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Monday, March 31, 2014

Dan Weisberg: Dont Pay All Teachers The Same


How to keep great teachers

Retain the best.
There aren’t many things in life you can count on, but here’s one: Whenever it’s time for the city to negotiate a new contract with the United Federation of Teachers, the union will sound the alarm about teachers fleeing to the suburbs because of low salaries.
So it came as no surprise when, earlier this month, amid news that the two sides have begun working on a deal, the UFT released a report warning of a “mass exodus” of teachers in recent years, especially to suburban schools, and suggesting that the only solution is a big, across-the-board raise.
But there’s a big hole in the union’s logic. It turns out that the vast majority of the city’s 75,000-plus teachers actually aren’t going to the suburbs — or anywhere else, for that matter.
In 2012, my organization studied teacher retention in New York and three other large urban districts, and found that the city actually keeps close to 90% of its teachers every year and over 90% of its senior teachers. The UFT’s own report found virtually no turnover among the most experienced teachers, and asserted that only 12% of teachers who leave before retirement end up teaching in the suburbs (allegedly because of better salaries and working conditions, although the union offered no data to support that theory).
More importantly, the UFT isn’t asking the crucial question about teacher retention: Are the teachers who are leaving the ones we want to keep?
It’s a tragedy when a great teacher leaves a school, but research tells us that same school would actually be better off when a consistently ineffective teacher leaves. When you are retaining 90% of your teachers, what matters isn’t just how many teachers are leaving, but which teachers are leaving. Focusing on the overall retention rate without regard to performance is a little like reviewing a book based on its word count, instead of whether you enjoyed reading it.
Viewed on these terms, the city really does appear to have a teacher retention problem. Our research found that the city loses almost half of its very best teachers — ones so good that they are nearly impossible to replace — within the first five years of their careers.
At the same time, it keeps nearly all of its least effective teachers, leading to a situation where thousands of teachers in the city with more than seven years of experience struggle to get the same results as the average rookie teacher.
The good news is that Mayor de Blasio has said he wants to make retaining the city’s top teachers a “personal crusade.” But to deliver on that commitment, he will need to push the UFT to accept some major changes in the new teachers’ contract.
Consider teacher salaries. The UFT’s priority is ensuring the same treatment — and the same raises — for all its members, as though one teacher is as good as any other. However, if the goal is keeping more great teachers in the city’s classrooms, giving the same raise to everyone isn’t the best use of scarce taxpayer dollars.
Instead, the city should provide especially large increases for the group that is leaving too soon: outstanding teachers who are in the first five years of their careers. These teachers have a proven track record of success in the classroom but are earning $60,000 a year or less. A substantial raise could convince them to stay longer than they might otherwise.
We’ve seen that happen in cities like Washington, where the best teachers can earn six-figure salaries early in their careers. We found that almost none of D.C.’s best teachers leave over dissatisfaction with their compensation, whereas low pay was one of the top three reasons why great teachers leave New York City.
The city could afford larger raises for outstanding early-career teachers by giving smaller raises to veteran teachers — who are already making $80,000 or even $100,000 a year, and who rarely leave before they reach retirement age regardless of their salary — and to early-career teachers who haven’t yet become stars. The city can then lay the groundwork for ensuring that high-performing veterans receive future increases that recognize their extraordinary talent and experience.
De Blasio will have to do some hard bargaining with the UFT to change the city’s one-size-fits-all teacher pay scale in the upcoming contract. But if he’s serious about helping schools hold on to more of their best teachers, he can’t let this opportunity pass him by.
Let’s hope he has the courage to do what it takes to solve the city’s real teacher retention crisis.
Weisberg is executive vice president of TNTP, a national nonprofit organization focused on effective teaching. He formerly served as chief executive of labor policy at the city’s Department of Education.
Dan Weisberg

Teacher Shaunte Penniston Says That Principal Antonio K'Tori Harassed Her At PS 15

File under "Principals From Hell"

Betsy Combier
Shaunte Penniston
Teacher says she was harassed in school
Shaunte Penniston claims principal made advances and threatened her
Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 2:14 pm, Thu Mar 27, 2014.
Shaunte Penniston was excited for her interview to be a special education teacher at PS 15 in Springfield Gardens.
She arrived at the school and met with principal Antonio K’Tori and was invited to work as a teacher beginning on February 27, 2012.
According to Penniston, that’s when the problems started.
She claims during the week before classes would start, K’Tori, having known that Penniston had previously been married, entered her classroom and asked in a “flirtatious tone” if she was ever planning to get married again.
“He told me that we would be spending a lot of time with one another after school hours and that I shouldn’t get too close to certain teachers while I was working here,” Penniston said.
On the first day of school, Penniston said, K’Tori made an advance at her again by stopping a student in the hall and telling the child that she was pretty and asking if the student agreed.
“He also told me that he had the power to make my time there miserable but if I did what I was supposed to, I’d be fine,” she said.
The alleged advances continued and Penniston said she rebuffed each one. At the end of the year, K’Tori issued her a “D” or “doubtful” rating in her year-end review.
“He had never even sat in on one of my classes,” Penniston said. “There is no way he could have known what was going on in my class.”
Having since left PS 15, Penniston filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education and K’Tori for sexual harassment.
“When I wouldn’t take him up on his advances, he began threatening me,” she said. “And he had several teachers on his side, some of whom were romantically involved with him, who did everything he asked of them.”
The teacher claimed that in June 2012 K’Tori threw paper at her and in March 2012, in the presence of lead instructional specialist Renee Holstein and guidance counselor Eileen Ruzzolino, he said Penniston had no power because “she is a woman and that he had all the power because he is a man.”
Penniston’s lawsuit against K’Tori and the DOE was filed July 29, 2013. Vincent White, one of the attorneys handling Penniston’s case, said the lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, which can go on for more than a year and a half. That period involves gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses. White, who is part of the Jackson Heights-based law firm White, Ricotta & Marks, which deals with legal issues involving the workplace, said cases like Penniston’s are not uncommon, but that “in her case, it’s pretty extreme.”
White said the problem goes beyond the principal to the entire administration right up to the DOE, which he says is complicit.
“They forge this little kingdom inside the DOE and they think they can do what they want,” he said. “There are laws, and they have to be followed.”
Several years ago, the DOE, which reportedly called K’Tori “arrogant” and “self-centered,” unsuccessfully tried to fire him. The department would not respond to requests to comment on the principal or Penniston’s lawsuit.
While still employed at PS 15, Penniston went to District 29’s representative to the United Federation of Teachers, Joyce Schwartz, in June 2012. Two months later Schwartz and Penniston met with UFT special representative Sharon Ripley and Rona Frasier, director of the UFT’s Queens office. The three union officials were not surprised by the allegations and the lawsuit alleges that they knew Penniston’s looks were K’Tori’s “type.” Penniston requested a transfer from PS 15, saying that she was concerned for her safety.
Frasier made a phone call on her behalf and later returned to the meeting to say the transfer request was denied, Penniston said. The reps also informed her of further steps she could take toward ending the situation.
Penniston returned to PS 15 and received her assignments one week after the meeting.
“I’m bringing this forward because I don’t want this happening to another teacher and I want to be able to teach again,” Penniston said. “He took away that part of my life and I want that back. I love teaching, I always have, but what he did really had an affect on me.”
No one at PS 15, including K’Tori, would comment on the matter.

Boss ‘hot for teacher’

A Queens teacher has accused her boss, a veteran principal, of sexually harassing her on the job, The Post has learned.
PS 15 chief Antonio K’Tori — whom the Department of Education blasted as “arrogant” and “self-centered” when it unsuccessfully tried to fire him years ago — was accused of making inappropriate advances toward Shaunte Penniston, according to a complaint the 30-year-old teacher filed with the state’s Division of Human Rights last month.
In the complaint, Penniston said her new boss called her “pretty” and applauded her pending divorce and demanded that she abandon her social life to work late nights and weekends with him since she came to the Springville Gardens school in February. She claims that when she told him she couldn’t attend an evening school function because of prior obligations, K’Tori insisted, “Whatever little black dress you were going to wear to that event, you need to wear to mine.”
Penniston alleges that because she wouldn’t succumb to his advances, she was given two negative ratings without ever being observed in the classroom.
K’Tori , who works long hours and has been both celebrated and criticized for his work heading up three public schools since 1996, initially told The Post he was “unaware” of the recent claim against him.He then said he had been asked not to comment but that he had heard about the complaint. “I work at a job where people like to say and do many things,” he said by phone.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rye Teacher Carin Mehler Sues For $1 Million After Being Placed On Administrative Leave Which Destroyed Her Reputation

Rye teacher sues district, board for $1 millionLINK

RYE – A teacher who was put on administrative leave for "testing irregularities" almost a year ago is suing the district — and several board members individually — for sullying her reputation and keeping her off her job.

Carin Mehler, a tenured fourth-grade teacher at Osborn Elementary School, claims in the $1 million lawsuit that, by not filing any charges against her, the district is trying to coerce her into admitting a wrongful act.

In the suit, filed in White Plains federal court Wednesday, Mehler also alleges that she has been "warned" to stay away from Osborn Elementary School, where her daughter is a student.

Mehler was one of four teachers to be placed on administrative leave for improper coaching during the state assessment tests in April.

Shannon Gold, a fourth-grade teacher at Milton Elementary School, resigned from the district in January. Gail Topol, a third-grade teacher at Osborn, returned to the classroom in February after paying a fine of $2,500 and converting 27 days of her administrative reassignment to a paid suspension.

