Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Joel I. Klein and Other "Fat Cats" in the NYC BOE

I think by now it is obvious that Joel I. Klein is not a model of the typical public school parent, and that he could not care less about the safety or welfare of the children supposedly under his care. His apartment (see picture above) could not be bought by a majority of parents in the public school system, and his salary is above what most public school parents make. He has no reason to care, and obviously needs one.

Meredith Kolodner has done a great piece of writing (see article below) but this article actually never was published.

The Editors dont want to get on Joel's enemies list.

Parents slam fat cat lives of Joel Klein, other Education Department officials

City schoolkids and their families may be feeling the pinch of hard times, but some top Education Department officials are rolling in dough.

While family income for most kids attending public school is well under six figures, at least five senior DOE advisers had salaries and investments that totaled between $1.7 and $6 million each last year, financial disclosure records show.

That's in addition to multimillion-dollar homes and the odd BMW and boat.

Some parents are concerned.

"It exposes a degree of insularity in this administration," said David Bloomfield, a parent member of the Chancellor's Citywide Council on High Schools. "It lends credence to the charge that the most powerful people in the school system are out of touch with average parents."

"You can't really run a school system if you don't understand how the people are living and if your kids don't have to go to the schools," said Theresa Diamond, whose son Tony is in the 10th grade at Benjamin Banneker Academy in Fort Greene.

Sascha Alper, whose son Jack is in first grade at Public School 107 in Brooklyn, agreed.

"Having that kind of money, it's hard not to be out of touch, because you don't have to deal with the same kinds of things as everyone else," she said.

The department's chief operating officer, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, was sitting on stocks and bonds worth anywhere from $2.2million to $4.8 million. Her home in leafy Bedford Hills in Westchester County was assessed at about $2.6 million.

Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, who once ran the controversial for-profit education company Edison Schools, had between $1.8 million and $3.3 million in mutual funds and bonds, including a private retirement package worth more than $500,000.

Klein lives in a snazzy rental on Park Ave. and listed between $1.7 million and 3.2 million in investments.

Garth Harries, who oversees the creation of new schools, has investments that total between $3.9 million and $6 million.

The head of the agency's technology unit, Theodore Brodheim, reported stocks and partnership investments totaling between about $2 million and $4 million.

Supporters point out that Klein, who makes $250,000 a year, took a big pay cut to work for the city.

"We're proud that people who can and did make more money in the private sector would choose instead to devote their talents and energies to improving the education of the students of New York City," DOE press secretary David Cantor said in an e-mail.

Cantor also noted that other top DOE officials were not multimillionaires and that two of the chancellor's roughly 20 senior advisers were life-long educators.

10 Teachers Sue Mayor Bloomberg For Extending Term Limits Without a Vote

Teachers Against Bloomberg: Notes From the Rubber Room
by Glenna Goldis, The Observer, October 28, 2008

Before the New York City Council decided last week to vote in favor of Michael Bloomberg’s plan to extend term limits, attorneys were already challenging the new law in court.

Reports after the Council voted made note of two lawsuits, one filed by members of the Council who opposed the majority and the other, filed on October 22, on behalf of, as the Times concisely put it, “ten public school teachers…contending that changing the law without a referendum breached voters’ civil rights and due-process rights.” (CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:08-cv-09072-SHS)

Who are they? Why do they care? And what do they have against the crop of term-limited office holders currently running their city?

These tenured educators sit all day in what they call a "rubber room," and they blame their captivity on Michael Bloomberg.

Kindergarten teacher Brandi Scheiner said she is facing charges of "excessive use of glue" and "poor rug management." Her rubber roommate and co-plaintiff Thomasina Robinson, a high school gym teacher and former teacher of the year, said she is charged with pulling a student's ponytail. Two students will testify that she didn't, she said, if the Department of Education ever sets a hearing date. So far, it's been 22 months.

The complaint names Bloomberg and every member of the City Council as defendants (they are all named in order to "insure that they are all formally on notice"). It charges that in passing the term-limits legislation, Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn used "improper and potentially illegal pressures to intimidate others." The resulting deals with Council members, according to the complaint, were "designed and/or intended to deprive Plaintiffs and other NYC voters of their rights to determine" the issue in a referendum. The plaintiffs are harmed not only as New Yorkers, the complaint charges, but also as people whose due process rights are already being violated by Bloomberg and will continue to be as long as he remains in office. Documents filed so far leave the harm issue at that, but the plaintiffs themselves tell a more colorful story.

"We call it the rubber room because it makes you lose your mind," explained Scheiner. (The Department of Education calls them temporary reassignment centers.) According to Scheiner and Robinson, the rubber room at 333 7th Avenue has no windows; picnic chairs for seats; dirty floors; three toilets for a hundred women; and two security guards at the exit. The teachers sit in their picnic chairs, read, and "get on each others' nerves," in Robinson's words. For a little while she was teaching her colleagues Chi Kung, a Chinese exercise form, but the guards don't let her anymore. "They didn't want us to have any movement," she said.

In an interview last week, Scheiner explained that she had been delighted to learn that she had been asked to report for jury duty. "It's clean here," she said on a call from the courthouse. "Nobody's flipping out!"

"We were very jealous," said Robinson afterward. The rubber room isn't all crossword puzzles and Sudoku, these aggrieved teachers say.

"People are having asthma, all types of pulmonary problems," said Robinson. She said one woman died of pulmonary complications shortly after returning to her rubber room this September. Stress and shame haunt the teachers too. Robinson added that "a lot of people have not told their partners and their family."

Asked whether it was possible to land in the rubber room for excessive use of glue, Department of Education spokesperson Andrew Jacob said he could not comment on individual cases. But he said rubber room residents fall into three categories: teachers accused of corporal punishment, teachers who have been arrested and teachers whose "schools have documented that they are incompetent or ineffective."

