Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Grade For Chancellor Carmen Farina Is a "D" For Disappointing.

The New York Daily News interviewed some respected people who have a say in education, ranging from Ernest Logan, the President of the CSA (principals and assistant principals), Mona Davids, President of New York City Parents Union, and two highly respected college professors David Bloomfield and Pedro Noguera.  Absent from this list was an actual classroom teacher.  Therefore, here is my grade of Chancellor Carmen Farina's first semester in charge of the New York City schools.

First, Carmen Farina came in with high expectations that things will change for the better for the classroom. She was a long-term educator, not like the Chancellors under the Michael Bloomberg administration.  She rose up the ranks from teacher to principal to Superintendent, to Deputy Chancellor and knew the system.  However, there were some dark marks on her record.  For example she removed or encouraged 80% of her staff to leave her school as Principal.  She was a vocal advocate of the failed "balanced literacy" program and as Deputy Chancellor supported many of Chancellor's Joel Klein's policies.  She only retired when Mr Klein promoted Eric Nadelstern, her subordinate to a position above her.  Despite, these concerns, I and many others believed that a new day was coming and that with the progressive Bill de Blasio as Mayor, things will change for the better.  However, Chancellor Carmen Farina's first semester has been, to say the least, very disappointing.

Classroom Environment:.
Probably the most important aspect is what changes have occurred in the classroom since Carmen Farina took control of the DOE.  Unfortunately, the hostile classroom environment experienced little improvement for the teachers in it.  For the teachers in the trenches the change at the top has not translated into classroom improvements. The obscene amount of paperwork and data mining requirements remain unchanged, while the "gotcha mentality" still is evident as teachers are stressed to meet the Danielson rubric requirements.

Class Size:
Class size will remain unacceptably high for the next school year as Mayor Bill de Blasio's claim to reduce class sizes takes a back seat to the pre kindergarten and after school programs.  In fact, the New York Post claims class sizes are higher than when Mayor Bloomberg took office. New York City has the largest class sizes in the State and that is not expected to change under Chancellor Carmen Farina.

School Budget:
Shockingly, Chancellor Carmen Farina has frozen the already tight and inadequate school budgets for the next year.  Combine that with the continuation of the "fair student funding" will force principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their schools.  How on Earth can she expect student academic improvements when most schools will forced to hire teachers who need a steep learning curve themselves?  The result will be the students will suffer academically from these inexperienced teachers simply because its what's best for the Principal's budget.

Failure to Clean House:
Chancellor Carmen Farina has retained most of the Bloomberg DOE and it showed in the recently
negotiated UFT/DOE contract.  The Bloomberg policy to demonize the ATR became even more focused by the imposing of a "caste system" that makes the ATR second class citizens.  Moreover, ATRs who were disciplined will be not offered interviews for provisional positions and are now the "untouchables".  With the continued excessing, (John Adams 28, Flushing 24) more and more teachers will be joining the ATR pool and over 160 million dollars will be wasted by the DOE simply to satisfy their ideological policy.

Protecting Poor Administrators:
The old double standard has continued under Chancllor Carmen Farina as vindictive and abusive principals are kept in their schools to wreak havoc on students and staff, while good teachers are harassed and removed under frivolous charges.  While she has changed the requirements to become a Principal.  There are too many Leadership Academy principals in the system who have little or no classroom experience and need to be removed.

DOE Bloated Bureaucracy:
The infamous bloated DOE bureaucracy is still going strong with very few changes evident.  There still are 300+ lawyers and accountability personal that still consume millions of precious education dollars.  Furthermore, the useless and money sucking Children First Networks are still in existence despite claims that they would be eliminated.

Overall, my grade for Chancellor Carmen Farina is "D" for disappointing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Scapegoating Of The Teaching Profession Will Result In A Future Teacher Shortage.

There is no secret that the education reform movement, hijacked by the hedge fund managers, billionaires, and the corporate elite (the 1%), has successfully blamed teachers for poor student academic achievement. The education reformers ignore the effects of poverty, the family, lack of resources for school, and the large class sizes that are associated with poor student academic achievement.  Instead the education reform groups have attacked teacher "due process rights" and if they had their way, the teaching profession would be an "at will" employee, subject to termination at the wish of the administrator and school district.  In other words, the teaching profession would be a temporary position with a low salary and few benefits, for recent college graduates who want to get their first job similar to the Teach for America model which sees over 85% of them leaving their classroom after five years of service.  This instability and high teacher turnover destabilizes the schools and only hurts student academic outcomes.

How successful has the education reformers been in their campaign to demonize the teaching profession?  Just pick up your daily newspaper and there would be a story about bad teachers or why teacher tenure is bad for students.   .These same media outlets fail to see the connection between poverty and the social economic problems associated with the students that studies have shown contribute over 80% of the student's development.  Unfortunately, the connection between zip codes and student academic achievement is a reality and not an excuse that the education reform groups want to ignore.

