Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Reckless Reorganization of District 79

Here is a classic case in detail of how the UFT collaborates with the DOE to sell out one group of teachers at a time. This is their modus operendi.

This is a follow-up to our post yesterday [What the UFT Has In Store - After the Elections, Of Course] where we quoted Peter Goodman- Ed in the Apple- and his praise of the District 79 reorganization - "some iteration of the District 79 Reorganization Plan" which he claims can serve as a model for a new contract.

Roz Panepento's comment: What happened to us - to the staff, the students, the program – set the stage in miniature – with the missteps and complicity of the DOE and UFT – for the drama that is unfolding.

Michael Mulgrew was in charge for the UFT. 'Nuff said for those who are fooled by his election season rhetoric. Just watch what happens after April. Unless there is a big enough vote for ICE-TJC to scare him. I highlighted the pertinent sections relating to UFT actions.

Thanks to Marjorie Stamberg for sending this along.


By Rosalind Panepento

Dear Colleagues,

As many of you know, I was the ASHS chapter leader at the time of the 2007 "reckless reorganization" of District 79, and the closing of our schools. I have been reflecting on our unique situation: we were some of the first to suffer the chaos of school closings, resulting in hundreds of students education interrupted, and hundreds of our colleagues ending up as ATRs. Now that the Board of Ed is closing 19 more schools, I think our particular struggle is more relevant than ever. I invite you to read this "retrospective" and welcome your comments.

-- Roz Panependo

On January 26, 2010, a rally was held to protest the closing of nineteen city schools by the Department of Education. Over the last few years, the Department of Education has taken it upon itself to close major schools. This time they have gone too far. Schools like Jamaica High School, Norman Thomas High School, Alfred E. Smith Vocational and Maxwell Vocational are among the schools slated to be closed. Despite protests from community leaders, politicians, educators, students, the DOE is doggedly proceeding, claiming they know what is best. The rally was held at Brooklyn Tech, the site of the January PEP meeting (The Panel on Educational Policy was formed by Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg – the majority of members are Bloomberg appointees). Hundreds of people came to speak in front of an overflow and angry crowd of parents, students and teachers. But the P.E.P. was impervious, riding over these voices and ramming through their agenda of school closures.

I have an urgent need to share information and hope to be able to speak at this meeting. I have a unique perspective. I was a teacher and a UFT chapter leader of a GED program that was closed in May 2007. At that time, there was not the outrage that there is today. We were a program – with no parent base – we were a stepchild of the Board of Ed. What happened to us - to the staff, the students, the program – set the stage in miniature – with the missteps and complicity of the DOE and UFT – for the drama that is unfolding. Like any drama there are themes – but in all drama – there are subtexts. Given my perspective and experience, I may be able to give some information and shed some light on a situation that I believe should never have been allowed to get to this disturbing point. In New York City school system which is still experiencing the aftershocks of 9/11, it is egregious that the Mayor and his cohorts should pursue reform – reckless reform – by jeopardizing the security of staff, students and entire communities. Let me begin at the beginning:

April 2007 – I, along with two former UFT chapter leaders of Auxiliary Services for High School Students* met with members of the DOE to find out the fate of our program for September. Over the past few years, staff had been excessed. (Excessed – displaced – sent to other programs), including many math teachers. There was not much that we could do. But at this April meeting, we were told that our program would be fine. We went away and I told the staff of the good news. *ASHS was to remain intact.

May 2007 – The Friday before Memorial Day Weekend – I was invited to a press conference that Chancellor Joel Klein and DOE District 79 Superintendent Cami Anderson had convened at the last minute.

The press conference was at our site on the Lower East Side. It was announced at this meeting that our GED program, as well as three others, and the high school for pregnant and parenting teens would be closed.

At the press conference, many questions were asked of Klein and Anderson. Answers were not readily available. There was a great deal of stonewalling. Art McFarland, the education reporter for Channel 7, kept asking Chancellor Klein why he was closing the high schools; why not keep the schools open and work with the staff and students? Klein kept repeating that this was what the “girls” at the school for pregnant teens wanted. In fact, New York Times reported a few days later that the staff at Pregnant Teens had no idea about the closings and were very upset.

