Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Will The New School Year Bring? Probably A Continuation Of The Problems That Ended Last Year's School Year.

The major question on everybody's mind is what will be the changes in the upcoming 2012-13 school year from the end of the 2011-12 school year?  Not much if you ask me.  Look for a continuation of the Bloomberg attacks on the classroom  True the Emperor lost the "Turnaround schools" battle and blew $58 million dollars in the process but he is still waging war on the public schools.  Moreover, the Emperor's war with the Teachers' union remains in full force as he refuses to agree to a fair teacher evaluation process and will not negotiate a contract that will have retroactive raises even if he "City pattern" requires it.

The only major change will be a weakening of the student discipline code that will make teachers even more powerless to control their classrooms.  The result will be that a few disruptive students will make learning difficult for the rest of the students. No longer can teachers suspend students who are insubordinate, disruptive, or curse at the teacher.  Instead it's parent conferences, assuming the parent bothers to show up or follow up in disciplining their child. My fellow blogger South Bronx School has an interesting article on the weakening of the student discipline code by the DOE.

It's possible, but not likely that the DOE will finally offer a buyout for long-term ATRs but I wouldn't hold my breath on that happening despite the persistent rumors.  It is also likely that class sizes will continue to the already tight school budgets are required to pay for more non-classroom programs and CFN personnel.

The bottom line, look for the 2012-13 school year to be very similar to the terrible 2011-12 school year as the Bloomberg Administration's war on the teachers' union and the classroom teacher continues as the Emperor tries to close more schools and advocate Charters and wastes a billion or more dollars on technology, consultants, and programs that have little or no positive impact in the classroom. . It is and remains "children last"....Always. under Bloomberg and his pet poodle, Chancellor Dennis Walcott for the 2012-13 school year..

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg Can Minimize Layoffs Of City Workers By Placing ATRs In All Existing Vacancies

The Mayor experienced a major setback when a judge ruled that the City's plan to sell taxi medallions for fare pickups in the outer boroughs and north of 96th street in Manhattan was unconstitutional since it did not get the City Council's approval. (Damn, if he really was the Emperor, no lousy judge could ever stop his decrees).  The halting of the "green cab" program has blasted a $625 million dollar hole in the budget and a possible $1.4 billion dollars for the next three years.  What is the Mayor's response?  He has proposed layoffs of City workers and more efficiencies in the government.  Of course don't look for reductions in high-priced consultants or technology projects, instead there will be less resources available and of course, a continuation of a salary freeze.  While I do not have the knowledge of how to close the entire budget gap, I do know how he can put a significant dent into it and that is placing ATRs into the many vacancies that are available,

Starting the 2012-13 school year, there will be approximately 2,000 ATRS, despite the DOE's claim of less.  That means that even if some of them get hired provisionally, you can still expect over 1,000 ATRs floating around for the year.  That means that $165 million dollars, not including fringe benefits,  will be wasted by the City in paying those ATRs when vacancies are being covered by long and short term substitute teachers. Therefore, if the Mayor is truly serious about saving money and close the budget gap, he should start by ordering the DOE to start placing ATRs in the vacancies.

I do wonder why our union has not brought this up publicly as a cost-saving method to close the City budget gap?  It would seem obvious to me that this proposal is a public relations win for the union and puts the Mayor on the defensive but then again our union's actions or inaction are sometimes part of the problem and not the solution.  In any case, if the Mayor is looking for "efficiency" the effective use of ATRs by placing them in the vacancies is as efficient as it gets.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why Doesn't The Union File Expedited Grievances When Selected Teachers Are Reassigned Out Of Their Borough?

There seems to be a misconception that there are no more "rubber rooms" and teachers mo longer spend many months and even years out of the classroom.  While most of these teachers will find themselves in their local CFN offices.  However, for some selected and targeted teachers that the DOE have singled out, are send to the far reaches of New York City.  To me, this is simply vindictive and presumes guilt even before a decision is made.  In one case I know of the teacher wasn't even charged and still was sent to a different Borough! According to the UFT contract and Chancellor's Regulation C-770, a teacher who is removed from their school will be placed in the District Office and for the most part the DOE abides by that interpretation of the contract. In fact, here is what the DOE wrote about reassigned teachers.

