Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Executive Board Takeaway

Last night was unusual in many ways. Not so unusual, in what's becoming a trend, we had speakers from various schools. The first was the High School of Applied Communication, which appears to have yet another Principal from Hell. Now the thing about Principals from Hell is they are not always universally despised. Sometimes they garner favor via the issue of perks. I suppose, to some extent, this is human nature. But when staff is under vicious attack for no good reason it's particularly egregious.

For example, a new teacher from CPE 1 stood up and defended Principal Monica Garg, who likely hired him. I've known principals I've liked when my chapter leader did not. When I was at John Adams my first principal was named Lou Acerra. He made himself accessible to me, unlike most principals when I was not chapter leader. I would go in, speak to him, and he would either help me or throw me out of his office. I kind of liked knowing where I stood. Now he was very much disliked by my chapter leader. I don't know why that was.

I do know, however, that my then-principal had not reassigned my chapter leader and delegate and made them face 3020a charges. I also know our principal had not banned parents from visiting the school. Whether or not he had done this, I would never have considered going to a union hall to denounce the activities of my chapter leader or activist parents. For my money, there is far too much apathy and far too few people standing up for their own people, and make no mistake I mean union right now. That's why Donald Trump is President of the United States.

It was remarkable to see this teacher complain that veteran teachers did not participate in PD, as though that were remotely the issue at CPE 1. Given the fact that Garg seems to reassign every teacher who speaks up, I can hardly blame them. It was even more remarkable to hear him say he and whatever teachers he may have been speaking for were willing to meet with the veteran teachers, but not off-campus. I'm not sure how teachers specifically banned from the campus were supposed to meet in the school. 

We saw a success story in Townsend Harris. This is a story in which the UFT joined parent and student activists and precluded a very special school from getting a principal much like Garg. This may have been easier because Jahoda had not yet been appointed. But this is a model to be replicated. Disappointingly, I saw a bunch of Unity Exec. Board members applaud the teacher who defended the anti-union Garg. I have to wonder whether they're instructed to applaud everyone except us.

And that's the thing--we are not enemies of the United Federation of Teachers. We believe in union as strongly as anyone in the room, and likely more so. We believe in standing up. If we didn't, we wouldn't show up twice a month to a forum in which we are vastly outnumbered. Someone needs to give voice to rank and file, and someone needs to say things whether or not leadership wishes to hear them. I don't know how many teachers will withhold dues when the chance comes, but I'd say 20% is low. In order to keep that number as low as possible, leadership needs to demonstrate it will act. Refusing to support resolutions for class sizes and against abusive principals is simply not the way to go. Whether they know it or not, it's good that we're there, even for them.

A case in point is the class size situation at my school. If I were not on the Executive Board I would not have been able to advocate for my members. In fact, if I were Unity I would not have been able to advocate for them either, as I'd have been required to support the rather miserable resolution to which we were subject to last Fall. Because I didn't sign the loyalty oath, I can get up and say how poorly the class size regulations have been working out. While it's great that we've won arbitrations that make them a little better, the fact is they are 50 years old. That's a long time to wait for improvement with no renegotiation. And as I told the body, even if we win, even if they have the compliance call tomorrow, we will have fewer than five weeks of relief for the entire year.

That's a pretty hollow victory, if you ask me. They say the DOE will be aware of us next year. Maybe next year we won't have oversized classes. My members can't hang their hats on a maybe. The indisputable fact is that the class size regs have not worked for my school or the three other large high schools covered by the arbitrator's ruling. How many other schools has it not worked for? Your guess is good as mine but given the regs and how they work I'd conjecture it's a whole lot more than zero.

And then there's the resolution we were sent by email. The resolution basically says that we will oppose Janus, and just like almost every other that's come up, I supported it. But there was no emergency, as in a last-minute endorsement. It's blatantly unfair that Unity can bring up resolutions via email. What if, for example, one of us wanted to get up and table it, or speak against it, or amend the guts out of it, as Unity has done to every resolution we've brought without exception?

Clearly there are two sets of rules in the UFT Executive Board--one for Unity and another for everyone else. While we may be far from the majority, we certainly represent the high schools. I'd argue we also represent a whole lot of the disaffected 75% of members who didn't bother to vote in the UFT election. I vote every chance I get, but in a system like this I certainly understand the cynicism that causes members to toss ballots in the trash.

What I don't understand is why leadership at least ostensibly concerned with Janus has utterly failed to show these people why they're wrong.
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