Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Disastrous UFT Policy on Charter Schools

Hard copy of the October edition of Education Notes distributed at the UFT Delegate Assembly, Oct. 14, 2009. If you want a copy to distribute at your school email me at

Education Notes has been reporting on the charter school invasions all over the city with lots more to come. Bloomberg announced he wants a hundred thousand students (that’s one tenth) of the students in NYC to be in charter schools. He wants competition with a public school system that he wants to abandon. His real dream is to have all schools be non-unionized charter schools and have no public schools left.

Now where to put all these schools? Simple. Shove them into any public school they can. (And when they can’t, find space in public housing complexes.) It has been clear that BloomKlein always tilt in favor of charters over public schools. The Ed Notes blog has been chronicling some of these battles. One of the biggest has been taking place at PS 15 in Red Hook, where the teachers and parents have been fighting back against the invasion of the PAVE charter school by forming CAPE (Concerned Advocates for Public Education). PAVE originally asked for 2 years in the school before moving to their own digs. When teachers started to organize and called in the UFT they were told not to worry, 2 years go by quickly. It didn’t take long before PAVE asked for 3 more, which CAPE has been fighting with a petition campaign and other actions.

Those of us involved in the battle against the charter invasion have come to refer to the machinations of charter school operators as “bait and switch.” Come in and ask for a little, lie about your numbers so you can get more space, change your charter to ask for more grades. “Oh, out kids love our school so much. How can we release then to the awful local public school when they graduate? We need to be k-12. Give us your entire building.” Tweed uses its footprint of schools to declare them under utilized (clusters should travel, special Ed only need hallways, etc.) In every request, in every conflict, the BloomKlein administration comes down on the side of the charter as they purposely destroy targeted public schools, even purposely putting in principals they know will be incompetent and will alienate staffs and parents to undermine the school and make the local climate favorable to a charter. This has happened in so many places as to reveal a pattern.

At a meeting to discuss the issue in September, a UFT official said we have to make sure PAVE doesn’t over stay the 3-year extension (that adds up to 5). Some teachers were a bit incredulous at the acceptance of a fait accompli. But they haven’t gotten, nor do they expect to get, help from the union in this battle.

The same at PS 123 in Harlem, where Eva Moskowitz’ Harlem Success Academy has invaded 4 schools and parents and teachers at PS 123 have been demonstrating against the separate but unequal conditions of the 2 sections of the schools, with Eva’s section newly painted and all spruced up. When all the HSA doodads blew the electricity, the DOE ordered electricians to give them what they need. At PS 15 the same thing happened and when one DOE employee balked at authorizing the installation of new lines for PAVE, he was told to do it or be fired. There’s so much more to tell about this story, but I’ll refer you to the Ed Notes blog for fuller explanations and videos (look for links on the side panel).

We all know that the entire charter school movement is not about education but a political attack on teachers and their unions. These are not mom and pop teacher/parent run charters, but corporate type chains. Thus KIPP has 5 charters around the city but runs them like a chain, as they do their over 60 schools nation-wide. Basically, we can end up with 1500 independently operated schools in city, with no community basis – the end of the neighborhood school with any semblance of being run in a democratic manner with some public oversight over policy. Teachers and parents in these systems are totally marginalized. At least in urban school systems, while the suburbs, with many unionized schools I might add, have a totally different venue where parents have no choice but the local public school and get to vote.

The problem rank and file teachers face is that the UFT itself has bought into so much of the system, having 2 charter schools of its own, both occupying space in public schools in East NY and competing for public school kids. That very fact has removed the UFT’s ability to help teachers in schools being invaded by charters to fight back. Thus, in schools like PS 123 and PS 15, the UFT remains on the sidelines. I mean, how can they complain about charter invasions? That the UFT schools are union based is beside the point. That means the UFT schools needs more money than non-union charters to run since the charters have the advantage of lower pension (if at all) and health care (if at all) plus free labor in forcing teachers to work longer days and longer years. The UFT should get out of the charter school business and start fighting back for the public schools.

In the past 9 months, the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), which began as a committee of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), grew to encompass members of just about every activist group in NYC and has now become an independent organization. GEM has begun to fill the gap left by UFT inaction by reaching out to public schools invaded by charters. GEM’s next meeting (Oct. 20) will address some of these issues. GEMers will be handing out a leaflet at this meeting with details. Make sure to take one. If you are in a school invaded by a charter, or in danger of being invaded by one, come to the meeting.

Addendum (no room in the hard copy):
The UFT's response is to organize charter school teachers into the UFT and the AFT has sent in a full-time organizer to facilitate that. This should be fun to watch as the UFT has to sell them on what they will win for them while losing gads of stuff for the teachers they actually represent.

I can't speak for the rest of the opposition, but Ed Notes will support the efforts to organize charter schools but will also communicate to teachers exactly what kind of union they are thinking of joining: a dues sucking undemocratic top-down union. Example: 100% of the members of the exec board were endorsed by Unity Caucus in the last election (including the 8 New Action members.) We will urge them to demand the same contract UFT public school members enjoy. (I'm guessing there will be just a few sweetheart contracts.) ICE, TJC and any other groups that pop up will also urge these teachers to join them in the struggle to create a more perfect union.


  1. Green Dot is perhaps the perfect example of what you speak of. Weingarten initially helicoptered into LA to meet with Green Dot's front man, Steve Barr - the real power behind the company is private equity firms like Bain Capital and Leeds Private Equity - who has publicly spoken of the need to bring in the unions in order to take over the urban public school systems. The LA local had been trying to fend off Green Dot, but was then undermined by Weingarten.

    Weingarten then invited Green Dot to NYC, actually having the effrontery to use NYC Teacher Foundation money, our money, to help set them up.

    The contract that the UFT recently signed with Green Dot here in NYC has no tenure or seniority provisions, an endless workday, and no succession clause, meaning that when Green Dot finds the timing propitious, it can simply walk away from the union. That time will come when the union has outlived its function of being a "useful idiot" in the hostile takeover of the public schools.

    The leadership of the UFT and AFT have shown themselves willing to bargain with the Devil in order to keep the dues coming in. Meanwhile, the walls collapse around them, and us.

    Norm, I agree with you that the existing charter schools must be unionized, but we must also struggle to change the terms of debate regarding charters as an overall policy.

  2. You should see what the AFT did in connecticut. Would you vote for a contract like this.

    And most teachers did.

  3. How is the decision made to close a school?

    At what point is the school deemed incapable of Educating children?

  4. Instead of continuing to concentrate on the negative, why don't you lend a hand? It is so easy to criticize from the background rather than going in an d getting your hands dirty.
    So, go into one of these schools and organize them, perhaps you might have the leverage to be involved the contractual process.

    Go ahead, I dare you.


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