It should be noted that, during the period of suspension, all individuals are expected to
perform duties appropriate to their regular assignments, insofar as possible. The duties

will depend, of course, upon the circumstances surrounding the suspension.

Suspended employees are to be assigned within their own districts or divisions. Requests

for a temporary change of assignment because of extraordinary circumstances must be

directed in writing to the Executive Director of the Division of Human Resources, with

supporting statements for the request. The Executive Director shall confer with the Office
 of Legal Services regarding this request. The employee is not to be reassigned from the district or division until written authorization has been granted.”
 However, for those selected and targeted teachers, the DOE has chosen to make their life as difficult as possible. Let's look at two examples of what the DOE has done to two different teachers.

Example 1:  A District 26 middle school teacher in Queens was sent to Staten Island while waiting months for his 3020-a decision,despite the DOE's own written policy.  The teacher asked the union to file an expedited grievance to get him reassigned to either his District Office or local CFN.  Instead, the UFT representative filed an ordinary grievance that could take a year or more to be heard.  The teacher has now left the DOE and his grievance has still not been heard.   You would think the union would continue to pursue the grievance to make sure that the DOE's vindictive action would no longer be allowed and other teachers would not be subject to abusive travel conditions.  As far as I know the union might have dropped the grievance since the teacher no longer is employed by the DOE.

Example 2:  A District 31 Staten Island middle school teacher, Francesco Portelos, was reassigned to Queens despite the DOE's written policy that Mr. Porteles should have been reassigned to Staten Island.  I assume he has had the union file a grievance but as far as I know, Mr. Porteles has been officially reassigned to Queens once again this school year with no 3020-a charges as of yet.   You can read all about Francesco Portelos on his blog.

The question is why hasn't the UFT followed through with the grievance?  I would think that the DOE's apparent violation of the contract and their own policy is worthy of a grievance that the union should follow through with.  Is it not the union's duty to represent all their members?  Does the union buy into the DOE's policy of the teacher being guilty if accused?  If not, why the inaction in allowing these selected and targeted teachers to be subject to outrageous and costly commutes?

The bottom line is the union has a responsibility to protect these teachers and not buy into the vindictive actions of the DOE.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Treacherous Road To The Teacher Evaluation Process, The Contract Negotiations, And A Resolution To The ATR Crises.

As we all know that contract negotiations between the Blommberg Administration and the UFT is at a standstill.  Our last contract expired in October of 2009, three years ago.and it is very apparent that as long as the Mayor is in office there will not be any meaningful contract negotiations between the two parties.  Yes, the union has declared an impasse and a PERB mediator is trying to find "common ground" for the two parties to agree as a starting point in the complex and complicated path to a negotiated settlement.  However, in reality, it is in the best interest of both parties to simply wait to 2014 before a new contract is negotiated.

In the Bloomberg Administration's case no contract means it is not subject to the "City pattern" headache which would mean giving teachers and other UFT represented staff up to 8% raises for the first two years that PERB Arbitration would probably result in.  With no contract, the Mayor can leave office showing that he held the line against teachers by giving "no retroactive raises".Of course he has simply "kicked the can down the road" and leaves the tricky and politically treacherous contract negotiations to the next Mayor but that is the next Mayor's problem not his.

For the union, no contract means that the existing contract rules stray in effect, thanks to the Tribourough Amendment, and any demands for "givebacks" must wait for a new contract and the union rather not negotiate a contract under the existing hostile political and economic climate where demands for massive givebacks would be demanded and the mass media would be whipped into a frenzy to ensure these massive givebacks become a reality.

Consequently, it appears in the best interest of both parties to wait until the Bloomberg Administration leaves office and the City's economy improves before any serious contract negotiations actually occurs.

