Why Francesco Portelos Won't Leave the Rubber Room
Posted by Daniel_Stuckey on Sunday, Nov 11, 2012
You might have seen the re-emergence of NYC Department of Education’s rubber rooms recently. The reassignment program — in which teachers are sent to indeterminate light-work/no-work purgatory in some empty room — long thought revoked by Bloomberg and the city’s teachers’ union apparently remains as hulkish a money pit as ever before. BothHuffington Post and New York Daily News cited a $22 million expenditure created by theDOE in maintaining payment of difficult and misbehaved staff it doesn’t seem to be able to terminate.
Many will thank Francesco Portelos, the disgruntled engineering teacher from Staten Island who used a livestream to expose that he — along with 217 other reassigned DOE employees — was still taking home his regular $75,000 salary to sit idly by for a mess of possible reasons. The DOE has told me he’s been "extremely difficult to work with, was transferred twice, and there are multiple investigations pending against him.”
So, while an aspect of this guy live-blogging from the rubber room first gripped me, I felt a mix of rage, pity, and admiration whenever I thought about him.
“Fuck this guy,” my mom and I concurred over the phone. He’s been there for six months, collecting his paychecks, rousing taxpayer outrage and then he makes that awful refrain, “the kids aren’t learning.” In the video he initially posted to expose the Ozone Park rubber room he was assigned at, the NYU Polytechnic graduate immediately unloads figures that beg to be multiplied, “… I’m 20 miles away from where I should be. 161 days ago, I was removed from my classroom.” That’s 3,220 miles and counting of Portelo’s commute to a desk where he furiously blogs about his predicament through a host of social media and his WordPress site, protectportelos.org.
I tried to interview Francesco off the bat, but then lost interest. I was definitely affected to his narrative, but convinced I’d be getting way too much of my own opinion in the way of a decent interview. I knew I’d get too hardball with him.
A couple nights ago, he asked if I wanted to follow up. I sat there looking at my phone, thinking the whole thing would turn tediously argumentative. I opted to a direct-message on Twitter, told him I had too much bias about his situation, and that I didn’t feel I’d be building on anything or going beyond the existing sensationalist tabloidatry [sic]. I asked him what a lot of people have asked me. “Why don’t you quit?” Our direct-messaging ensued thusly (keep in mind the applicable 140-character limit per message):
@MrPortelos: Dan, you pay taxes? This monster of a principal is using tax funds to cut herself blank checks with your tax dollars.
I can work anywhere. I can leave, but why? That’s the solution?
You contacted the DOE according to your article and they lied to you. Don’t follow up. It’s fine.
@danstuckey So what’s your role?
I don’t know, I admire the whole Emile Zola thing, but at the same time see little significance. You seem out-to-get-them…
More than interested in education. We all know NYC has a wacky school system, and it’s awful, yes, but I think your approach is bigheaded
Exposer, shaking things up. RR was dead issue for 2 years until I exposed it and now Walcott and Bloomberg talking about it. Maybe making…
Changes. Leaving is quitting and I don’t quit unless I’m wrong.
I didn’t wait months to say something. I’ve been blogging about it from day 1. I’m trying different approaches.
I’m still curious what your best-case scenario is?
Because your narrative is one of dispair, at least that’s what protectportelos seems to imply to me.
Do you know that I caught the AP frisking a girl & then was removed. They didn’t know I had video taped it with phone. AP was never removed.
Are DOE staff allowed to do that within reason? Is it in the charter?
Best case scenario…federal case allows for discovery, I unearth emails, docs that show corruption. People get arrested.
I move up to chancellor then mayor and you’re deputy mayor.
So you’re out to serve justice
Have you shared the video?
What do you mean a federal case would allow for discovery? Don’t you have these docs/vids?
She is an academic admin. Not supposed to put her hands down a girls shirt. http://t.co/RUOcSL9
Supposed to be on Huffington Post live tomorrow. Well see how that goes.
So, do you have video? This is a still
I’ve only shared the vid with DOE officials, mayor, Walcott, investigators. They only ignored it. Was holding off leaking to media.
I mean deposing the officials that have lied and sent countless teachers to rubber rooms, divorce, foreclosure… getting private emails etc
Well let me know when you want to share it. Have you shown it to Bill DeBlasio?