An example of what lengths the education reformers and their political and media allies will go is the bungled Common Core roll-out by New York State. Under parent and school district pressure, the State decided not to use the Common Core based tests to determine student scores since the curriculum was not available for teachers to receive the proper training in.  However, the education reformers demanded that the scores still count for the teachers, even when the few available field tests showed large errors in the scores and the "value added measures" were considered "junk science".  The hypocrisy that exempted students from being penalized by these poorly planned tests but still hold teachers accountable for the same tests shows the power that the education reform groups hold over the State.  It was only last week that the Governor relented to a two year freeze.  The reason for the resistance to the two year freeze was obvious.  The test scores would have allowed administrators to get around tenure by using the flawed test scores to show the teacher was "ineffective" and fire them after two years. 

Recently, a California judge has ruled that the State's teacher tenure law is "unconstitutional" and allows poor preforming teachers to stay in the classroom and hurts minority students.   According to the judge it's a civil rights issue.  I believe the judge's flawed ruling will be overturned on appeal.  However, the California decision will set in motion similar lawsuits throughout the nation.  Already the .clueless Campbell Brown has taken her anti-teacher rhetoric in that direction and is spearheading a similar lawsuit in New York State.

The education reform movement claims they want "quality teachers" in every classroom.  However,where they have attained authority over the schools like New Orleans, Newark, Detroit, and Houston, the teachers hired were recent college graduates that required these municipalities to seek a waiver under No Child Left Behind since they are not considered "highly qualified" according to the law.  In fact, many of the recent college graduates were not even certified educators and were mostly white while instructing an almost 100% minority student population. Moreover, the education reform groups support the continued expansion of charter schools with teachers as an "at will" employee.  Meaning that teachers can be hired and fired at will.  The result is a high teacher turnover rate with few teachers lasting beyond three years at these schools.  The charter schools will claim they have better results then the public schools but that's because they remove struggling and behaviorally challenged students from their school.  Just take a look at the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy school as an example. Of the 72 students who started only 32 graduated from the school that means 56% of the students left the school and since the school does not back fill, the school is left with an incomparable cohort when it comes to the public schools. For the education reform organizations the future would be no teacher tenure, no pension or retiree health benefits, and deprofessionalizing the teaching profession by making it a stepping stone to a real professional occupation.

Already, across the nation scattered teacher shortages are becoming evident. This disturbing trend will accelerate as the nation's economic condition slowly improves.  Many collges are complaining that they have seen a decrease in education majors.  One college professor said that his class on classroom teaching techniques aare only half filled and he suspects a good quarter of his students have no intention of ever teaching in the classroom. This is the fallout for the constant media and political demonetization of teachers and their profession. With the elimination of teacher tenure you can expect a rise in ageism,  cronyism, nepotism, and favoritism, the very reason teacher tenure laws were necessary in the first place.

Teaching was once considered a noble and highly respected occupation and that's still the case in much of the world.  However, thanks to the education reform groups and their political and media allies, supported by deep pocketed benefactors, the teaching profession is anything but respected.  Teachers and the unions are blamed for all the problems of the school system while the other issues that are beyond the control of the classroom teachers are ignored.  Is it any wonder, that in five years we will see a deepening shortage of teachers as nobody in there right mind will even consider a profession that is constantly under attack and blamed for all society's ills.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The DOE Provides Another Poor Example Of their Shoddy Work By Using Last Year's Rating Sheet For This Year's Rating.


Last night the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) received their last minute rating sheet and it turns out that the incompetent and ineffective DOE sent the wrong rating sheet!  That's right, the rating sheet sent to the ATRs was last year's rating sheet signed by this year's rating officer.  Such incompetence shows just how ineffective these non-educators are.  How difficult is it to use the proper rating sheet and who signed off on this travesty?

Now it seems that the proper rating sheet will be sent later today as the DOE scrambles to correct the problem that their own shoddy work and oversight created in the first place.

Too bad that these incompetents at the DOE are not subject to to the same accountability rules as educators otherwise they certainly would receive an "ineffective" or "unsatisfactory" rating for doing their job poorly. Now, to me, this is unprofessional behavior.

update:   As of this morning, the updated rating link has been down since the DOE sent it out late yesterday afternoon.   People calling HR connect are receiving wait times for up to an hour.  The union now informed me it will be corrected by Thursday. The DOE incompetence in doing their job just continues.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Comparing The Defined Benefit Plan With The Defined Contribution Plan.


There has been an ongoing discussion about pension reform and the Detroit bankruptcy has put the spotlight on the affordability of the defined benefit plans that many State and Local governments provide their employees.  With the bankruptcies of Detroit and some California cities many pension reform groups are seizing the opportunity to demand that the public employee pension plans be converted to a defined contribution plan.

Historically, most public and private pension plans were defined benefit plans since their workers rarely changed jobs and stayed with the company or department for decades.  However, in our more mobile and restless society, more workers are job hopping or being laid off.  The result, is that these workers cannot qualify for an adequate pension since the defined benefit plan is based upon years of service.  However, in the 1980's the Internal Revenue Service allowed an obscure alternate tax deferred instrument to become available and this was known as the 401{k} plan.  The 401{k} plan morphed into the defined contribution plan.  At first, the 401{k} plan was a supplemental plan that allowed all workers to stash away tax deferred money until they withdraw it.  Eventually, many private companies soon realized that the 401{k} plan could replaced the existing defined benefit plan as the primary savings vehicle and many dropped their defined benefit plans for the defined contribution plans (401{k} or 403{b} plans}. The defined contribution plan became the retirement plan and the companies advertized the use of the defined contribution plan as a better way for their employees to save for retirement since it allowed the employee to choose different investment options and they can take the defined contribution plan to other employers. 

