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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Fired NYC School Bus Chief Involved In Breakfast Cereal Scam Too

Eric Goldstein was fired for the bus scandal. But he was investigated also for fraudulently spending taxpayer money on....get this: the breakfast menu items, especially a certain cereal.

Hey - I could not make this up. No one would believe me.

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

An Ousted DOE Official, an ex-White House chef, an NBA star and a Pricey Breakfast Cereal
Problems with the student transportation system appear to be why the chief operating officer of school support services for the New York City school system, Eric Goldstein, was fired last Monday.

The top official in charge of the Office of Pupil Transportation, Eric Goldstein, was axed.
(Bryan Pace for New York Daily News)
But Goldstein was also a player in a curious episode involving a pricey breakfast cereal, a former White House assistant chef, a one-time Knicks star and millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
Among his duties as schools CEO, Goldstein oversaw the school food system. He also served as president of the Urban School Food Alliance, a consortium of big-city school meals programs. (The alliance announced on Friday that Goldstein had been replaced.)
New York’s school system provides breakfast and lunch to hundreds of thousands of children every day and is believed to be the largest feeding program in the United States outside the military.
Given food’s importance to healthy growing and learning, New York’s system has expanded aggressively over the years to feed more kids more often at low or no cost to their families, and has also made efforts to offer a healthier mix of menu options.
The system is complicated and expensive, involving 1,700 schools and more than half a billion in annual spending, much of it subsidized by the federal government. Amid all the complexity and all that cash, the system has served up more than one scandal.
In the 1990s, executives from several companies that supplied school food went to federal prison after convictions for bid rigging. During the Bloomberg administration, a consultant-concocted change to the food distribution process led to shortages at schools and huge fines to providers. More recently, as City Limits was first to report, there were serious issues with moldy pizza and tainted chicken in the schools.
There were reports last fall that a top school-food executive had taken trips paid for by some of the companies that had lucrative contracts to supply food to city schools. That official has since resigned. City Limits has been waiting for more than two years for DOE to hand over documents related to communications between other school food officials and some of those companies.
Now, City Limits has obtained though sources documents revealing what appears to be extraordinary efforts to promote a different company’s product to New York City schoolchildren.
The company is called Back to the Roots, and it makes organic breakfast cereals as well as classroom gardening kits aimed at connecting children with nature. Its founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez say they are on a mission to “undo food.” Their food features fewer ingredients and far less sugar than more familiar brands.
In the 2016-2017 school year, the DOE—which wanted to replace brands of Kashi breakfast cereals that had been discontinued—purchased 45,000 cases of the cereal at a cost of $977,000.
In the 2017-2018 school year, it bought more than twice as much and paid just over $2 million to the firm.
A ‘historic event’
Emails from the fall of 2016 among school food personnel indicated a reluctance by some staffers to give the item much prominence on the school menu because of its expense. An internal listing produced later in the school year indicated that Back to the Roots Cinnamon Clusters and Purple Corn Flakes cost twice as much per serving as other major items on the cereal menu.
Yet in early 2017, DOE SchoolFood leaders worked closely with Back to the Roots cereal as part of a marketing campaign involving an appearance by the company’s founders on the Today show and Telemundo, a glowing article in the New York Times and a promotional event at one school featuring then-Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. Arora and Velez tell City Limits that Anthony—now with the Houston Rockets—is an investor in the company.
The promotion heavily incentivized students to eat Back to the Roots: If they collected 15 lids, they could get a poster of ‘Melo.
Ahead of the promotional appearance by Anthony—which a Back to the Roots representative referred to as “a historic event” in his emails to school officials—there was intense attention on getting plenty of the company’s product to the schools.
On February 21, 2017, one SchoolFood employee emailed to schools: “Ask your managers to increase the amount of cases of Back to the Roots cereal they currently have in the ordering system so they will have enough in stock.” A week later, another manager noted in an email that she was “not seeing orders” for the cereal coming from schools. “Can menu management please send an email to let managers know they need to order?” she wrote.
As the big day approached, in emails discussing the forthcoming Times article, Goldstein said that data about the cost and usage of Back to the Roots didn’t need to be shared with that reporter—and indeed, price information was not in the article, which merely reported that the city “pays a little more for Back to the Roots cereals, but Mr. Goldstein said that is more than offset by their popularity among students, their organic ingredients and their lower sugar content.”
What was included in the Times article, however, was the fact that Sam Kass—a former assistant chef in the Obama White House and a leading figure in the healthy eating movement—had introduced Goldstein, an old friend, to Back to the Roots. Kass in April 2016 had become a partner with Campbell Soup in an investment fund called Acre Venture Partners. Acre in June of that year led a $10 million investment in Back to the Roots.
Do kids actually like it?
There might have been another issue with Back to the Roots cereal besides its cost.
Although school and company officials say students had chosen it over other brands in a blind taste test, a draft survey of school-site food supervisors this year contained multiple comments about how students disliked Back to the Roots.
“Back to the Roots cereal is NOT popular. Take off the snack menu,” was one response. “Back to the Roots Cereals are not a hit, it has been described as disgusting and tasteless by the students. Why is it on the menu twice a week?” was another. Those comments were removed from the final version of the survey distributed within the department.
A school food staff member says when a supervisor pushed for Back to the Roots to be listed on the menu, she mentioned that kids didn’t like it. She recalls: “He said, ‘They’ll learn to like it. Menu it.’”
Velez tells City Limits that what he has heard anecdotally from students and from SchoolFood officials is that the cereal is popular. “The taste test there is a grueling process. It takes about two years. We just stuck it out,” he says. He had been told that the products score well under the city’s internal rating system. “We heard that [rating] was really good, too—especially the purple corn flakes.”
Whether the students liked it or not, Back to the Roots’ success in getting on to New York City school menus came ahead of bigger wins for the company.
Even before the big New York push, Back to the Roots was already in schools in Pasadena, San Jose and Phoenix and being offered via the Sodexo school-food network and in Whole Foods. But now the company has truly hit the big time.
This August, the founders signed a deal with Nature’s Path that will, according to Business Insider, “allow North America’s largest organic cereal brand to manufacture and distribute the startup’s organic cereal all around the U.S.” An industry news site, Sustainable Brands, said Nature’s Path would take over Back to the Roots’ “supply chain, manufacturing and distribution.”
Also this summer, the firm received a $4 million investment to expand its growing kits into Target and Costco stores as part of a partnership with Miracle-Gro.
In the coverage of all those moves, the cereals’ presence in New York City schools always gets prominent mention.
The Back to the Roots founders don’t characterize their debut in New York as a milestone in the tremendous progress they’ve seen. It was, Arora says, just “part of the journey.” He and Velez believe their cereal belongs on every school cafeteria table. “The opportunity to teach and kind of get kids palates to less sugar is a tremendous one and one that can have such ripple effects across the board,” Velez says.
Early indications are that, this school year, Back to the Roots will have a lower profile on New York school menus. According to information received by City Limits, the volume of orders placed in July and August of this year for the cereals was 65 percent lower than over the same period in 2017.
DOE refused to answer by press time questions about the Back to the Roots promotion or the cereal’s popularity.