The teachers believe that Bloomberg—who runs the Department of Education—encourages trumped-up charges against experienced teachers as part of a larger strategy to replace public education with charter schools.

"It's not about money," said Scheiner.

Teachers earn their full salary while sitting in rubber rooms, though Robinson says she has lost the opportunity to earn "per session" wages for running after school activities. It has been reported that the rubber rooms cost the city $65 million per year.

Jacob, from the education department, said that the purpose of keeping suspect teachers in rubber rooms is "protecting the welfare of the children." If the process is inefficient, he said, it is because of strictures placed on the department by union contracts and state law.

In the teachers' view, a new mayor is their only shot at freedom.

"What do I have to look forward to if I've already sat there for two years and they haven't respected due process?" asked Robinson. If Bloomberg serves a third term, "is he going to respect it then?"

She worries that her career is over. Even if she applies for positions outside of the city, she will have to explain a two-year gap in her resume.

"I can't say I've been in the rubber room," she said, laughing. She mimicked a job interviewer: "What kind of person are you?"

Tales from the rubber room aren't the only drama set to unfold. The teachers' lawyer, Edward Fagan, says he will argue that Bloomberg's pressure tactics in getting council members' votes were illegal. "Arms were twisted, pledges were made, people changed their votes in exchange for some as of yet undetermined reason," said Fagan. "That's out-and-out fraud."

He will ask the Southern District of New York federal court early this week for an order to preserve evidence, which he says includes council staffers' text messages, emails, and faxes. "There were hundreds of people out there shuttling agreements between people. Those documents are evidence," he said.

The teachers' strategy is vastly different from the plaintiff council members', whose arguments against extending term limits in documents filed so far have turned on finer points of administrative law. Fagan said he disagrees with their emphasis on criticizing the council's vote itself rather than the action around the vote.

"The vote is the car," he explained. "When the car drives over you, you sue because you got driven over, not because the car exists."

A spokesperson for the New York City Law Department said the office was "in receipt of the lawsuits and we're in the process of reviewing them."

October 24, 2008
The Future of Term Limits Is in Court

Now that the City Council has approved changing term limits to allow Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to run again, this much is certain: The battle will move to the courtroom. Two lawsuits challenging the move are already in the legal system and more are expected.

Ten public school teachers filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday contending that changing the law without a referendum breached voters’ civil rights and due-process rights.

Also on Wednesday, two council members filed suit in State Supreme Court charging that a vote on the extension by officials who would benefit from it would violate the city’s conflict of interest laws.

The Council’s 29-22 vote on Thursday means that Mayor Bloomberg, most of the 51 council members, the public advocate, the comptroller and four of the five borough presidents will be able to seek a third four-year term.

For the change to go into effect, it must be approved by the Civil Rights Division of the federal Justice Department, under a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 known as preclearance. The process is meant to ensure that changes in election law do not adversely affect a racial or ethnic minority group.

“We’re all gearing up for a herculean fight,” said Norman Siegel, a civil liberties lawyer. Last week, he and 16 other lawyers and academics met at a law firm in downtown Manhattan to brainstorm, debate and define the best legal strategy to fight the term limits change.

One point discussed was whether a provision in the municipal home rule law stipulating that a referendum is needed to alter the term of an elected office might apply in this case, several of the participants said. Another suggested that the challenge should be based on the City Charter, which does not specify how term limits ought to be changed — if by law or, as opponents of the Council’s actions have contended, by referendum.

Of the many approaches discussed at the meeting, the lawyers are exploring two main avenues, each of which may prove difficult, in part because there is limited legal precedent to guide their argument but also because the courts might simply refuse to interfere with the political process.

One of those options is to claim before the federal Justice Department that the law makes it harder for minorities to get political representation, an argument that some lawyers and academics concede could be difficult to make.

Of the 35 council members who will be allowed to run for a third term, 14 are members of racial minorities. City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who is black, has already said he is running for mayor, and while a Bloomberg candidacy would make it more difficult for him to win that race, he would have an inherent advantage as a two-term incumbent if he decided instead to run again for his present office.

“One argument is that extending term limits supports the status quo because it makes it easier for incumbents to stay in office,“ said Richard Briffault, a legislation professor at Columbia Law School. “The issue here is whether keeping the status quo is a good thing.“

In an op-ed article published in The New York Times on Oct. 8, Randy M. Mastro, a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, pointed out that members of racial minorities now make up half of the Council. In 1989, before term limits were enacted, white politicians held 26 of the 35 seats that the Council had at the time.

“It’s clear that term limits have worked to increase representation among minority groups,” Mr. Mastro said in an interview.

The Justice Department receives about 5,000 preclearance submissions a year from municipalities seeking approval to, say, move a polling place, change the way by which voters are registered or hold a special election, said Scot Montrey, a department spokesman. The department responds within 60 days, and if it has objections, they are often resolved through phone calls or letters, Mr. Montrey said. How long it takes depends on how much dialogue is called for. In the vast majority of cases, the objections are addressed, he added.

The second alternative being considered by the lawyers who met with Mr. Siegel is a lawsuit arguing that extending term limits ought to require a referendum, just as changing the number of years in one term does.

In addition, Mr. Mastro, Mr. Siegel and Jerry H. Goldfeder, an election lawyer who most recently worked as a special counsel to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, are considering litigation that would force the city to make clear in its charter what the requirements are to change term limits, and they will push for this requirement to be a referendum.

On Thursday, they were in the Council chambers, watching the vote unfold. Afterward, on the steps of City Hall, Mr. Mastro said, “This fight is just beginning.”

No comments: