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Saturday, October 14, 2017

The New York Times Publishes Fake News About Employees in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) Pool

I keep hoping that some major media will report on the ATR situation correctly. Unfortunately this hasn't happened.

The title of the article in the New York Times on Friday October 13, 2017, "Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms" has, imbedded in it, the bias of the Times and the reporter in the words "Troubled Teachers".

You know the article is about how ALL teachers in the ATR pool are tarnished in some way. ALL teachers in the ATR pool are damaged goods.
Randy Asher, new Department of Education ATR Administrator

The truth of the matter is, in my opinion, that New York City is dealing with a "troubled" system that labels ALL teachers who are misplaced from their classrooms for any number of reasons, as "bad", "ineffective", "mentally deranged", "criminals", etc. in order to remove ALL of these newly minted alleged "misfits" from the payroll of a school where the administration doesn't like, or cannot afford, the teacher/Guidance Counselor/secretary or staff member.

Reporters for most newspapers like catchy headlines and stories that anger, frustrate, or get under the skin of the reader. We get that. But fake news brings alarm on the part of readers, and that's where the NY Times has gone wrong in the article posted below.

We, the readers, are supposed to believe that ALL ATRs are "bad" teachers in some way. There is no truth to this. I personally know excellent educators and DOE employees who have become ATRs for no reason relating to their pedagogical skills or to any misconduct. Jealousy, exposure of wrong-doing and abuse of students by administrators, high salaries, all play into the formula for preferring charges pursuant to Education Law 3020-a. The process is seriously out of whack and should - no must - be changed so that the excellent, senior, expensive but effective teacher/employee can  continue to give their expertise to students, and not fear sudden re-assignment, 3020-a charges, as well as ridicule by parents, students and administrators who read a newspaper or watch the evening news.

Betsy Combier
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms

One of the teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve held his last permanent job at P.S. 157 in the Bronx. Among
other things, he was caught sleeping when he was supposed to be helping with dismissal.
Francis Blake has not held a permanent position in a New York City public school in at least five years. At his last job, in a Bronx elementary school, records show he was disciplined for incompetence, insubordination and neglect of duties — he had been caught sleeping in a classroom when he was supposed to be helping with dismissal.

Felicia Alterescu, a special-education teacher, has been without a permanent post since 2010, despite high demand for special education teachers. According to records, in addition to getting a string of unsatisfactory ratings, she was disciplined for calling in sick when she actually went to a family reunion. She also did not tell the Education Department that she had been arrested on harassment charges.

This month, Mr. Blake, Ms. Alterescu and hundreds of other teachers who are part of a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve could be permanently back in classrooms, as the city’s Education Department places them in jobs at city schools.

The reserve is essentially a parking lot for staff members who have lost their positions, some because of school closings and budget cuts, others because of disciplinary problems, but cannot be fired. It grew significantly as a result of a 2005 deal between the Bloomberg administration, which wanted to give principals control over hiring, and the teachers’ union. Since then, the union has fiercely protected the jobs of teachers in the reserve, resisting attempts to put a time limit on how long a teacher can remain there.

Until now, the teachers in the reserve have rotated through schools for a month at a time, serving as substitutes or, in some cases, sitting in the teachers’ lounge.

The salaries for those in the reserve cost the Education Department more than $150 million this past school year — enough to put an extra social worker or guidance counselor in nearly every school. The city says it cannot keep spending that much for teachers without permanent jobs. As of Oct. 15, if a school has an opening, a reserve teacher may be placed in it. Up to 400 teachers, roughly half the number in the pool at the end of the last school year, are expected to be put into vacancies. They will have a year to prove their abilities, after which the city will consider taking measures to dismiss them if they don’t measure up.

“The A.T.R. has been wasteful for 12 years,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “For the first time, there’s a common-sense strategy to get A.T.R. teachers who make the grade into permanent positions, and to hold them accountable if they don’t.” She added that the de Blasio administration had cut the size of the reserve by 27 percent through buyouts and other measures.

‘A Vicious Cycle’

Critics of the plan say that it is likely to put incompetent teachers in struggling, high-poverty schools, which have the most difficulty filling jobs.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Dr. Bernard Gassaway, a former New York City principal and superintendent. “If you have students who are challenged, and you have teachers who are challenged, you can’t have positive results come out of that.” He said the department would send the worst teachers to schools that would offer “the least amount of resistance,” because they had inexperienced principals and little parental involvement.

The Education Department originally said that teachers from the reserve might be placed in schools that are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Renewal program, in which the city is spending more than $500 million to turn around failing schools, but this week said that would not happen.

As of Oct. 4, schools listed approximately 800 teacher vacancies, according to an Education Department spokesman, though that might not reflect the exact number of jobs available; he said he could not give a breakdown of where the vacancies were.

