Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Thursday, September 16, 2010

NYSUT and The Gotcha Squad, Together At Last By Betsy Combier

A very funny thing happened today at the New York City "Gotcha Squad" (3020-a arbitration, 51 Chambers Street, 6th Floor).

I was verbally attacked by Naeemah Lamont, the BOE Attorney currently swinging her machete at me as Director of the "Teacher Performance Unit" or "TPU", at the suggestion of newly hired NYSUT Attorney Dan Bright. Thanks, people! I have 20 witnesses who saw what happened, including the Hon. Arbitrator Arthur Riegel.

Let me start with a little bit of background. In 2003 I was invited to be on a television show with a former teacher whose name may be known by some out there: David Pakter. While waiting to go on air, David told me about the "rubber room" he was in, and asked me to attend his open and public 3020-a hearing. His case started with his videotaping (with the consent of the teacher) a group of white elementary students from PS 59 in a music classroom at the High School of Art and Design, after the Principal of the high school, Marianne Appell (now at Kingsborough Community College) rented the room out because she told Pakter words to the effect of "black kids dont need music." So, she took music out of the high school curriculum and rented the music room to PS 59, and David thought this wasnt right.

Immediately after he did a video of the music class, Appell demanded the video, and David said no. He was sent to the Rubber Room in Manhattan, 333 7th avenue, 7th floor.
See my articles on my website for more information about David, and another will be posted soon:
Retaliation Against All Whistleblowers is the Name of the Illegal Game in New York City
The Rubber Rooms and the Misinformation of Steven Brill by Betsy Combier
David Pakter, a NYC Teacher and Whistleblower of the NYC Board of Education's Corrupt Practices, Sues in Federal Court

Thus I started attending 3020-a hearings for any teacher who asked me to attend. I was fascinated. What kind of proceeding was the "3020-a? My dad was Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York for 20-22 years (he worked with Louis Lefkowitz), so I had a good idea what juries and courtroom hearings were like, but a 3020-a is not a trial. It's called "Arbitration", but it isnt that either. It's a creation of the great minds of Mike Bloomberg, Joel Klein, David Brodsky (Director of Labor Relations), Theresa Europe (Director of the Administrative Trials Unit), Claude Hersh and James Sandner (NYSUT), and the New York State Education Department. Oh yes, and the New York State legislature, who voted for Mayoral control in New York City. What a mistake.

The goal of a 3020-a is to punish you for allegations of wrong-doing that your Principal says are true. But Bloomberg and his gang made a crucial error - actually they made many errors - but one is that they forgot to repeal Education Law Article 61 3020-a which is IN THE PACKET OF ALL TEACHERS SENT 3020-A CHARGES UNDER APPENDIX A: before any specification can be given to a tenured teacher the spec has to be voted on  by the school board. AFTER the charges are voted on, then the teacher can receive them. The Arbitrator on the 3020-a panel is not given the authority to decide Just Cause.

More, much more, about all of this later on, another day.

What is important here is that since 2003 I have attended these 3020-a "arbitration-like" hearings because teachers asked me to be there, and this is their right to request. I have spent seven years observing, as a volunteer and a reporter, who does what to whom, writing notes on what is wrong and who lies, as well as doing whatever is necessary to help provide a winning defense, never speaking on the record. Most NYSUT attorneys pushed me away, and yet every once in a while a NYSUT attorney listens to his or her client, and the case moves forward  in the right direction. While I was working for the UFT I was told that I was forbidden from attending the 3020-a, but I worked only part-time (thanks Randi!) and I ignored these baseless suggestions. No one paid me to do this story called the "NYC Rubber Rooms and 3020-a".

Three teachers I know were scheduled to appear at 51 Chambers Street on the morning of September 15 for their 3020-a hearing, mediation/settlement/extortion/ or other. I was asked to attend a 3020-a for a teacher, but when I got to the 6th floor, I saw another teacher sitting in the corner of the waiting room looking like she was extremely upset. I knew this person, and went over to her to talk with her. She told me that her new NYSUT Attorney Josh wanted her to retire immediately and to agree never to work for the NYC DOE again, in any capacity. She felt that he was threatening her into signing this agreement. I suggested that she tell her attorney she was uncomfortable with these terms. At a morning break of the other teacher's hearing, I went to the hallway, and the upset teacher was there. She begged me to speak with her Attorney with her, as she felt that he was not listening to her at all. I said, "sure!" So, I, upset teacher and NYSUT attorney Dan Bright talked outside the waiting room area at the back elevators (49 Chambers Street). I repeated over and over that I was not an Attorney, only an advocate, and that the teacher asked me to talk with him (Dan). The teacher was there too. Then I went back to the hearing of another teacher.