That brings me to the teacher evaluation process.  What many people fail to understand is that no teacher evaluation program can be implemented without a contract!  Yes, the teacher evaluation program requires a change in the contract which means that the union can and should require that any teacher evaluation program be part of the next contract and not change the existing contract. That would be a betrayal to its members if the union changed the existing contract to accommodate the City and approve the  teacher evaluation program. While it is true that the Bloomberg Administration broke off the teacher evaluation negotiations because of the appeals process (where a measly 13% of the teachers can challenge their "ineffective rating").   A more serious problem for the Mayor was that any agreed upon teacher evaluation program required a change in the teacher contract and would must certainly forced the Bloomberg Administration to negotiate a new contract with the union, something the Mayor does not want to do.  Unless the union was foolish or incompetent, the union should never negotiate a new contract without the retroactive raises and resist any "givebacks" if the City wanted to implement the teacher evaluation program and the Mayor knows it. 

Finally, there is the ATR crises, the Bloomberg Administration has made it clear that they want to fire the ATRs who are mostly highly-paid senior teachers.  The Bloomberg Administration over the last few years have  proposed an ATR time limit, an end LIFO bill, a useless weekly assignment,and now possibly a buyout.  The union, to their credit, has held firm on the ATR time limit issue since they saw what happened in Chicago when an ATR time limit was implemented and resulted in many senior teachers being fired as the schools refused to fill their vacancies with the ATRs.  While, I truly believe the union will continue to hold firm on the ATR issue, it will probably be  the primary demand of the next Administration and our union must be pro-active on this issue and demand that the new Administration require the DOE to go back to the old rules that require principals to hire excessed teachers in their district before they can hire a teacher outside the DOE,  nothing less is acceptable.

In summary, the complex and complicated nature of the next contract can be simplified as a combination of politics, egos, and most of all, the final agreed-upon teacher evaluation program.  Furthermore,  and hopefully a resolution of the ATR crises to the satisfaction of the affected members.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

There Are Rumors That The DOE And The UFT Have Reached A Framework For An ATR Buyout. The Question, If True? What Are The Details?

I have heard rumors that the UFT and DOE have reached a tentative agreement for the price of the buyout for long-term ATRS, (more than one year).   The rumor is the amount of the proposed buyout is a less than generous 50% of  he ATR's 2012-13 salary and will be implemented during the beginning of the school year in September.  The question is that knowing the DOE have they demanded that the ATR Agreement  be adjusted to, lets say a time limit?  While I do not believe that the union would agree to an ATR time limit, it was our union that unwisely agreed to the creation of the ATRs in the first place so anything is possible.

The problem is that the DOE and UFT historically negotiate in secrecy and lack transparency while the union continuously fails to solicit input from the affected members.  For example the ATR Agreement did not include input from those affected, the ATRs.  Further, the union failed to include an ATR in the negotiating committee for the ATR Agreement that apparently has never met! Furthermore, despite the many complaints by ATRs about the weekly placements, neither side has responded to these complaints or have bothered to find a more reasonable and efficient use of these experienced teachers. Finally, despite admissions by principals that they hide vacancies and hire outside long-term substitutes, the union has failed to file an expedited grievance to stop this practice that violates the ATR Agreement while the DOE looks the other way when their principals don't follow the rules

For an ATR buyout to be effective, it would need to include the two-year pension credit that all Tier I members receive when they retire.  The inclusion of a tw0-year pension credit is worth between a 4-11% increase in the pension and combined with the 50% salary buyout would encourage many ATRs to leave the system.  On the other hand, the buyout rumored to be given to ATRs will see only a few ATRs willing to take the money and they are the ones that have delayed retirement in the first place after the Chancellor told the press in the Spring of the buyout offer to ATRs.