For the companies, the defined contribution plan had the advantage to save the employer significant money that can be used to grow the business instead of paying out pensions.  With the defined contribution plan (401{k}, 403{b) plans) the company is paying a maximum of a 3% employer match yearly to the employee and pays nothing in pension costs down the road.  While the defined benefit plan puts the company on the hook to pay out pension costs to the retired employee and spouse for decades after the worker no longer is an asset to the company.  Is it any wonder that private companies have eliminated or frozen their defined benefit plans and now only 8% have defined benefit plans. For the short-term employee in the private sector, the defined contribution plan makes sense since it allows the job changer to take the pension money with them.  This "portability" is important  since the employee's pension can continue to grow no matter how many employers he or she has during his working life..

By contrast, in the public sector, the defined benefit plan is still the retirement plan of choice.  Only Alaska and Michigan have gone to a defined contribution plan while a few states have a hybrid plan.   The reason is that public sector workers are usually older and long-term employees and stay in service because of the superior health benefits that private sector workers don't enjoy, especially in retirement.

For example on how the defined benefit plan works Let's take a New York City public school teacher who has 25 years of service in the City's schools and retires at top salary  at 62 years of age. The NYC teacher pension formula is as follows.

*Final Average Salary x Years of Service x Correction Factor = Annual Pension.

$100,049 x 25 years of service x 0.02 = $50,000 Annual Pension.

On the other hand, let's look art the typical 28 year old Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) drone who lasted barely five years in the
City schools before jumping ship to work for her education reform group masters.

$51,747 x 5 years of service x 0.0167 = $4,321 Annual Pension.

That only happens when she reaches age 62 at least 30 years down the road.

Final Average Salary = Top three consecutive years.

Obviously, for the E4E drone the defined contribution plan would be preferable since her money could continue to grow tax-deferred rather than be frozen for thirty or more years under the defined contribution plan.  The bottom line, the defined benefit plan is superior for a worker who stays with an employer for much or his or her working lifetime while the "portability" of a defined contribution plan  is preferable for the worker who changes jobs frequently.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

No Bullying In The Schools But Peak Crime In The Subways Are Associated With School Dismissal Time.

It was interesting reading today's Daily News.  Two completely separate stories were reported, one about crime in the subways, the other about lack of bullying incidents in the schools..  The first dealt with subway stations that have a high percentage of crime and the second story was on the lack of bullying complaints in the New York City schools.  If you connect the two, its very obvious that the New York City school administrators are not reporting bullying incidents so as to keep up the fiction that their schools are safe and the students are respectful and obedient.

In the first article the Daily News reported that much of the crime that occurs in the subway stations occur around the 3pm hour and many of the incidents involved school children.  The worst being the Broad Channel station which services the Rockaway Peninsula.  Other stations that reported high afternoon crime was Broadway Junction in East New York and 125th Street in Harlem. Many of the stations that had a high percentage of crime were either on the Rockaway peninsula or in West Harlem. The 3pm hour coincides with school dismissals and the connection is undeniable.

In the second article in the Daily News was the lack of bullying incidents reported by the New York City schools.  According to the newspaper an astonishing 80% of the schools reported no bullying incidents in the last school year. . Unbelievable but true.  This includes Intermediate school 117 in the Bronx where a bullied teen stabbed one of his tormentors to death. We all know that bullying is common in schools, especially the middle and high schools.  How can school administrators ignore bullying in their schools?  Easy, you just don't report it since reporting bullying incidents will be penalized by the DOE on their school grade.

Let's see, according to 80% of the schools, there is no bullying going on and the students are "perfect angles" but somehow once they leave the schools some of  these "perfect angels" in school commit criminal acts in the subway system.  I guess if you believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, you can believe that there is no connection between the two but the reality is that they are connected and this is a societal issue that needs to be addressed and hiding the problems by not reporting bullying and other incidents for fear of reducing the school's grade and reputation only puts all of us at risk in and out of our schools.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Retiring In June Or July? Know The Difference.

While I have no intention of retiring anytime soon, I did show up to the UFT retirement seminar to hear about the retirement process.  With the new UFT/DOE contract retiring on June 30th rather than July 1 makes quite a difference.  This post will try to explain the difference for retirees and which retirement date is best for them.

Retiring by June 30th:
For those who retire before July, the retiree will get the full retroactive raises and lump sum payouts upfront. First, the retroactive raises will be included in the pension check and most of these retirees should get it by November of this year.  Why the delay?  the doubling of expected retirements and the recalculating the "Final Average Savings" (FAS) to account for the retroactive pay and $1,000 bonus will probably delay by a month or two the first pensions checks.  All the lump sum payments will be sent in one check but no date when this check will be sent to the retiree is available.  Probably sometime in the fall.  For teachers on maximum it will amount to approximately $36,000. The UFT health and welfare fund will end for these retirees at the end of August.

Retiring in July:
The retroactive pay and lump sum payments will be paid to the retiree as they will be for active members.  Despite the union's claim that the people who retire after June 30th will also get their retroactive raises upfront in their pension check, it appears the union is wrong.  The City has decided that TRS will recalculate the retiree's FAS as each retroactive raise comes due and therefore, the pension will be adjusted over the life of the contract. The lump sum payments will also be given to the retiree's at the same time as active members.  At the maximum teacher salary, it should add up to $54,000.  These retirees will have the UFT's health and welfare fund untill the end of September if they retiree in July.  For ATRs, its advisable to take the severance package and retire in July since the severance package is only good between July 3 to August 3.

Terminal Pay:
All retirees who have unused sick leave and don't take terminal leave will be paid one day's pay for every two days of unused sick leave.  The sick day payment will be in three equal payments.  The first in September, the second in June of 2015, and the last in June 2016.

Hopefully, this helps clear up some of the differences between retiring in June rather than July.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Educational Neglect Occurs At Excelsior Preparatory High School And The DOE Does Nothing About It.

Its no secret that the Bloomberg small high schools that now inhabit the Springfield Gardens Campus in Southeast Queens have been rapidly deteriorating academically.  No longer can these schools exclude "high needs students" or are given extra funds as they were able to obtain previously.  With the leveling of the playing field, these small schools are less appealing to the academically inclined parent and child and the results in the last few years show that.  Each incoming freshman class is more academically challenged then the previous one The college readiness rates have dropped into the single digits and are not trending in the right direction.  None of the schools are diverse  and that's a major part of the problem. Two of the schools received a school grade of "A' under the bogus grading system.  I guess "A" stands for awful.

I have been to all four high schools at the Springfield Gardens campus and cannot recommend any of them either as a teacher or a parent of a student.  Students run the halls during class, disrespecting teachers and each other is the norm, and the school feels unsafe. However, this post is about the educational neglect that occurred at one of the schools, Excelsior Preparatory High School.

Excelsior Preparatory High School is run by a "Leadership Academy Principal" who has grossly failed in her duty to provide her students with a complete and college-ready academic curriculum. In my opinion the Principal practiced educational neglect when it came to her school's 100 Earth Science students.  In a school known for emphasizing Science this makes it even more troubling. Why do I claim educational neglect?  Let me tell the reader the story and decide for yourself.

The story begins with the Science teacher, who taught the Earth Science classes and was "u rated" by the Principal in the last two years and apparently was on his way to receiving an "ineffective" when he stopped showing up as the second semester began.  Officially he was calling in sick but some staff suspected that he was removed.  Regardless, this left the school without an Earth Science teacher.  Did the school recruit for a replacement or check the ATR pool?  Apparently not.  For the next three months the school used the weekly rotating ATRs to "babysit" the class.  It was only in late April did the school assign a Biology teacher to finish off the school year.  By then the lack of labs and because the classes were so far behind in the Earth Science curriculum, the Principal decided to cancel the Earth Science Regents.  That's right, Excelsior Preparatory High School, known for their Science will not be giving the Earth Science Regents tomorrow.

This travesty didn't need to happen.  By a stroke of luck, in March an ATR certified in Earth Science showed up at the school.  Teachers, students, and even the assistant principal was thrilled that the 100 students now had a fighting chance to meet the Earth Science qualifications and sit for the Regents.  The teacher, while not too happy that he might have to stay there for the rest of the year, still worked hard and started doing the labs the students needed and was in the process of setting up a program to get them on task by the end of the school year.  For the first time in months the students were enthused and started to believe they now had a real chance to pass the Earth Science Regents. However, there was a problem.  The Principal decided not to ask the DOE to assign the teacher to the school. Why did she not do the right thing for her students?  Maybe it was that the teacher reminded her of her former "u rated" teacher who left the school, maybe she didn't think the teacher was the "right fit" for her school? Maybe her Children First Network didn't recommend she keep the teacher?  Whatever the reason, the Earth Science teacher left at the end of the week and with him, the last chance for those students to succeed.  It took another month before the Biology teacher was temporarily hired to finish the school year.  The result?  No Earth Science Regents are being offered at the school.

Will the DOE take action and punish the Principal who neglected the needs of 100 students or will they put their collective heads into the sand and ignore it?  I'm guessing the latter since its "children last....Always" at the DOE.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Teacher Tenure Is Necessary.

The California court decision that struck down that State's teacher tenure law is already having the education reformer groups salivating in anticipation of similar lawsuits throughout the nation, including New York. According to the California judge, teacher tenure is a civil rights issues that causes school districts to dump poorly preforming teachers to instruct poor and minority students.  While I find his reasoning faulty and without merit, it does open the door for similar attacks on teacher tenure elsewhere.  It's no secret that nationwide, teacher morale is an an all time low and teacher disrespect, especially by the media, is on the rise.

Interestingly, the main issue for the judge was the extreme difficulty in terminating teachers for misconduct and incompetence and that teacher "due process rights" made it nearly impossible to fire teachers in California  Furthermore, he mentioned how California's teachers received tenure in eighteen months and few principals rejected teacher tenure due to the short time limit and fears of high teacher turnover if they did which can destabilize a school.. While I believe that the judge's decision will be reversed on appeal, let's look at t5he New York City's tenure and termination process and how it's applied to City teachers.