In a system in which only 1 percent of teachers earn the lowest possible ratings, of ineffective or unsatisfactory, 12 percent of the teachers who were in the Absent Teacher Reserve at the end of the last school year had received one of those ratings in 2015-16.

Nearly 40 percent worked in schools that were closed for poor performance. Another 30 percent were “excessed” from their positions because of budget cuts or because the number of students enrolled at their schools fell. Principals are sometimes forced to let go of teachers they would like to keep for those reasons, but they can also use them as a way to get rid of low performers. The rest landed in the pool because of legal or disciplinary charges.

Randy Asher

Troubling Histories

As of last spring, roughly a quarter of the teachers in the reserve were in it five years earlier. These teachers are the most likely to be problematic, since their history suggests that no principal has been willing to hire them, or that they have actively avoided getting a permanent assignment. Among this group, principals say, are teachers who are incompetent or mentally unstable.

“So many of them, in my opinion, weren’t capable of leading a classroom again, or ever were,” said Matt Williams, the founding principal of a small high school, Bronx Design and Construction Academy, who left the department in 2014.

To identify teachers from the reserve with troubling histories, The New York Times cross-referenced two sets of records: the Education Department’s Excessed Staff Selection System, which lists available staff and openings in the system, and arbitrators’ decisions in disciplinary cases, which are available from the New York State Education Department.

Among the teachers available is a science teacher who, in her last permanent job, did not bother to regularly enter students’ grades, according to the arbitrator’s decision. She gave one student in her earth science class a grade of 83 percent, despite the fact that the girl had never come to school. Administrators who observed her classes often found students talking, listening to music on their headphones, or even asleep.

Also in the pool: a special-education teacher said to have disciplined autistic students by making them stand for 45 minutes to an hour; leaning on them to prevent them from getting out of their seats, and making them hold their breakfast trays for 10 minutes before allowing them to eat. An arbitrator wrote that she was “unquestionably guilty of corporal punishment,” yet let her go with a fine and training.

Randy Asher, who is heading the effort for the Education Department, declined to discuss specific cases. He said that all teachers in the reserve would be considered in filling vacancies, though he said it was “less likely” that those with multiple poor ratings or histories of corporal punishment would be placed.

“We’ll look at it case-by-case,” he said. He added that, in any event, the teachers were already in schools, just for shorter, temporary assignments. (A handful of teachers charged with inappropriate relationships with students or actions of a sexual nature, whom arbitrators declined to terminate, remain assigned away from classrooms and are not in the reserve.)

Some observers say that, while the cost of the reserve is untenable, the city should find a better solution.

“As far as what would have been the best thing for the kids in New York City schools, it would have been to find a way to end the A.T.R. without placing those teachers in schools,” said Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Chicago and Washington, for instance, have put limits of roughly a year on how long a teacher without a permanent assignment can collect a paycheck.

“It’s one of those things that you would hope that even the union would understand — that if you’ve been in the A.T.R. for five years or so, it’s probably time to move on,” Mr. Winters said. As for the de Blasio administration, which is generally seen as close to the teachers’ union, he said, “I don’t know if they were aggressive enough to do it or not.”

Adam Ross, the general counsel for the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, said, “If an arbitrator finds, upon examining all the facts, that termination is not warranted, it is management’s responsibility to use the employee in question.”

A Question of Energy

Sara Dingledy, the former principal of Westchester Square Academy, a small high school in the Bronx, said that while about half of the reserve teachers who rotated through her school were capable and eager to be hired, “I had a whole bunch of people in who obviously had no interest in getting a job, who wanted to know where the staff room was so they could sit down, who just wanted to surf the computer all day.”

Mr. Blake said that he had applied for a number of jobs, and blamed his trouble in finding a permanent position on his salary. Both he and Ms. Alterescu were at the top teacher pay scale of $113,762 last year.

“It’s a matter of economics,” he said.

Mr. Blake said that he went on roughly two interviews a year, mostly for positions as a cluster teacher — an elementary-level teacher who teaches a subject like science or art to groups of students throughout the day. He said that at his age — about 60 — he didn’t think he would succeed as a regular classroom teacher, who is with the same group of students all day long and is responsible for keeping records on their academic progress and other matters.

“You basically have to be like Bartleby the Scrivener there to keep up with all the logs you have to do for 30 students,” he said of the paperwork.

The department moved to fire Mr. Blake in 2009. His supervisors at Public School 157, the Grove Hill School, in the Bronx, described his lessons as ineffective and his classroom management as poor.

The case was heard before an arbitrator, a process dictated by state law and the teachers’ union contract. The arbitrator, Alan Berg, wrote in his decision that Mr. Blake “appears to lack the energy and enthusiasm necessary to be a truly good teacher,” but imposed a fine rather than firing him. “Being boring alone does not warrant termination,” Mr. Berg said.

