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Saturday, April 9, 2016

The 3020-a Arbitration Newswire: Digging Up The Garbage on the Vouchers Paid To Arbitrators

Welcome to the new series I am starting on the garbage that I have seen at New York City's 3020-a hearings which I have spent 13 years studying and researching. I have a Google+ Community called the Rubber Room, I have this blog and "Inside the 3020-a Teacher's Trials", and my website, all of which have posts dealing with educators who I have worked with, researched, or heard about.
ALERT: The posts under this headline are my opinion of the facts and people whom I have seen and heard before, during, and after a 3020-a compulsory arbitration known as Education Law Section 3020-a Just Cause/Termination hearings.
David Pakter, left, with NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Starting in 2003 I visited teachers in the Rubber Room at 25 Chapel Street after I met former teacher (at the High School for Art and Design) David Pakter when we were both asked to be on a Cable TV Show and he told me he was in the "Rubber Room".


He described the room he was in as a long space with windows on one side and tables and chairs on both sides of the room with a walkway in the middle. He said that about 70-100 teachers were sitting there on a daily basis, after they were told that they were "re-assigned" from their classrooms and schools for some kind of misconduct, or unexplained horrible event that they supposedly caused. He told me he would sneak me in, and I agreed. I wanted to see what this was all about.

The long room on the 10th floor at 25 Chapel Street in Brooklyn had two doors, one at each end. The guards (yes, there were security guards) sat at one end of the room leaving the other door unguarded. In the very end of the room was the "office" where the "Principal" sat. So, David walked me in through the second door, and I immediately befriended the principal, who would look the other way when I came in to the room from the door next to his "office". I told him that I wanted to meet the now famous 'rubber roomers' to keep them company, and I am forever grateful for his permission to do that, despite the fact that my walking around was actually prohibited by those "in control". I have no idea who at the NYC Department of Education knew I was talking with the employees imprisoned in this room, but I do know that Randi Weingarten, the UFT Reps, and NYSUT knew I was visiting on a regular basis, because UFT Reps told me. I was not working in a full-time job, so whenever I had any time, I would go to the room, call someone from the lobby, and go in, unpaid by anyone.

I started sitting with the teachers and listening to their stories, however incomplete they were, on a weekly basis, and sometimes 2-3 times per week. No one could tell me exactly why they were there, only that they were waiting for an investigation to end, and then they would be put back into their school or ordered into a compulsory arbitration called "3020-a" after the Education Law Section 3020-a which is the Law upon which these hearings were least that's what the UFT and NYSUT told these prisoners of whim. Whose whim? The Gotcha Squad.

Why do I call the Rubber Roomers "prisoners of whim"? Because you never know when or if you will be charged and with what deed of horror. Every teacher, no matter which school or school district you are teaching in, now looks behind his/her back as often as he/she can, because anyone can be a target. I attended David Pakter's hearing and started the 'open and public' hearings that now are common.

Then in 2007 I was hired by Randi Weingarten to be a UFT Special Representative overseeing all eight rubber room locations; see the blog FidgetyTeach and the post titled "If You Knew Betsy...".

 I still attend 3020-a, but now (since 2011) as the paralegal, rarely as a member of the public.

The Story of the 'GOTCHA SQUAD':

Randi Weingarten
I first heard the term "Gotcha Squad" from former UFT President (now AFT President) around 2006, when I assisted her in getting teacher whistleblowers to a City Council hearing on Whistleblower protection laws, but the title for all the NYC DOE administrators/officials/attorneys became a common word, according to my memory, after I was hired by Randi to be a Special Representative at the UFT for members in need. (August 2007)

One of my first important articles for my then-new blog, NYC Rubber Room Reporter (this blog) was, not surprisingly, "The Gotcha Squad and the NYC Rubber Rooms" (first posted in 2009), followed up by many posts on the Administrative Trials Unit, ("ATU") the Teacher Performance Unit ("TPU"), and the people who are involved in the business of terminating educators. All this is background for new readers to this blog.

3020-a arbitrators are paid, for most expenses, by New York State Education Department's Teacher Tenure Unit. But the NYC DOE seems to be outside of the control and authority of NY State, and has the right to hire arbitrators from out of state. For example, they fly in to NYC the worst arbitrator on the panel, Doyle O'Connor, from Chicago, and pay for his hotel, travel, and meals.
O'Connor has been sued in Federal Court twice.

Here is a sample of his billing for one 3020-a hearing:

The public (you and me, taxpayers), paid for O'Connor to be flown in from Chicago or Michigan. 
 Really? There is no person, lawyer, non-lawyer, arbitrator or mediator (an arbitrator does not have to be an attorney, and a Representative in New York State does not have to be a lawyer, either) in New York City who can be hired to do 3020-a? I guess not.

See here, for a few of the arbitrators who are now (O'Connell is not still on the panel, he was fired after a screaming fit at DOE Attorney Jordana Shenkman) or were (Joshua Javits, who lives in Washington D.C., quit the NYC panel in 2014). I filed a Freedom of Information request for all the vouchers submitted by NYC Arbitrators from 2013 to 2015:

NYC 3020-a hearings are under the control of the New York City Department of Education, namely Dennis DaCosta and Naeemah Lamont, two extremely nasty people who walk in hearing rooms whenever they hear something they dont like about an arbitrator from the DOE Attorney doing the hearing, or they feel they must threaten the Arbitrator into doing something. I recently spoke with an arbitrator who is no longer on the panel in NYC, and this person asked me whether Dennis Da Costa was still terrorizing everyone. I have seen this first hand, and it is frightening.

If you go to February 19, 2014 in the link here, you will see Naeemah Lamont dancing. I cannot find a picture of Dennis anywhere, but his letter to 37 DOE employees about a termination decision by Lana Flame is an outrageous example of Dennis' excessive arrogance. In the letter (see below) Da Costa told the 37 people on p. 2 that they all had to stop paying the teacher because Arbitrator Lana Flame terminated her on July 5 2013 - but he sent the letter May 28, 2013, a month and a half too early. I am lucky to have obtained a copy of this fraud. Lana Flame was fired.

 The problem in NYC is that the DOE and NYSUT agreed to set up a permanent panel. Why? For speed and control. Both parties want the charged employee in the "due process" hearing out and gone, as soon as possible. For this reason, many teachers and others charged find themselves initially convinced that the NYSUT attorney has his/her focus on a proper defense against the charges, but by the time the charged employee ("Respondent") starts presenting his/her case (after the DOE rests, or end presenting their case), NYSUT usually says "oh, you can't have any witnesses", or "I'm going to keep questions for you short, and I will do closing arguments the minute you finish the few questions which I have for you".

A good arbitrator allows three-four weeks after the end of testimony to allow both sides to read the transcripts of all the witnesses, but NYSUT gets away with quickie hearings. I do not do 3020-a hearings this way, but that will be clear in a later post. Shockingly, NYSUT shares the transcripts with the Respondent after the Arbitrator's decision is rendered, rather than in a timely fashion so that the Respondent can assist in finding errors and lies. All in the name of speed.

Reform is needed!

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice