Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The story that keeps giving: Rhee/Johnson/Huffner (Rhee ex)/White House

New documents: White House scrambled to justify AmeriCorps firing after the fact

Chief Political Correspondent
November 23, 2009

Just hours after Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa released a report Friday on their investigation into the abrupt firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin, the Obama White House gave the lawmakers a trove of new, previously-withheld documents on the affair. It was a twist on the now-familiar White House late-Friday release of bad news; this time, the new evidence was put out not only at the start of a weekend but also hours too late for inclusion in the report.

The new documents support the Republican investigators' conclusion that the White House's explanation for Walpin's dismissal -- that it came after the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, unanimously decided that Walpin must go -- was in fact a public story cobbled together after Walpin was fired, not before.

Walpin was axed on the evening of June 10, when he received a call from Norman Eisen, the special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, who told Walpin he had one hour either to resign or be fired. The next day, congressional Republicans, led by Grassley, objected, charging that Walpin's dismissal violated a recently-passed law requiring the president to give Congress 30 days' notice before dismissing an inspector general.

Pressed for the reason Walpin was fired, Eisen told House and Senate aides that the White House conducted an "extensive review" of complaints about Walpin’s performance before deciding to dismiss him. According to the new report, Eisen told Congress that "his investigation into the merits of removing Gerald Walpin involved contacting members of the Corporation for National and Community Service [CNCS] board to confirm the existence of a 'consensus' in favor of removal." But Republican investigators later discovered that during that "extensive review," the White House did not even seek the views of the corporation's board -- the very people whose "consensus" purportedly led to Walpin's firing.

Other than board chairman Alan Solomont, the Democratic mega-donor and Obama supporter who originally told the White House of his dissatisfaction with Walpin, "no member of the CNCS board had any substantive input about whether the removal of Gerald Walpin was appropriate," according to the report. Only one other board member, vice-chairman Stephen Goldsmith, was even called by the White House, and that was on June 10, a few hours before Walpin was fired. According to the report, Goldsmith told investigators that "the White House had already decided to remove Walpin and wanted to confirm [Goldsmith's] support for the action."

The new documents show the White House scrambling, in the days after the controversy erupted, to put together a public explanation for the firing. On June 11, less than 24 hours after Walpin received the call from Eisen, the board held a conference call. The next day, Ranit Schmelzer, who is part of the corporation's press office, sent an email to board members giving them talking points to use if contacted by reporters seeking information about the matter.

"Indicate that you support the president's decision to remove IG Walpin," was Schmelzer's first instruction to the board. Then: "If asked why he was removed, indicate that the president lost confidence in Mr. Walpin." And then: "If the reporter continues to press, say that you can't get into details on a personnel matter, but you understand there were some performance-based issues." Finally, Schmelzer advised the board to avoid "getting into any specifics about IG Walpin's performance-based issues. The WH has stayed away from this and has counseled us to do the same."

The next day, June 13, after having instructed board members that the correct answer was to express support for the firing, the White House, for the first time, solicited the members' actual views on the matter. In an email to the board headlined "Time-sensitive request from White House Counsel re IG matter," corporation general counsel Frank Trinity wrote, "I was just contacted by Elana Tyrangiel, Associate Counsel to the President, seeking your assistance in responding to questions from members of Congress about President Obama's removal of Gerald Walpin as inspector general. Specifically, the White House Counsel's office would like to compile statements from board members and CNCS staff who were present at the inspector general's presentation to the board immediately before the public board meeting last month." Trinity said each member would receive a call from White House lawyer Tyrangiel, who "will prepare statements for your review for accuracy."

The mention of Walpin's "presentation to the board" was a reference to a May 20 board meeting that played a key part in the White House's evolving explanations for Walpin's firing. After initially explaining that President Obama no longer had the "fullest confidence" in Walpin, the White House later changed its story to say that Walpin, who was 77 years old at the time, had become "confused, disoriented [and] unable to answer questions" at the May 20 meeting. Later, the White House cited other "performance-based" issues. But Republican investigators concluded that the key motive behind the firing was unhappiness with Walpin's aggressive investigation of misuse of AmeriCorps funds by Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, California who is a prominent political ally of President Obama.

Through it all, the White House and top management of the corporation struggled to keep the story straight. By June 18, a week after the firing, with news coverage dying down -- it had never been very intense in the first place -- they felt they had succeeded. "I understand how much work you are doing to prevent and control damage from the IG matter," Solomont wrote in an email to Eric Tanenblatt, a board member who had talked to the press. "I want you to know how much I personally appreciate all your efforts."

