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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.