Saturday, January 26, 2013

Accuse and Remove: DOENuts on Portelos

Great post from DOENuts blog on Francesco Portelos, who is running with MORE for UFT Executive Board, Middle Schools. It is the article I had hoped to write but never could get my head around all the info involved and this is a real service to all.

There is so much involved in this case. I really got the full story from Francesco at last year's citywide robotics tournament on a Sunday in March 2012 at the Javits convention center where he gave up a Sunday to bring his robotics team there -- on that day Sue Edelman had written a piece in the NY Post that did not cast him in a favorable light I thought. I called her up livid about why the Post wasn't at Javits to show the kind of work he did. She said she'd send a photographer but never did.

What DOENuts did here is take this complicated story and put all the nuts and bolts in place with links to other stories. Really a comprehensive piece of work. And he even manages to bring my favorite topic, Hitler, into it.

He has been treated almost as shabbily by the UFT as he has by the DOE. And that story has not been fully told yet. Imagine him on the UFT Exec Bd where he'd be adding some much-needed spine.

Francesco has a TV show from the rubber room. Here is a link to Friday's broadcast where Francesco interviews MORE and member Diana Zavala.

 I'll get you started then click the link to finish at the blog.

"Accuse and Remove" and Francesco Portelos

He is an experienced, qualified teacher of Science, Engineering Technology and Math (STEM). He is a former environmental engineer. He has written successful grants for his school, giving his students access to some of the best technology on the market today and he is one of the few city teachers who  has been celebrated in the newspapers (for adroitly retrieving the stolen iPhone of a colleague using online learning.).

And yet he is the typification of  persona non grata for the New York City Department of Education. In fact, some might say he is the persona non grata of the New York City Public Schools.

His name is Francesco Portelos. He's the Staten Island middle school teacher who televised himself from the rubber room back in October just to prove that the rubber rooms still exist (and that he was languishing in one of them). As of this writing, he has been there for 275 days (and counting!) 

In the almost full year since he has been taken out of his classroom, for what the department would only describe as "serious allegations", he has made himself famous, sued his employer for harassment and accused  his principal of misconduct.

And yet those "serious allegations" haven't amounted to much. Through numerous department investigations, he has not been found to have committed one act of employee misconduct (not one), and his Federal case, which accuses the department of violating federal whistle-blower law, has moved to its discovery phase -a clear indication that the presiding judge believes it to be a serious, evidence based allegation of employer harassment.

And that principal accusation? It provided evidence that she had committed theft of services at the school.

For the record, Mr. Portelos has been formally under investigations by SCI  (the mere mention of which strikes fear into the heart of most DOE employees) over twenty times during the past 361 days (and counting!). And although the accusations against him keep rolling in, it must  be noted that not one of these accusations has yet to materialize into a substantiated charge (NYCDOE speak for a formal conclusion of employee misconduct).

In other words, they haven't found any infractions!

And yet each day, for almost a year, he has left his home in Staten Island and reported for work in a rubber room in south Queens, where he carries out his duties: Nothing. 

Sounds messy, doesn't it? 

Portelos' story might make more sense when set against the backdrop of the last twelve years of policy in New York City's education department. That's the backdrop of a long running chancellor who aimed to give the city's principals as much leeway as they needed as they ran their buildings and it is the backdrop of a mayor who has been obsessed placing the label of "bad" upon as many teachers as he possibly can, with the hope of ridding the system of them.

Against this backdrop, we can clearly see the unintended consequences of the policy, first championed by former Chancellor Joel Klein, of supporting principals.

It was partially that policy that helped to produce the type of  principal that Linda Hill, of IS 49 of Staten Island, is. She allegedly committed the corrupt act of "double dipping" (paying herself hourly overtime from one budget line, while doing the same thing for the other) and allegedly committed what many would say is the more corrupt act of misusing the department's investigative resources (resources intended to ensure employee compliance of rules) so that she could go after a subordinate who threatened her position of power within her school.

While the first act is pedestrian in nature (somewhat akin to punching in at your second job while you're still punched in at your first) many identify the second act -more akin to Senator McCarthy accusing Murrow of being a communist because Murrow's show had challenged him and made him angry- as being far more vicious and destructive, as it has no other intent but to destroy the professional by following the course of defaming the person.

The defaming of Francesco Portelos the person began in December, 2011, after Portelos the professional, a member of his School's Leadership Team, discovered that the principal had submitted a budget without the input or consent of the SLT.
More at

And links to some of Francesco's blogs:
'Don't Tread on Educators' and 'Educator's Survival Guide


  1. RE: 2 paragraphs in this piece (posted below my comment, in quotes) it seems the writer (NYCDOEnuts) is condoning the policies that are now seen as harmful. Were they really "needed" back then? Were admins and DOE not "misusing the investigative process" back then as well? I wasnt in the K - 12 system when all this began, with Bloomberg, so I wasnt plugged into the buzz - the good, the bad, the ugly... the collateral damage done after perhaps "taking out" a few bad apples. Is this a consensus among teachers, that this was once a good or "needed" policy?

    "This policy may well have been needed eleven years ago when the mayor first took over an unsuccessful school system. Anyone who knows anything about the BOE back then will tell you that there were quite a few bad teachers in the system in 2002. In the context of the aughts, it almost makes sense why people might line up behind the mayor for the chance to get rid of bad teachers.

    But now, after over a decade of aggressive enforcement of the human resource policies that were re written in 2003 and again in 2007/08, the actions of professionals (like Ms. Hill), who almost clearly seem to be misusing the investigative process so that they can destroy other professionals (like Mr. Portelos) are becoming less and less easy to justify and the questions surrounding the ethical correctness of such actions are becoming less and less easy to escape."

    1. Yes, good point. I assume DOENuts was a new or fairly new teacher then and may have assumed the state of the system was due to some bad teaching when in fact there were probably fewer bad teachers than there are today. Yes the system was in many ways dysfunctional but given the structure of the districts it was very uneven while today the management is basically very bad. Portelos proves that they have no more interest in removing bad teachers -- most of whom are gone before they reach tenure -- than anyone did in the past. Loyalty always counted more. What they couldn't do in the old days was remove a guy like me while today I would be gone in an instant though I would hope to put up a great a battle as Portelos is.

  2. I'm glad you answered as you did. I feel I have seen that sentiment elsewhere, that the bad teachers are gone now, Bloomberg took care of that, so we no longer need his once-helpful war on teachers. This gives a bad rap to teachers pre-Bloomberg and has the effect of holding up the obedience and lack of pushback of the newer batch (not all, not at all... but it is a trend, I think, bred in large part by a strong case of FEAR) as "proof" of their vastly 'superior' performance as teachers.

  3. I'm glad you said that. I've seen that sentiment elsewhere - that Bloomberg flushed out the bad teachers, so we no longer need his once-helpful war on teachers. This gives a bad rap to teachers pre-Bloomberg and has the effect of touting the obedience and lack of pushback of the newer teachers as "proof" of their 'superior' performance as teachers. (Not all of them are like that, not at all... but it is there - bred in large part by a strong case of FEAR)


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