Monday, October 13, 2008

From NYC Educator's Mailbox


With the new school year, the Department of Education and its trained media have resumed their favorite all-season sport: teacher bashing, and more particularly teacher-union bashing. The latest round began with a triple-barrel assault last month from the New York Post, Daily News and the New York Times blaming the UFT for the fact that the NYC Department of Education is refusing to assign some 1,400 teachers to classroom positions.

Now a follow-up editorial from the Post (October 5) says: “Can anybody seriously doubt that the United Federation of Teachers stands as the chief impediment to meaningful reform of the New York City school system?” They claim that “ the city is paying out some $74 million a year –- and rising – to teachers who are too incompetent to teach.” This is a slanderous smear.

Chancellor Klein tried to float this last spring with a ballyhooed study by the New Teacher Project, which is funded by the DOE. As for its “report,” any Statistic 101 student could make mincemeat of the cooked-up figures that prove nothing, or the opposite of what they claim. Their main target is the teachers who have lost their positions due to the closures of schools or programs and who are now in the “Absent Teacher Reserve.”

In fact, teachers who were “excessed” (in DOE-speak) are some of the most experienced, talented, and dedicated educators in the NYC school system. Many have been working among the neediest students in schools that have been systematically starved of facilities and funding by a DOE that has illegally diverted to other purposes millions of dollars mandated by the state to reduce class size.

Someone has to set the record straight, and it’s up to us, the teachers, to do it. We are calling upon our union, the UFT, to hold a mass citywide rally demanding that the Department of Education give positions to all ATR teachers who want them and that no new hiring take place until these teachers, and the teaching fellows who are at risk of termination, are placed. We also urge the UFT to fight the smear campaign about ATR teachers. We need to reach out to the parents and communities who are allies in our struggle.

Here’s the real story that the DOE and the media won’t tell you.

  • The number of teachers in the ATR has ballooned in the last several years, going from under 800 at the start of the 2006-2007 school to almost 1,400 reported ATRs this September. The actual figure is likely much larger. This is not because NYC teachers have suddenly become more “incompetent” but because the DOE has stepped up its closure of schools. And there’s a reason behind their madness.
  • Teachers are in the ATR pool because of a corporate scheme to “restructure schools” and cut the budget by excessing senior teachers who receive higher salaries. Under the new budget formulas, teacher salaries are paid for by each principal, which gives them a financial interest in lowering “personnel costs.”
  • This is what you get when you have a school system run not by educators, but by lawyers, privatizers and corporate money counters. The DOE just hired George Raab, III, former managing director of investment banking (!) at the failed Bear Stearns Wall Street bank to be the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Education for $200,000 a year (check it out at As CFO of the DOE, he can run our schools into the ground!
  • Meanwhile, classes are more overcrowded than ever. According to the latest figures available (February 2008), there are over 27,000 NYC students in classes that are larger than contractual limits (NYC DOE, 2007-08 Class Size Data Report). And according to a report of the New York State Education Department this school year “53.9% of New York City schools reported that either class size or pupil-to-ratio increased in 2007-08” (NY SED press release, September 15).
  • So while thousands of students need teachers, there are thousands of certified, capable teachers who are being kept out of assignments by a Dept. of Ed. intent on enforcing its “principle” of total principal control of hiring in the schools. The ATR “problem” is of the NYC Department of Education’s own making. They are tearing up the lives of 1,400 dedicated educators, to be sacrificed on the altar on the Klein/Bloomberg “business model.”
  • The crisis of ATR teachers stems from the 2005 contract when the UFT gave up seniority transfers which guaranteed teachers a right to a position. Now, the DOE wants to go after teacher tenure and the “no layoff” clause in the contract. Bloomberg and his minions are making ATRed teachers into scapegoats because they want to get rid of any form of job security.
  • The media are howling about the city paying millions to teachers who supposedly sit around doing nothing. In fact, the large majority of ATR teachers are teaching every day and in difficult situations. Many are working in the same or similar job as they had before -- only now they have no security in their positions. Others are working out of substitute teacher pools, having to teach out of license, coming in cold to face a classroom of students whose individual strengths, difficulties and interests are unknown to them.
  • Now the DOE has created an additional problem by hiring 5,400 new teachers, yet many of these have not been given assignments either. More than 200 of the teaching fellows have been given till December to find a position or be “terminated.” We must support these new teachers, many of whom left jobs and families behind to travel to NYC, only to be thrown into this “Catch 22” situation.

ATR teachers are under attack The DOE is forever trying to break the contract with talk of forced “unpaid leave” after a year. What they are actually angling for in the short run is to turn “buyouts” into push-outs. The mayor and his education chief are trying to use the situation of the ATR teachers as a battering ram against the union as a whole. We cannot wait this one out. There is no “least bad” option.

We must stand up for our ATRed colleagues, our union, and for the students who are already suffering the consequences of the DOE’s endless “reckless reorganizations.”

Assign ATR Teachers Before New Hiring Takes Place! Stop the Smear Campaign Against ATR Teachers! Stop Union-Busting! Stop Teacher Bashing! Bring Back Seniority Transfer Rights!

And here's a petition you can circulate.

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