Norm Scott on the UFT Contract 2018: Vote "No"

NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Norm Scott's blog is a wealth of knowledge on UFT business, and his opinion on the new contract is below:


I sent these 25 bullet points to Diane Ravitch as a response to Arthur Goldstein's pro contract piece.
Update: Arthur is a decent guy and an excellent chapter leader. We just disagree politically on the contract.
This is everything you could want and more on why the contract should be voted down.
My wife's ballot.


On October 11 the UFT and the City-Department of Education reached agreement on a new 43 month contract. The UFT’s Delegate Assembly sent it to the schools for ratification votes. Those of us in opposition have no way of countering the UFT’s huge spin machine but here are 25 reasons to oppose the proposed contract. If there is a fair debate, I am confident we would easily win and the contract would be voted down but don’t hold your breath waiting to see any of these criticisms in the union’s newspaper or the mainstream press.
Salary increases don’t keep pace with expected inflation.

2% on February 14, 2019,

0% on February 14, 2020

2.5% on May 14, 2020,

3% on May 14 2021,

0% on May 14, 2022.

Contract doesn’t end until September 13, 2022. That is 7.5% over 43 months. It is 7.7% compounded but if we look at the expected inflation rate for four years from the International Monetary Fund, U.S. Inflation is expected to increase at an average rate of 2.2% a year through 2022. Our raises are spread out so they won’t make 2.2% annually. If we agree to this contract, we are expected to take a de facto pay cut.

  UFT Propaganda only counts inflation through 2021 when trying to sell the deal as if it were a three-year agreement but the contract extends through almost ¾ of 2022. Why doesn’t the UFT tell the truth about the salary increases most likely not beating inflation?

  The Cost of Living Adjustment for Social Security for 2019 is 2.8%?NYC is a very expensive city to live in. Can’t we even win a cost of living adjustment in our contract?

 The City of New York is swimming in cash. This year’s city surplus was $4.6 billion and there is an additional $4.4 billion squirreled away in the retiree health benefits trust. The NYC economy has never been stronger. Growth is at 2.7% in the latest quarter. City investments are beating expectations. The city says this contract is costing them only $570 million plus the minimal cost of what they put aside for this round of municipal labor settlements. The city can afford much more for raises for its employees. I understand pattern bargaining (one municipal union settles on a raise and it sets a pattern that other unions are stuck with) and DC 37 set a pattern for municipal unions in June for these paltry raises. However, pattern bargaining is a tradition and not the law. The state law from PERB (Public Employees Relations Board) considers as part of their calculations if a union can’t reach an agreement with a government employer:“ b. the interests and welfare of the public and the financial ability of the public employer to pay;” The city has the ability to pay much more. It is in the interest of the public to have the best teachers in NYC. Yonkers teachers should not make tens of thousands dollars more than NYC teachers.