While the ATR buyout proposal is a start, it must be part of a more comprehensive solution that includes the following::

  • Two-year pension credit with the buyout.
  • No outside teacher can be hired in the District until the ATRs certified in the subject area are placed. 
  • Incentives for Principals to hire ATRs, similar to 2008-09.
  • Disciplining and penalizing principals who fail to hire ATRs for their vacancies.
  • Expedited grievances when the DOE fails to enforce the ATR Agreement.
  • A joint committee that includes ATRs to ensure all the contract provisions are being implemented, enforced,  and the affected members informed.
The bottom line line is that the union has allowed the Mayor and Chancellor to demonize the ATRs as "lazy and bad teachers", while ignoring the age and salary discrimination that is obvious to all intelligent observers.  This must end now and the union must be pro-active in their advocacy of their 2,000 strong ATRs.   Nothing less is acceptable.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

For Veteran Teachers, The Open Market Transfer System For 2012 Has Been A Joke.

While the DOE and UFT keep the actual statistics secret, and for good reason, anecdotal evidence suggest that few veteran teachers received offers from schools under the Open Market Transfer System (OMTS)  As in the previous years, it seems that younger, and non-tenured teachers were the beneficiaries using the OMTS as they received numerous interviews and had their choice of positions.

Of all the teachers who applied under the OMTS, only one semi-veteran teacher I know actually received an interview and he just turned 30 with eight years teaching experience (he didn't get the position and thinks the Principal didn't like the fact he was tenured). By contrast all my veteran teaching colleagues have experienced complete frustration as they applied for various positions on the OMTS and did not even get courtesy responses and went to the bogus DOE job fairs that were a complete waste of time.

For some of you who think that the principals are not discriminating against veteran teachers, think again. Do you remember this article?  Furthermore, principals are now able to hire new teachers to replace veteran teachers who have either resigned or retired, it is highly unlikely that schools will hire veteran teachers because of budgetary and Administrative control reasons.

I suspect that there will be an increase in ATRs this year, maybe over 2000 since the loosening of new teacher hiring restrictions will free principals from offering ATRs a provisional position as they did last year.  The union negotiated ATR Agreement has and is a joke as the union failed to get the DOE to discipline principals who routinely violated the ATR Agreement.  See my previous post here.

In conclusion, unless the union puts the DOE's feet to the fire, it will be a long school year for the ATRs as they waste their time and career moving weekly from school to school in their district.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

To Be An Effective Teacher You Need The Proper Resources, Administrative Support, And Most Of All, An Enforceable Student Discipline Policy.

I keep hearing the Emperor, Michael Bloomberg, and his poodle, Chancellor Dennis Walcott claim that they want "effective teachers" in the classroom.  However for a teacher to be "effective" the teacher must have the necessary tools to achieve that designation and that is the problem.  What the Bloomberg Administration fails to do to is to provide the tools to make a teacher "effective",  The City fails to provide resources and support to help the classroom teacher to become a quality teacher.  Even the usually Mayor friendly New Teacher Project identified the many failures of the Mayor's education policy in the New York City Public Schools.  According to the TNTP report the following problems were found and need to be addressed.

  • Poor retention rates with 15% leaving yearly considered " effective or highly effective".
  • Poor working conditions that result in a  low 50% retention rate within five years of teaching.
  • Poor school cultures.
  • Lack of Administrative support, especially principal leadership issues.
  • Lack of resources.
Mind you, this report is by a pro-reform group and even they could not ignore the failures that the Bloomberg Administration has brought on to the New York City Public School students.  The report could, and should have added the following problems that hurt student academic achievement and they are,

  • Increasing class size
  • Lack of an enforceable student discipline code.
  • poor teacher morale.
  • lack of respect for teachers by the Bloomberg Administration.
Of all the problems listed above I find that the failure of the DOE and school Administration to enforce the student discipline code is the most serious obstacle for effective classroom teaching. When students realize that the Administration will not back up the teacher, the teacher is then handicapped and it is unreasonable to believe that a teacher in a low preforming school with high poverty rates and large percentages of Special Education and English Language Learners would be able to achieve high test scores without these children getting extensive wraparound services and a zero-tolerance discipline policy.