At lunchtime, A group of us were going out, when I heard "Betsy!!" I turned around, and Naeemah Lamont came over to me, stood 5 inches from me and screamed at the top of her lungs, "Just WHO do you think you are? Why are you HERE? You cannot attend a hearing that is not open, (pointing to the upset teacher, standing closeby with 20 other people - remember, I was not attending her hearing), and you are giving legal advice without being an Attorney. You are not an Attorney!!!!!"

I said, "What legal advice??? You have been misinformed".

Lamont added, "Oh, so you are an Attorney."

I said, "No, I'm not, I dont give any legal advice, and if you are going to attack me, I want this on the record."

Lamont: "This is not going to be on any record."

And walked away.

Later in the afternoon I saw the upset teacher again, and told her that everything would be ok, because she was in quite a state of anxiety. She felt that I was being attacked for no reason, and it was her fault. I told her that it wasnt anything to do with her. I turned around and saw that Naeemah and BOE Attorney and attack dog Dennis Da Costa were standing behind me. Naeemah started screaming all over again, about how I could not speak with this person, I was simply WRONG about everything, and I gave WRONG legal advice. Dennis laughed.

I started walking away, saying that I would find a court reporter to put all of this on the record, and promised her and Dennis that I would write about both of them for my blog. Naeemah said, "Go ahead". As I walked away, Nameeah's final scream was heard throughout the 6th floor: "I have a computer too, you know!!!!!!!!!!"

At the same time, NYST Attorney Josh was in a hearing arguing the merits of 2590-j(7)(B).

The point of my telling this tiny tidbit is to show how NYSUT Attorney Dan Bright went directly from meeting with me and his client to the NYC BOE "Gotcha Squad" and lied to Theresa Europe and/or Naeemah about what I had said to him with his client.

Be very careful of saying anything or working with NYSUT. They do not seem to be on your side.

Betsy Combier
Below is the definition of the TPU, Lamont's group:

The Teacher Performance Unit (“TPU”) is a new unit comprised of experienced attorneys who will litigate incompetence cases against ineffective tenured pedagogues. TPU’s goal is to help improve teacher quality in schools by bringing and litigating these cases in a thorough, expeditious and effective manner.

In partnership with the consultants of the Labor Support Unit (“LSU”), TPU will offer high quality and responsive support to principals, and other school officials in connection with cases involving previously identified tenured teachers in need of support and remediation. This support will include, among other things, providing these ineffective tenured teachers with quality professional development.

Additionally, TPU in consultation with the principal will make a determination, on a case by case basis whether to commence the 3020-a process. Thereafter, TPU and LSU will continue to provide counsel to the principal and other school officials in connection with the preparation and litigation of 3020-a disciplinary charges.

Oh - let me add that for some reason, NYSUT and the UFT believe that I will slink away into the night, never to be heard from again? Nope, nyet, nada, wont happen, at least as long as there are UFT reps and NYSUT Attorneys who do not return telephone calls, and have disdain for the professionalism of re-assigned teachers and those made into "ATRs" which is, by the way, NOT A RECOGNIZED TITLE.

Thanks to Fidgity for the following, a blog post on the blog that follows my introduction on my website

Who Is Betsy Combier?

I just called Brooklyn UFT rep. Alan Weinstein at his office and left a message that I would like to speak with him about a Principal from hell, and he left me a message in which he said "sorry, but in what capacity are you calling me?" I guess he doesnt remember that before, during, and now after I worked for the UFT I was and still am an ADVOCATE for justice, due process, and the right to speak out against wrong-doing of any kind. Rather than explain more right now, I'm re-posting an article from the blog "Fidgity" who is a teacher placed in a Rubber Room for no reason at all. Enjoy.

If You Knew Betsy...

They say that there is an exception to every rule- and when it comes to the Useless UFT, that exception comes in the form of a beautiful, green eyed blonde, an unconventional, bright and passionate woman named Betsy Combier.

The first time that I met Ms.Combier was almost three years ago. She walked into our Rubber Room wearing an embroidered suede jacket and up to the knee high heeled boots. Unlike most of the women who work for the UFT, Betsy exuded a refreshing warmth and feminine quality. In a sweet and soft voice, Betsy introduced herself as someone who would be coming once a week to assist reassigned teachers with any problems or questions they may have. She greeted some of the teachers that she already knew and then proceeded to personally introduce herself to each and every new face. As she approached where I was sitting, one of the teachers quickly whispered,"Don't trust her." "Why?", I asked. That teacher put her head down as Ms. Combier greeted me. Although her warmth and openness was indeed refreshing, I cautiously welcomed her into my space. She handed me her card and told me to call her anytime I needed to talk. Soon after meeting her, I learned that Betsy had several blogs and was involved in advocating for the rights of students, parents and teachers. Having been a PTA president and raising four daughters in the Public school system, Betsy knew the system from many angles. She attended PEP meetings where she spoke out for the rights of the RR teachers, questioned the inflated power of the principals, the agenda, our Mayor and the unqualified Chancellor-without-a-contract.