Healthcare givebacks are for all of us in this contract, not just new teachers. The Municipal Labor Committee agreed to huge healthcare savings in June. This is from the City Hall Website article on the new UFT contract: “The agreement will provide total health care savings of $1.1 billion through Fiscal Year 2021 and $1.9 billion of annual savings thereafter.” Putting new teachers on HIP managed care for their first year, which is a major contractual concession as our contract says the city has to offer us a choice of free health plans, will not save the city $1.1 billion or $1.9 billion annually after 2021 as the city will still be paying their health insurance. Where are the new $1.1 billion in healthcare savings ($600 million must recur annually) going to come from? They will come from all city workers just like when we agreed to this kind of deal in 2014 to settle a contract and then in 2016 we received emails saying Emergency Room copays would rise from $50 to $150 and Urgent Care copays in GHI would go from $15 to $50.
More to come like possibly tiered hospitals where we would have to pay more to go to certain facilities. The UFT is not being completely up front about our out of pocket costs probably rising. Why not? The letter from the city Office of Labor Relations will become part of the UFT Memorandum of Agreement. Even though the MLC negotiates healthcare for city employees, UFT members have the final say with our vote on whether to accept this huge concession as part of the contract.
Class size limits are not reduced at all by this contract and haven’t been lowered in half a century. The state passed a law in 2007 to settle a lawsuit so average class sizes in NYC schools had to be reduced by law to 20 in grades k-3, 23 in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school core classes. Back in 2005, the UFT contract called for a labor-management committee in Article 8L to use money from the lawsuit settlement for “a program for the reduction of class sizes at all levels.” Money is there from the State. It’s called Contracts for Excellence. Why do principals have discretion on how to use that C4E money and all we get in the new contract on class size is new labor-management committees on oversize classes who will meet before oversize class grievances go to arbitration. The last thing we need is more committees where full-time appointed union representatives can talk to their DOE friends, but teachers still have classes of 34 in high schools and exceptions the DOE can drive a truck through to go above 34. There are several labor-management committees in this agreement. Does the UFT want to represent us or be co-managers of the school system? I think we can conclude the answer is the latter.
Labor-Management committees on paperwork, curriculum, professional development, adequate instructional supplies, workloads and space are free to set new standards, thus basically rewriting the contract after it is ratified. As Marian Swerdlow noted in her critique of the Tentative Agreement for the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the committees are not limited in what they can change in these areas. This is directly from the MOA: “Nothing precludes the parties from agreeing to the addition of new System Wide Standards with respect to operational issues.” To make matters worse, only chapter leaders, not individual UFT members, will be able to file official complaints about operational standards not being adhered to.
Safety: It says in the MOA we have further rights on school safety but School Safety Plans still go into effect if don’t sign off on them. In prior times, a lack of a Chapter Leader or Parent Teachers Association President’s signature meant the principal had to negotiate on the plan. According to this new contract, all we are acknowledging by our signature is that the Chapter Leader participated in making the plan and has received a copy. That has no teeth.
Speaking of no teeth, what happens to administrators who violate the new no retaliation against UFT members for whistleblowing contractual clause? We already have Article 2 in the contract that prevents retaliation against us for engaging in union activities. Some of us with perfect records for many years ended up as Absent Teacher Reserves (teachers who don’t have a regular class but must instead be a substitute) because we exercised our union rights. Best UFT could do was to parachute members out of schools via transfer in many cases. People left behind just put their heads down so they won’t be the next person targeted. Nothing changes because we will have a new provision against retaliation for whistleblowing. Where is the sanction for an administrator for retaliating? That certainly could be inserted into a strong Chancellor’s Regulation which would become part of our contract via Article 20 (Matters not Covered). It’s not part of this deal. Put something in or no deal.

This contract did not fall from the sky. It must be seen in the context of prior contracts. The givebacks from the infamous 2005 contract(the next five bullets) remain in 2019. *
On Absent Teacher Reserves, the UFT said this was a temporary position back when we gave up in 2005 the right for teachers to be placed in a school in a district if excessed because of budget cuts and the choice of six schools on a wish list- and we were placed in one of them- if a school closed. We gave that up to allow principal discretion for hiring which created the ATR pool. As reported by City Limits, “Now, most agree that the ATR has led to more problematic consequences, and many teachers in the pool assert many of these consequences were in fact the intention all along.” That temporary situation will go to 17 years through 2022 if this contract passes. That’s a lifetime for HS seniors and a career for many of us. Why can’t the UFT just say no deal until the ATRs all have a position in a school of their choice?
On transfers, the open market system created in 2005 is a joke. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Why doesn’t the UFT even attempt to win back Seniority Transfers or the progressive SBO Transfer and Staffing Plan where a committee that had a majority of teachers and included parents did all of the hiring so at least there was a check on principal power?
Hiring is now principal patronage and that does not change in this contract. The bias against senior teachers being able to transfer continues as nothing in the new contract changes Fair Student Funding which makes principals average the cost of their teachers on their budgets so they are charged more to have a veteran staff.
Circular 6R (Professional Activity Assignments). Why didn’t the UFT get teachers out of lunchroom and hall duty in 2019? Instead, we gave principals the right to create more deans and lunchroom coordinators without our approval. That could increase class sizes right there as those new deans won’t be teaching for part or most of their day. How about some extra funding for those new deans?
Extended time: No changes on extended time which started in 2002, was lengthened in 2005 and was altered in 2014 to include 80 minutes of “Teacher Detention” on Mondays for endless professional development and 75 minutes on Tuesday for parent outreach and other professional work. Former UFT President Randi Weingarten pledged to get us “voice and choice” in how extended time was used. In too many schools that have difficult principals that choice has never come to pass.
Letters in the file. UFT members must wait three years to get an unfair/inaccurate letter removed from a personnel file. That is too long. Since there are these so called improvements in the grievance process in the new contract where the DOE is agreeing they will attempt to abide by the timelines that are already in the contract and are routinely ignored with no sanctions, why didn’t the UFT get an expedited process to have letters removed from our files quickly if they are inaccurate or unfair as we had before 2005? (Note that in 2002 the UFT gave arbitrators the authority to rewrite letters so the UFT had already weakened our rights on this subject.) What kind of union allows its members to be reprimanded and then tells them to go write a response and then wait three years? By then, a probationary teacher can easily have been terminated and never had recourse to a neutral person unless they go to court which can be quite expensive.
Paraprofessionals winning better due process is all well and good from their contract which is a totally separate contract from teachers. The UFT has many distinct bargaining units. What about paraprofessional pay? They too are receiving paltry salary increases so that the starting salary for paras will be $28,448 a year in 2021 in this contract. In NYC that is basically subsistence wages for paras. That is less than half of what a starting teacher makes. Another non-teacher chapter in the UFT isn’t catching up with teacher salaries either. Occupational-physical therapists are not anywhere near pay parity with teachers and these professionals have advanced degrees. That is an outrage that has not been addressed. In addition, guidance counselors, school secretaries and other non-teaching titles did not get an arbitration provision in their workload dispute complaint procedures so administrators are free to just pile on the work and the dispute is never heard by an outside neutral party. Most of the non-teacher UFT contracts are not any better than the teacher deal. Because the paras have better due process, it is no reason to say yes to the teacher or guidance counselor or any other of these UFT contracts.
A minimum of two observations for some teachers is a gain. It is better than this year’s minimum of four observations. However, it only impacts tenured people who are rated effective or highly effective the prior year or effective the past two years. The teachers who need relief are the people rated ineffective who will now have a minimum of one additional observation for a total of five and many of the probationary teachers who are drowning in work. Their observations remain unchanged at a minimum of four. How about a maximum number of observations like they have in Buffalo and many other districts in NYS? How about agreeing with the DOE to jointly go up to Albany to attempt to enact legislation to rid New York of the wholestupid evaluation system where teachers are rated based on scores on invalid-unreliable student assessments and classroom observations from the awful cookie cutter Danielson Framework?
The UFT now wants to continue mayoral control of the schools. This is a quote from Michael Mulgrew from the press conference announcing the deal: “Given the importance of the issues and the long-term initiatives that are part of this contract, the UFT is calling for the continuation of mayoral control as the governance structure for New York City public schools.” Mayoral control is linked to this contract. Here’s what contract supporter Arthur Goldstein said about mayoral control of NYC schools in 2015, “…mayoral control, in the long-run, it's a disaster for democracy, for New York City, and for 1.1 million schoolchildren.” He had that right. The closing schools, ignoring the voice of parents and communities, the constant reshuffling of the bureaucracy, the 300 DOE lawyers from the Bloomberg days who are still around to do everything to destroy teachers, etc. will continue.
Psychological testing for new teachers: Why would the UFT agree to invalid- unreliable psychological testing for new employees? It’s more money wasted that will not go to the classroom. Becoming state certified to teach is difficult enough.
A+ differentials: Why is the UFT saying new teachers must take courses the UFT and DOE design instead of college courses for much of the final pay differential (30 credits beyond the Masters)? Isn’t that just a way to make more money for both the UFT and DOE from our lowest paid teachers? We need to diminish, not increase the bureaucratic DOE-UFT patronage gravy train.
Where is paid family leave? We got 0% raises for an additional 2.5 months in the current contract. In exchange, all we obtain is unpaid DOE leave for new parents and the UFT Welfare Fund agrees to pay them their salary for up to six weeks but they cannot even guarantee it will be at 100% pay. What about paid time to take care of sick relatives? UUP (SUNY Teachers) won that benefit as part of their new contract earlier this year.
How is extra money for these titles not discredited merit pay?
-Teacher Development Facilitator
-Teacher Team Leader
-Master Teacher
-Model teacher
-Peer Collaborative Teacher
Put these 1,500 teachers in the classroom fulltime and we could actually lower class sizes a little.

