Friday, September 29, 2006

EdNotes Online #3 abridged - Sept. 29, 2006

Putting Lipstick on the Pig
Jim Cramer appeared on Imus and was asked about how such a disaster could occur at Helwlett-Packard, one of the classic tech success stories in history. He pointed to the stewardship of former CEO Carly Fiorina (he used a Martha Stewart analogy) who used a massive, highly successful public relations operation to control the press and disguise the disasters that were really going on. (“Talk to people at HP and they will tell you it was all about Carly.”) The story reminded me of certain operations – AHEM! – closer to home.

This idea is the theme behind my column appearing in the Wave on Oct. 6. I call it “Putting Lipstick on the Pig” a phrase from the movie “Boiler Room” that refers to the act of dressing up a bad stock to make it look good so suckers will buy it.

Watching Klein’s DOE (my article in the Wave on Sept. 29 is a report of my coverage of Klein’s press conference where he spun the slim results of the citywide exams) and Weingarten’s UFT, where globs of lipstick are being put on the catastrophic contract to dress up the Open Market system and the basic end of seniority that has led so many experienced teachers to be used as permanent subs. I won’t go into the rest of the stuff now.

I asked a chapter leader who is a former cartoonist to do a cartoon for the upcoming newsprint edition of Education Notes (I’m printing over 20,000 copies and will need everyone’s help to distribute it – early-mid November is the target). He did the much talked about cartoon we held up at the demo at the UFT last year of Bloomberg and Weingarten in bed. He also did the “Contract on Life Support” cartoon that appeared in the last newsprint edition of Ed Notes over a year ago. I will post that cartoon soon.

Elections: Why should you be involved?
As you know ICE is working with TJC in the upcoming elections and your help is needed if an alternative to the one-person dominated Unity caucus is to be built. And let me emphasize the last word. This election is not an end all and be all. It is part of a process of building a more progressive union that will stand up for its members, build bridges to other unions and communities, support teaching and learning in a positive environment, show positive results in the move to reduce class size, and address many other issues of concern.

Let’s face it. Unity has stacked the deck by manipulating the UFT constitution in such a way as to make it almost impossible for an opposition to “win” the election in the classic sense. It is possible to win 50% of the vote of active members and end up with no seats on the exec bd, where Unity currently has 92% of the seats, all of them in some way on the payroll of the union. There can never be reform in the UFT until the Exec bd reflects the membership and that will never happen as long as these people are on the payroll.

The key is the use of at-large voting where all union members get to vote for positions that should be voted on only by their constituencies (like the divisional – elem, ms, HS VP’s). Giving retirees a major say in this process - UFT leaders make annual junkets all over the country in January and beyond to meet retirees, this year these junkets will take place right in the middle of the election cycle.

But we expect them to do this when Unity’s prime directive is to HOLD ONTO POWER AND DO ANYTHING NECESSARY TO DO SO. That includes serving the membership as well as they can, given their constrictions, so it is not all bad. The reaction of the leadership to the 40% no vote on the last contract has been more responsive as they have taken many positions of their critics in ICE and TJC, at least for PR purposes.

Let us not ignore the benefits to the membership of having an alternative to Unity that can become a serious threat. There will be a response to this pressure and is one of the reasons you should be involved in the elections. If we ran a full slate of 800 people (that includes the AFT/NYSUT delegates, a winner-take-all system for Unity perks so that if we got 49% of the vote we get no delegates) IMAGINE THE IMPACT!!!

Another benefit is the impact on the DOE of a militant opposition calling for the union to really stand up to BloomKlein instead of making phony protestations of militancy while playing patty cake behind the scenes. Apologists for Unity will brand critics of Unity as traitors to the union and assisting BloomKlein by being divisive. Don’t buy it. A growing movement to light a fire under the asses of Unity is a much bigger threat to the games BloomKlein have been playing than total support for Unity’s givebacks. Frankly, if ICE/TJC got a serious amount of votes, I don’t think BloomKlein would be happy. Their union leader of choice is, GUESS WHO? How else will they be able to complete the rest of their agenda in dismantling the contract and the union at the chapter level?

Some of the few divisional positions on the Exec Bd that are up for grabs are winnable and the opposition has won the high school exec bd seats fairly consistently over the past 20 years. The last election 3 years ago was unusual in that long-time oppositions group New Action made deal with Weingarten not to run against her in exchange for Unity not running against them for these high school seats. Looked like a win-win for them. Except that ICE and TJC put a fly in the ointment by challenging New Action for these seats and winning them.

Now mind you, these are only 6 out of the 89 seats - the other 83 are controlled by Unity which naturally votes in a block to support Weingarten. Every single one of these 83 people is in the employ of the UFT either full or part-time and hired personally by Weingarten. They get double pensions and the overwhelming majority are totally out of the classroom. Can you spell C-O-N-F-L-I-C-T O-F I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T?