The following week, Ms. Combier entered our RR wearing a flouncy skirt and carrying a fringed handbag. I could hear her in the hallway making small talk with the horrible Mr. Warden before entering the RR as scheduled. Two of the teachers immediately grabbed her ear, taking her to the private "staircase" in the hallway to talk.

Besides providing answers, listening to the teachers and following up on all inquiries, the difference between Betsy Combier and the rest of the UFT Reps was that Betsy came with no agenda. Having been hired only part time by Randi Weingarten to support the reassigned teachers in the RR, Betsy gave her support in the only way that she knew how...FULL time. Here is a woman who does not drive or ride the subway, but somehow managed to spend everyday, yes, EVERYDAY of the week visiting a different RR facility throughout the city or talking with distraught members of the TRCs. On a salary that barely covered her expenses, Ms. Combier never missed an opportunity to talk to, advise, assist and console hundreds of reassigned teachers over a seven year period. Unlike the other unapproachable, angry and aloof Useless UFT Reps (they know who they are) who shamelessly looked at their watches, worried about the running meter, came empty handed and stayed only long enough to say that they 'showed up', Betsy genuinely wanted to be there. Betsy sat amongst the teachers, never looking at the time, never making excuses. If for some unavoidable reason, she'd be late, Betsy would call one of us on our personal cell phones to let us know. If that wasn't enough, Reassigned teachers called Betsy early in the morning and all hours of the night when sleeping seemed like an impossible feat. Betsy knew the teachers. She knew their pain and hurt. She felt their frustration. She guided and empowered them to help themselves. Singlehandedly, Ms. Combier made up for the shortcomings and absence of all of the UFT reps that I have ever met. Those who allowed themselves to know her, loved her and still do. Those who doubted her sincerity were obviously afraid of her unconventional warmth and wisdom; do you blame them after the way they the UFT treats them?? However, those who didn't know her, missed out on her natural gift for being a true PEOPLE advocate and great friend.

One would think that by the way I have described Mrs. Combier, the UFT would recognize and value her for the rare GEM that she is.

Why then is Ms. Combier no longer employed by the UFT? Shockingly, the only thank you that Ms. Combier received for seven years of dedicated service to the UFT was a Pink slip on July 7, 2010. She was told by UFT Co-Staff Director Ellie Engler that the UFT no longer needed her service since the Rubber Rooms were to be closed. Ellie Engler is the very same person who did everything in her power to make Betsy's life at the UFT as difficult and uncomfortable as possible.

In 2009, Ms. Engler told Betsy to pack up her office at 52 Broadway because it was needed by the UFT for someone else. She promised to provide her with boxes and an alternative office location by the next day. At 6PM on the following day, there were still no boxes and nowhere to move them to. She was told to contact David Hickey, but received no response to her messages. After filling up several black trash bags with her papers and files, Betsy removed most of her things with the help of a teacher friend. After several months of working without an office, the Queens TRC liason asked Leroy Barr for an explanation. Several UFT members wanted to meet with Betsy, but without an office, this was impossible. After walking around the 16th floor, Mr. Barr located the telephone that had Betsy's number hooked up to a remote desk somewhere on the other side of the building. This, he told her, would be her new "office". Betsy's only request was that her files from her old office be safely moved to her new location. However, most of the files from her old office were never found.

The harassment continued after the Christmas break when Betsy returned to find that her cubicle had been moved by Ellie Engler and that her computer and telephone had disappeared. After scavenging for her things, Betsy's telephone was eventually found on the 11th floor.

After Betsy made several requests to Ms. Engler for her newly printed UFT business cards, Ms. Engler asked that Betsy take down the posts on her blog, NYC Rubber Room Reporter that contained Theresa Europe's name. (Theresa Europe is in charge of the DOE attorneys in The "Gotcha Squad") Betsy refused Ms. Engler's request and in turn, never received her cards. In addition, Adam Ross, the Attorney for Mike Mulgrew, told Betsy that she is to refrain from filing any FOIL (Freedom of Information requests) of anyone who is employed by the NYCDOE. Because Ms. Combier refused to heed these requests, she was fired. (Yet in her agreement it says she is hired to help any member in the TRC or elsewhere who needs help, and continue to write and advocate for people she assisted before she worked for the UFT) Ms. Combier may have been fired by the UFT, but she has not stopped working on behalf of the UFT's teachers who are still very much in need of her valuable knowledge and assistance.