First, tenure is given after three years of satisfactory service and in many cases tenure can be extended for another year or two before the teacher finally achieves tenure. The latest statistics show that only 53% of teachers who were eligible for tenure received tenure while 3% were discontinued.  The rest had their tenure decision extended another year. In fact, in some cases principals wanted to give tenure only to be told by the Superintendent that the tenure request was rescinded!  Unlike California,in New York City tenure decisions take longer and is more difficult to achieve.

Second  in New York City, teachers brought up on 3020-a charges for incompetence or misconduct are much more likely to be terminated by independent arbitrators.  The latest statistics show that in 2013, 38% of the teachers who went through their 3020-a hearings were terminated and only 4% were found innocent.  The rest had fines or suspensions.  In other words, of the 133 teachers who went through their 3020-a hearings 50 were terminated and only 6 were find innocent of all charges against them. In all cases the teacher had a relatively fair hearing and their "due process rights" were protected, even if the results may not always be to one's liking.

Remember, teacher "due process rights" were necessary because school districts would practice favoritism, nepotism, ageism, racism, and use "arbitrary and capricious" actions to fire teachers, especially ones who were higher salaried and outspoken.  To go back to the "bad old days" is not only unacceptable but would hurt the students who would no longer have the benefit of highly experienced teachers with excellent classroom management skills who advocates for them and that help the students reach their academic potential.  Look at the new contract.  The DOE still believes they have the right to fire ATRs who won their 3020-a termination hearings by having the option not to offer these "untouchables" an opportunity for an interview when vacancies are available.  Giving the school districts the ability to "hire and fire" at will, will destabilize schools and hurt the very children they claim to serve.  Teacher tenure and "due process rights" are an integral part of a stable school environment and for the students to reach their academic potential.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Open Market System Ensures That Deep Poverty Schools Can't Retain Great Teachers.

The Open Market Transfer System (OMTS) allows teachers to transfer from one school to another without the consent of the Principal from April to the first week of August.  During that time if a teacher decides to move from one school to another, the Principal cannot stop the teacher from leaving.  According to the highly suspect UFT claim, 4,000 teachers use the OMTS to move from one school to another.  Most of the teachers that do obtain a position through the OMTS are the younger, less experienced, and of course, less expensive teachers.  Especially if they have not achieved tenure yet. For the highly experienced and senior teachers the OMTS is simply a "farce".  Since few schools will expose their tight budgets to hire a senior teacher, no matter how much it may benefit the school's students.

However, one of the more disturbing aspects of the OMTS is that this program allows the continuous movement of potentially "great teachers" from deep poverty schools to a more hospitable classroom environment of a diverse and middle class school.  In other words, the OMTS contributes to the high turnover rates that "hard to staff" schools are experiencing and no measly $5,000 bonus is going to help retain these potentially future great teachers in a school with a reputation of student behavioral issues and administrative ignorance.  This is especially true, where the school is run by a "Leadership Academy Principal" and who dictate rather than collaborate with his or her  staff..

The OMTS, along with the destructive "fair student funding" results in serious teacher inequality in the New York City schools.  While poverty and teacher retention are the major issues in the deep poverty schools, the DOE's policy of encouraging teacher transfers and straitjacketing schools to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their schools hurts the deep poverty schools the most.  The DOE policy perpetrates the teacher inequality issue by placing many an experienced "quality teacher" to languish in the ATR pool while the deep poverty schools are forced, by their budget considerations, to hire "newbie teachers".  Is it any wonder that these schools struggle?  Even when a "newbie teacher" shows real promise, the OMTS will ensure that these future "great teachers" will be great at another school and not at the deep poverty school that so desperately need the best teachers for their struggling students..

Just a word of caution.  If you are offered a position in another school before the school year ends, please don't inform the Principal or he and she can make it difficult for you until the last day of school.

Friday, June 13, 2014

For The ATRs Rated Unsatisfactory What Are The Consequences?

ATRs who rotated weekly from school to school are not subject to Danielson or the Teacher Evaluation System,  Therefore, these ATRs are rated under the old grading system of "Satisfactory" or "Unsatisfactory".   The rating officer is the ATR field supervisor and unfortunately, these field supervisors are not using consistent methods and in many cases, are using unrealistic criteria that results in some ATRs receiving an 'unsatisfactory rating".

What are the consequences for ATRs if they are "u rated"?   Apparently, little if this is the first "unsatisfactory" rating for the ATR.  For the DOE to proceed with 3020-a termination charges, the ATR must have received two successive "unsatisfactory" ratings.  Even then, the "burden of proof" is on the DOE to show that they gave the ATR real professional development and classroom support when the ATR didn't even have a classroom of their own.  A very high barrier for the DOE to hurdle if you ask me.  Moreover, as a visiting teacher without ownership of the students, its virtually impossible for the DOE to show how they gave the ATR the proper tools to improve his or her pedagogy  Finally, the DOE  would have a tough time to prove that they met the conditions outlined in Article 8J (pages 52-53) of the contract that the ATR was given sufficient professional support as required in "Teaching in the 21st Century". document.

However, ATRs who get "u rated" can expect the DOE not to offer them interviews for provisional assignments after  October 15th and stay in the weekly rotation pool for the school year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Cumulative Absence Reserve.