Shortly after the agreement with Topol, Trustee Ed Fox said the settlement could be construed as a "sweetheart deal" due to Topol's lawyer's connection with school board President Laura Slack. Slack's husband, Richard, was appointed to the Rye City Council by the lawyer's husband, new Mayor Joseph Sack, in January.

Fox is the only board member who is not being sued by Mehler.

No agreement has been reached with Dana Coppola, a third-grade teacher at Milton, who was recently reassigned to central administrative offices, leaving Mehler to work alone "in a rubber room."

Meanwhile, Jaime Zung, president of the Rye Teacher's Association, in a letter to the school board and Schools Superintendent Frank Alvarez, talks about others teachers in the district seeing Mehler's situation as akin to being in "solitary confinement."

"It is becoming more and more difficult, after almost a year has gone by, for us to continue to remain silent," wrote Zung. "As teachers and colleagues, none of us believe that either of these ladies has done anything wrong."

Arthur Schwartz, the attorney who represents both Mehler and Coppola, said the teachers want nothing more than to go back to their classrooms.

"They are trying to coerce them into some sort of admission of wrongdoing, and make a deal," Schwartz said. "The reason the district doesn't want to charge them and have a hearing is because they don't have a case."

Schwartz said Coppola was "considering her options."

The school district, meanwhile, claimed the lawsuit was designed to coerce the board.

"The board's perspective is that claims set forth are without merit and are designed to coerce the board to ignore the allegations and return the teacher to the classroom. The board has acted in full compliance with state law and/or regulations throughout the teacher investigation matter and, as the public is aware, progress on this matter has been evidenced through the two settlements reached earlier this year," reads a statement. "While counsel for this plaintiff may be frustrated at the lack of resolution to date, we find it grossly irresponsible to have taken the extreme position of filing an illogical and baseless claim."

In January, after eight months without a resolution to the cases, the board signed extended contracts with four leave-replacement teachers for the rest of the school year.

The district has said the total salary of the leave-replacement teachers for one semester is $136,417. A second-semester contract until the end of the school year was signed in January.

According to salaries reported by the state Teachers Retirement System, in 2012-13, the suspended teachers' annual salaries were: Mehler, $125,683; Gold, $86,601; Topol, $126,409, and Coppola, $123,737.

Schwartz said that by dragging the case on, the board was "using taxpayer money for saving their face."

Twitter: @SwapnaVenugopal

Parents Speak Out Against Elementary Teacher Reassignments in Rye

Parents and students say they are frustrated and upset that four teachers have been removed from classrooms at Milton and Osborn Schools amidst allegations they helped their students cheat on state assessments.

A young mother in tears said that her eight-year-old daughter never wanted to return to school during last week's Rye City School District Board of Education meeting.
“Mommy, did I make my teacher go away?” the mother said her daughter asked.
The daughter was one of several students who were questioned about the behavior of their teachers during recent state testing, the mother said. After the children were questioned, the teacher was reassigned, which caused her daughter to feel responsible, guilty and confused, she told the board.
“My daughter doesn’t want to come back to school again. She feels responsible for what happened,” the mother said.  Later in the meeting, a father said his child felt the same way.
Rye parents have been writing letters, signing petitions and speaking out in public against the Rye City School District’s reaction to allegations that four elementary school teachers “improperly coached” their students on state assessments this April. While the district will not confirm the names of the reassigned teachers, Osborn School teacher Carin Mehler was mentioned many times by parents who commended her teaching. The Rye Sound Shore Review identified Osborn teacher Gail Topol and Milton teacher Dana Coppola as the other teachers who were reassigned on May 7, the day after someone reported the alleged cheating to the district. The district confirmed a fourth teacher from Milton school was also reassigned since then due to the same allegations. That person’s name has also not been released. All four teachers have been reassigned with pay while the State Department of Education investigates the allegations.
Superintendent Frank Alvarez said no one has been accused but the district is required to report any allegations of improprieties to the State Department of Education. The district also sent a letter detailing the allegations to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office in late May, and they are investigating the matter.
Since the allegations were made, the district has questioned children with their parents present or with parental consent, with the exception of the daughter of the mother who was in tears over the situation at the meeting, according to Alvarez.
Parents questioned why the district had to reassign the teachers with only a month left of school and told detailed stories about how the particular people involved have been great teachers to their children.
A mother who has worked as a school psychologist has worked on gathering signatures on a petition asking for the Osborn teachers to be reinstated by Sept. 9, 2013.
 “The teacher saved my son Zachery’s life,” she said.
She and other parents said they heard the teachers would not be doing their children’s placements for next year or their report cards. Alvarez said that was not true and arrangements have been made for the reassigned teachers to complete their students’ report cards and placements. He also denied that anyone told children that their teacher’s were gravely ill, another claim that was made during the last Board of Education meeting.
“We are as troubled as many of you about these allegations and concerned for the disturbance it has had in our schools,” Alvarez said.
When pressed about whether the allegations required the district to remove the teachers from the classroom with about seven weeks of school left in the year, BOE President Laura Slack said she understood the frustration parents felt over the district’s inability to release more information but that school officials are not allowed to answer that question because it was a personnel matter.
“We have great faith in our teachers and we have great faith in our school administrators. We need to allow the investigation to proceed so we can get to the truth,” Alvarez said. “They are only allegations, we are not accusing the teachers of anything.”
The teachers are still reassigned while the investigation continues, according to the district spokesperson.
Also at the meeting, parents complained about the substitute teachers, claiming their students had not been learning anything since their original teachers were reassigned. Alvarez said that was not what he understood to be the case but that they would look into the matter.
*Editor's Note: The article has been changed from its original version to reflect that the DA's office is investigating the allegations.