Now, Betsy is pursuing her advocacy outside of the UFT from her office at home. Her email is I know she will be there for you, me, and anyone who needs help. Shame on the UFT for firing one of our most dedicated and productive representatives.

Are you reading this, Mr. Mulgrew, Ms. Engler and Mr. Hickey?

Mike Mulgrew and Ellie Engler

7 responses:

Chaz said...
I could not of said it better myself. Betsy Combier is one of the heroes.

September 16, 2010 5:58 PM

Fidgety said...
Thank you Chaz. Betsy is definitely an "Unsung Hero" in the eyes and hearts of many teachers....The Union Leader's failure to recognize this is a great loss to all of its' members.

September 16, 2010 6:33 PM

Polo Colon said...
Betsy has withstood the most undeserved asinine insults from both UFT and DOE detractors who hate her for exposing their collusion.
I have been a victim of both the UFT and DOE's legal scams! Only NYS Education Law (even with its flaws), the Constitution and Betsy Combier helped to defend me against the devious onslaught of their not-so-secret partnership!
Shame on all those clowns and monkeys who tried to destroy Betsy for being the best!

September 16, 2010 10:14 PM


Re the following Quote:
"Betsy is definitely an "Unsung Hero" in the eyes and hearts of many teachers....The Union Leader's failure to recognize this is a great loss to all of its' members".

Please-Let us just tell it like it is, as the legendary Gil Nobel of ABC News would always say.
The so-called Union Leader and his legions of lackeys do not "fail to recognize" anything.
It is precisely because they do recognize that Betsy Combier is a natural born Hero and take charge Leader that the UFT felt they had to push her out of the UFT and ASAP.
And on the contrary, she is not at all an "Unsung Hero" in the eyes and hearts of NYC Educators.
Ms. Combier's sterling reputation for integrity, razor sharp intelligence and plain old fashioned guts, made it mandatory in the sick minds of the UFT power brokers that they must "disappear" Betsy Combier just as fast as they could from 52 Broadway.
Corruption and party politics do not thrive well when someone is around shining the cold light of truth and honesty on the scene.
Strange that I have never noticed anyone observe that the NYC DOE's charlatan of a Chancellor's business card carries the same number for the building address as the UFT- the number " 52 ".
How strange is that?
Or maybe given what we have seen happen to New York City's dedicated Teachers during the past ten years, (and growing worse)- the coincidence of both the DOE and the UFT being located at Headquarters with the number 52 is more than mere coincidence.
I never had much patience with the practice of trying to make nice with people who are ethics and morals challenged.
The forces at the UFT who decided to fire Ms. Combier have a lot in common with the agenda driven creeps at the forefront of the school Charterization movement as well as the DOE.
That agenda is to look out for "Number One" and keep the good life and the perks rolling on as far as the eye can see.
The "cannibals" running the Charter movement could not care less about the children of NYC.
And the opportunists who have managed to hijack control of a once great and proud Labor Union called the United Federation of Teachers could not care less, deep down, for the present Hell that UFT members must work and teach in on a daily basis.
Even those Teachers who have not been ATR'd into oblivion and are fortunate to have their own classroom must suffer the humiliation of going to a job each day where one always runs the risk of instant and Hellish payback and punishment if they dare to speak up and speak out to protect themselves and their own and their students' rights.
Betsy Combier was and will always remain a human being who is not afraid to carry a target on her back.
Betsy Combier possesses real backbone, true grit and true moral courage- things they do not teach the newbies in Joel Klein, Esq.'s hypocritical so-called "Leadership" Academy.
There the "learning" is about how to intimidate, threaten and Railroad innocent teachers out of the system and out of their careers and their livelihood. That is "Introductory Education Course 101".
Are dues paying NYC UFT Member Teachers getting proper employment protection, these days vis a vis the NYC DOE and ethics challenged Joel Klein ?
Please- don't make me laugh.
Betsy Combier put her personal economic security on the line to do the right thing and stand up and protect the Rights of any and every Teacher who came to her for help.
But that put her squarely at odds with the agendas of two powerful forces whose headquarters are not located that far apart.
"52" this, "52 that". You say potato- I'll say tomato.
What's the difference between them. Let's wake up and smell the coffee and call the whole thing off.
A pox on both their houses.
And a woman who was the best friend NYC Teachers ever had was very ill treated by people who never learned that there is such a thing as the word "Decency".

September 17, 2010 3:51 AM

Anonymous said...

I am an NYC teacher who has never met Betsy Combier and know of her amazing work only through teacher blogs. Her heroism comes through every time. If there is ANY way we, the union members, can help her now, please let us know. If she needs economic assistance (due to bogus firing), I will personally contribute and fund-raise for her! We heart Betsy!

September 18, 2010 1:11 PM