Rhee Ex-Husband "Wins" WAPO Contest

As to why Huffman won the "contest", the following posting at the WaPo website explains:

"The Teach for America twitter feed has been campaigning for him and he has over 6,000 people in just one of the several TFA facebook groups. Google him and you'll see a couple of major politicians tweeting for him including Kevin Johnson Democrat Mayor of Sacramento and some major education blogs. It's clear he's invested a great deal of time in this. One wonders though if his supporters will stick around after he wins."

From: nyceducationnews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:nyceducationnews@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Leonie Haimson
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 5:39 PM
To: nyceducationnews@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [nyceducationnews] New WaPo 'pundit' is Rhee's ex; Hiatt responds

More inside the beltway echo chambers. TFA public affairs officer and Rhee’s ex chosen as new “pundit” for Washington Post.


New WaPo 'pundit' is Rhee's ex; Hiatt responds

Earlier, I mentioned that the Washington Post named Kevin Huffman the winner of its first-ever "America's Next Great Pundit" contest.

But it should also be noted that Huffman's ex-wife is schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, an editorial page favorite and cover star of the first revamped Post magazine. In that 4,200-word piece on Rhee in September, the author mentioned that she didn't want to discuss aspects of her personal life, including Huffman and their two children.

However, when Time profiled Rhee last year, Huffman spoke on the record about their relationship.

The summer after her second year of teaching, Rhee met Kevin Huffman, a fellow Teach for America member. They married two years later and had two daughters, Starr and Olivia, now 9 and 6. They moved to Colorado to be closer to Rhee's parents, but the marriage faltered. Huffman and Rhee separated, agreeing to joint custody of the kids. And then Rhee got the offer to run Washington's schools. Huffman, now head of public affairs for Teach for America, had no illusions about the challenges Rhee would face. But when he heard about the job offer, he decided to follow her to D.C. "Even though moving didn't sound like a whole lot of fun," he says, "the reality is that I genuinely believed that she had the potential to be the best superintendent in the country. Most people think about their own longevity, about political considerations." He adds, "Very few people genuinely don't care about anything other than the end result for kids. Michelle will compromise with no one when it comes to making sure kids get what they deserve."

With 4,800 contestants, from all 50 states, it's interesting that the winner ends up being someone familiar with the world of D.C. politics, as opposed to someone far outside the Beltway.

However, Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, pointed out to POLITICO that Huffman was voted in by viewers and readers across the country. "I don't think his personal life was a factor." Hiatt said he didn't know Huffman before the contest and doesn't know of anyone at the Post who did.

And would Huffman have to disclose that he was married to Rhee?

"As with any columnist, we would expect him not to write about areas in which he has a personal conflict, or to disclose the conflict if he chooses to write about such areas," Hiatt said.

Posted by Michael Calderone 02:01 PM

WTU Loses Court Challenge To Layoffs

A D.C. Superior Court judge has ruled against a bid by the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) to roll back the Oct. 2 layoffs of 266 DCPS teachers and staff.
In an opinion issued late Tuesday morning, Judge Judith Bartnoff said WTU had failed to prove any of its core arguments against Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's decision to conduct a RIF (reduction in force) due to a $43.9 million budget shortfall. She said that given the District's financial situation, a reversal of the layoffs would force Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to make other cuts in the DCPS, harming the public interest.
"The District asserts, and the plaintiff has not disputed, that in that event, other staff would be subject to a RIF--even further into the school year--or programs that have been deemed essential would have to be cut," Bartnoff wrote. "Such an action would not benefit DCPS, its teachers, students or staff, or the wider District of Columbia community."
No word yet on whether WTU plans to appeal.
The union argued that the RIF was not a budget-driven layoff but an illegal mass firing, and that the shortfall cited by Rhee was a sham and a pretext for dumping older teachers. As a mass firing, WTU contended, the action was subject to arbitration under the District's collective bargaining agreement with the WTU.
The union charged that Rhee, in essence, went on an illegal hiring spree over the spring and summer, bringing more 900 new teachers on board knowing that she would need to make cuts later.
But Bartnoff said the union failed to provide any substantive evidence that DCPS packed the system with teachers it could not pay for until the D.C. Council cut its 2010 budget by $21 million on July 31. In contrast, she singled out Rhee's chief of staff, Lisa Ruda, as "a very credible witness" in her testimony on DCPS' budget problems after the council cut.
Bill Turque

Monday, November 23, 2009

What Was Michelle Rhee’s ‘Damage Control’ for Kevin Johnson?