How is it helpful at all for the UFT to set up a two-tiered pay structure? This seems antithetical to trade unionism. By agreeing to the Bronx Plan as well as the merit pay scheme described above, the UFT says it’s okay to pay more for certain schools and certain teachers. Here is how CUNY Professor David Bloomfield reacted on his Twitter page to the differentiation of teacher salaries.

David Bloomfield‏ @BloomfieldDavid Oct 11

 Historic teacher contract line is crossed by @UFT on differential pay, allowing higher salaries for some teachers over others. What further differentials might be engineered? More for STEM teachers than humanities teachers, etc.? Distance learning is another step in the wrong direction. Having teachers lead classes of students not in front of them is a bad idea. Let’s go to David Bloomfield again. This time from City Limits: “Increased distance learning poses an existential threat to teacher jobs and is of dubious instructional worth.”

Why settle the contract four months early? The only reason to have an early contract is if it is a great contract. Certainly, a contract that has raises that are not projected to keep up with inflation, has huge healthcare concessions for all of us and gets us back none of the huge givebacks from 2005 cannot be agreed to unless we have to settle for it after losing a fight. If a union asks for very little, that union will get very little; no guarantee but if you fight for more, you may win more. We’ll never know what we could obtain, however, unless the unlikely happens and a majority vote NO!

A majority voted no on a proposed new UFT contract in 1995. UFT leadership predicted layoffs and other dire consequences that never happened. Instead, a few months later the city and UFT negotiated a better deal where new teachers weren’t forced to withhold 5% of their pay until they survived four years in the system, longevities went from 25 years to 22 years and there was a generous retirement incentive thrown in that was not in the deal that we rejected.

PS Why is the UFT taking union dues when the city pays us back the huge interest free loan we gave to the city in the last contract that is being repaid in five installments in 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020? Before the 2014 contract, the UFT never double dipped by taking dues twice. We paid dues on this money during the original pay periods.   

There is one exception on 2005 givebacks. The one concession that was taken out of the contract was having school for the final two weekdays before Labor Day for professional development. That has been changed. Getting those two days back in summer vacation cost us the guaranteed 8.25% interest on the fixed TDA that our supervisors and CUNY teachers still have. UFT members since 2009 get 7%. The city gained $2 billion from that deal so I would not exactly call it a takeback of the giveback.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Another School Bus Scandal Rips NYC

Elizabeth Rose's nine-year run in the city school system is over. (Go Nakamura for New York Daily News)
 Another school bus scandal. In New York City! The headquarters of  Boss TWEED, oops I mean with people at Tweed, the headquarters of the NYC Department of Education. You would think they could get at least this right. The buzz:

..... the caseload has been reduced somewhat after the unit was moved out of OPT to the Office of Special Investigations in the wake of the busing scandal. Officials say allegations of bus driver and matron misconduct will now be investigated by the same office and process as all DOE employees.
.....Sources with knowledge of the situation said that allegations of lesser offenses, including actions without the potential to harm children, are being routed to customer service representatives.

NY City Council held a hearing on the issue of school busing:

Video on the OPT testimony

City's yellow-bus contracts boss pushed out as companies say routes go unstaffed
EXCLUSIVE: NYC schools chancellor fires top deputy over bus scandal
DOE honcho gets moved after boneheaded busing decisions
 Facing his first crisis, Carranza fired a top official. But can he fix New York City’s yellow bus system?
FBI investigation finds corruption in NYC school bus industry

The top official in charge of the Office of Pupil Transportation, Eric Goldstein, was axed.
(Bryan Pace for New York Daily News)

 The NY Daily News has done a great job exposing the corruption and fraud in the school bus companies in New York City. Eric Goldstein was fired. We have been here before. See my 2006 article .

