Tuesday, March 05, 2019

DOE Legal + Crappy Pay = Grotesque Incompetence

A colleague of mine happens to be a lawyer. He doesn't work as a lawyer. He works as a teacher. He also has a doctorate, but you'd never know it. He doesn't use the title.

Like a lot of people, my friend often finds himself in need of money. I won't go into details, because they really are not important. My friend teaches at local colleges at night, and will take a sixth class if it comes up. I know how that is. I taught at Queens College for about twenty years. I only stopped when I became chapter leader, which kind of took over my life. I never take extra classes, because I have no idea how I even handle my current workload.

A few weeks ago, someone discovered by friend's law degree. That person reached out to him. Would you like to join DOE legal? This might be a key for him to reclaim his life. No more working nights at college. No more teaching six classes a day. It was simplicity itself.

So he went for an interview. It went well until he asked about the salary. It was $10,000 less than he was making as a teacher. Would they give him credit for decades in the system? No. We don't do things like that over at DOE legal. So he'd take a cut in pay, work more hours, have no chance of teaching the sixth class, and still be stuck teaching college in the PM. No thank you.

I have another acquaintance who used to work for DOE legal, but went the other way, into education. I asked her why the lawyers there disregarded the contract, and why, when UFT said one thing and legal another, that legal was invariably wrong. "They haven't read the contract," she told me. "They just do whatever they want."

That's just one reason the UFT grievance process drags into months and years. I may have written once or twice about the fact that I've got at least half a dozen step twos waiting on arbitration. How long will they wait? No one knows. My last step two hearing was around a month ago. From step one to two took almost a year. We're waiting on the step two ruling, which will certainly go against us because they all do. Our only chance at fairness is to get to arbitration.

This culture of indifference and unfairness pervades the DOE. It's pretty well-known that you don't get rich becoming a teacher. Law has a reputation, deserved or otherwise, as being a financially rewarding profession. When you hire lawyers and pay them less than teachers, what's the expectation of quality? I can only suppose that quality is not what the DOE values. What DOE values is defending principals at the expense of educators no matter what. Truth is of no consequence.

Thus, if you hire the lowest quality lawyers, perhaps you can trust they will not only disregard the collective bargaining agreement, but they will also not bother to read it, let alone consult it. You want to put a letter in file over three months after something happened, Mr. Principal? You want to put a letter in file without consulting with the teacher? You want to refuse to pull a letter after three years? You want to agree in writing to pull the letter, then pull it, then just put it back whenever you feel like it?

That's fine, Mr. Principal. Not only can you do all of that stuff, but we'll rule with you at step two. We'll say that the incident was not an occurrence, and therefore the three month window does not apply. We'll say you didn't need to pull the letter because you didn't feel like it. We'll say the consultation doesn't apply because the letter wasn't disciplinary, even though the contract provides for no such exception, and never mind the letter said if the incident was repeated the teacher might be terminated.

It must be great to have a gig where you can do any damn thing you feel like, ignore absolutely all rules and regulations, and sit around some air-conditioned heated office with a desk and a computer. It's like on The Sopranos, where a bunch of guys sat around a construction site in lawn chairs, drinking beer and watching the people who had real jobs working.

Of course we teachers are the people with real jobs. We get judged by junk science as DOE legal revels in their incompetence. In fact, if DOE lawyers prove themselves sufficiently inept, they seem to get promoted. That's who's advising our principals.

Some people wonder how someone like Ben Sherman rises to principal. I wonder how the ones who aren't like him manage to get promoted at all.
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