Ms. Alterescu worked at Junior High School 189, the Daniel Carter Beard School, in Queens, until 2010. She was twice disciplined for excessive absenteeism or lateness. While she was assigned to a reassignment center, or “rubber room,” in June 2010, she sought and received a doctor’s note saying that she was unable to work, then flew to Chicago for a family reunion, claiming sick time for the two days of work she missed.

The next year, after she had been assigned to the reserve, she was arrested and received desk appearance tickets on two occasions, for altercations with her mother and sister. She did not immediately report the arrests to the department. The department sought to remove her, but an arbitrator, citing her long tenure, imposed a fine instead. Ms. Alterescu said in an interview that she believed the principal of J.H.S. 189 disliked her and that she did not immediately report the desk appearance tickets because she did not think they were arrests. She said the charges in both cases were ultimately dismissed.

Mr. Williams, the former Bronx principal, who is now the vice president of education at Goodwill Central Texas, said that, while principals would no doubt be frustrated to have ineffective teachers forced on them, they weren’t the only ones who would be unhappy.

“No one dislikes a lazy or not-good teacher more than a good teacher,” he said.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Parents and Teachers Are Angry At the NYC DOE For Doing Nothing To Stop the Violence in NYC's Public Schools

Abel Cedeno, left and Matthew McCree, right
re-posted from NYC Public Voice blog:

Are New York City Public Schools Too Dangerous and Unsafe To Attend? Parents and Teachers Say Yes

The murder of teen Mathew McCree on September 27, 2017, while he was sitting in history class at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, may be the event that spurs change at the New York City Department of Education. And yet, maybe not.

In New York City students, parents and school staff, especially teachers, have protested the lack of appropriate discipline in NYC schools for many years.  See:

Fatal Stabbing Highlights Persistent Problems at Bronx Middle School (2014)
Safety Last: New York City's Public Schools Are More Dangerous Than Ever (2016)

The key findings of Safety Last are:
" Alarming Spike in Violence in City Schools: The number of violent incidents in city schools rose sharply last year, under Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina's first full year managing the Department of Education -- from 12,978 in 2013-14 to 15,934 in 2014-15, a disturbing 23 percent increase; School Violence Index at Recorded High: New York City's School Violence Index (SVI) rose by 22 percent in 2014-5, the highest level recorded. New York State uses the SVI to determine which schools are "persistently dangerous," as required by federal law. The School Violence Index is a ratio of violent incidents to enrollment in a school and is determined by the number of incidents, the seriousness of the incidents, and the school's enrollment; Data Suggests de Blasio Administration is Misleading Public: Data suggests that Mayor de Blasio's assertion that crime in city schools is down 29 percent since 2011-12, most recently invoked during his State of the City this month, is at best an incomplete picture. There were more than twice as many "assaults with physical injur[ies]" reported by city schools to the State Education Department than total number of crimes under Mayor de Blasio's calculations; Students at Grave Risk in City Schools: The alarming spike in violence in city schools makes it difficult for students to learn and leaves students in serious risk of danger and bodily harm: A violent incident occurs in district schools every 4.5 minutes; A weapon is recovered in district schools once every 28.4 minutes; Few students are protected: 93% of the city's district school students attend schools where a violent incident has occurred over the past year; In the five months since the 2015-2016 school year began, 42 weapons have been confiscated from 36 elementary schools across the city."

No one is doing anything about it, except covering it up. The case of Eileen Ghastin is a case which shows the New York City Department of Education policy of not giving violent students the appropriate help and guidance they need. The boy who told Ms. Ghastin that he was a boxer and was going to beat her up was given a short suspension and when he returned to school, he broke a window in anger. He needs help, not discipline.

I see the "all students are little angels" policy at work in 3020-a charges, where the NYC Department of Education always blames the teacher: a fight between two or more students shows a lack of classroom management; intervention by a teacher to stop a fight is corporal punishment and misconduct by the teacher; telling a student to stop hurting other students is charged as verbal abuse in 3020-a Specifications, etc.. In Eileen's case, she tried to stop the student from beating her up by telling him she was going to "kill him". She saw that she needed to do something to stop him, and believed that this was the only way. Of course she did not mean it. The arbitrator gave her a fine because he was convinced that the student was embarrassed by the media coverage of the event in the NYPOST, even though the newspaper did not name him. See:

Stellar, Dedicated Teacher Eileen Ghastin Fights the Arbitrator's Decision To Suspend Her For Four Weeks After Almost Being Beaten Up in Her Class

In 2010, two years before the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown Connecticut, I received a telephone call from an anxious parent whose children had attended the school, and she begged me to help her get services for special needs students in Newtown before somebody went "postal" and people would be harmed. I made many calls to the school board and policymakers. All requests fell into a black hole.
But we know that special education services are not being supplied properly, and the NYC Department of Education is covering this up too. See:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues New York City Department Of Education For Discrimination And Retaliation At Pan American International High School

What the NYC DOE needs to do is hire a General Counsel who can set up an Office of Accountability and Guidance. This office will be given the responsibility of providing each event with a team to find out who did what, and how.  I suggest disbanding the Office of Special Investigations and the Office of Equal Opportunity, as wholly-owned agencies of the NYC DOE and compromised by their allegiance to the bias ingrained in the Department against holding the true culprits accountable for anything. Discipline is not always the answer. There is no set standard for what kind of suspension will "teach him/her a lesson to not harm someone" again.

