Monday, February 9, 2009

The Fiorillo Speech – Reclaiming Public Education and Reclaiming Democracy: Opposing the UFT’s Position on School Governance and Mayoral Control

by Michael Fiorillo, chapter leader, Newcomers HS

(Speech given at the UFT Delegate Assembly, February 4th, 2009)

Dear Delegates,

I’d like to thank Randi for the opportunity to speak at length today, and I’d like to thank Emil Pietromonaco and Carmen Alvarez for their openness during the Committee proceedings.

There has been a lot of talk about how open the Governance Committee meetings and hearings have been, and I agree that they have been open and collegial. But in spite of that openness, the process was fatally flawed. It was flawed because, rather than developing and describing a vision of public education that represents and actively models democracy, the Committee hamstrung itself at the beginning by being overly concerned with political expedience and how its report would be perceived and spun by our enemies on the editorial boards and elsewhere.

Now of course we understand that compromises would have to be made during the actual negotiating process, but by starting off this process by not demanding a full loaf, we’re guaranteed to just get crumbs.

The deeper reality of our situation is that school governance and mayoral control of the schools is not and never has been a response to the failings of the previous system, or to the needs of children, but is instead the primary vehicle for privatizing the schools.

Mayoral dictatorships of urban public school systems are a national phenomenon that has brought with it the closing and reorganizations of schools in favor of non-union charter and contract schools, and the diminution of services and opportunities for broad ranges of the public school population, particularly special education students an English language learners.

Mayoral dictatorships of the urban school systems nationwide have brought along with them attacks on tenure, seniority, working conditions and academic freedom. It has brought about a system with total disregard for parent input and the developmental needs of children.

Mayoral control of the urban school systems has been brought to us by the same people who brought us the financial crisis that now threatens massive layoffs and further cuts in services to children and families. Its has been brought to us by the same people who have sought to privatize what is called by Wall Street – in their actual words – “the Big Enchilada” – the last remaining bulwarks of public government, the schools and Social Security.

Privatization and private government. Of the schools, the highways, the water systems, the prisons. Even war-making is being privatized. And rest assured that as we speak the very same people are paying to find out how they can charge us for the air we breathe.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. This union can take a stand against the efforts to destroy public education by using its power to bring democracy back to the school system in New York.

The ICE governance plan calls for real limits to executive power over the schools. It calls for direct elections of some central board members and all district superintendents, for why should minority residents in New York City, as in the other four largest cities in the state, be denied the democratic input that citizens in every other school district enjoy?

The ICE governance plan calls for no more waivers for the Chancellor, superintendents, principals or assistant principals. It calls for a minimum of five years classroom experience for anyone who would presume to be an educational leader, so that teachers will no longer have to suffer the attacks of arrogant no-nothings who lack any background in working directly with children in urban schools.

The ICE plan calls for change. You may have noticed how the American people have recently voted for change in our country. Let’s bring that change to our schools. Let’s not vote to validate the failure of a system where teachers can’t tell where the incompetence ends and the malice begins. Vote to reaffirm democratic principals. Vote for change.

1 comment:

  1. Kudos to Michael Fiorillo on his speech.

    Are those of us who agree with him really a minority of NYC teachers? Or are there legions of teachers like me?

    I have been a NYC teacher for many years, but until last week I never heard of ICE, never read a blog, much less posted on one. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

    My point: Maybe there are tons of others who simply aren’t involved in union matters, but who in fact would rather the UFT adopt a position like Michael’s than continuing to cower in fear.


    How could they be reached?


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