Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Commentary - Mike Schirtzer: A View From the UFT Executive Board

Below, Mike Schirtzer reports on his reaction to his first two meetings as a member of the UFT Executive Board representing the high schools.
Mike is my 40-year old political son - which means that when he is 70 and wheeling me around at 100 we will still be handing out leaflets at the delegate assembly. He was one of the 7 MORE/NA candidates elected in the 2016 election, the first time since the 2004-07 term that non-Unity endorsed voices* are being heard. 

*New Action held up to 10 ExBd seats from 2007-2016 with Unity endorsement.

Over the 4 and a half years I've known Mike, we have kicked the importance of holding Exec Bd seats back and forth. When MORE was picking candidates I shared with him the 20 year history that the opposition has held seats on the board in the high school division and how little impact that has had.  

Holding Exec Board seats is not a game-changer. But it is an opportunity.
New Action held the seats from 1995-2004 before making a deal with Unity. That caused them to lose the seats to ICE/TJC from 2004-7 before they made a more entangling deal with Unity that allowed them to win Exec Bd seats.

The ICE experience with those seats from 2004-7 was instructive.  ICE and TJC, 3 seats each, did not work together and thus each group basically operated independently - one of the lessons as to why caucus coalitions don't always work out well. Basically, ICE's Jeff Kaufman and James Eterno consistently held Randi and Unity's feet to the fire. But the problem was that it was like the proverbial tree falling in the forest since few knew about the great work Jeff and James were doing. And ICE put a lot of energy into going to these meetings which may have distracted us from school-based organizing.

The MORE/New Action coalition is different with a much higher level of trust and cooperation. Which is why I won't comment now on New Action during the 2007-16 years on the EB with Unity support other than to say that by joining with MORE instead of Unity, they can now say their 2 members are on the board through the election of the rank and file without Unity support. Though I have viewed NA as non-militant incrementalists, my early sense now is that the 7 EB people are already working as a team and a touch of New Action caution mixed with the variety of places the 5 MORE people are coming from - a bit of the old ICE combined with the new MORE (Schirtzer, Arthur Goldstein and Marcus McCarthur, some NYCORE - Ashraya Gupta, a Teachers Unite alum (David Garcia Rosen) in addition to the independent voice of Arthur Goldstein. Add NA experienced Jonathan Halabi and Kuljit (KJ) S. Ahluwalia, there is a pretty nice blend.

At one point a year ago I urged Mike not to run and waste an evening every 2 weeks for 3 years schlepping over to 52 Broadway talking to a room full of Unity Caucus when he could better use his talents as an organizer for MORE.  No matter what he and others would do there, they would be the tree in the forest - Unless they did things in an organized manner and publicized widely what they were doing.

In his report, Mike fulfills his promise to not be a tree falling in the forest.

A View From a First-Timer on the UFT Executive Board
By Mike Schirtzer

My initial reactions after having participated in my first two meetings as an elected high school representative to the UFT Executive Board as a member of the MORE Caucus. 

UFT Members have not been informed on what was going on at  Executive Board meetings other than cursory minutes. We are trying to change that by posting detailed minutes and analysis on our blog, linking to it in our weekly updates and having a section of our newsletter dedicated to it. 

Issues that impact the day to day working conditions of UFT members and learning conditions for our students are not the focus of the agenda from Unity Caucus. The 7 of us from MORE/NA are all classroom teachers and will fight for these issues. MORE/NA is willing to engage in meetings with leadership to address abusive administrators, DOE meeting with chapter leaders on class-size, forcing Unity to discuss ATRs, paid parental leave and school funding are steps in the right direction. This is a 3 year term and we must do everything we can to best represent the working educators of the UFT. 

I approach my upcoming 3-year term with the attitude that we are not there to embarrass the leadership, but to challenge and find ways we can work together with the Unity Caucus' UFT officers to address issues of concern to the membership. But if we have to embarrass them to force them to act we will.

One thing we promise is that we will report honestly and openly so we provide the membership with insights on what has generally been a black box of mystery.

Setting the scene
There are 101 members of the UFT EB including the 12 officers. Other than the elected 7 high school MORE/New Action reps, the other 89 are all in Unity Caucus and who adhere to all decisions made by the leadership and vote as a block.

Many members of the UFT Executive Board – if not the majority – are not classroom teachers. There is a large group of retirees and many district reps and other UFT officials. Certainly few are in the classroom full-time. Thus they are not part of the daily routine that goes on in schools they supposedly represent. The 7 of us from MORE/NA are all classroom teachers and come face to face with the issues of concern to UFT members in our schools.

• There is a pre-meeting 10-minute opportunity for the general UFT membership to speak. The time is divided among all the speakers and you can only speak once a semester. At the first meeting 4 members of MORE shared the time for 2 minutes each to speak about working under abusive principals and the general lack of push-back from the union. There was no reaction from the Unity Caucus members.