Every school year educators get 10 days of paid "sick leave', credited on the 16th of every month during the school year (September to June).  On that day a sick day is added to the educator's Cumulative Absence Reserve (CAR).  Of the 10 days, up to 3 can be used as a "personal day".  However,the educator must receive prior approval from the Principal.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the teacher does not need to supply a medical note to take a "self-treated" sick day.  Even if its ten consecutive days!  However, if the teacher is caught using the time by taking a vacation or working another job, expect the DOE to file "theft of service" charges and seek termination under section 3020-a.

Teachers who exhaust their CAR days can borrow up to 20 sick days from the DOE for legitimate illnesses.  Beyond that, the teacher can take unpaid leave either through the Family Medical Leave Act or approved disability.  The maximum sick leave that a teacher can accumulate is 200 days.  Teachers who exceed the 200 day limit must use the extra sick days by the end of the school year or lose them.

Educators can donate unused sick days to a ill colleague on a two for one basis.  For every day given to a colleague, the donor loses two days in his or her CAR balance.  Educators can only donate days if the teacher has at least 50 days or no more than 180 days in his CAR.  For appointed teachers who are absent 20 consecutive days without notifying the DOE, the DOE will  assume that the teacher has resigned.  For ATRs, the new contract's special rules that will start in the 2014-15 school year will allow only two consecutive days for an ATR to not show up to the school and  since the ATR is absent without notification  the DOE will assume that the ATR resigned.

On occasion an appointed teacher who takes more than 10 days an, be rated either "Satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory due to attendance" by the Principal.  However, for ATRs, special rules already apply and if the ATR exceeds 10 days, the ATR will be automatically rated "unsatisfactory" by the field supervisor, regardless how many days the ATR has in the CAR.

For educators who retire the DOE will pay the retiree, 1 day for every 2 days of unused sick leave.and will distribute the payouts in three checks, usually every six months.  However, if the teacher decides to try out retirement , he or she can take terminal leave where the DOE will pay the teacher a day's pay as if the teacher is still an active member, for every two days in the CAR.  However, the payment ends when either the CAR balance is zero, or when the semester ends.  The remaining CAR balance will be paid out with a check.  If the teacher decides to unretire and still has CAR days in the bank, then the teacher must notify the DOE that he or she is coming back and must do it before January or June, depending which semester the teacher started the terminal leave.

For coaches, summer school teachers and other selected school activities  additional sick days are credited to the CAR for working in those and other programs after the school day or year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Teachers Can File A Special Complaint When Being Abused By Administrators.

Some teachers feel powerless when they believe that they are being subject to administrator abuse.  However, the teacher doesn't need to be a helpless victim, the teacher can fright back by having the union file a "Special Complaint" (article 23 of the contract).  No teacher should be subject to harassment or desperate treatment by an  administrator or field supervisor in an attempt to rate the teacher "ineffective or unsatisfactory".    While recent history has shown that a "U rating" appeal to the kangaroo court's DOE hearing officer has a "zero" chance of being overturned,  its important to document the abuse in case the DOE choose to file 3020-a termination charges against the teacher.

The most important action a teacher, who is being abused by an administrator, can do is start an anecdotal log to document the administrative harassment and desperate treatment that the teacher is experiencing.  The anecdotal log is an extremely important part of the "Special Complaint" and it will be presented to the UFT/DOE mediation hearing that may possibly stop the administrative abuse and possibly an "ineffective or unsatisfactory rating".  More importantly, the anecdotal log will assist the teacher if the DOE brings 3020-a termination charges  in front of an independent State arbitrator. It could save the teachers's job! 

For all teachers who believe they are being targeted by an abusive school administrator or field supervisor, the anecdotal log is an extremely important document in defense of the teacher.  The anecdotal log should include the following information.

  • Description of incident.
  • Location
  • Date
  • Time
  • Witnesses
Remember, the anecdotal log must be clear, concise, and factual.  If the DOE brings 3020-a termination
charges against the teacher, the anecdotal log may be the best piece of evidence the targeted teacher has in his or her defense.

If you believe you are being targeted by an abusive administrator or field supervisor, then start an sacerdotal log and have your Chapter Leader, or if you're an ATR, the District Representative file a "Special Complaint" and hope your aggressive approach will make the bully supervisor think twice about harassing or using desperate treatment against you.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Few ATRs Will Be Hired This Year Or Next.

The union and the DOE reached an agreement that will make it difficult for principals to hire ATRs to fill vacancies for the next two years.  True, the new ATR agreement will require principals to hire ATRs to "provisionally" fill their vacancies after October 15.  However, by that time the only vacancies that will be available will be in the "hard to staff" schools where teachers have quit after the school year started.  Moreover, while the school will get the ATR for the "average teacher salary" of the school the first year and "zero" for the second year.  The problem is the third year when the ATR's full salary will be dumped on the school's budget.  How many principals will be willing to do  that?  Not many, if any.  In other words, the ATRs will have little opportunity to land an appointed position at most schools. Its business as usual.  By the way, what stops the DOE from ignoring the agreement as they have done many times previously?  Nothing, nothing at all.