The UFT special rep for District 79 sat next to me. At the end of the meeting, he got up and left. Usually, he and I would talk and mull over the situations presented. I was surprised by his hasty exit. (I was to learn later from Mike Meehan, then the education reporter for Channel 1 News that the UFT had already signed off on this closing back in April!

The five GED programs would be consolidated into one – to be called GED-Plus. A major question was how many staff would get positions in this reorganization. We were never, ever able to get an answer to this question. Carrie Melago, the education reporter for the Daily News, told me the following September that there were going to be about 276 staff members brought on board.

Originally, we were told that the staffing would be done according to Article 32-B in the UFT contract. Under these UFT/DOE guidelines, only ONLY 50 percent of the original staff can be rehired in the new school. What happens to the rest of the staff? What and who determine who gets to be part of the staff that goes to the new program? However, in the face of our strong vocal protests and angry meetings with reps at the UFT headquarters, the union declared a crisis situation under “Impact Bargaining.” They won an agreement from the DOE that all jobs would be filled from staff at the closed schools. However, the number of jobs in the new schools would be drastically reduced--by the hundreds.

We were told that there would be interviews. We were not given dates or criteria for these interviews. Those who didn’t get assignments would be placed in the now –infamous *ATRs or Absentee Teacher Reserves. These are teachers – usually older- who through the closing of schools and programs – not through their own actions – no longer had regular classrooms.

The UFT and DOE kept reassuring everyone – ATRs would be getting their pay. That’s good, but our dedicated teachers want to be in the classroom doing what they do best – teaching. This was in the beginning period of the ATR phenomenon. The situation grew out of the disastrous 2005 UFT contract which gave away seniority transfer. Before this, if a school or program closed, the teacher could put his or her name on the transfer list and be assigned to another school. But now the Board of Ed has given over all hiring rights to the principal – to hire whomever he wanted. Under a new funding formula, the teacher’s entire salary would come out of the individual school budget. What principal could “afford’ to hire a senior teacher, when he could take two beginning teachers for the same price?

This was the beginning of the vicious press campaign against experienced teachers. Over the next few months, years the press has vilified these teachers who are ”costing the city millions”; who, it was said, were poor teachers, or rated “unsatisfactory.” This was a deliberate untruth. As of the closing of my program, I can assure you that the teachers in my school were not unsatisfactory teachers and did not ask to be placed in this situation. I had to go back to the ASHS staff and give them news contrary to the news I had delivered in April. I had to wait to speak to them in person after the Memorial Day weekend. I had no real specifics about interviews to give them. What we felt about the success of our program did not matter. This was a fait accompli.

JUNE 2007 – Teachers had made summer plans and wanted to know more about the dates of the interviews – not unreasonable, but the DOE never got back to us. We were not told what to tell our students about what was going to happen in September. There was so much uncertainty. We turned to the UFT for assistance. Finally, after repeatedly insisting, we got the UFT to agree to hold a meeting for us one day after the last day of school. The UFT was not too pleased to be dealing with almost two hundred teachers who were very upset and unsettled about the closing of the program that they loved.

Forget the fact that we were unsettled; the UFT leadership complained that we were rude and tried to end the meeting after two hours. Here we were on our time and they had their custodians pulling up the carpets. We had to beg and plead for more time. UFT-then president, Randi Weingarten tried to ramrod us into accepting the DOE’s plan to take the deal under which the schools would be closed, with the union’s acceptance and hundreds of jobs would be lost.. We could go after the DOE for what they were doing, said only one dissenter. Weingarten humiliated him publicly and said that this was what we should do.

This shoddy acceptance of re-hiring WITHOUT set dates and parameters and equal criteria for interviews would come back to haunt – to this day the UFT and DOE have created the monster that is rearing its head by closing more and more schools until even sleeping dogs have been awakened and alerted to the rally on January 26.

We left the UFT meeting that day frustrated and with no more information about the interviews than we had when we walked in. The DOE had betrayed us; the UFT was rude and probably signed off on the terms of the re-hiring practices which were shoddy and set the stage for major trouble in the future.

JULY 2007- we clear out our classrooms – no news of the interview dates. Teachers had made summer plans but we were uneasy – our program was ripped away from us; we had no information about interview dates. In the meantime, the UFT became more sensitive to our situation and had their offices open to us so that we could get our resumes together. Still no definite dates for interviews.