Well, the most active among this little group at the Exec Bd. – mostly Jeff and James, at times joined by Artie and Ellen from TJC – have driven Unity crazy and they are just as crazy to get these seats back in the upcoming elections. Impossible, you say with the high schools more anti-Unity than ever? Don’t count that gang out.

You see, Unity is desperate to have another opposition group on the ballot to confuse the membership. It is no surprise that in the interests of ”democracy” they have made it easy for people to put slates together. So, they are trying to recruit another “opposition” to run as a stalking horse for Unity so they can install puppet “oppositionists.” There are some eager candidates for the role. We’ll keep you posted.

Union democracy: How it affects you
Most people generally don’t care much about union democracy, unless they are directly affected at the school level. Even District Rep elections (this issue is being featured on the ICE and UTP blogs) used to be in the hands of chapter leaders and didn’t impact directly on the rank and file. (That is one reason many of us are in favor of having all teachers in a district vote for DR.)

The UFT has one-person rule since Al Shanker took over with each person in charge hand-picking their successor – Sandy Feldman – Randi Weingarten. Three strong leaders in 40 years. When I say strong I am referring to internally, how they run the operation and the Unity Caucus political party.

We know that all decisions flow from the top down. There is no real discussion because everyone owes fealty to the person that hired them. Even in the 1000+ member Caucus, there is little discussion as everyone, even if not in the employ of the union, has high hopes. At the very least, they expect to be rescued from a bad situation in their school by the arrangement of a convenient transfer.

I remember a Unity chapter leader who was basically burned out from working in one of the most horrible middle schools in the city and looked like a wreck. He just couldn’t take it anymore. Soon after, he was rescued by Unity and appeared in a Teacher Center job in a nice suit and tie, looking wonderful and managed to get to retirement in good shape. Yes, Unity takes care of its own and it is understandable why people join.

But in the process, they take the Unity oath to support the leadership even when in conflict with the members --- witness the last contract where hordes of Unity people invaded the schools to threaten people with a strike. If you saw the leaflet ICE handed out at the Sept. chapter leader meeting you can read what ICE wrote in Oct. 2005 about how turning down the contract and keeping the old one would at least keep basic protections in place. You can see it at: or at the ednotesonline blog in the Sept. 20 entry.

(I received a call from a recently elected chapter leader who had never heard of ICE until that leaflet and said she was sorry the people in her school didn’t see it last year.)

But let me come back to my original premise. Are you as rank and file affected by this undemocratic system? Let’s compare the way the UFT is run to the DOE, also run by one-person rule. What do you think of the results of one-person, unchecked rule in the school system? In the old system you had about 40 little dictators and the chancellor was just one of many. Not a great system but not nearly as catastrophic as today. At least you could pick up a phone and call someone you knew. I also like to think that the graft was local – someone stole a piano, etc. Now much more massive amounts of money flows to the biggies with connections to BloomKlein. I never thought I would say this, but give me the old system.

Back to the UFT. If they delivered under their dictatorship-like system people would not care much about whether there was democracy. But it is my contention that one person rule without checks and balances leads to such terrible decision making that there is no way they can deliver. And if you follow my “Lipstick on the pig” analogy, they are left with nothing else other than to put on a big PR show to give the impression they are being successful. Lipstick on the pig. Shades of Carly Fiorina and Joel Klein.


  1. I don't know what to say except this--you're right on the money.

    And do keep us posted about the phony opposition. We need to tell every one of the 80,000 teachers in the system about them.

  2. New Action is the phony opposition and they will be at it again this year.

  3. Recently, I went to a meeting of community school board 20. The meeting was held at the Benson School, on Benson Avenue in Brooklyn. I don't work in district 20 or have a child who goes to school there, but I thought the meeting might be worth something because Chancellor of Schools Joel Klein attended and was scheduled to speak. I watched as he was escorted into the room by uniformed New York City cops(I have no idea why he needed a police escort). I sat and listened to speeches about test scores, gifted & talented education, & special services provided for special needs children. I waited patiently for the Q & A portion of the evening. There were many issues I wanted to hear the Chancellor address--the issue of power-crazed principals and why they are permitted to commit atrocities against teachers, against education, against the children they claim to serve, all in the name of "children first"; the issue of how a certain principal of a Queens High School (a high school which is named after a former president)can be a principal when she doesn't even have a tenuous grasp of the English language. But I never got to say anything. The Chancellor only took questions from 4 people, and those people were pre-selected (through what process, I don't know). Immediately after the last of the pre-selected people asked her question and he answered it, the Chancellor was escorted out of the room by 4 uniformed New York City cops. Not only did he have a police escort coming into and going out of the room, but he left in an almighty hurry, as if he was possibly afraid that someone would ask him about something other than sibling variances (whatever those are), or criticize his leadership of the school system.


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