Stories broke this morning in the Los Angeles Times and in the Examiner reporting that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee took an active role in investigations of her fiance, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Allow LL to explicate a little more fully what this is and what Rhee is alleged to have done.

Rhee's involvement in Johnson's dealing has been revealed as part of an investigation by two congressional Republicans into the firing of Gerald Walpin, who had served as inspector general for the federal AmeriCorps program until June. Republicans allege that Walpin was fired by the Obama administration for political reasons---in particular, for pressing his investigation of mismanagement of federal funds by St. Hope, the nonprofit founded by prominent Democrat and Obama ally Johnson. The Republican report [PDF], released today, concludes that the White House's decision to fire Walpin was "based on incomplete and misleading information"; that a White House lawyer's explanation for the firing is "not credible"; and that the firing "is likely to have a chilling effect on the IG community." In other words, there's a lot of political posturing going on here.

But along with their report, the Republicans also released Walpin's IG report on St. Hope, which includes interview notes indicating that Rhee got involved after a St. Hope employee reported being "touched inappropriately" by Johnson.

Rhee's involvement in the probe stems from the statements of Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez, a former St. Hope staff member, to federal investigators. According to an interview report, Wong-Hernandez told an investigator that Rhee was well known as someone who filled several roles with Johnson's St. Hope organization and would use Johnson's office when she was in town. Wong-Hernandez said that Rhee 'played the role as "Damage Control". When there was a problem at St. HOPE, Ms. Rhee was there the next day taking care of the problem.'

When the sexual misconduct allegations were raised, Rhee contacted Wong-Hernandez to figure out what had happened, telling her "she was making this her number one priority and she would take care of the situation." Subsequently, Wong-Hernandez found out that Johnson's lawyer had contacted the accuser, after which the accuser dropped the complaint.

Disgusted with how the incident had been handled, Wong-Hernandez quit St. Hope, and it was Rhee who conducted the exit interview. She told Rhee the reason she was leaving was the way St. Hope had handled the sexual misconduct allegation. According to the interview report, "Ms, Wong-Hernandez also informed Ms. Rhee that she didn't trust the management at St. HOPE. Ms. Rhee documented the interview in her daily planner and responded to Ms. Wong-Hernandez by thanking her for bringing it to her attention how disorganized the program had become. Ms. Rhee didn't try to talk Ms. Wong-Hernandez into staying."

The L.A. Times further reports that Rhee spoke directly to Walpin, having discussions "in which she made the case for Johnson and the school he ran in Sacramento" and described Johnson as "a good guy." Still, the paper reports, "Rhee's position had little effect on [Walpin], who filed a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney on Johnson....But both the Sacramento police and federal attorneys declined to pursue charges."

When Walpin's report had to say regarding Johnson's sexual misconduct was a relatively minor part of the report, which focused on misappropriation of federal funds and other serious-but-less-salacious charges. But allow LL to share what Walpin turned up---the first instance related in the report is what was described to Rhee by Wong-Hernandez; it's unknown if Rhee was aware of the other allegations below:

G. Improper Sexual Physical Conduct

Our investigation disclosed evidence of sexual misconduct towards young female Members by Mr. Johnson. One Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 19 hereto), reported that, in the February/March 2007 time frame, she was entering grades into the SAC High database system per Mr. Johnson's instructions at the St. HOPE office at night, purportedly as part of her AmeriCorps service. [REDACTED] contacted Mr. Johnson to inform him that she had completed the grades and wanted him to review them. About 11:00 pm, Mr. Johnson arrived at St. HOPE and instructed [REDACTED] to gather her things and come with him. Mr. Johnson drove to [REDACTED] apartment, which is managed by St. HOPE Development and houses its AmeriCorps Members, purportedly so that they could review the students' grades. While in [REDACTED], in which another AmeriCorps Member had a separate bedroom, Mr, Johnson laid down on [REDACTED's] bed, [REDACTED] sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades, at which time Mr. Johnson "layed down behind me, cupping his body around mine like the letter C. After about 2-3 minutes or so, I felt his hand on my left side where my hip bone is." Further, although not detailed in her written statement, [REDACTED], during the interview, demonstrated, while explaining, that Mr. Johnson's hand went under her untucked shirt and moved until his hand was on her hip. [REDACTED] immediately got up and stated she was done and left the room. When she returned, Mr. Johnson was still in her bed, but now apparently sleeping. Only after [REDACTED] sought to take a blanket to sleep elsewhere did Mr. Johnson exit to the living room of the apartment. [REDACTED] related that Mr. Johnson slept on the couch in her apartment living room that night and subsequently left the apartment at approximately 6 a.m. the next day.