Elizabeth Rose was moved. As if this would solve the problem.

Chancellor Carranza, this is New York City. We are different. We were the home to TWEED, before it became the home to the NYC DOE and your office.

Need I say more (I do, and probably will).

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials
Exclusive: Former head of DOE Investigations says he got push-back from higher-ups for more closely vetting school bus drivers

Ben Chapman

OCT 21, 2018

The former head of the unit that conducts background checks on school bus drivers and investigates misconduct says the Department of Education gave him a hard time about cracking down on bad hires.

Ralph Manente, a modest, retired NYPD lieutenant and detective squad commander with a shock of white hair, labored for 10 years as boss of the unit. 

After the Daily News reported rampant problems with no-show or late buses and the hiring of drivers with serious criminal records, the DOE ordered a revamping of the city's massive $1.2 billion yellow bus system. The top official in charge of the Office of Pupil Transportation, Eric Goldstein, was axed and Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose was moved out.

Manente, who retired last week when he turned 65, felt his work was a public service. "We tried to put ourselves in the parents' shoes," he said. "We weren't going to put someone on a bus that we wouldn't be comfortable with if our kids were on that bus."

A handful of investigators were obligated to probe about 8,000 complaints a year, Manente said. Among them, a mom who griped that her son came home without socks and another who groused that her child came off the bus with his shirt on backwards.

The policy of looking into everything, Manente said, put a strain on the office.

"If a bus driver rolled his eyes or didn't say good morning to a parent, we had to investigate it," he said. "It took us away from concentrating on the more serious cases."

About 18 months ago, Manente directed former NYPD Detective Eric Reynolds to do pre-employment background checks on drivers. At the time, criminal records checks were limited to only 13 counties in New York State.

Reynolds found that far too limited, broadened his checks and had drivers come in for interviews. He learned troubling information about an alarming number of applicants andrejected them with Manente's approval.

"He took it to a new level," Manente explained. "After a while, the bus companies started complaining and we started getting resistance from (head of safety) Paul Weydig and people in contracts. In essence, Eric had bucked the system unknowingly by looking further into the vetting process and that slowed down the hiring."

Then in April, as The News has reported, Reynolds suddenly stopped getting new applications. Unknownst to him, a worker in the contracts office started rubber-stamping drivers using Reynolds' signature and email address. More than 720 people were approved between April and September as a result.

Reynolds was then told his waiver to receive a police pension and work for the DOE would not be renewed in December. Manente says Weydig also ordered him to give Reynolds a letter of reprimand, but he refused.

"I believe Eric was retaliated against for shining a spotlight on this," Manente said.

Weydig also resisted Manente's calls to fire investigators whose work wasn't up to snuff, Manente explained. 

"Whenever I had an investigator who was not performing, I had a better chance of winning the lottery on a Saturday night that getting Weydig's assistance in terminating that person," he said, adding that he to go over Weydig's head to cut people loose, and that caused some animosity between the two men.

Weydig did not respond to requests for comment.

Manente, who spent 25 years with the NYPD, said he also suspects that OPT contracts officials and the bus companies are too close.

"The pressure to have these drivers and attendants approved as quickly as possible only indicates to me that contract compliance was being pressured by the bus companies and shows me there's some sort of comfort level with the vendors," Manente said.

Three years ago, City Controller Scott Stringer asked the Justice Department to investigate possible collusion between bus companies. Stringer charged that the DOE made the city vulnerable to collusion with poor monitoring of the contracts and vendor performance.

In a statement, DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said, "We take the safety of our students on school buses extremely seriously, and every current and former bus driver underwent a rigorous background check and fingerprinting process before they were hired, including an FBI criminal history review. We've hired a new leader to oversee our Office of Pupil Transportation, and all school bus drivers now undergo two separate background checks and two separate fingerprint reviews."

Manente thinks background inquiries should includea more thorough check using FBI databases, a search of the NYPD's domestic violence database, court filings, the sex offender registry and whether or not there were 911 dispatches to his home.

"I've wanted to do this since 2008," Manente said. "As it stood, we wouldn't know if a driver got arrested in California or even New Jersey and that's information we need."

Manente also advocates for a reduction in the misconduct caseload. "We shouldn't be investigating every little complaint," he said. "The serious investigations should be emphasized."

Investigators tell The News that the caseload has been reduced somewhat after the unit was moved out of OPT to the Office of Special Investigations in the wake of the busing scandal. Officials say allegations of bus driver and matron misconduct will now be investigated by the same office and process as all DOE employees.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said that allegations of lesser offenses, including actions without the potential to harm children, are being routed to customer service representatives.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Absent Teacher Reservist (ATR) Disaster

Aixa Rodriguez, an ESL teacher who has been with the DOE since 2005. After her school closed, she
spent some time in the Absent Teacher Reserve before being hired by a new school for this fall.
The New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers are, together, accountable for the "Absent Teacher Reserve" or "ATR" disaster.

Excessing teachers is not new. Closing schools is not new. What was new, when Mike Bloomberg came into his position as Mayor of New York City, was the streamlining of the trashing process for tenured teachers. It was the idea that teachers were protected by tenure rights that someone up the line in the food chain disliked.

Bloomberg spoke often about Jack Welsh and the firing of 10% of the workforce to keep employees on the ball, always worried about "being next". The City was, in 2003, under the spell of management/administrators of public agencies to get rid of the riff raff, the employees who sit around and do nothing all day. Bloomberg was led to believe (I honestly do not think he checked this out himself) that tenure gave tenured employees the right to do nothing because they could never be terminated. This is, was, and will be, fake news.

But fake news and false claims work. Especially if someone knows how to use the dark web, how to hack into computers, or who has malicious intent to make up lies about someone. Most people still believe what they read and see on the internet.

