appears to be mental abuse by forcing the child to "sit and stare" for almost two hours and to me that's abuse and hence "corporal punishment".  The definition of "corporal punishment" is here.

If I was a parent of a child who "opt out" of the State ELA test and was forced to "sit and stare", I would contact the State and claim that "corporal punishment" was done as a retaliatory measure by the administrator against my child who was "opting out" of the test. Child abuse, whether its physical or mental is abuse and that's "corporal punishment" to me.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Changes The Union Must Push The DOE To Do For The Next Contract.

Presently, the union and the City are negotiating a new contract and there is optimism that a final contract will be hammered out by June.  What should the contract include beside the money owed to the educators?  Here are some of my suggestions that our union should be insisting on that it include in the negotiations and the final, agreed upon, contract.

A fair and less punitive "teacher evaluation system" with a significant reduction in paperwork and having a "peer review" as part of the system.  Every school I travel weekly to, the teachers are under stress with too much paperwork, a fear of snapshot observations, and administrators who are using the Danielson Framework and Common Core as a weapon against teachers they target.

Elimination of the perverse "fair student funding" process which encourages school principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their students.  Eliminating and not changing the "fair student funding" as Chancellor Carmen Farina wants to do, is the only acceptable approach.

All salaries should come out of DOE Central and not the schools.  Since all of us are DOE employees, our salaries should come from the DOE.  In turn, the DOE allocates teaching units to each school and the school can hire a "quality teacher" without worrying about the teacher's salary. Another advantage would be that principals would be less inclined to abuse the "sixth period" for teachers since there would be little incentive to give teachers a "sixth period" since all funding for teacher salaries come from the DOE and not just the sixth period classes.

The end of the ATR pool by bringing back the excessing requirements.  No outside hires are allowed if the District has teachers in the subject area in excess. All hires from the ATR pool are "provisional hires" and at the end of the school year the Principal and teacher will decide if the school is a good fit and if so, the teacher is appointed and given building seniority. If not the teacher is excessed and will apply for vacancies in their District for the next school year.

For teachers who were subject to discipline that had a substantiated OSI or SCI  report but whose charges were found  to be embellished, frivolous, or untrue by an independent State arbitrator in the 3020-a process, should have the discipline flag removed from their files.  These termination charges could not even reach the level of the "preponderance of evidence" standard used in these matters and its unfair to label the educator as guilty of these accusatory charges when the evidence showed they were not. The 'scarlet letter" was eliminated in the 1700's and the DOE should not be using it now.  The MORE caucus has this in its contract demands and our union should as well.

Finally, eliminate "circular six" and if Chancellor Carmen Farina wants more "professional development" use the "circular six"  time for it.