Rye teachers still in limbo over testing flap after five months; no scores for students

October 15, 2013
RYE — A lawyer for two of four Rye teachers who were removed from their classrooms in May amid allegations of improper coaching says inaction by the Board of Education is preventing the teachers from establishing their innocence and returning to school.
Five months after the elementary school teachers were placed on administrative reassignment for “testing irregularities” during the April state tests — based on the new Common Core learning standards — the school board has yet to press charges. That means the teachers can’t demand a hearing.
“It has been hanging like a dark cloud over their heads,” said lawyer Arthur Schwartz. “The teachers want to go back to their classrooms.”
Legally, the board has six months to make a determination, said Schwartz.
Earlier this week, parents of students from the four classrooms learnedthat their children will not be receiving the results of the state assessments.
“The state Education Department has deemed all scores associated with the four teachers invalid,” Schools Superintendent Frank Alvarez wrote in a letter to parents.
The case is also under investigation by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.
Schwartz is representing Carin Mehler, a fourth-grade teacher at Osborn Elementary School, and Dana Coppola, a third-grade teacher at Milton Elementary School. The other two teachers are Gail Topol, who teaches third grade at Osborn, and Shannon Gold, who teaches fourth grade at Milton.
“They (the teachers) are very upset. Mrs. Mehler has a child in the school where she was teaching, and that is causing her additional stress,” said Schwartz. “They believe the allegations are from one parent who was concerned their child would do too well, and wouldn’t be eligible for special services they were seeking from the district.”
Alvarez said he couldn’t discuss details of the case.
“This matter continues to be an ongoing investigation,” the superintendent said. “As it is a personnel matter, the district is precluded from discussing details. We will share information as able and when a resolution is reached.”
The district sent out a letter to the community May 24 saying it had been informed of a possible “testing irregularity” by a parent.
“As soon as this allegation was brought to the district’s attention, district officials immediately filed a report with the state Education Department and began an internal investigation on May 7,” it said.
While that letter said “a” parent prompted the investigation, school board President Laura Slack said during a Sep. 10 meeting that “several parents and children came forward with allegations regarding the administration of the tests.”
“The district conducted a preliminary investigation and found enough reason to believe the allegations are sufficiently credible,” Slack said.
Parents have been a constant presence at school board meetings since May, defending the well-liked, longtime teachers and criticizing the district’s handling of the case. A petition started by Osborne parents asking the district to reinstate their teachers has more than 117 signatures.
Many parents say the district mishandled the investigation by improperly questioning 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds weeks after the tests were administered.
“My child felt extremely responsible,” said Caroline Logan. “The children were all confused about why their teacher was pulled out suddenly and if it was because of something they said.”
Logan said the district was not forthcoming with reasons for interviewing the children, and that parents were led to believe it was going to be only about the new tests.
Others bemoan the additional tax burden of supporting four leave replacements while the teachers continue to get paid their full salary.
“The board should either file charges or drop the investigation, so the tax money of Rye residents is not spent without ground,” said Boukje van den Bosch-Smits, whose daughter was in Mehler’s class. “There is no allegation of actual cheating. And remember, it was the decision of the district to have teachers proctoring their own classes.”
Shelley Karlen, a retired teacher who currently doesn’t have children in the district, said it was impossible to come to a fair conclusion on the investigation based on the testimony of elementary school kids.
“What do they call helping? Is telling third graders how to fill in the bubble sheet cheating?,” asked Karlen. “There is a level of fear with the new testing. The administration was grandstanding by calling the Westchester DA, and to me, it smacks of a witch hunt.”
Last month, the Peekskill school district settled with three of four guidance counselors who were accused of handing out credits to students for phony courses. A fourth counselor resigned earlier this year and was not part of the settlement. The transcript scandal broke in January when school officials said at least 34 seniors received credits for a “co-op” class, which was discontinued years ago. Both the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the state Education Department are investigating the case.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

CRAIN'S Attacks the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool

Oh boy, did Crain's article on the "Rubber Room" rub me the wrong way. Rance (Crain) did not pursue good journalism in the article in his publication, CRAIN'S New York Business, re-posted below. Rance and I met many years ago at a fund-raising event held for our alma mater, Northwestern University.

First, the "Absent-Teacher-Reserve" is not a "rubber-room". ATRs are tenured teachers who have been put into a substitute teacher position because (1) their school closed; (2) a 3020-a Arbitrator decided not to terminate; (3) a principal or administrator decided to move him/her out for any number of reasons.

A rubber room is what I've studied for 12 years.  The "Rubber Room", really  8 rooms or floors set aside in buildings rented by the Department of Education, were warehouses holding tenured and probationary teachers and Assistant Principals who were dumped when someone made an allegation of either misconduct or incompetent service against them. Before I worked for the UFT (2007-2010) and until today, I visited these rooms (all of them) and have spoken to the people placed outside of their tenured positions.

The most outrageous thing is, and something the article does say which is the truth, is that the UFT went along with this denial of rights all these years without a peep. The article below makes me think that in the contract negotiations being held right now behind closed doors, of course, are discussions about the bizarre and embarrassing policy of putting tenured teachers out of their career path without warning and without any rule, regulation or law.

And, for the author of this article to make a nexus between ATRs and "incompetent colleagues lingering on the public dole" is truly an insult to all the fine people I know in the ATR pool.

This is simply bad journalism. So sorry, Rance.

Betsy Combier

Rubber room must hit the road

More than 1,000 city teachers get full pay, benefits—but don't work.

Attention over the city government's expired labor contracts has focused on how much the new deals will cost taxpayers. To be sure, that is important: The total dollar figure will be in the billions and is certain to exhaust the city's hard-earned surplus.
But settling on an amount might be the easy part. A far more complicated imperative is modernizing the agreements so the city has flexibility to manage its workforce efficiently. The old contracts, which remain in effect, are plagued by obscure rules and worker protections that no longer make sense, if they ever did. They also add expense, leaving less money for wages. In some cases, they sow distrust between labor and management. Both sides stand to benefit from reform.
The poster child for nonsensical job protection is something called the absent-teacher reserve, also known as the "rubber room." It consists of more than 1,000 teachers who earn full salaries and benefits but lack school assignments. It emerged after the Bloomberg administration in 2005 ended an inane practice by which teachers could claim positions in schools of their choosing by bumping junior colleagues, who would in turn do the same to other co-workers, and so on. (The old "forced placement" system resulted in veteran teachers migrating to the best schools while the least experienced were pushed into the neediest and most dysfunctional.)
The United Federation of Teachers consented to the current system, in which teachers interview for positions and principals hire them—you know, like in the Real World. But the union insisted that tenured teachers be allowed to stay on the payroll even if no principal wanted them. This cohort grew over time and now sucks up nearly $150 million a year while providing no meaningful instruction. Without financial incentive to seek placement at a school, most of these folks don’t even try.
The de Blasio administration and the UFT must end this madness by limiting the time that unplaced teachers are paid. Unfortunately, tenure is considered a third rail by union leaders. But they ought to realize that their hardworking rank-and-file members have no sympathy for incompetent colleagues lingering on the public dole.
Fixing the absent-teacher reserve would be a breakthrough that leads to others, both in the UFT deal and in the nearly 150 additional expired contracts. It would send a clear signal that logic and the common good, not outdated sinecures for the undeserving, shall carry the city and its workers forward.
A version of this article appears in the March 31, 2014, print issue of Crain's New York Business.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mayor Blaz: We Will Hire "Good" Teachers

The bizarre debate continues on "Who is a good teacher". In NYC, a "good" teacher is a person who lies, cheats and steals if and when a principal/supervisor asks him/her to do so, and then says nothing.

Betsy Combier

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks before the congregants of the Riverside Church about his vision for
New York City's schools on March 23, 2014

Bill de Blasio vows to keep good NYC teachers

Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday said he has made it his "personal crusade" to help the city attract and retain good teachers, echoing concerns posed by the United Federation of Teachers as it negotiates a new contract with his administration.
De Blasio highlighted the issue in a WNYC-FM interview, saying: "I'm going to make this a personal crusade that we really focus on attracting the best teachers, continuing to train them and keeping them in our school system," he said.
"Of all the things that could affect the future of education in our city, this is one of the most central," de Blasio said.
The 200,000-member UFT has been working under an expired contract since 2009. It is one of the largest of the approximately 150 bargaining units in the city clamoring for a collective $7 billion in retroactive raises, and so its contract terms may help set the stage for other union talks with the city.
UFT president Michael Mulgrew Monday would not detail what progress the UFT had made in contract negotiations with the city, but said the mayor's remarks are "a recognition that both sides are talking about a reality inside of the schools. That's quite refreshing.
"It is nice to actually have an administration that respects you and will listen to your concern," Mulgrew said.
Better salaries and working conditions are key to keeping city-trained teachers from fleeing to Long Island and other suburban areas, he said.
The mayor also further extended an olive branch to the charter schools with whom he's been at odds.
He acknowledged he could have better communicated the criteria used last month to decide that three Success Academy charters cannot share space with other schools in public buildings owned by the city.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mayor Blaz Must Define What the "Public Interest" Is When He Deals With Union Contract Negotiations

The answer is, "who's paying?"

I hear that there is a 2% raise for 10 years and no retroactive pay on the table.
Betsy Combier

 A better deal for kids

Mayor de Blasio must win gains for students in his negotiations with the teachers union

Sunday, March 23, 2014, 4:05 AM


The most consequential municipal labor negotiations in decades are challenging Mayor de Blasio to win contracts that serve the public interest — nowhere more importantly than in the schools.

Facing demands for more than $7 billion in back pay from unsettled contracts, including $3.2 billion by the United Federation of Teachers, the mayor is reportedly discussing a nine-year deal with UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

The contract would stretch back to 2009 and forward to 2018 in order to spread out raises. This is dangerous business that will critically shape de Blasio’s term and chart the course for educating 1.1 million students.

Neither the mayor not the taxpayers can afford to pay billions for raises without equal cost savings. As one example, de Blasio is looking to reduce the ballooning cost of employee health care coverage. He must succeed.

At the same time, de Blasio must win teacher contract reforms that empower the chancellor and principals to raise achievement levels. A deal that tinkers or locks in the status quo for another four years will be unacceptable.

The new bargain must treat teachers as professionals — worthy of rewards when they excel and held accountable when they fail. It must also retire the notion that teachers are entitled to lifetime employment even when the massive system has no jobs for them.

Absent Teacher Reserve

In 2005, the city and UFT made a breakthrough: No longer would teachers be forced on unwilling principals on the basis of seniority. Instead, principals got the power to choose the best applicants.

This gave birth to the ATR, a pool of roughly 1,200 educators who lost jobs due to school closings, budget cuts or poor performance — and were unable or unwilling to find new positions anywhere throughout the schools. They cost taxpayers an estimated $100 million a year.

Wisely, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said last week, “There will be no forced placement of staff” — which must be an iron-clad guarantee that she will not in any way undermine a principal’s discretion over hiring.

The solution is simple: Set a hard cap of one year in the ATR. If a teacher fails to land a position by then, the teacher is gone.

Rescuing terrible schools

De Blasio and Fariña have ruled out the Bloomberg strategy of shuttering and reconstituting miserable schools. They will soon discover that nothing defines a school like its leader and instructors — and the city needs the power to overhaul instructional staff to reform failure factories.

Assuming the mayor and chancellor continue to forbid school closings, they must gain the power to remake troubled schools from top to bottom by replacing personnel. The chancellor must be able to remove principals, whose replacements must then have full authority to choose their teams.

Pay for performance

New York City teachers earn more based on two factors that are irrelevant to achievement: seniority and graduate education credits. Classroom performance doesn’t matter, nor does serving in a high-need school or filling a shortage in subjects like math or science.

De Blasio needs to strike a hard bargain to ensure that teachers, and especially promising young teachers, have financial incentives to stay.

Newark’s contract is a good model for him to follow. Teachers whose performance ranks in the bottom quarter are barred from raises. Those in the top quarter are guaranteed boosts.

Teacher evaluations

De Blasio must hold firm on the system for evaluating teacher performance that is only beginning to come online. Strengthening it would be better.

Streamlined management

Running to 165 numbing pages, the contract defines the lowest common denominator rather than paving a path to excellence.

It is full of language such as: “Teachers at all levels must select a professional or administrative activity in accordance with this section and the provisions of Article 7U (Professional Activity Assignment Procedures). Except as described in paragraph d below, this provision shall not create an additional teaching period . . .”

The complexity creates administrative nightmares, infantilizes teachers and is a yoke around the school system’s neck.

NYC Students' Suicides Shock The City and Must Bring Change In Dealing With Troubled Youth

Kids are in pain. In New York City's public schools, the way the Department of Education deals with kids in pain is to punish them. And, punish their parents as well for allowing their kids to remain in a troubled state. It's all the parents' fault.

I know all about this, as a parent advocate for suspended students and for special needs children who are not getting the services and support that they need to succeed and reach their personal bests. The purpose of Superintendent Suspensions as they are currently run by TWEED (NYC Department of Education headquarters) is to throw out any child of any age who is African-American and/or has an IEP or Individualized Education Plan and take their money (for service providers, OT, PT, counseling, etc.) . Kids who need help are thrown into alternative education centers where they are neglected and deliberately ignored, for any length of time convenient for a school principal. The person I know best who does this is African-American herself: Manhattan Suspension Hearing Office Head Shirley Rowe. I have been writing about her since 2006 on my website Here is one of my articles:
NYC Booker T. Washington Principal Dr. Elana Elster and her AP Bertha Mcgee (or McGhee) Racially Discriminate Among Their Students and Practice Disability Harassment
The problem is that race and disability harassment at the DOE is rampant, random and discriminatory. And if anyone wants me to testify about my 16-year documentation of this, just ask.

