Thursday, May 24, 2018

Measuring a Chancellor

I got to see Richard Carranza up close and personal the other night. I'm not going to write exactly what happened at our meeting, because I've pretty much agreed not to. I will say he took some pretty tough questions and answered most, if not all, very well.

I'll go out on a limb and predict there will be no gaffes on the level of, "It's a beautiful day. Macy's is open." He's very smart and has instant recall of more statistics than anyone really should.

Here's what I'd like to see from the Chancellor--I've spent the entire year fighting grievances that ought not to exist. I've heard so much preposterous blather from the cowboys at DOE legal that I'd just as soon fight it out with them face to face at the OK Corral. Of course that won't happen, because it's their job to sit around in offices giving principals telephone advice on how to get around the UFT Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here's how they do it--by blatantly disregarding clear and unequivocal language.

It's not necessarily a bad strategy, particularly if it's your goal to let people know you don't give a golly gosh darn about violating their rights. I mean, I file a grievance, the principal listens. The grievance might be about a letter to file. Letters to file are tough ones, because you aren't allowed to grieve them simply because they're outright false. And yes I have seen letters that are outright false. I've also seen letters that paint nothing as though it's something, and you can't grieve the letters simply because they are preposterous beyond belief.

So what are you left with? You're left with things like the right to remove letters from file after three years. You're left with the right to remove letters if they fail to consult with you about them. You're also left with the right to remove letters if they describe occurrences over three months old. I've been at Gold Street fighting all of the above.

Now here's the problem. Step One is with the principal. The principal is right no matter what the contract says, because legal says it's perfectly okay to interpret things that aren't at all open to interpretation. So that's all good. Then you go to Step Two. You take a whole day and go downtown. You're with a UFT rep, and I've been with some pretty aggressive ones who were very much on point. Although DOE has lawyers, they don't argue any better than teachers.

On the other side of the table is a rep from the Chancellor, who presides over the hearing. There's also a representative of the superintendent. The principal does not actually have to show up, and can call it in, literally. After all, who do you think the DOE is gonna side with? You or their own? In fact, the person supposedly judging the hearing might rationalize things to the principal, and say you did this because of that.

What's the principal supposed to say. "Yes of course I did this because of that. The only reason I would do this would be because of that." You walk out thinking, well, the decision will come back and say the principal did this because of that. After all, who wouldn't do this because of that? Then you think, wait a minute, it's still a violation of contract, and neither this nor that has any relevance.

And then you wait. They have 48 school days to write a decision. But they don't, because rules are for the little people. Rules are the things they use to give UFT members letters in file. Actually, they don't even need rules. They can say they didn't like the tone when you said good morning to the security guard, place a letter in your file, and leave it there for three years. Then you can have it taken out, and they can just put it back. I mean, how the hell would you know? And if you checked and found it there, well, that's another grievance, another 48 school days, and another decision to await.

So the thing happened more than three months ago? No problem. They can say the thing that happened wasn't an occurrence. After all, just because it happened, it doesn't necessarily follow that it occurred. You understand that, right? Yeah, neither do I. Of course they don't have to do that. They can simply say that the thing didn't become an occurrence until the principal found out about it. You see the beauty of that?

This way, if you said good morning the wrong way to the security guard, and it was twenty years ago, but the principal found out about it yesterday, you still get a letter in file. That makes sense, right? No? Well it makes sense to DOE legal, and when the chancellor affixes a signature to it, you have to figure it makes sense to the chancellor too. Who cares if it's a rubber stamp and the chancellor never actually read the thing? If the chancellor's signature is attached, that's pretty much approval.

The issue is, though, that these things tend to be overturned in arbitration. Of course, you may not get to arbitration for a year or more. You have to be really determined to fight this sort of nonsense.

Let's say the arbitrator reads on at least a fourth grade level, and thus dismisses these nonsensical letters. Still, you've placed members through a year of hell for no good reason, and that's a win for the DOE. More importantly, when things that are not entirely ridiculous come up, when there's a gray area, maybe the arbitrator rules for the DOE, just to balance things out.

And maybe that's the game. Here's the thing, though--it's a dirty little game, and a chancellor who respects working teachers simply will not play it.
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