After, as [REDACTED] put it, she "got the courage to tell... my supervisors," she reported the incident, which, she was informed, was communicated to St. HOPE Academy's Human Resources Department and the Chief Financial Officer. The night after [REDACTED] made her report, Mr. Johnson approached her and apologized. Subsequently, Kevin Hiestand, Johnson's personal attorney, met with [REDACTED], described himself only "as a friend of Johnson," and "basically asked me to keep quiet." Also, about one week after this incident, when [REDACTED] told Mr. Johnson she was going to quit because of financial and family reasons, Mr. Johnson "offered to give me $1,000 a month until the end of the program," stating that it would be confidential "between him and I." As [REDACTED] related that conversation, Mr. Johnson "said all he needed was my savings account number," he would make the deposit and "no one needed to know about it." [REDACTED] did not accept this offer by giving Mr. Johnson her account number.

Another former Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 20 hereto), reported that, while attending a St. HOPE sponsored trip to Harlem, NY, from June 26 to July 16, 2006, Mr. Johnson, on three occasions, "brushed [her] leg with his hand," including once "flip[ingj up the edge of her skirt. Other times, she stated, Mr. Johnson kissed her cheek, brushed up against her as he walked past, and massaged her shoulders. ([REDACTED] reported another incident that occurred in Sacramento, CA, in which Mr. Johnson touched [REDACTED's] inner thigh with his hand while enroute to a restaurant. [REDACTED] said she did not report the incidents to AmeriCorps officials at that time because she feared she would be terminated from the program and because Mr. Johnson was assisting her in obtaining acceptance into the United States Military Academy, where she subsequently enrolled.

In addition, former SAC High teacher Mr. Erik Jones (Ex. 12 hereto) reported that a former AmeriCorps Member, [REDACTED], reported to him, sometime in 2007, that, while at SAC High, Mr. Johnson had inappropriately touched her. Mr. Jones stated that [REDACTED] had reported that Mr. Johnson started massaging her shoulders and then reached over and touched her breasts. (Attempts to interview [REDACTED] have been so far unsuccessful.) Mr. Jones related that, after he reported this incident to St. HOPE Academy officials, he was contacted by Mr. Hiestand, Mr. Johnson's attorney, but who identified himself solely as St. HOPE'S counsel, and stated he was conducting an internal investigation. Mr. Hiestand told Mr. Jones that [REDACTED's] "story" was different from Mr, Jones' and told Mr. Jones to change his "story" and then go back to work. Mr. Jones, realizing what he was being asked to do, elected to resign as a teacher and left SAC High.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The charter school charade

Supporters of charter schools, who have nothing but power and money at their backs, nevertheless go out of their way to paint themselves as underdogs.

DURING THE first week of October, at faculty meetings across New York City, public school administrators warned their respective staff members to brace for a new round of budget cuts due at the end of the month.

Columnist: Brian Jones

Brian JonesBrian Jones is a teacher, actor and activist in New York City. His commentary and writing have been featured on GritTV, SleptOn.com and the International Socialist Review. Jones has also lent his voice to several audiobooks, including Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival, Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove's Voices of a People's History of the United States and Zinn's one-man play Marx in Soho (forthcoming from Haymarket Books).

The very next day, Harlem Success Academy (HSA), a small but growing charter school franchise, threw an open-bar back-to-school gala for parents and teachers at the Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan.

I attended this ball as the guest of a co-worker whose grandson attends one of the HSA schools (there are currently four in New York City). For more than a year now, I have written and spoken out against charter schools, but this trip gave me a new perspective on the debate; I'm glad I went.

As I entered the ballroom, one of several enthusiastic greeters welcomed me: "Don't forget to pick up your free drink tickets!" Orange balloons and streamers hung from every nook and cranny, a slideshow projected pictures happy elementary schoolchildren in HSA uniforms, studying, playing chess, showing off artwork and so on. On the edge of the stage, a jazz band played, and just as I entered, the singer began belting out Etta James' "At Last."

By the third time someone offered me hors d'oeuvres, I couldn't stop wondering: Who's paying for all of this?