When you are a young person and cannot find anyone who will hear your troubles and you are in pain, you hurt yourself or others. C'mon, folks, we gotta change this. Fast.

Betsy Combier

10 NYC schoolchildren have committed suicide in 2014

, March 23, 2014

The city’s public schools are in the grip of a suicide epidemic.
Ten students have taken their own lives in the past seven weeks, according to remarks made Saturday by Chancellor Carmen Fariña (pictured above)
“As chancellor, I’ve been on the job seven weeks, and there have already been 10 reported suicides. We cannot allow those,” she told 250 new principals at Stuyvesant HS during a private meeting.
“I get those e-mails all the time. And it makes me heartsick.”
The tragic statistic — which amounts to more than one suicide per week — has not been released publicly. The Post obtained a recording of Fariña’s address.
None of the suicides occurred on school property, Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said later Saturday. She could not immediately provide the ages or schools of the children.
The only suicide publicly reported was the heartbreaking death on Feb. 13 of 15-year-old Jayah Shaileya Ram-Jackson.
A gifted student at the NEST+m school on the Lower East Side, Jayah leaped from the roof of her grandmother’s 27-story apartment building on the Upper West Side.
“At least eight people have told me they want me to kill myself in the past two days,” the girl wrote on Facebook a month before.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Probationary Teacher Loses U-Rating Appeal (2010)

The First Department does not agree that a probationary teacher may sue under Section 1983 and "Stigma Plus" claims in order to overturn a U-rating

Kahn v New York City Dept. of Educ.
2010 NY Slip Op 09168 [79 AD3d 521]
December 14, 2010
Appellate Division, First Department
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
As corrected through Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Leslie Kahn, Respondent,
New York City Department of Education et al., Appellants.
[*1] Michael A. Cardozo, Corporation Counsel, New York (Julian L. Kalkstein of counsel), for appellants. New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York (Adriana C. PiÑon of counsel), for respondent. James R. Sandner, New York (Wendy M. Star of counsel), for New York State United Teachers, amicus curiae. Charity M. Guerra, Brooklyn, for Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, amicus curiae.
Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Alice Schlesinger, J.), entered on or about September 8, 2009, which denied respondents' motion to dismiss the petition, unanimously reversed, on the law, without costs, and the motion granted.
Petitioner challenges the termination of her probationary employment as a social worker, and asserts due process claims pursuant to 42 USC § 1983. She began working for the Department of Education in February 2005 as a social worker, spending 2½ years at Williamsburg High School. In July 2007 she switched to Khalil Gibran International Academy, where respondent Salzberg, as Interim Acting Principal, gave her a rating of unsatisfactory in an evaluation on December 19, 2007. Two days later, the Superintendent wrote to petitioner, denying her a certification of completion of probation, and advising that her service would be terminated effective January 25, 2008, and that she was entitled to administrative review under the collective bargaining agreement.
Petitioner proceeded with an administrative appeal on January 3, 2008. Following an administrative hearing, the Department of Education, by letter dated May 9, reaffirmed the denial of petitioner's certification of completion of probation. On or about September 9, 2008, [*2]petitioner commenced this proceeding.
Petitioner's claims, which are equitable in nature, are not barred by her failure to file a notice of claim pursuant to Education Law § 3813 (1), which is only required when money damages are sought (Ruocco v Doyle, 38 AD2d 132 [1972]).
However, her claims are time-barred. A petition to challenge the termination of probationary employment on substantive grounds must be brought within four months of the effective date of termination (see CPLR 217 [1]; Matter of Andersen v Klein, 50 AD3d 296 [2008]; Matter of Lipton v New York City Bd. of Educ., 284 AD2d 140 [2001]). The time to commence such a proceeding is not extended by the petitioner's pursuit of administrative remedies (Matter of Strong v New York City Dept. of Educ., 62 AD3d 592 [2009], lv denied 14 NY3d 704 [2010]). Petitioner failed to commence this proceeding within four months of the effective date of her termination. Although the notice of termination was procedurally defective in that she was not given the requisite 60 days' prior notice of discontinuance, as required by Education Law § 2573 (1) (a), that defect does not invalidate the discontinuance or render the statute of limitations inapplicable; at best, it would have entitled petitioner to additional back pay, had she served a notice of claim and sought money damages (see Matter of Pascal v Board of Educ. of City School Dist. of City of N.Y., 100 AD2d 622, 624 [1984]).
Nor does petitioner have a valid claim for deprivation of civil rights under 42 USC § 1983. Such a claim requires an allegation that the proponent was deprived of a property or liberty interest without due process of law (see Ciambriello v County of Nassau, 292 F3d 307, 313 [2d Cir 2002]). A probationary teacher does not have a property right in his or her position (see Pinder v City of New York, 49 AD3d 280 [2008]; Donato v Plainview-Old Bethpage Cent. School Dist., 96 F3d 623, 629-630 [2d Cir 1996], cert denied 519 US 1150 [1997]). The process provided for in the collective bargaining agreement did not create such an interest (see Sealed v Sealed, 332 F3d 51, 56 [2d Cir 2003]). Moreover, petitioner was not deprived of a liberty interest by the "stigma" arising from allegations of poor work performance. To establish such a "stigma plus" claim, a petitioner must prove "some action by the [agency] imposing a tangible and material burden, and . . . [the] utterance of a false statement that damaged his reputation in connection with the burdensome action" (O'Connor v Pierson, 426 F3d 187, 195 [2d Cir 2005]). While Salzberg's accusations against petitioner may "go to the heart of [petitioner's] professional competence and damage her professional reputation to such an extent as to severely impede her ability to continue in the education field in a supervisory capacity" (Donato, 96 F3d at 633), [*3]petitioner's "stigma plus" claim is defeated by the availability of a post-termination administrative hearing (see Segal v City of New York, 459 F3d 207 [2d Cir 2006]). Concur—Tom, J.P., Saxe, Moskowitz, DeGrasse and Abdus-Salaam, JJ.

Eva Moskowitz' Charter School Empire Throws Special Needs Students Out, Tapes Reveal

I still have a question which no one has ever answered. When my youngest daughter was at NEST+M on Houston Street, we heard that Eva Moskowitz' son was going to be attending. Why did Eva give NEST+M $250,000 when she left City Council? And then her son was given a seat in NEST+M. Why did she not give him a seat in her charter kingdom? How was the money donated to NEST+M, and where was it used (or whose pocket did it end up in?)

Betsy Combier

Eva Moskowitz founded the Success Academy charter school in the upper West Side, which
prides itself on not pushing out students with special needs.


Success Academy parent's secret tapes reveal attempt to push out special needs student

The Upper West Side Success Academy charter school has touted itself for not trying to push out kids with special needs or behavior problems, but a parent has audio to the contrary.

Friday, August 30, 2013, 2:30 AM

Call them the charter school tapes.

The parent of a special education kindergarten pupil at the Upper West Side Success Academy charter school secretly tape recorded meetings in which school administrators pressed her to transfer her son back into the public school system.

The tapes, a copy of which the mother supplied the Daily News, poke a hole in claims by the fast-growing Success Academy chain founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that it doesn’t try to push out students with special needs or behavior problems.

Nancy Zapata said she resorted to the secret tapes last December and again in March after school officials used their “zero tolerance” discipline policy to repeatedly suspend her son, Yael, kept telephoning her at work to pick him up from school in the middle of the day and urged her to transfer him.

The News reported earlier this week that the Success network, which boasts some of the highest test scores in the city, also has far higher suspension rates than other elementary schools and that more than two dozen parents were claiming efforts to push their children out.

“There was a point when I was getting a call every day for every minor thing,” Zapata said. “They would say he was crying excessively, or not looking straight forward, or throwing a tantrum, or not walking up the stairs fast enough, or had pushed another kid.”

What school officials did not do, Zapata said, was provide the kind of special education services that her son’s individual educational plan, or IEP, requires.

That plan calls for daily speech therapy and occupational therapy for Yael. It also requires him to be placed in a smaller class, one staffed by both a regular teacher and a special education teacher.

At one point in the tapes, a Success official can be heard telling Zapata:

“We’re technically out of compliance because we aren’t able to meet what his IEP recommends for him.”

Asked about those remarks, a Success official would only say both the School District’s Special Education Committee and Success Academy now believe Yael should be transferred to a District 75 special education school.


In the tapes, however, another Success administrator is heard acknowledging that Yael’s tantrums are related to his speech disability.

“He is getting really frustrated when people can’t understand what he’s communicating, and you can’t blame him for that,” the administrator tells Zapata.

In a second meeting, the mother asks why Success admitted her son through a lottery but is not providing him all the services he needs.

“If they have those special education needs, you’re absolutely right that they need to be fulfilled,” an official replies, but then quickly adds that the network doesn’t offer smaller special ed classes in kindergarten.

“We will help them find the [appropriate] DOE placement,” the official says.

In other words, lottery or not, kindergarten kids like Yael who need smaller classes should find a public school that has one.

But Zapata has resisted the pressure to transfer her son.

When she accompanied him to the first day of school at Upper West Side Success last week, she was informed Yael will have to repeat kindergarten — the same grade that doesn’t have the special education class he needs.

“They’re trying to frustrate me enough to take him out,” Zapata said, “but I’m going to fight it.”