The main culprit is the "fair student funding" and that will not change in the new contract.  For people unfamiliar with the "fair student funding", it simply punishes schools from hiring veteran teachers since the school budget is given a fixed amount of funds that principals can use as they see fit.  The result is that most principals and especially the "Leadership Academy " principals will simply hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers" for their schools.  Now that the last vestiges of the hiring freeze is gone, principals are free to hire whomever they please and since their budget is more important than what's best for their students, look for the schools to hire the many "newbie teachers" that their limited budget can accommodate.  What's not said is that if a principal hires an ATR before October 16, than the ATRs full salary must be included in the school's budget, another disincentive for hiring ATRs.

Presently, there are 1,200 ATRs participating in a useless and disheartening weekly rotation, while another 1,200 more are covering provisional vacancies or long-term leave replacements who will be excessed at the end of the school year.  Combine that with more excessing expected in many schools as new small and charter schools reduce the public school population of existing schools and the closing of some schools like Jamaica and Beach Channel High Schools so by the summer the ATR pool will grow to 2,500+.  Of those only the least experienced, untenured, and least expensive teachers will be offered positions.  The rest will need to wait until after October 15 to be offered a mandatory interview and only those that have never went through a 3020-a process or were "U rated" this year.

Remember, Chancellor Carmen Farina said that only 400 ATRs are capable of teaching.  Where did she get that figure from?  Easy, these are the teachers who never went through the 3020-a discipline process, received a "U rating" or never was investigated by the curropt OSI and SCI investigative units.  In other words, she assumes, just like in the Bloomberg administration,  that all the other ATRs are guilty of something and don't deserve a classroom of their own.  Change of tone?  Yeah, right! Let's see if the veteran ATRs even get interviews in the farce known as the Open Market Transfer System.  I don't think they will.

Finally, one of the two creators of the utterly useless weekly rotation, Human Resources Chief Larry Becker  (the other one being the recently retired UFT leader Michael Mandel) has warned principals not to over do the hiring of  "newbie teachers" and to hire the ATRs.  I'm sure he couldn't keep a straight face when he made that statement since he knows very well that the DOE policies that he has implemented actually encourages the schools to hire novice teachers.    While the DOE and UFT may talk a good game they have deliberately made the playing field even more uneven and reduced the already slim chances of a veteran ATR to be hired. What are the chances of a veteran ATR getting an appointed position in a decent school? As the late Rodney Dangerfield once  said "Its like a one legged man winning an ass kicking contest".  Maybe winning the lottery has better odds than a veteran ATR has to land an appointed position.

 To me its still  "Children last.  Always".

Friday, June 06, 2014

Why The Union Leadership Betrayed Their Members.

As expected, the union was able to convince three out of the four members to vote "yes"  by employing "scare tactics" to pass the inferior contract negotiated in a backroom deal with the Bill de Blasio Administration. This deal showed that for the union leadership it was more important to help Mayor Bill de Blasio succeed as Mayor than doing what's right for the members.

The union sent out its entire office staff to the schools and scared the members by claiming that if they don't vote yes, the members would be sent to the back of the line and the City will not have the money to pay for our raises.  Left unsaid is that if we let the police go first, we would not be getting eighteen months of "0" raises and we would certaionly have not made ATRs second class citizens.

The raises negotiated, 10% for 7 years, comes out to 1.43% a year or less than the Metropolitan area inflation rate of 2.31% for the last three years. That's right!  Even if you add the retroactive raises, the 2% raises for the 9 year length of the contract is less than the inflation rate!   Worse if a member resigns, is discontinued, gets terminated, or die, they do not receive the retroactive raises or lump sum payments.  The members must make it to retirement age to realize the puny gains in the contract.

As bad as the inferior and deferred raises are, some not being paid until October 2020, the union leadership's agreement to a "caste system" for the ATRs is simply a betrayal to those members.  No other Municipal union would agree to make some of its members a second class citizen as our union leadership did. In fact, the union leadership actually agreed to a "caste system" as ATRs, known as the "untouchables" who won their 3020-a termination hearings will be punished a second time by the DOE by not being offered interviews.  For the ATRs who came from closing or closed schools or who were excessed by downsizing, will be subject to "forced placements" and a reduced "due process rights" by being subject to an expedited one day 3020-a hearing due to "problematic behavior".  Now the DOE has eliminated the hiring freeze and with the continuation of "fair student funding" will any ATRs be hired if they are tenured and make $75,000+?  I highly doubt it.

The union leadership betrayed all their members by agreeing to inferior and deferred raises, not getting full retroactivity, not paying the over 4,000 teachers who left the system, and agreeing to a DOE imposed "caste system" for ATRs. and allowing the ATRs who won their 3020-a termination hearings, now known as the "untouchables" to be punished a seond time by the DOE.

Shame on the union leadership who betrayed their members in their backroom deal with the City and cared more about appeasing the new Mayor and Chancellor and if that means an inferior contract and selling out the ATRs, so be it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Tax Deferred Annuity Program

One of the most popular and important savings program that New York City educators have is the Tax Deferred Annuity (TDA) program.  The TDA is a 403(b) plan and is similar to the 401(k) plan that private companies have but is much better since it is exempt from state and local taxes for educators who live in New York State.

The advantage of the TDA is that all contributions and appreciation grows inside the TDA tax free until the educator is ready to withdrawal the money at retirement and the educatror is at least 59.5 years of age.  Moreover, if the educator retires and keeps his or her New York State residency, the TDA withdrawals are not subject to New York State or local taxes.  However, all TDA withdrawals are subject to federal taxes.