Betsy Combier
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

In the days after Mr. McCree’s death, a memorial grew in the courtyard behind his home in the Bronx.
‘Nothing Will Ever be the Same’: A Murdered Teen’s Mother Speaks

A bright and popular 15-year-old Bronx boy was stabbed last month in one of the places he loved most — school.

New York Times, By JAN RANSOM, OCT. 12, 2017

The pint-size youngster with an oversized backpack stood on the corner of Mapes Avenue several feet from home, and for a moment contemplated crossing the street. He knew he wasn’t supposed to leave home alone, but he wanted to go to school just like his older brother though he was not old enough, his mother recounted.

Even as a baby, Matthew McCree would cry to go to school, said his mother Louna Dennis. “I’ve never met a kid who just loved school.”

That love of school never faltered. The 15-year-old was a bright and popular student at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, said his parents, classmates and a former teacher’s assistant. Then, nearly three weeks into the start of a new school year, he was killed during history class when the police say a classmate plunged a knife into his chest and back. That student, Abel Cedeno, 18, is also accused of seriously injuring Mr. McCree’s friend, Ariane Laboy, 16, who tried to step in. Mr. Cedeno has been charged with murder.

“Nothing will ever be the same,” Ms. Dennis, 34, said through tears during an interview at her attorney’s office in Brooklyn. “Matthew was a light; he lights up everybody.”

The effervescent teenager had big dreams. Standing at 5-foot-10, 156 pounds, Mr. McCree, a junior, wanted to attend Fordham University and become a professional basketball player. If that didn’t pan out, he said he planned to join the Marines, Ms. Dennis said.

His stepfather, Kyle Victor Sr., 36, said he taught Mr. McCree how to play basketball. He was a fast learner, said Mr. Victor, who raised him since he was 6. The teenager played basketball with friends at Crotona Park and in the courtyard behind his building. His school did not have a basketball team.

Mr. McCree grew up in a two-bedroom apartment at Mapes Court, two six-story brick buildings a half a mile from the Bronx Zoo.

He lived with his mother; brother, Kevon Dennis, 17; and his sister, Kayla Dennis, 4. His stepbrother, Kyle Victor Jr., 10, was always eager to visit on weekends. The family had a cat named Elmo, and a Maltese named Baby.

Mr. McCree shared a small room with his older brother, which after his death bore little sign of him. Ms. Dennis said she and her older son disposed of most of his belongings because they reminded them that Matthew was gone. All that remained was an unfinished mural that read: “Money Matt” and “You’ll Live Forever.”

“He had the most annoying laugh ever,” Mr. Dennis said with a slight smile in the courtyard. Mr. Dennis, who attended Wildlife for middle school and then left for a different high school, sat near a growing memorial of blue and white candles, enlarged photos of his brother, a basketball and countless hand-scrawled messages, including one that read: “No student should be scared to walk the halls.”

Ms. Dennis said Wildlife had a better reputation when her eldest son attended. The principal was active, accessible and frequently accompanied students on school trips. The school also had a program in which staff walked students home, creating a bond, but the program ended.

Last year, on an annual survey, just 55 percent of the students at the school reported they felt safe there, and only 19 percent of teachers said they would recommend the school.

“Nobody had the kids under control,” Mr. Dennis said. “Every day the cops were outside. It just got bad.”

The school administration and the education department declined to comment.

Mr. Cedeno told police that his peers had been bullying him about his perceived sexual orientation, though Mr. McCree and Mr. Laboy had never been in contact with him before that day. Police said Mr. Cedeno began carrying a knife to school.

A grand jury is hearing from witnesses about the stabbing on Sept. 27, according to the district attorney’s office and Sanford Rubenstein, Ms. Dennis’ attorney. Mr. Rubenstein said the family will not take legal action until after Mr. McCree’s funeral. A wake for Mr. McCree will be on Friday evening at the Castle Hill Funeral Parlor in the Bronx. His funeral is at 7 a.m. on Saturday. He will be buried in Canarsie Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Ms. Dennis and Mr. McCree’s friends said he never mentioned Mr. Cedeno. Relatives and classmates said that Mr. McCree was not a bully.

Mr. McCree’s neighbor, Doreen Jimenez, 33, whom he called his “Spanish mom,” said that she has been married to a woman for three years and that the teenager never judged her. She said Mr. McCree was often at her house for dinner, or hanging out with her three daughters who were close friends of his.