MIDDLE TO THE END OF AUGUST 2007 – Teachers who made travel plans waited for news of the dates of interviews. One of them – a teacher who was in France – did not make the interviews and to this day is still an ATR. Another teacher was in China taking a course -- they planned to interview her over the phone from China!

I was on the way to Buffalo and finally I heard that my interview was to be the next day. I had been around all summer. I finally got another interview date which was to be during the last week of August.

I went to the interview and was informed in a few days that I passed. However, some of the teachers who were not in the City were interviewed on the phone – one of my colleagues was interviewed on the phone while he was working his summer job, helping the food service in a DOE school cafeteria. He is today still an ATR. Some of the ATRs who were out of town could not get dates rescheduled. All of this was chaos- before the beginning of a new school year with a new program that had not even been planned out. Be aware that the hiring practices were not thought out nor was the creation of this new program..

BEGINNING OF SEPTEMBER 2007 – I called a meeting of our staff to discuss how we should support each other during this very stressful time. The UFT was not terribly helpful, so we felt we had to be proactive. One of our members, Marjorie Stamberg, started to blog to inform our co-workers, parents, and staff across the city of our plight. The issues were not only where the teachers would go, but what would happen to hundreds of GED students when they arrived at school, only to find their schools were gone, their programs destroyed.

Teachers were told who had passed the interviews; The teachers who did not do well on the interviews were told to report to “hiring halls” on the first day of school. Again chaos reigned. It was unclear what these teachers would do. The teachers who did not pass the interview process were never told why they did not get hired. We subsequently filed grievances for these teachers to find out why they did not get hired. It took months of prodding UFT to get the status of these grievances. Most of the grievances were simply dropped or died because there were no slots on the limited number of UFT grievances that can go to arbitration.

To this day, I am haunted by a colleague of mine whom I represented, who did not get re-hired. She told me that she realized that she would probably not get her job back but she just wanted to know THE REASON. It is this teacher and the other teachers like her, veteran teachers who loved what they were doing, who prompt me to go to rallies and meetings and wonder why this ATR situation really was created.–In September,

The hiring halls were chaotic and teachers were not given clear directions as to what to do. Interestingly, a UFT rep told me that the teachers, themselves were to blame for not being successful in the hiring halls and the days after. Forget the fact that the situation was the whole creation of the DOE, to throw hundreds of S-rated teachers out of their classrooms.


What happened to the teachers who landed in the ATR pool? Some were brought back into our reconstituted program on a one-year trial basis, which could or could not be made a permanent assignment at the end of the year. A number of these teachers eventually got hired in the program, but many did not. Across the city, our ATRs were left to try to get by in the schools they landed in--some situations were better than others. Many of the ATRs who were created in 2007 – remained in this situation until 2009!

As Daily News reporter Carrie Melago told us, about 270 of the original staff of over 700 were hired. The others were left to be ATRS. School started and the fate of students and staff of GED Plus was hit and miss.


The crisis of the ATRs was growing;--there were frequent articles in the New York Post and Daily News and New York Times drawing attention to the ATR situation. The numbers rose to as high as 1,400 and 1,600, as more schools were closed. We were, as I said earlier, the beginning. The articles begin to hammer the ATRs as costly and unsatisfactory. They, as the press reported during this period, were costing the city around 78 million dollars. (A computer that the DOE purchased to track student attendance cost over 80 million dollars but no-one is critical of this) Again, the message seeps out that the Chancellor would like to “terminate” the ATRs who have not work for themselves within a year.

We begin to watch and read carefully the actions of the DOE. We do some serious networking and appearing at Executive Board meetings to highlight the plight of the ATRs takes place. If the ATRs are terminated it would be the end of tenure. This I have suspected all along is the elephant in the room.

At this point, we formed the Committee to Support ATRS, and began to circulate petitions in the schools calling for a citywide rally to draw attention to the ATRs and demand union action to get positions for all who want to be placed. We call for a moratorium on all hiring until all ATRs want positions are placed. This touched a chord with teachers across the schools. “If you’re not ATR now, you could be next!” Petitions flooded in; these were raised at the Delegate Assembly in October, and a rally was planned for November 24. 2008.

Pressure is mounting, now, by many teachers to force the union to do something to quell the numbers of ATRs. Other teachers are beginning to experience what we went through in 2007 and they are frightened that what happened to us will happen to them.

