Sunday, April 7, 2013

Vincent Wojsnis: Why Does the UFT Leadership Cling to Mayoral Control?

Vincent Wojsnis, who was never involved with a UFT caucus in the past, has become a stalwart MORE advocate. He has thrown his hat into the ring with gusto. He is running for a MORE Executive Board At-Large position. Vincent posted a "Why I Am Running With MORE" piece on the MORE blog.

"I’ve been a chapter leader, a delegate, an arbitration advocate. In 2009 I joined other UFT members to help organize teachers for the AFT in Texas. My union activity was recognized by the union leadership later that year when I was received a Trachtenberg Award as well as a UFT Partnership Award that I shared with my former principal. I am proud of it all.... 

Until recently, however, to anyone who’d ask me to which caucus I belonged I would simply say, “UFT.” So-called “in fighting” within the union, it seemed to me, was factional and counter-productive. I no longer feel that way. The extreme agenda advanced by the so-called “education reform movement” and our union leadership’s weak (often questionable) response to it has made me a partisan. Earlier this year, concerned over the direction that the union leadership was taking both in New York and nationally, a group of UFT members joined together and formed the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) as an alternative caucus within the UFT. I joined the MORE Caucus because I believe that union has to go in a different direction.
It is people like Vincent as much as anyone who has joined MORE that scares the Unity machine the most. But just as important is for MORE to justify Vincent's faith by staying true to democracy and principles. It has been an absolute pleasure working with Vincent. It is people like him who represent real change in the UFT.

Why Does the UFT Leadership Cling to Mayoral Control?
By Vincent C. Wojsnis

The headline of the March 21 edition of The New York Teacher reads “Mayoral Control – Not Mayoral Dictatorship!” Inside, the article reports on the recommendations of the UFT Task Force on School Governance which outlines a series of reforms the committee feels should be adopted to change the law that gives the mayor total control over New York City’s public schools.

 Among the panel’s recommendations were: changing the number mayoral appointees on the Panel for Education Policy from eight to five members; ending the practice of appointing non-educators as chancellor; restoring the power and independence of local superintendents; and empowering  Community Education Councils to approve school co-locations in local school buildings.

 These recommendations were presented to and approved by the UFT Delegate Assembly on March 20. However, it was not without opposition. MORE member, Gloria Brandman, who represented one of two dissenting votes on the task force, spoke in opposition, arguing against union support for any form of mayoral control. Her voice was drowned out by Unity-led hecklers. So it is now official, in this election year, the United Federation of Teachers supports a modified form of mayoral control.  

Lest there be any doubt about the official union position on mayoral control consider the following statement by UFT president, Michael Mulgrew. In a March 14 message to the membership Mulgrew stated: “I am expecting that some in the press may erroneously report the story as the UFT and Michael Mulgrew are trying to end mayoral control. I want to make sure you know that is not the case. We are not proposing to end mayoral control. We do not want to turn the clock back to 2001 or return to the chaotic days of the old elected school boards.”

I wonder how many teachers who were around in 2001 currently serving time on the Absent Teacher Reserve would agree that they are so much better off now than they were during those “chaotic days of the old elected school boards.” 

I arrived late that Wednesday from a high school trip with my students, so I could not attend the last DA. Were I able to attend and were I permitted to speak, I too would have opposed the resolution.  My question to the membership is this: Were we not led down this road before? Did we not learn anything from that experience?

The last time the issue of mayoral control came up was when the original law expired in 2009. (Opposition to that law actually caused it to expire for several months before the state legislature could vote on a new law.) Then, as now, a task force on school governance was formed by former UFT president, Randi Weingarten.  Its recommendations were very similar to proposals made by the current task force. As a UFT chapter leader at my former school, I fought for those proposals. I remember stating at a Senate committee hearing: “We need to reform the reforms.” I was wrong. The essence of the proposals being made here (then, as now) are not so much to “limit” mayoral control as they are to save mayoral control. Why does the union leadership continue to cling to such a miserable and failed public policy?

2009 was a pivotal year in education reform. It was the year Mayor Bloomberg muscled the City Council into changing the law allowing him to seek a third term, though he had previously long championed term limits. “Education reform” was at the center of the mayor’s re-election campaign. It is also notable that the UFT did not oppose Bloomberg’s re-election.
2009 was also the year the DOE announced the phase out of my former school, MS 399, one among the second big wave of school closures under former Chancellor Joel Klein. As a chapter, we rallied together with parents and community organizations to oppose the school’s closure. The election campaign and the debate to renew the mayoral control law presented unique opportunities for our school to “make our case” at various public forums.
For its part, the union leadership was very supportive and helped to organize demonstrations and rallies in support of our school. However, while it became clear to teachers and parents that “our battle” to save our school was part a “greater war” against mayoral control, the message from the union leadership was also as clear and distinct; we oppose the closing of your school but, THE UFT STILL SUPPORTS MAYORAL CONTROL. 

The concept of mayoral control is an idea hatched by corporate think tanks that have two objectives: one, to enrich and empower the corporations who will benefit as a result of the “reforms” and secondly, to disenfranchise millions of American citizens of a basic democratic right; the right to affect real change in their children’s education.

It’s not just Bloomberg and it’s not just New York. When Pres. Mulgrew points to examples of where mayoral control of the public schools appears to have succeeded; in Boston or Washington D.C., he is being deliberately misleading. Everywhere it exists, mayoral control has led to school closures and their replacement with privately-run charter schools. It has replaced a broad and robust curriculum with an insane preoccupation with standardized testing. For teachers, it has led to an erosion of fundamental union rights such as seniority, tenure protection and the implementation of an unfair teacher evaluation process.

But mayoral control does not exist everywhere. Throughout the country there are still school boards that are elected by members of the communities, mostly parents, who seek to have a voice in education policy. This is particularly true in affluent, suburban, mostly white school districts. Are not the parents of less affluent, urban communities of color entitled to the same rights?  

I believe that our union is now standing at the crossroads. Do we want to continue with a union leadership that is content “to have a seat at the table;” and essentially acts as an overseer for policies that have proven to be so harmful to the schools and communities we serve? Or, do we dare to choose a new leadership that will stand independently and fight for the best interests of our members and students?

The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) is running candidates in the upcoming UFT elections. In contrast to the Unity Caucus, in paragraph 3 of our platform it states:    

3. MORE Democratic Governance by Communities, Parents, and Educators; No Mayoral Control, No Corporate Education Reform
We must wage an unequivocal fight for a democratic and responsive educational system, overturning mayoral control and resisting corporate “education reform,” which have disenfranchised communities from the governance of their schools.

We will fight for . . . An immediate end to the current UFT support for mayoral control and its replacement by a democratic system of local governance run by communities, parents and educators.

This spring UFT members have a choice. Vote for the MORE slate of candidates. We are the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers.

References:
Landau, Micah. “Mayoral Control with Limits,” New York Teacher, March 21, 2013.

MORE Platform, Movement of Rank and File Educators,  http://morecaucusnyc.org/the-more-platform/
Mulgrew, Michael. “Our School Governance Recommendations,” UFT.org, March 14, 2013
Wojsnis, Vincent C. “The Closing of MS 399,” New York Teacher, March 9, 2009
Wojsnis, VincentC .  “Public Education at the Crossroads,” Mount Hope Monitor, May 7, 2009

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