Teachers who work with the academically-challenged population must have not only Administrative support but his or her student's family must receive professional assistance and the student should have after-school programs and services to  help them academically as well as behaviorally.  Presently, the City does not offer adequate wraparound services to these children, instead it it easier for the Mayor and Chancellor to blame teachers for the student's failure to behave and succed academically rather then provide the necessary wraparound services for student academic achievement.

The best method to improve student academic achievement is to enforce student discipline and get these disruptive students the help they and their family needs so that the teacher can become the "effective teacher"  that the Mayor and Chancellor claim they want/  All other strategies fall behind the most important factor and that is a peaceful classroom where students can learn without disruptions from a behaviorally-challenged student.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Why Doesn't The DOE Punish Principals Who Hide Their Vacancies? Because They Do Not Care To.

The actions by Principal Ann Chester at Fort Hamilton High School has spotlighted that many principals  refuse to hire ATRs for their vacancies, not because the principals believe that the ATRs are lousy teachers but because the school would need to pick up their salaries.  Instead, the principals will hide the vacancies and pick up long-term substitute teachers who will cost the schools one third the salary of an ATR and do not have tenure.    Since the DOE has shown little interest in going after the principals who violate the ATR Agreement with the union, the practice is widespread and has resulted in far more ATRs than there should be.

Gotham Schools wrote a great article about how Principal Ann Chester circumvented the rules and underpaid many substitute teachers to save money.  Of course, that also meant that no ATRs needed to apply for the vacancies since the Principal falsely claimed that they were covered.  In the Gotham Schools article an anomoynous Principal said the following.

It is not uncommon for school leaders to skirt the hiring rules from time to time to ease in favored candidates, according to the principal of another large high school. But the principal said the skirting usually happens only in very limited circumstances, such as when the school wants to hold on to an excellent student teacher for a year until a position opens up. Informed that Chester might have hired at least 14 teachers in this manner, the principal expressed shock, saying, “Everybody does it, but nobody has done it to this degree.”

 Of course, Anne Chester is still Principal of Fort Hamilton High School as the SCI Investigation is just about finished and since the DOE has failed to take any real action against her, look for other principals to thumb their collective noses at the DOE and refuse to hire ATRs to cover their vacancies to save a few coins.  

"Children last"....Always.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The DOE Claims "Children First"...Always. However, The Truth Is Otherwise. Just Ask The Students At Jamaica High School.

The DOE has a slogan that claims "children first"...Always, except it is not true.  The DOE is much more interested in their own pseudo-reform policies that waste millions of dollars on useless technology, high-priced consultants, and Administrative bloat.  When it comes to real improvements in classroom resources that directly affected the children, the DOE pleads poverty and blames school Administrators and staff for the lack of proper materials that are necessary to educate the students.

 A case in point is Jamaica High School that was starved for resources and complaints were made to the State Department of Education (SED) about the effects of lack of resources on the students at the school.  To the shock of most everybody, the SED, presented with the overwhelming evidence by Chapter Leader James Eterno and State Senator Tony Avella, wrote a damming report summerizing how the DOE hurt the students of Jamaica High School by starving them of resources, truncating their course selections, and worst of all, had non-certified teachers teaching Special Education students! In summary, here is what the State found.

 · No honors or advance placement classes are offered to students
· The school no longer offers calculus, chemistry, or physics
· Only three electives are offered to students
· Off –track classes are no longer available
· Students are not offered SAT prep courses
· Students are not able to complete specialty programs such as Business, Computer Science,
Engineering and Finance Institutes or Art Institutes
· Two teachers are not certified in the subject area they are teaching

  The entire report can be found here.

 Interestingly, the major media mouthpieces of the media, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and the New York Times bothered to report it.  Only NY1 ran with the report and can be found here.

The ICEUFT blog has been writing about the Jamaica High School situation and is a must read for the history of the DOE's attempts to destroy a once great school.