We kept the pressure on. We go to speak at PEP meetings and criticize the closings of schools and the creation of even more ATRs. Chancellor Klein and company exhibit the same manner of stonewalling that they exhibited at the original press conference. We speak to other ATRS. Some have become very discouraged. In the meantime, Teachers for “Teach for America” are still getting jobs. How is this happening and they’re ATRs with no regular classrooms still?

Due to this pressure, shortly before the rally, the UFT leadership announced a deal – a ”Side Agreement” with the DOE to offer principals special incentives to hire the ATRs. They tried to get us to call off the rally, and when that didn’t work, they organized a “wine and cheese” meeting at the UFT union hall to draw teachers away from the rally in front of Tweed! It didn’t work. Hundreds turned out to the rally that day. There was, however, little press there that day -- the UFT leadership tried their best to downplay the action at Tweed.

[Editor's Note: See my 2 part video of that day where UFT/Unity crew sip wine and eat cheese while ATRs and supporters rally at Tweed:

The Video the UFT Doesn't Want You To See: The ATR Rally]


Randi Weingarten e-mailed all of the members of the Executive Board at around 3 PM on Monday, November 18 to vote on the “Side Agreement” that she had negotiated with the DOE concerning the ATR situation. The pressure of the rally and many teacher/ATRs had forced her to take some actions. Suffice it to say because of the last minute notice, hardly any executive board members were able to make the meeting. They had to give their votes over the phone. I was technically not supposed to be allowed in this meeting. I was not an executive board member, but because of my involvement in this situation, I went and spoke to the issue at hand.

According to the Side Agreement, all ATRs would be “safe” – collecting full salaries, doing nothing much, unless principals wanted them to. Some ATRs went to work on a regular basis in regular schools but never were taken off ATR status. Principals didn’t want to pay their salaries and instead hired new teachers (who have not advanced along the salary "steps.". Among the proposals which supposedly would encourage principals to hire ATRs were:

1. Principals would be subsidized by the Central Board if they hired ATRs. Out of their budgets the principals would only have to pay beginners salary.

2. Chancellor Klein strongly suggested to principals that they hire these ATRs, but he never said that it was mandatory before any new hiring.

Since this was a side agreement to the contract, which was to expire in late 2009, It was not clear what would happen in 2010.

The Executive Board members – what few there were – agreed, for the most part with Weingarten. I did not. There were too many vagueries. I had seen this before. I wanted to know, if this was a Side Agreement to the present contract, what would happen after 2010 when the contract expired? I strongly felt that the chancellor should have mandated that principals hire the ATRs before any new hires. For these reasons, I voiced my objections. Weingarten listened but the Side Agreement was hastily passed;


By now, the economy is in serious trouble. Schools open in September. Prospective kindergarten students need to be wait-listed! Classes are overcrowded. More schools are slated to be closed. The public at-large is beginning to get savvy to the notion that all is not well with the DOE. Parents start stronger protests; Critics of this administration become more vocal. In the meantime, to the dismay and despair of all, Bloomberg has announced that he will run for a third term…something that he vowed he would never do.

My fear was that, with a third term, he would finish off what he had started, with the ATRs termination. Classes are very overcrowded but the ATRs are not being used to deal with the overcrowding and the press takes note of this. Finally, Klein does something out of character; because of financial necessity, he is now urging the principals to hire the very same ATRs he villified only a few months before.

The Side Agreement has been ineffective in placing the ATRs. After a steady diet of vilification of these teachers in the press, what principal is willing to hire these teachers.

So in May of 2009, the UFT and DOE negotiates a “hiring freeze”. This is a moratorium on any new hiring until ATR teachers are placed. There are a few exceptions in fields like Special Ed, and math. There is still little relief. Principals just don’t fill positions, juggling with subs and programming, sand-bagging until the hiring freeze is lifted. That October the DOE announces that principals will lose any funding for vacancies “left open” Finally, there is a bit of relief for the ATRs


Bloomberg literally buys a third term and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving goes to Washington, where in the presence of Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, he unveils his plan for educational reform which contains some of these items…that he will hire city lawyers to go to Albany to help change the laws of New York State to obtain. They are:

1. He wants the cap on the limit on charter schools changed from 200 – 400
2. He wants ATRs who have not found a job after a year to be terminated. There it is in black and white.
3. He wants to expedite the process to remove teachers who are in “rubber” rooms.

Note: I was in Washington in October 2009 – it was curious that Michele Rhee, that city's Superintendent of Education, has closed schools, and over 400 staff were out of jobs. Seniority does not exist there. One teacher who had 32 years of experience was out of a job. There was a tremendous amount of public support but I don’t think they got jobs back.

4. More schools to be closed

There it is – eliminate these teachers. Right now the UFT is sticking by its stance of refusing to let the ATRs be abandoned. The union is insisting these dedicated teachers lost their positions only through the closing of schools or programs, and not through any failing on their part. This is a major obstacle to the mayor's plans. He would like to get a concession on this and impose a cap. By doing so he would effectively get rid of tenure. If a teacher can be removed from the classroom and then fired, there is no tenure. Say what we want, tenure is a necessary tool in a field that is as subjective as teaching. This would be a feather in the mayor's cap – he has hired Joel Klein who was one of the legal eagles who broke up Microsoft to break up the Board of Ed in New York City. Since mayoral control, it has been unrecognizable as any Department of Education. Fiscally, the DOE in its current form is as irresponsible, if not more than his predecessors.


The start of the New Year, and the closings of twenty schools have been announced. Next week we will see what will happen. What will it take to keep these schools from closing? How many new ATRs will be created by these closings? How many more sudents will be lost?

Thousands turned out on JANUARY 26TH at Brooklyn Tech.. We have to continue to make our voices heard.


Pete Zucker said...

Best line ever; "Tenure is necessary in a field as subjective as teaching."

Under Assault said...

I love this article and will try to circulate it as much as possible.

One thing I have to clarify for the record:
Not all ATRs were helped out out by that Side Agreement, which sugared the pill for principals to re-hire only those ATRs who were already being paid out of Central. It never included the ATRs who had been excessed out of positions and were still on the school's payroll. So, it was always a partial agreement in that sense.

It was also only partial, as you've said, because principals had the option of hiring ATRs for one year only — which amounts to a "trial" basis. This is already a shot through the heart of tenure, and our UFT managers, whom I never refer to as leaders anymore, succumbed easily.

I have been on record for two years telling people that in my opinion the UFT will hold the line on firing ATRs. Now that I've read your essay, I see termite tracks, and I'm not so sure.

ed notes online said...

Based on history the UFT will give but can't until the election is over. The post before this one by Peter Goodman is the clue as to where they are going- first soften up the members. I bet BloomKlein will throw a bunch of money on the table to assist. A short-term investment that will pay off big for them in the long run. So Unity will sell a nice raise for these times - maybe even jump top salary to $110,000 with everyone knowing that no one will ever get there.

A lot depends on people like us getting the word out.

Anonymous said...

Date: Thu, 18 Feb 2010 14:17:48 -0500
Subject: REMINDER: Panel for Educational Policy Public Meeting, February 24

February 18, 2010

Show your support for public charter schools!

Date: Wednesday, February 24
Time: 5 pm arrival (6 pm start)
Location: High School for Fashion Industries, 225 W. 24th Street, New
York, NY 10011
Transportation: Bus- M10 to 23rd Street; M23 to 7th or 8th Ave./
Subway- 1, C, E, F, N, Q, R, V to 23rd St.

Speaker sign-up will begin at 5:30 pm at the door and will close at
6:30 pm. Each speaker will be allowed two minutes to speak during the public comment portions of the meeting.

For any questions please contact CPAN Director, Valerie Babb

New York City Charter School Center
111 Broadway, Suite 604, New York, NY 10006
tel: 212.437.8300 | fax: 212.227.2763

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ed notes online said...

The UFT can't reverse a 25 year history and philosophy as expressed by Goodman. This is a battleship that has no weapons in its arsenal to fight for us. In order to turn the ship they would have to democratize the union - in the broadest sense - by truly educating its members and using that education to organize them into a potent force. But think of the dangers to a top-down controlled organization like the UFT if they do that. Since holding power is a major mantra, they chose to do so by compromising and using their PR machine to sell it to the members. Just watch what will happen if the opposition in NYC gets traction. The Klein/UFT operation will work to destroy it and the DOE will start going after the leaders.