Ms. Lee said she wasn’t afraid of the two dissident tickets splitting the potential opposition votes because she considered it a sign that more members were ready to challenge the status quo... The Chief
Underdog Takes on Mulgrew
2 UFT Dissident Slates Close Ranks Behind Lee
Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016 5:00 pm | Updated: 5:04 pm, Mon Feb 1, 2016.
By DAN ROSENBLUM |
Citing her opposition to top-down leadership and standardized testing, two dissident slates—the Movement of Rank and File Educators and the New Action Caucus—recently nominated Jia Lee to challenge United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.
Ms. Lee, a special-education Teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan since 2011, said the union’s leadership has often disregarded rank-and-file members in favor of political considerations such as adopting Teacher evaluations.
‘Give Teachers a Voice’
“It’s really about establishing some democracy within our union,” she said. “There’s very little in the way of giving Teachers voices in the decision-making that happens within our union.”
The 15-year veteran said she would do more to encourage parents to have their children opt out of Common Core-based standardized tests. After a campaign by parents and the New York State United Teachers, 20 percent of students statewide sat out the math and English exams last April. But in New York City, where the Teachers union advised parents to not withdraw their kids, the rate of opt-outs was less than 2 percent.
In 2014, she and other educators at her school refused to administer standardized tests to fourth- and fifth-grade students. Ms. Lee said she helped draft a letter and position paper to the DOE and got support from her Principal, but not her union. “They basically said I was on my own,” she said.
Francesco Portelos, a Staten Island educator and activist, is also running to unseat Mr. Mulgrew on the UFT Solidarity Caucus slate, which is advocating for school staffers who feel ignored by the Department of Education.
Both candidates—who are running slates seeking to also gain executive-board seats in May—face an uphill climb in mounting a significant challenge to Mr. Mulgrew. He was selected in 2009 to succeed Randi Weingarten, who departed the local to lead the American Federation of Teachers. The following year, he was elected over James Eterno by 41,521 votes to 4,075. He was re-elected in 2013 with 35,913 votes to 5,708 for MORE’s candidate, Julie Cavanagh. The New Action Caucus endorsed Mr. Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus that year.
Critical of Wage Deal
Since Mayor de Blasio was elected, the UFT has developed a closer relationship with City Hall and his Schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña. But MORE, billed as the UFT’s “social-justice” caucus, protested the contract reached between the union and the de Blasio administration in May 2014, saying that Teachers deserved raises more generous than were offered in the agreement.
Ms. Lee, a chapter leader for seven years, said the union should fight against the Teacher-evaluation system. “It feeds into the ed-reformers’ rhetoric of the bad Teacher, and which is part of a bigger agenda to basically bust our union and privatize the public-education system,” she said.
She testified last year before a U.S. Senate Committee that was debating the successor to the Federal No Child Left Behind law. She also proposed an unsuccessful resolution last year at a UFT delegate assembly to express “no confidence” in newly appointed State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
Approximately 30 officer and executive-board positions are up for election, she estimated.
“The UFT is a democracy,” Mr. Mulgrew said in an e-mailed statement.
Unfazed by Split Challenge
Ms. Lee said she wasn’t afraid of the two dissident tickets splitting the potential opposition votes because she considered it a sign that more members were ready to challenge the status quo. She added that even if her campaign, which is driven by word of mouth and local organizing, didn’t propel her into the presidency, it would still be a success if it engaged less-active members.
“The true test of what we’re doing is really whether or not we’re able to help build our rank-and-file-led push within our union,” she said. “And if we can get more Teachers to feel empowered—to organize at the school level and within their communities and to have a voice—I think that is the true win.”