A teacher under the age of 50 can contribute as much as $17,500 to the TDA  and if 50 years of age or older the educator can add a "catch up contribution"of an additional $5,500 for a toatal of $23,000 in a calander year. By contributing to the TDA, the educator not only see the money grow tax free while in the TDA but also has their tax bill reduced as well.

For example, if a teacher contributes $10,000 dollars to the TDA for the 2014 and the educator is in the 15% federal tax bracket, then the educatorwill realize a reduction ofr $1,500 in his or her tax bill.  The same goes for the state and local taxes which combined will see a reduction of about 12% for educators living in New York City.

The TDA offers different funds such as International stock, socially responsible stock, U.S. stocks, inflation protected funds, and a bond fund.  However, the most popular TDA fund is the "Fixed Income Fund:".  This fund gives UFT members a 7% dividend and CSA members a 8.25% dividend at year's end.  These interest rates are guaranteed by the New York State constitution and cannot be reduced.  The fixed income fund is a no risk fund and in our present low inflation environment (2%), putting money in this fund is a no-brainer.  All the TDA funds have miniscule fees and that adds to the appreciation. Unfortunately, an educator cannot contribute outside money to the TDA or put his or her lump sum retro payments into the TDA.  An educator can take a loan from the TDA but its not a good idea.  Rather, take the loan from your pension instead.  I will discuss why in another post.

The bottom line is the more you contribute to the TDA, the more your money appreciates tax free until you start to withdraw it in retirement or when you reach the age of 70.5.  Moreover, the more you contribute into the TDA the less your taxes will be for that year and if you reside in New York State, the TDA withdrawals are exempt from New York State and City taxes.  Its the best deal in town.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Let's Get This Straight, The DOE Does Not Put Students First.


The DOE has a slogan "Children First. Always.".  However, the DOE's slogan rings hollow when thevery policies they have practiced during the Bloomberg Era and has continued under Chancellor Carmen Farina show otherwise.

Just look at all the policies the DOE has placed on the schools that has had a negative effect on a student's academic achievement.  Large class sizes, the largest in New York State and now our disappointing "its a beautiful day" Chancellor put her foot in her mouth again by saying that we don't want class sizes to be too small.   At the District 15 Town Hall meeting on May 6th.  Here is her exact quote.

"I have a particular feeling there’s such a thing as too small a class size. I feel sometimes class sizes creates cliques, other kinds of non-social relationships ". 

 This despite study after study that shows that smaller class sizes are correlated with increased student learning. In addition, over the last seven years the DOE has reduced school budgets by an average of 14% while the DOE budget has increased by billions of dollars. The result is few resources are being directed  to the classrooms while the DOE bloated bureaucracy is bursting at the seems with non-educators and managers, especially, accountability experts and lawyers.  Moreover, the schools, in an effort to save scarce funds,  are asking teachers to take a "sixth period" which eventually wears out the teacher and reduces their effectiveness.  The result is a less inviting academic environment and a failure to provide the proper conditions for students to reach their academic potential.

Combine that with the "fair student funding" that requires principals to hire the "cheapest" and not the "best teachers"  and the DOE's "education on the cheap" policy and you have not "Children first" but in reality its "Children last".

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Winners And Losers Of The Proposed Teachers Contract.

The proposed teachers contract with the City will probably be ratified this week and that's a shame since this contract has some "winners and losers".  No union should ever have agreed to a contract that treats their members differently but our union did.

The winners:

Retiring Teachers:
Teachers retiring by June 30th.  These retiring teachers will get their full retroactive pay and have it included in their pension checks.  No worries about Danielson, junk science, or abusive administrators.

Recently retired teachers:
They will get their full retroactive pay and a pension bump to reflect the retroactive pay.

Teachers who retire after 2018:
These teachers will receive all the raises which are back loaded to the end of the contract, if they can last that long.

The losers:

Teachers who resign, terminated, or die:
Teachers who leave the DOE before they reach retirement age, or are terminated, and who die will not get one penny of their retroactive raises or lump sum payments even if they worked in the 2009-11 school years. This includes untenured teachers who were discontinued.

Teachers on unpaid leave:
Teachers who are on unpaid leave on the date of the contract ratification will not receive the $1,000 bribe bonus.  This group includes teachers on maternity leave, family medical leave, and taking time off to care for a loved one.

Absent Teacher Reserve:
The ATRs will have diminished "due process rights" and have no say in placements.  Moreover, for middle and elementary school ATRs, will now be forced to take positions outside their Districts in their Borough.  Moreover, for ATRs who won their 3020-a termination hearings or took a stipulation, the DOE will not offer them interviews and keep them in rotation.

Teachers Who Retire After June 30th:
Unlike the recent retirees, this group of retirees will get their retroactive pay in drips and drabs like active members will.  Furthermore, their pension bumps will also be gradual and reflect the deferred payout scheme for the retroactive raises and payments.  Of course, if they retire before May of 2018 they will not receive the back-loaded raises.

Its a pity that our union allowed the City and the DOE to target a group of teachers to different rules and didn't significantly change the termination process for alleged "ineffective teachers".  Moreover, no union should agree to a contract that has "winners" and "losers".  That's not union solidarity.