Harlem Success Academy runs four charter schools in New York City

My co-worker arrived and gave me an earful of what, from her perspective, makes HSA so great. "It's like a private school," she told me. "My grandson is learning the same thing the kids downtown are learning. He loves to go to school."

Besides what she sees as a stronger curriculum (including foreign language study in elementary school), my co-worker returned again and again to the issue of student and parent behavior. "They don't tolerate what we tolerate," she said several times. What is it HSA doesn't tolerate? According to my co-worker: disruptive children and parents who don't play an active role in their child's education.

I asked her to elaborate on this difference between the public school where she and I work, and the HSA school her grandson attends. What does it mean to "not tolerate" disruptive children or non-attentive parents? It means, essentially, that you and your child can be removed from the school for failure to comply with your HSA contract. For parents, that means not only signing your child's homework every night, but your presence at your child's HSA soccer game is mandatory! "It's like they're teaching you how to be a parent," my co-worker told me.

Given the scale of the crisis (Black unemployment is rising four times faster than white unemployment in New York City), it's not surprising to hear that parents are eager to rescue their kids from the devastation other families are experiencing. "But what about parents who work two jobs?" I asked, "What about parents who can't do all of that?" My co-worker didn't have an answer.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AS THE ballroom began to fill up with hundreds of Black and Latino parents, I began to notice young teachers arriving in groups, many wearing large buttons that said, "Hi-five me, I'm a teacher!" Standing in the back of the Roseland ballroom, it sure seemed like everyone--kids, teachers and parents--was happy. As the old saying goes, it's hard to argue with success.

Then the program began.

First, we were shown a video that told the story of Harlem Success Academy. The camera dropped in on teachers working in colorful, clean classrooms. We saw children at work and at play. Everyone was smiling and laughing.

In one segment, children took turns dancing for a worm's-eye-view camera, finishing each set of moves by flashing a piece of paper with a large "4" at the lens--which was meant to indicate a top score on one of New York state's standardized tests. The music for this celebration of test scores was upbeat and irresistible. I found myself feeling sorry for a boy who did his best for the camera, but only had a "3" to hold up.

To my surprise, the next segment featured many of the protests against charter schools that have taken place around the city. At one point, they showed the picket line from the very first day of school at PS 123. The line formed at the separate HSA entrance to the building.

"Can you believe that? They protested at a school!" my co-worker fumed, her voice full of disgust. I responded, "What they're not showing you is what HSA did to PS 123. They took over more classrooms and dumped the teachers' stuff into PS 123 classrooms--that's why they're protesting."

Those demonstrations, to my surprise, turned out to be a theme of the night. Again and again, we heard about the "protesters outside." The very first speaker was an HSA parent. "There are protesters outside here tonight," she told the crowd. "We want to let them know that they can't push us aside!"

Next up was the CEO of Harlem Success Academy, Eva Moskowitz. She went for her biggest applause line early in her remarks. Bragging about HSA's high test scores last year, she pumped her fist in the air: "We didn't just meet Scarsdale [a wealthy New York suburb], we BEAT Scarsdale!"

First of all, show me a teacher who doesn't think that last year's test scores were grossly inflated to boost Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election bid, and I'll show you a teacher who doesn't work in New York City.

But even taking those scores at face value, it turns out that the secret to HSA's success has less to do with improving scores than with enrolling high scorers.

A recent NYC Department of Education accountability report--released to the public, but very quietly--shows that traditional public schools serve more than three times more English Language Learners and nearly twice as many Special Education students as charter schools. But according to the same report, even though charter school students scored higher on standardized tests, the traditional public schools actually did a better job at raising test scores.

To be honest, I couldn't hear much of what Moskowitz had to say. After a few initial cheers, parents and teachers became more interested in talking to each other, and simply drowned her out. At one point, she spent several minutes shushing the audience.

From what I did hear, her most revealing remarks came at the very end, when she introduced New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein. "If you're the U.S. Postal Service, you don't exactly embrace FedEx," she told us, "but this chancellor has done that."

It took me a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor. Moskowitz's metaphor spoke volumes about the charter school "movement." For parents, of course, it's about trying to find something better for their kids. For Moskowitz, it's about privatization and union-busting--FedEx has not only fought off every attempt to unionize delivery drivers, it doesn't even call them employees! The drivers are classified as "independent contractors," which makes them ineligible for (among other things) unemployment benefits. Is that her vision for the way teachers should be treated?

For his part, Klein didn't seem the slightest bit embarrassed at the comparison. He was beaming as he rose to the podium. "I'm thrilled to be among you," he began. "You don't tolerate mediocrity. You insist on excellence!"