A longtime friend of Mr. McCree’s, Hensehk Bernardez, 16, who transferred out of Wildlife in the ninth grade, said Mr. Cedeno “was a socially awkward kid,” and that “Matthew would never bully a gay person; he knew better than that.”

The mother of a New York City public school student, a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, spoke about her son’s mistreatment outside the Education Department’s headquarters on Thursday.
New York Education Dept. Is Sued Over Violence in Schools
New York Times, 
A group of public school families and a pro-charter advocacy group filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court this week alleging that the atmosphere at New York City public schools was depriving students of their right to receive an education free of violence, bullying and harassment.

The class-action suit, filed on Wednesday in New York’s Eastern District against the New York City Education Department and its chancellor, Carmen FariƱa, claims that violence in schools is increasing, and that it is often underreported. The suit also says that school violence disproportionately affects certain groups of students, like those who are black, Hispanic, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The suit, which claims the Education Department has failed “to address and remediate in-school violence in New York City’s public schools,” was filed by 11 students and their families. They were joined by Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group that has been a fierce and frequent critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education policies.

The group’s chief executive, Jeremiah Kittredge, held a news conference on Thursday morning in front of the Education Department’s headquarters in Manhattan, to encourage other public school parents to join the suit.

The group’s picture of violence in the city’s schools directly counters Mr. de Blasio’s. In a statement, the mayor said he viewed “each incidence as obviously troubling,” but challenged the group’s facts, saying that “this year to date, the major crime in our schools is down 14.29 percent and other crimes down 6.77 percent.”

The UFT Retro Payment Mess

Mike Antonucci, a prolific writer now giving his opinions on 74 on wednesdays, asks:

"So while public-sector unions must prepare for the consequences of members leaving unions entirely, they must also prepare to operate in a world where members easily move from one union to another, or to a non-union association. How ready are they for an actual marketplace in labor representation?"

The Supreme Court may, in it's Janus ruling, force changes to the way that the UFT does business.

This is a good move, if it stops the UFT bigwigs' misuse of money seen by the rank and file.

Betsy Combier

NYC Teachers Union Sows Confusion as It Delivers Raises, Double Dips on Dues by MIKE ANTONUCCI, The 74

It won’t buy a river view, but many New York City teachers and other school staff will receive a hefty paycheck this week, part of the back wages they’re owed for two years when they worked without a contract while other municipal workers enjoyed raises.

They won’t entirely be made whole, however, because their union, the United Federation of Teachers, deducts dues from retroactive pay even though it took out their annual dues for these same years at the time — a practice that dissenting members in the UFT described as double-dipping.

“It looked like we got double-duesed,” said Mindy Rosier, a special education teacher in Harlem, after an earlier retroactive payment in October 2015. At that time, Rosier’s normal dues deduction per paycheck was $54.17; that amount jumped to $91.58 when she received her retro pay.

“It’s a big, huge contract; there should be a reminder that, by the way … this is what we’re going to do,’ ” said Rosier, who was part of a slate that unsuccessfully challenged UFT’s leadership in the 2016 election. “I think they depend on [members being unaware] because I think if people remember, they’re afraid people will make a stink.”

UFT dues are “flat,” meaning all teachers are charged the same amount rather than a percentage of their salary. (Members with different job titles, like guidance counselors or secretaries, pay different amounts than teachers but the same as others who share their title.) A small but active population of teacher-activist bloggers has complained for years that flat rates impose a disproportionate burden on younger, lower-earning peers, but deductions on back pay appear to be infrequently discussed and poorly understood.

One theme among the online commentariat at the time of the October 2015 retroactive payment was the UFT’s purported need to hoard funds in advance of an expected U.S. Supreme Court decision abolishing mandatory fees — a judicial possibility that is today considerably closer at hand and weighing on unions nationwide.

“Perhaps part of the deal was that since UFT is taking a bigger slice of dues with these retro payments, they wanted to secure some future dues-paying in case many teachers bail if we become a Right to Work state. Slick,” said an anonymous but representative commenter on an NYC teacher blog at the time.

When asked by a teacher earlier this year if additional dues would be deducted from this October’s retroactive pay, a UFT phone representative identified a similar but more local reason for the UFT to bolster its reserves.

“I can’t say yes or no because it could be yes, it could be yes, it could be no, because it all depends on what the executives feel, you know,” he said. “They don’t want to go to the hassle and just say no and they might say yes, well, they need the money because a lot of stuff politically — we need to send money for whatever we need to, because we got to get ready for the next negotiation, right?”

This week’s additional wage boost — a 2 percent increase on 2009 and 2010 salaries — was negotiated as part of the UFT’s 2014 collective bargaining agreement. Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to compensate UFT members for the difference between their actual earnings since 2009, when the last contract expired, and what they would have earned if given the same increases that went to members of most city unions.