I asked the DOE if they’d seen this video or received allegations against the school’s principal for check fraud. A spokeswoman asked me if I could verify who the alleged stop and frisk assistant principal was, along with the principal. I relayed back to Portelos:
Who is the AP? DOE wants to check on investigation, now.
Oh now they do months later? Denise Diacomanolis. I believe Parent District coordinator Zulma Cruz has received complaints.
Are you going to link me the video, so I can embed it?
Waiting for green light from my attorney. I’ve made a lot of enemies inn very high places, so being careful.
And then I relayed this back to DOE spokeswoman who told me, “There are pending investigations into allegations against both Linda Hill and Denise Diacomanolis. For Linda Hill, I would characterize it as financial fraud rather than ‘writing blank checks.’”
It further seems that the DOE really lacks the necessary Donald Trump-power when it comes to pressing the red button and writing a pink slip. Of course, it wouldn’t be challenging to assume that terminated employees wouldn’t just then apply for money elsewhere. I’m thinking, “At least the DOE wouldn’t have to have its remarkably slow court-marshaling process.”
As the $22 million sloshes to and fro, gushing into a purgatory of teachers, faculty and staff who remain under investigation, I just contract and retract my thoughts on Portelos. Where will he go from this dreadful rubber room? How will he get his best-case scenario? More so, when will he teach, dammit?
Why is This NYC School Teacher Livestreaming From the Rubber Room?
Posted by Daniel_Stuckey on Friday, Oct 05, 2012
Francesco Portelos is a NYC teacher who, after having raised questions about budgeting at I.S. 49 Berta A. Dreyfus (a Staten Island school he’s been suspended from), is now taking viewers inside a rubber room he’s been stationed at. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Steven Brill published a lengthy account of NYC’s teacher reassignment centers in The New Yorker a few years ago, but the term refers to offices used by teachers that have been put on administrative leave from the classroom for one reason or another.
Portelos, apparently with plenty of free time on his hands after having been reassigned from his regular teaching duties, has taken to livestreaming his life inside one of the New York Department of Education’s alleged rubber rooms. I apologize if the screen is black, and the feed is off the air. It’s because Mr. Portelos has either gone home for the day or is busy eating lunch.
As any engineering teacher might, Francesco focuses on the absurd numbers surrounding his situation. With a $75,000 salary intact, he says that taxpayers should be enraged that his workday consists of commuting from Staten Island to the teacher reassignment center in Ozone Park, East Queens, where he pretty much just sits at a desk.
Stating he’s been there for 161 days (through the summer), Portelos asks viewers to “Google rubber rooms, you’ll see they were closed in 2010.” Portelos is probably referring to the NY Times article explaining Mayor Bloomberg’s and then-NYC DOE Chancellor Joel Klein’s intention to shut down the reassignment program that had 550 misbehaved teachers relocated to time out, a program that was costing the city $30 million.
I called NYC DOE for a comment, and their communications correspondent sent me the following:
All teachers who have been reassigned are working under supervision in an administrative capacity. Francesco Portelos has been extremely difficult to work with, was transferred twice, and there are multiple investigations pending against him. Please note that there are no “reassignment centers” or “rubber rooms.” We eliminated those years ago. Those who have been reassigned are sent to one of numerous DOE administrative offices throughout the city. We cannot commence disciplinary hearings until these investigations are complete. He is a tenured math teacher and began work in Aug 2007 at IS49 in Staten Island. He was reassigned April 2012.
So, this is either another example of New York tabloid sensationalism and a teacher misconstruing his new administrative post — if we take the DOE’s word for it — or, it’s really just some repackaging of the DOE’s PR on what to call a rubber room. In either case, the livestream is proof that there is at least one man in the DOE who’s scoring a healthy salary for doing pretty much zippo, and the fact that he’s still doing it despite his very public complaining is indicative of the incredible inertia within the DOE itself.
In any case, the situation has Francesco and other other hard-to-deal-with teachers sitting around, scratching their heads and not teaching. Not doing much of anything — beside blogging about wanting to teach again. As the steam bounces off the Queens reassignment center’s rubbery walls, will conversations surrounding old-fashioned education politics now mature? From typical media and community speculation, will expository psychological narratives like this now touch us in a new, 2.0 type of way? Does anyone care if a teacher rants into the Internet after being kicked out of the classroom? These are all questions I hope Jim Lehrer might ask.