Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reports from the Belly of the Beast: What Happened at the UFT Exec Bd Meeting

From a correspondent attending the UFT Exec Bd meeting on Feb. 2.

Michael Fiorello from ICE got up to speak under the 10 minute open mic period. Bob Astrowsky who was running the meeting (and from all body language, seemed to not care less) told Michael that he could speak when the item of governance was on the agenda. Michael began to walk away, but then quickly returned and and asked for confirmation - good, quick move Michael. Astrowsky added that he would need a 2/3 vote of the body to speak. Michael was not about to give up the mic, when UFT Governance Task Force co-chair Emil Pietromonaco said that any member of the committee would be able to speak.

The UFT governance report, though it does put in some checks and balances, does not gut mayoral control. When Michael spoke he talked about mayoral control against the national backdrop and pointed out that it was fraught with danger, particularly privatization and charterization of public education. He also talked about how the report may be politically expedient, but not necessarily good for members, kids and communities. He asked for our minority report to be attached.

At this point, people asked for copies, which we made available, although the issue was not what was in the report, but a member's right to attach one. Randi took the mic and began to question Michael.

She may have been trying to determine if our members shared their report with ICE, which we all know to our frustration, they did not. She asked if it was written up between the time that the UFT report was written and tonight. Michael responded to her questions.

For the record, the basis for that report was written in Loretta and Gene Prisco's living room 3 years ago by a diverse group of Staten Islanders - not yesterday or even last month. It has been edited, condensed and amended after discussion with ICE and a Staten Island Democratic Club. They even discussed how could to write a minority report when the specific details of the report were not known. ICE decided to submit the entire plan.

Leo Casey put up a resolution that the UFT print our minority report for the delegates on Wednesday, in addition to that of any other caucus, and have it available at the table at the DA. This passed.

There were some who attempted to tear at everyone's heartstrings by telling us how hard they worked, how many hours they worked to get this report done and questioned why this was brought up now. Then the usual arguments: There is strength in unity, a minority report would weaken the work of the committee and we have to go to Albany united.

In fact, an organization that has diversity and can withstand diversity is much stronger than one that has all marching lockstep.

The most brilliant comment came from an executive board member who said that this wasn't from a minority - it was only from three people. Is he teaching social studies?

New Action spoke. One spoke against the official report saying it just wasn't strong enough against Mayoral control. Another attempted to amend the report by adding that the Chancellor have a background in education. Unity's Sandi March said if that were so, we wouldn't have had a Harold Levy. Does March have an education background? If she does, it doesn't show. (Levy was a Regent, by the way.) If I hear one thing from teachers, it is their disgust that those who are making decisions aren't educators.

A few things struck me - in the years that I have been going - there is never discourse - they all agree, defend, pander. 81 people are all of one mind. Another point of view will not even be entertained. I don't think I belong to any organization like that. As a matter of fact, in the organizations that I belong to, if there are 20 people in the room, there are 28 different points of view.

The other, is that New Action [with 8 members who got elected with Unity's endorsement], is a loyal opposition. They serve the purpose of saying there is opposition - makes it look oh so democratic and a deliberative body. Even their voice votes were weak and feeble - and I am not sure that there were 6 of them heard in the roll call vote. If I were one of the opposing votes, I would have wanted my vote recorded so that I could stand on that record.

It also occurred to me, that if a majority of the people on the Exec. Bd. were in the schools working under this despotic system, threatened by becoming ATRs as schools closed, harassed by principals, faced the fear of being sent to the rubber room, losing academic freedom in the classroom, and doing hours and hours of detrimental test prep in large classes - they would be shouting to gut mayoral control and teachers and parents are doing,

We are definitely on the side of the angels on this one.

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