So what happened in 2003, and I was fortunate enough to be there to see it, was a full scale attack on tenured teachers and "failing" public schools, so that massive numbers were thrown into big warehouses around NYC (in 2008 there were 8 main warehouses). Some remained for 1 year, others 7-15 years, and a few are still sitting in rooms where they are not given any work, not called a rubber room, but still the same thing. A reassignment room where you are told to sit until further notice is a rubber room.

I started visiting rubber rooms in 2003-2004 when my friends David Pakter and Polo Colon asked me to visit them at 25 Chapel Street, 10th floor. I was there several times a week, and stayed all day, chatting with the teachers there about their stories, their schools, and their administrators. The UFT went to the rubber rooms I think 1 time/year, but everyone at the UFT knew that I was talking with the members, because I also attended 3020-a hearings at the request of members, and then the charged employees started asking for me to help their NYSUT attorney settle their cases. So, I did that. Then I was hired to work as a Special Representative and given an office at 52 Broadway, 16th floor in 2007. I was in all the rubber rooms every week (except Staten Island) until August 2010, when I left to start advocating for teachers' rights at 3020-a on my own.

I still remember when suddenly, in 2012, I heard that every charged UFT member who was not terminated at 3020-a would become an ATR. I asked where this was written down, and heard it was not in writing, it was "just the way it is."

Bad move.

Suddenly, teachers who had been charged with something but who was not terminated, even if completely false, who had  inefficient counsel at the 3020-a and/or a biased arbitrator, became a substitute teacher/nomad, wandering week to week to a new school, replacing full-time teachers/guidance counselors for a day/week/month. How do you establish enough trust with a child to counsel him/her, if you meet them for a day or stay with them a week, then disappear? How can you teach?

Also, ATRs who are assigned somewhere temporarily, mostly a few days or weeks, often do not have access to IEPs, and don't input grades.

Students are smart enough to know that if you are not grading him/her, why bother doing the work?

This is really a black/white picture of ATRs and their bizarre situation in a school, and there are many layers of grey which I am not going into here. But the plan to remove tenure by displacing thousands of people and making it torture to remain in the DOE, certainly worked to create an environment of fear, resentment and even hatred.

It seems to me that we are seeing a return to rational strategic planning, with the new contract implying that ATRs can be placed in their content area in September. But "CAN" does not mean "WILL". Let's see.

Unfortunately, the UFT is still interested in playing-along-to-get-along with the Chancellor, Mayor, and everyone underneath. This is not going to change anytime soon, unless someone wins the $billion lottery and pays everyone to take a looooong holiday.

It is all about money, after all.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Educators Linger in the Misunderstood ‘Teacher Reserve,’ a Byproduct of School Reforms
This past summer, most city teachers were prepping new lessons, revising curriculum and readying for the start of the new school year. However, many teachers on the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) were polishing their CVs. This included Aixa Rodriguez, an ESL teacher who has been with the DOE since 2005.

She was previously a teacher at the Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies (FLAGS), which closed at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Like many teachers after a closure, Rodriguez was placed in the ATR, a pool of DOE educators who lack permanent placements in city schools but remain full-time DOE employees. Rodriguez said many teachers in the pool have a similar story to hers, finding themselves relegated to the list in the aftermath of school’s closure or a program cut.

“If those schools close and those programs get shut down, the teachers get labeled along with it,” she says. “Your resume looks like Swiss cheese. I have friends who have been in the ATR for years.”

After FLAGS’ closure, Rodriguez was hired on a provisional basis to fill in for a year for a teacher on sabbatical, but come the end of the school year she was back seeking a full-time role. Rodriguez, like many others, found herself in a proverbial limbo while in the pool; educators in the ATR are still full-time DOE educators (and are paid as such), but often fill in short-term gaps, covering for teachers during parental leave or medical absences, working as substitute teachers or performing administrative work.

However, critics contend that many of these excessed teachers are saddled with disciplinary issues or are not seeking new full-time teaching positions, content to take the short-term work.

How did the ATR start?

The ATR is a result of 2005 negotiations between the United Federation of Teachers and the Bloomberg administration, who wanted to give school principals greater autonomy in hiring decisions. Prior to these negotiations, senior teachers had a greater say in choosing schools in which they were placed, according to Jeff Kaufman, a computer science teacher at Far Rockaway High School and former member of the UFT’s Executive Board. He described this loss of seniority as a “giveback” by the UFT.
“Principals now control, to a large degree, who is in their school,” he says.

Instead of automatically placing excessed teachers in new schools, the ATR carved out a way for principals to make their own hiring decisions, while excessed teachers were ensured they’d remain on the DOE payroll while seeking a position. Many initially applauded the move as an overdue correction to tenured teachers’ control in their own placement (arguing this often led to experienced educators disproportionately getting jobs in certain schools and districts). Now, most agree that the ATR has led to more problematic consequences, and many teachers in the pool assert many of these consequences were in fact the intention all along.

Two years after the establishment of the ATR pool, the city implemented the Fair Student Funding formula, which recalibrated the way in which the DOE determines how much funding schools receive.The city intended to direct more funding towards schools that had been shortchanged over the decades, but teachers’ salaries were to come primarily from this revised funding on the principal’s discretion (as opposed to the DOE directly paying teachers’ salaries).

Critics argue this incentivizes principals to not hire experienced (and higher-salaried) teachers, leading to an ATR pool that is exceedingly older and growing more expensive by the year; ATR payments cost the city $136 million last year. Rodriguez argues this disincentive and a generalized stigma against ATR teachers is depriving the city of a supply of time-tested educators who could be used in the classroom on a more permanent basis; what’s more, the city is already paying for them.

“A lot of the teachers in the ATR are 40 and up, and have a salary level of $80,000. We have both the time and experience,” she says. “(Principals) just don’t want to pay for them. There are plenty of us in the ATR who are ready and willing to work.”

Experience as a downside

Concrete data on the ATR can be difficult to attain, partially because the pool is constantly in flux; often the pool will balloon at the close of a school year as schools are shuttered and programs are cancelled, only to shrink as some ATR teachers fill open positions come the new school year. In 2017, Chalkbeat reported that 38 percent of ATR teachers were in the pool due to school closures, with another 30 percent in the reserve due to budget or program cuts. Additionally, 32 percent were in the pool due to “ramifications from a legal or disciplinary issue.”

The ATR’s cost continues to grow as the pool grows older and more experienced, according to a recent report from the Citizens Budget Commission. Employees in the ATR pool have been teachers for 18 years on average, compared to the average 10.2 years of the total DOE teacher workforce, and the average ATR salary is $98,126, compared to $84,108 for all teachers.

In 2017, a quarter of teachers on the ATR were also on there five years earlier. Some argue that this indicates teachers are not being hired for full-time positions or are not looking for work, though it is also possible a teacher could have been hired off the pool and subsequently excessed again.

There were 788 teachers in the pool in 2006, during the first year of implementation, but after a spate of school closures during the Bloomberg administration that number grew exponentially; at the start of the 2014 school year, there were 1,676 teachers in the pool. That number dropped to 1,202 at the start of 2018, but the Panel of Education Policy closed 10 schools at the end of last year.
Additionally, while as many as a third of educators on the ATR have faced a disciplinary issue, what that designation entails remains opaque. According to the UFT, tenured teachers in the ATR are allowed a hearing before an independent arbitrator when accused by a principal of misbehavior. However, a teacher may end up in the ATR pool regardless of the outcome of any disciplinary process, according to Kaufman.

A tenured teacher may be the recipient of 3020-a charges (which challenge the protections a tenured teacher has and can be a first step towards dismissal). Those charges could be sustained (potentially resulting in termination), but they can also be mediated through arbitration or could even be dismissed altogether. However, even in the cases of dismissal, if a principal opposes reinstating a teacher in the original school that teacher could be excessed and placed in the ATR pool. A teacher would have to ‘grieve’ their status in the ATR to be reinstated over the wishes of the principal in the original school, and Kaufman said he had never seen a successful grievance in such instances.
“Anytime a principal has opposed the return of a teacher, the principal has always won out,” he says. “That stuff starts to get internalized. It clearly impacts on someone’s ability to teach, and if you’ve been on it for a long time there’s a lot of issues. I’ve seen a lot of excellent teachers, lauded in all different ways, and they end up on the ATR and all they can do is end up retiring.”

Ana Champeny, the Director of City Studies for the Citizens Budget Commission and the author of the report on the ATR, noted that the pool’s structure, coupled with New York State’s protracted disciplinary process, could lead principals to see the ATR as an alternative method for dealing with unwanted teachers.
“The process to remove a teacher for cause is incredibly complex, and it’s set in state education law. It’s very time-consuming,” she says. “The ATR can create this unintended incentive—it can mean you can get people into the ATR instead of this long process.”

Still, most ATR teachers are not in the pool because of a disciplinary matter, and some teachers in the pool believe principals shy away from hiring ATR teachers because of the cost involved. Principals may also want to hire inexperienced teachers whom they may feel will be more amenable to that principal’s particular vision, according to James Eterno, a DOE educator who entered the classroom in 1986 and retired last year. After Jamaica High School closed in 2014, he found himself excessed into the ATR pool, and strongly disagrees with how ATR teachers are treated by the DOE and by the principals weighing whether or not they should be hired. Camille Eterno, a high school teacher and James’ wife, is currently in the ATR pool, and said that principals indeed considered ATR teachers differently than other prospective hires.
“The sentiment is that you’re an ATR and they run in the other direction,” she says. “You’re less desirable because you have years of experience. They’re choosing to hire people fresh out of college.”
James Eterno agreed, saying principals often will not even consider ATR educators with years (or decades) of experience because of the higher salaries.

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to hiring me. I understand; I cost a lot of money. But it shouldn’t be like that,” he says. “Could you imagine if a police captain couldn’t bring in a great detective because they were too high up on the salary scale? That would be outrageous, and I don’t think the public would tolerate it.”
However, some criticize the teachers in the pool, bemoaning the fact that they have full-time salaries without permanent classroom placement. Dan Weisberg, the executive director of The New Teacher Project, said he would question placing ATR educators in classrooms, arguing that too many had significant past disciplinary issues. He also disputed the idea that principals avoid hiring experienced ATR teachers.

“If principals saw a strong candidate to fill a vacancy, they will happily take a senior teacher. For the ATR pool, where you have thousands of vacancies in every conceivable license area, if you’re not getting hired year after year, chances are you’re not applying to vacancies, or you’re not demonstrating you’re a good match,” he says. “Just because you’re experienced doesn’t mean you’re very good at what you do.”
Funding: fair or flawed?

TheFair Student Funding (FSF) formula of 2007 does mean that principals are weighing the value of an educator against the cost that hire entails, rather than making hires on their own with the DOE footing whatever the teacher’s price tag may be.
Prior to the FSF, a given school’s funding largely correlated with teachers’ salaries; this meant there was often disparate per-student funding from school to school. When teachers had more power over where they were placed (prior to the 2005 agreement), educators with seniority often gravitated towards certain schools, and those schools would subsequently get larger budgets to cover their costs.

This shifted with the FSF, which became by a significant margin the largest financial allocation for schools each year. According to an 2013 IBO report, funding from the FSF allocation can comprise as much as 70 percent of a school’s budget and is tabulated based on the characteristics of a school’s student body. For each school, the needs of the students and schools are weighted, including how many students are in each grade and whether some students are English Language Learners or require special-education services. Supporters say the formula aims to instill more equity among schools, cease the funneling of funding towards schools with the greatest number of high-salaried teachers, and direct more towards schools facing the greatest need.
However, only 23 percent of schools received the full amount of funding they were allocated under the FSF in 2017, according to Chalkbeat. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, many FSF funding increases were delayed or cancelled, meaning many of those schools that were inadequately funded prior to the FSF are constantly behind the more affluent schools (additionally, the more affluent schools never had their allocations reduced when the formula was put into place).