The mayor’s spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, said this week, “This is between the union leadership and its members,” declining to comment further. The Department of Education did not respond to several requests for comment.

The payout will be the second of five spaced between 2015 and 2020 because the city couldn’t afford to pay the entire amount at once. Educators will receive between several hundred and several thousand dollars; exact figures for this round are unclear because the Department of Education’s payroll portal, which allows employees to view paychecks a few days early, was taken down Tuesday after displaying “incorrect deduction information” with regard to UFT charges, the union said. The deductions “appeared to have doubled. This information is incorrect,” according to the union.

Pay stubs from several teachers for the October 2015 retro payment show union deductions going up by as much as $37.27, a nearly 70 percent increase. During that period, the city’s payroll portal crashed — apparently from so much activity.

Finding correct information this year may not have been easy either. Multiple calls to dedicated UFT hotlines yielded confused and apparently incorrect explanations, according to a teacher who is also the UFT chapter leader at a school.

“Union dues has nothing to do with the retro payment,” one specialist told the teacher. She wrongly explained that dues are proportional to earnings. “Obviously, since you are only being paid part [of what you would have earned] in 2009 and 2011, not enough dues was taken out of your check at that time, do you follow me?” she said. “So when I’m looking here, I can see this is pro-rated of what you were owed, now what you owe, what you should have been paid in union dues 2009 to 2011. Did you understand my mumbo jumbo?”

The UFT says its approach is commonsensical. “Retro and lump sum payments are in effect wages,” spokesman Dick Riley said in a statement this week. “As such, the UFT has traditionally deducted dues from lump sum/retro payments, just as taxes, Social Security, and benefits are deducted.”

Riley said the annual flat-rate structure results in dues collections that are “slightly below the maximum possible” using the union’s formula for calculating deductions. “For computational simplicity, the UFT determined to collect dues on the lump sum payments on the basis of the approved .85 rate rather than the flat rate.”

“Computational simplicity” does not spring to mind when contemplating the union dues calculations; the annual fee is a product of internal decisions dating back to 1982 that tie it to the UFT’s second-highest level in the salary structure, know as 8B plus L20, the latter number indicating 20 years of service. The “maximum possible” rate would instead use the highest salary (8B plus L22) as the basis for dues. Currently, a new teacher with only a bachelor’s degree earns $45,530 and pays dues based on a percentage of $95,202, the maximum 20-year salary. Teachers with greater experience and education, whose salaries may exceed $95,202, also pay dues on that amount.

A small part of dues, which as of Wednesday were deducted in semi-monthly payments of $56.65, or $1,359.60 annually, goes to the UFT’s state and national affiliates.

It’s not clear why the Department of Education calculates retroactive dues based on a percentage of how much each member receives, rather than using the year-to-year flat rate. What is certain, according to current and former chapter chairs, is that apart from the small number who are politically engaged in union issues, teachers are largely unconcerned with the added-on dues.

“What they’re losing is an almost unnoticeable thing for individual teachers,” said Evan Stone, co-CEO of the teacher advocacy group Educators for Excellence. “I think the average teacher would say, ‘The union got me this money. It makes sense that I would pay the same dues that I paid on the rest.’ ”

The UFT did not respond to requests for the total amount of dues deducted from this week’s retroactive payment or from the 2015 payment. It’s also not clear what the union will take in from additional dues charged during the retroactive payments in 2018, 2019 and 2020 (there was no retroactive increase given in 2016). There are 120,000 active UFT members, “most” of whom, the union said, qualified for retroactive raises.

Three union hotline specialists assured a teacher in recent months that any news about dues relating to the October 2017 payment would be in New York Teacher, the UFT’s journal, which did not appear to happen. A seven-paragraph announcement before the 2015 payment said, “All payroll contributions and deductions will be updated.”

With neither chapter leaders nor UFT service reps able to explain dues obligations, at least one veteran union-watcher says the teachers union makes it too difficult to understand many of its money-related decisions.

“This is an organization that is super close to the mayor and super powerful in New York City politics,” said Bill Hammond, of the right-leaning Empire Center for Public Policy. “One of the reasons it’s powerful is that it has so much money to spend. They’re doing this kind of mysterious thing with dues when arguably they have no right to back dues at all. Why would they feel the need to do something like this?”

Reporter Mareesa Nicosia contributed to this report.

Disclosure: David Cantor served as press secretary for the New York City Department of Education from 2005 to 2010.

Janus v. AFSCME: Lawyers in Key Union Case Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court for 2017–18 Hearing

Everyone and his brother in the education policy world spent Tuesday morning watching Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testify before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee. But while that D.C. showdown was streaming live, attorneys for the plaintiff in the case of Janus v. AFSCMEwere quietly making it official and filing for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s the latter story that will have broader ramifications. If, as widely expected, the court ultimately rules in favor of Mark Janus, it will put an end to the practice of public sector unions charging agency fees to non-members.
Since only four justices are required to grant a writ of certiorari, it is virtually certain the case will be accepted for the court’s next session, beginning in October. Barring unforeseen delays, oral arguments should be heard in the winter and a ruling issued by June 2018.
Janus works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. In a statement, he explained why he brought his case: “To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public employee union that claims to ‘represent’ me,” Janus says. “I’m filing this case on behalf of all government employees who want to serve their community or their state without having to pay a union first.”
Government workers in 20 states, including public school teachers, are required to pay agency fees if they choose not to join the union. Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of Janus, teachers unions estimate they could lose between 20 percent and 40 percent of their membership in those states.
As I reported last week: The National Education Association has modified its proposed budget for 2017–18 to include an estimated loss of 20,000 full-time equivalent members. This seems accurate because even larger losses won’t be felt until the 2018–19 school year. The California Teachers Association’s executive director recently warned activists to be prepared for membership losses as high as 30 percent to 40 percent. Despite his alert, CTA does not seem to have made any adjustments to its own 2017–18 budget. The United Federation of Teachers’ New York City local estimates a 20 percent reduction in membership and feels it can safely cut $16 million, which is about 10 percent of the annual dues it collects. Read my full analysis of how unions are bracing for the fallout.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SUNY's Board of Trustees Approve Regulations Allowing Some Charter Schools to Certify and Train Their Own Teachers

Is this the beginning of the end of teacher unions?

Betsy Combier
Editor, Advocatz
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Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools, shown last year, said in a statement on Wednesday, “In the midst of a widely recognized teacher shortage, SUNY’s vote today ensures that kids of color will have access to great teachers and exceptional educational outcomes.”

Some Charter Schools Can Certify Their Own Teachers, Board Says
The State University of New York took a step on Wednesday that will make it easier for some charter schools to hire teachers.

The charter schools committee of SUNY’s Board of Trustees voted to approve regulations that will allow some schools to design their own teacher-training programs and certify their own teachers.

The proposal had been criticized by opponents of charter schools, including teachers’ unions, and others. But proponents of the regulations said that they were needed to allow the schools to broaden the pool of candidates.

“In the midst of a widely recognized teacher shortage, SUNY’s vote today ensures that kids of color will have access to great teachers and exceptional educational outcomes,” Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools, wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

SUNY is one of two entities in the state that can grant charters, and the charter schools it oversees include the state’s highest-performing ones. This year, 88 percent of SUNY-authorized charter schools outperformed their districts on the state math tests, and 83 percent outperformed their districts on the state reading tests. Students at Success Academy, which is authorized by SUNY, outperformed not only students in New York City’s traditional public schools but those in every other district in the state.

Ms. Moskowitz, whose network is expanding rapidly and faces difficulty in recruiting enough teachers, was seen as having a hand in the political deal that led to the new regulations. In 2016, in exchange for granting Mayor Bill de Blasio an extension of mayoral control over schools, the Republicans in the State Senate, to whom Ms. Moskowitz has close ties, inserted broad language in the legislation giving SUNY the power to promulgate regulations for the schools it oversees.

In recent days, SUNY increased the number of hours of classroom instruction that teacher candidates must receive under the proposed plan, from 30 to 160 hours, and decreased the number of hours of teaching practice they must complete, from 100 to 40 hours. The changes seemed partly designed to address the criticism of the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who said of the original proposal, “I could go into a fast-food restaurant and get more training than that.”

In the wake of the vote, Ms. Elia and Betty A. Rosa, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, released a statement saying, “This change lowers standards and will allow inexperienced and unqualified individuals to teach those children that are most in need” and called the change “an insult to the teaching profession.” (The Board of Regents itself voted last month to make it easier to pass one of the state’s certification exams.)

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, expressed ambivalence about the regulations.

“What we’re doing now to prepare teachers is so broken that I don’t really have a problem with a group of high-performing schools saying, ‘We can do this better on our own,’” she said.

But she was unimpressed by the certification requirements.

“It’s, ‘Here, we’ll make our candidates go out and take, what is this, a three-credit course that everybody will roll their eyes and say, “This isn’t very helpful,” but higher ed will get the dollars, so you get higher ed off your back,’” Ms. Walsh said. At the same time, she said, “I don’t understand how you justify reducing the practice time to 40 hours, which is not even two weeks of school.”

Certifications earned under these regulations will only be valid at charter schools authorized by SUNY, so teachers who want to transfer to other charters or to traditional public schools will need to take additional steps to earn a conventional state certification.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the city teachers’ union, had urged the members of the charter schools committee on Wednesday morning to reject the regulations, which he said would lower standards for charter school teachers, and promised to sue if the new regulations were approved.

SUNY OKs charter teacher certification plan. 
Some educational leaders, unions decry plan

Teachers' and advocacy groups are threatening legal action after a State University of New York committee approved a plan that will let high-performing charter schools certify their own teachers.

The SUNY charter schools committee, voting in New York City, approved the plan by a vote of 4-1 on Wednesday, with the stated goal of making it easier to become a teacher at New York charter schools in light of a national and statewide teacher shortage.

Charters — publicly funded, privately run schools — say they're hurt by the state's stringent teacher certification process and supporters argue some schools should be exempt based on their proven record of student achievement.

But outside groups, including the state's own Education Department and Board of Regents, say the move will lower standards and allow "inexperienced and unqualified" people to teach children who are most in need, including students of color, and poor and disabled students.

"Lowering standards would not be acceptable for any other profession; this is an insult to the teaching profession," said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa in a statement.
Only charter schools authorized by SUNY can gain teacher certification under the new pathway, and they have to have a proven record of student success to even apply. Interested charters can submit a proposed certification program to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which would approve or deny the program within 120 days.

The institute oversees 167 charter schools statewide, including five in Albany and one in Troy.

Supporters of the plan say it will lead to more and better candidates to choose from, as well as more diversity in teaching ranks, which tend to be overwhelmingly white and female.

Both the United Federation of Teachers and the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group backed by teachers' unions, have threatened to sue over the plan, with AQE saying in a letter Tuesday that "substantial revisions" made to the original proposal required an additional public comment period under state law that was not provided.

Others, including New York State United Teachers, contend the action violates state education law, which authorizes only the state education commissioner to establish rules around teacher certification. Elia and Rosa also warned the action would violate law in written public comment submitted to the committee this summer.

The committee first proposed the regulations in early July in a deal worked out in the final days of the 2017 legislative session, prompting worry that such a sweeping change to teacher certification in New York was motivated by politics and not the needs of students.

Blowback was immediate and intense, with critics ripping the committee's proposal that charter school teachers only be required to have 30 hours of classroom instruction in the teaching field. Elia, at an event covered by Chalkbeat New York, said of the requirement in August: "I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that."

In response to the outpouring of criticism, the committee amended the original regulations to require teachers have 160 hours of classroom instruction instead of 30.

But other changes, first unveiled over the weekend, have generated nearly as much controversy as the original proposal, including the requirement that prospective teachers have 40 hours of experience in the field, instead of 100 initially proposed. Current state law requires teachers have a master's degree, or be working toward one. The committee's plan requires neither a master's nor a bachelor's degree.

"The committee can amend this bad proposal until the cows come home, but it doesn't change the fact that these regulations sell out the state's most vulnerable children to score political points," said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

SUNY Trustees Eric Corngold was the only member of the five-member committee to vote against the plan. Voting yes were committee chair Joseph Belluck, Angelo Fatta, Edward Spiro and Merryl Tisch.

Unions Sue to Block ‘Watered Down’ Rules for Charter Teacher Training

By KATE TAYLOR, OCT. 12, 2017

A fight over charter schools and teacher training escalated on Thursday when the city and state teachers’ unions filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to prevent new rules from going into effect that allow some charters to certify their own teachers.

In a suit filed with the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the two unions, along with two charter schoolteachers who are union members, argued that a committee of trustees of the State University of New York had violated the law when it passed new teacher certification regulations on Wednesday.

Under the new rules, the teachers could be certified after taking 160 hours of classroom instruction and doing 40 hours of teaching practice, rather than going through the lengthier process required of traditional public schoolteachers, who ultimately have to receive a master’s degree.

The change had been sought by charter school leaders who have struggled to hire enough teachers to serve in their schools.

The SUNY trustees took their authority for the change from a bit of legislative language inserted, as a result of a political deal, into a 2016 bill that renewed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of New York City schools. The language said that notwithstanding “any other provision of law, rule, or regulation to the contrary,” the SUNY committee that authorizes charters could “promulgate regulations with respect to governance, structure and operations of charter schools for which they are the charter entity.”

The chair of the SUNY charter schools committee, Joseph W. Belluck, and charter school advocates, said that this meant the committee could enact regulations related to teacher certification. The unions, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers argue in the lawsuit that such an interpretation would make the law unconstitutional, because the legislature cannot grant such broad power to an administrative agency.

The unions also claim that the regulations violated the Charter School Act, which specifically caps the number of uncertified teachers that a charter school can employ at 15. Their lawsuit also argued that the committee violated the State Administrative Procedure Act, because it did not submit a revised version of the regulations for public comment.

The lawsuit describes the regulations as putting in place “a watered down system for certifying teachers.”

In an interview, Mr. Belluck said he believed the committee was on strong legal footing.

“Our action yesterday falls within the grant that the legislature gave to us,” he said. “Not only did we follow the procedure that we needed to, I think that there was almost hyper-availability for participation from all stakeholders.”

The new regulations have been criticized by the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, and the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty A. Rosa, as well as the heads of education colleges.