• UFT Secretary Howard Schoor opens the meeting by reviewing the previous meeting minutes and approving them. Afterwards there’s a question period, followed by Mulgrew’s president report, followed by reports from the districts and then the business part of the meeting which includes discussing proposed resolutions. The official UFT resolutions have been passed by the 12-member AdCom which meets every Friday.

• UFT President Michael Mulgrew doesn’t show until his report and leaves soon after, thus missing a significant portion of the meeting. The Executive Board is supposed to be one of the highest bodies of our union, yet the president of our union sees fit leave after his brief report. The questions that Executive Board members ask and the open mic period for rank and file members does not seem to be of any concern for him.
Note: As per past Executive Board representatives from ICE/TJC : (MORE's predecessors) when Randi Weingarten was president she chaired the meeting and stayed the entire time.

• The only report of substance is from UFT Legislative Director Paul Egan who is a great speaker. Agree with him/Unity caucus or not, he brings a thorough report on the presidential election, endorsements, and justification of those endorsements. I only wish school based issues were taken on with as much vigor as Paul tackles politics. Most other reports from the districts, often by district reps, are about organizing for charities or UFT sponsored celebrations, not about the issues going on in the districts.

More thoughts on the 2 meetings I attended so far
• During the question period only the 7 members of MORE/NA asked questions on the following topics: Abusive Administrators, ATRs, School Funding, Paid Parental Leave, and Class-size are issues, Fair school funding, none of which were addressed in the reports by Unity Caucus members.

• At the first meeting, four rank and file speakers and one retiree, all associated with MORE, spoke about their terrible experiences in schools due to abusive administrators. One asked for district reps to be held accountable. We brought a resolution to Executive Board calling for removal of abusive administrators based on poor school surveys or a vote of no-confidence in the administration. I raised it and then MORE/NA Executive Board member Marcus McArthur further motivated it by sharing his own experience as a new teacher with a bad principal who openly attacked the chapter leader. Marcus' teaching career was almost ended barely before getting started. The resolutuon was tabled by Unity Caucus’ leader and Assistant Secretary Leroy Barr, but he agreed to meet with us to work on next steps for addressing this matter. We need to insure that UFT members have the organized defense they need. This meeting should be within the next 2 weeks, updates will follow.

Class-size: MORE/NA High School Executive board member Arthur Goldstein reported there are many over-packed classes all over Francis Lewis High School where he is the chapter leader. He also stated there are similar conditions all over Queens high schools. UFT leadership agreed to set up a meeting with Arthur, Queens high school chapter leaders, and personnel from DOE to address this issue. Updates to follow.

ATRs- Former Canarsie High School chapter leader and MORE/NA Ex Bd member Kuljit (KJ) S. Ahluwalia had first-hand experience with closing school policy and excessing when Canarsie High School was closed down. He has spoken at both meetings about the plight of ATRS. He as asked for data on the teachers currently still in the ATR pool (age, race, license) and what is being done to alleviate the problem. UFT Secretary Howie Schoor, President Mulgrew, and Amy Arundell all gave answers to KJ, not specifics, but generalities such as “ATRs are at the lowest since I been here”. Mulgrew and Arundell reiterated that sentiment.

Funding- Jonathan Halabi, the only member from MORE/NA that was elected to the previous term, brought up a New Action initiated resolution that passed the Ex Bd a couple of years back calling for UFT to pressure DOE to end the practice of “charging” principals more for experienced teachers. This means that schools that have veteran staff are punished by having less funding for after school programs, less guidance counselors and packed classes. The principal must use those funds to “pay” the staff. 

I spoke to the funding issue as well by explaining that this is the situation in my school and it has a negative impact on our chapter. Mulgrew and Schoor both said they would keep pressure on DOE and bring it up at their next consultation meeting with Chancellor Farina. They did say that this is not a contractual bargaining matter, but Mulgrew admitted NYC is one of the few, if not the only school districts in the US, that still uses this system. Most school districts assign staff based on number of students, ei. 1 teacher for every 25 students, 1 guidance counselor for every 200 students, etc. I sent my principal’s full budget to Secretary Schoor and we are awaiting his response.

Paid Family Leave- Ashraya Gupta MORE/NA UFT Ex Bd member brought up that Mulgrew has previously talked about UFT members getting paid parental leave. She spoke of our union, being mostly women, many of whom are primary-caregivers, and how it is unfair that we do not have this basic human right of paid parental leave yet. She asked what is our union’s position and progress on this matter. Schoor said the city’s non-unionized staff who receive this benefit had to give back money and days off, “the city will give us nothing for free”. Schoor did not articulate what our position is, yet the Delegate Assembly expressed we do not want any give backs.
The next EB meeting will be Monday Oct. 17, two days before the Delegate Assembly. Feel free to join us. If you wish to speak at the pre-meeting 10 minute time call Howard Schoor's office at the UFT 212-777-7500. Let us know if you are coming.

Arthur Goldstein has published minutes on his blog following each session which we have replicated on the MORE site. Arthur, me, and MORE/NA members will continue to report on these meetings and other contacts with the leadership.

Reports of the meetings can be found on MORE's site.

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