This confluence of policies leads principals, particularly in schools receiving lower funding, to have a far greater incentive to hire younger teachers as opposed to taking on the expense of an experienced educator, according to many ATR teachers, because now the expense is being drained from the principal’s FSF allocation (which may be lower than the formula deems it should be). A starting teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and no prior teaching experience can expect to make, on average, $56,711, an amount more than $40,000 lower than the average salary of teachers in the ATR pool.
“The natural progression of experience is being totally thrown out,” Rodriguez says. “When you have a small salary you’re aiming for, you’re not going to have a diversity of experience.”

New York City has a young teacher workforce compared to the rest of the state; a 2018 Rockefeller Institute report found that 52 percent of city teachers were younger than 40 years old in 2015-2016, and only 27 percent were 49 or older. While this might mean teacher retirementswill pose less danger of school or subject shortages in the city than elsewhere, it leaves NYC’s teacher workforce more susceptible to higher rates of turnover and attrition among younger educators; nationally, less than a third of teachers who leave the profession annually do so because of retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. Teachers hired directly out of school are more likely to leave the profession or transfer to a different school, and cash-strapped schools could be placed in a difficult position if principals feel they are only able to afford the expense of inexperienced, younger teachers.
“It’s created a pool with a large number of older teachers,” Kaufman says. “It made principals responsible for the cost of teachers, so there was a stronger incentive to discriminate against teachers.”

De Blasio responds
While it’s likely that the ATR pool continues to grow more senior because of its rising costs (even as the number of teachers in the pool drops), the DOE does not release regular detailed updates on the state of the pool, or on the age and experience level of the educators remaining on it. Champeny lamented the lack of data, saying it was more difficult to propose substantive solutions to the quandaries created by the pool’s existence.

“Is there some group of ‘X’ teachers that have been in the pool since they’ve been created?” she asks. “We just don’t know. That kind of information is really missing. The nuance is really missed.”
The de Blasio administration says it is taking steps to reduce the pool’s size; last year, former Brooklyn Technical High School Principal Randy Asher was tasked with shrinking the ATR. Since 2014, the city has offered separation incentives to encourage ATR teachers to take a lump sum in lieu of staying on the DOE payroll. In 2014, 115 teachers left, and in 2018, the city offered ATR teachers $50,000 to leave the profession; 170 educators took the deal. The CBC report indicated the move cost the city about $8.5 million, but would save the city about $23 million per year in salary expenses.

The DOE also promises to subsidize salaries of ATR teachers for schools who provisionally hire them by 50 percent in the first year and 25 percent in the second year; ATR educators who receive ratings of “highly effective” or “effective” at the end of the first year in the new school will then become permanent hires (though some teachers in the ATR pool say the plan leads some principals to provisionally hire ATR teachers, and then push for a low rating at the end of the first year to get the 50 percent subsidy without having to take on the cost in the following years). The CBC found the subsidy offer led to 372 ATR hires during the 2017 school year.
Last autumn, the city also began to place ATR educators in schools without the approval of those school’s principals. Many principals vociferously opposed the practice, calling it “forced placement” and decrying the loss of control in hiring decisions. The city originally wanted to place 400 ATR teachers in school though this approach, though only 72 were eventually placed.

Earlier this year, The Education Trust uncovered information on those teachers who were placed in schools through this practice; none of the 41 teachers placed in schools without the approval of principals through Oct. 15, 2017 had an “Unsatisfactory” or “Ineffective” rating, according to the Education Trust. Of the 205 provisional hires in the past year, only five had an “Unsatisfactory” rating. This indicated the city placed high-quality teachers in schools, but the Trust’s report expressed worry that the remaining pool of ATR educators could be disproportionately packed with teachers with “Unsatisfactory” ratings (though The Trust acknowledged that the pool was constantly in flux).
In last week’s announcement of a new contract between the city and the UFT, de Blasio acknowledged the new agreement did not do anything in particular for teachers in the pool, but stressed that the administration was tackling the problem through other means.

“The pool’s been shrinking consistently, it will be shrinking more in the coming year. A lot of things that could have been done a long time ago weren’t being done, like ensuring that a capable teacher whose school changed was not left out in the cold but was helped immediately to find a new assignment between June and September of the same year,” de Blasio said during a Thursday press conference announcing the new contract. “There’s a host of other initiatives, but it’s absolutely shrinking and it will keep shrinking.”
The DOE contends its policy reforms are starting to have an impact, noting that there were 765 teachers in the ATR at the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year, compared to 1,131 at the end of the last school year, along with efforts to emphasize longer-term placements to offer schools and educators more stability.

For Rodriguez, an uncertain summer was punctuated with the call she was hoping for; she was off the ATR pool, working as an ESL teacher as a provisional hire at a school in Manhattan. The position has the potential to extend beyond the year. But her thoughts remained with other teachers still in the ATR pool, lacking a permanent placement. Some may enjoy the substitute work, but Rodriguez was adamant that the current design of the system was wasting the talent and experience of teachers already on the payroll.

“Wherever I go, I need to stay. I need to put roots down, and the problem is the constant closures are having people run around. You don’t form relationships, you don’t develop curriculum over time,” she says. “I’m just going to try to enjoy the year, do my best teaching and we’ll see what comes next.”
Assessing the ATR’s progress over the past decade, Eterno contended that the pool’s existence amounted to an towering array of missed opportunities.

“The vast majority of teachers, if given the opportunity, could have helped out,” he says. “We could have been assets, for sure.”