Over the din of hundreds of casual conversations, Klein, too, was mostly inaudible. I could make out the themes, though. He mostly talked about the civil rights movement. He mentioned that his wife had clerked for Thurgood Marshall. Describing the education system of those days, he concluded: "It sure was separate, but it was never equal."

He went on to praise Harlem Success Academy for finally fulfilling the mission of the civil rights movement. I thought to myself: Surely, he realizes he's speaking to an audience entirely composed of Black and Latino parents! Surely, he realizes that he's speaking to people who still attend segregated schools! What was the point of his message? That HSA schools "may be separate, but now they're equal"?

Who needs Brown v. Board of Education? Klein seemed pleased to have fulfilled the promise of Plessey v. Ferguson! I have a hard time believing this irony would have been lost on Thurgood Marshall himself.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

JUST WHEN I was ready to make my exit, the next speaker caught my attention. He was a tall, African American man. By his age, and dynamic manner of speaking, I supposed he was a veteran activist. Clearly, this man was on the side of charter schools, though, so I was interested to hear what he had to say. "That's Dr. Fuller," my co-worker told me.

Dr. Howard Fuller, I would later learn, was a Black Power activist who became a privatization-obsessed insider long ago. As Klein has in New York, Fuller spent his four years as superintendent of Milwaukee's public schools pushing privatization. He was an early proponent of school vouchers and later served as an education adviser to George W. Bush. His mission in life seems to be lending "civil rights" credentials (and thus African American support) to privatization schemes.

The organization he founded, the Black Alliance for Educational Options was made possible by the generosity of the Bradley Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. The Bradley Foundation is infamous for sponsoring the activities of racists such as David Horowitz (who authored the "Ten Reasons Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea--and Racist, Too" ad) and Charles Murray (whose book The Bell Curve argued that African Americans were intellectually inferior). The Walton Family, of course, owns Wal-Mart and is one of the top donors to right-wing causes (such as opposing affirmative action) nationwide.

As I listened to Fuller's speech, I knew none of this. But in retrospect, his credentials shed light on his remarks--particularly the way he began. "I'm not going to ask you to be quiet," he thundered, "I'm going to talk right over you!"

He poured out contempt for the anti-charter school protesters. "Why would anyone protest you sending your kids to a great school?" he asked, his voice thick with sarcasm. Of course, he made no mention of the boxes, books and furniture that HSA piled up in PS 123 classrooms this summer or the overcrowding caused by HSA's "natural" growth.

All of this was just the warm-up, though. Fuller's main act was to channel Frederick Douglass.

Judging by the noise, almost no one was listening as Fuller raised himself to his full height and conjured from memory a lengthy selection from the great abolitionist's famous argument that "if there is no struggle, there is no progress!" He boomed, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will."

I don't know about you, but when I think of people with "power," I think of Barack Obama or Michael Bloomberg or even Joel Klein. Each of those figures is a staunch advocate for charter schools. So what "struggle" could Fuller possibly be talking about? And as for the "power" he wants to see concede, I can only think that he must be referring to the United Federation of Teachers.

With that thought, the whole evening clicked together for me like the pieces of a puzzle. That's why the video and the speakers made such a big deal out of the anti-charter school protests--the whole point is for the charter school "activists," who have nothing but power (not to mention money) at their backs, to paint themselves as underdogs.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

BUT I learned something else from attending this event. My co-worker and her grandson are genuinely happy with Harlem Success Academy. Those of us who think it's important to defend public education have to find a way to talk to people like her, or we're sunk.

In 1968, my union went on strike against the aspirations of a section of the Black community to have control over their own schools. Since that time, it's been all too easy for city administrators to pit parents against teachers. Parents--especially African American parents--have seen their kids' educational opportunities shrivel, and teachers have conceded away precious rights in contract after contract. Here, another Frederick Douglass quotation actually does fit: "They divided both to conquer each."

My union better hurry up and figure out how to overcome this division, or pretty soon, there won't be much of a union left.

Nowhere is this truer than in Harlem. The public elementary school where I work in East Harlem has lost 30 students to charter schools since September. It's time that teachers use whatever muscle we have left to wage a serious fight to make the public schools a place kids will love to attend. Parents should be our natural allies in this struggle.

The first step is recognizing that public education will only be fixed not by destroying it nor by funneling public money to private entities, but by giving every school the kind of resources we know are needed to make great schools.

The second step is remembering that power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Email No 8 from JW

Hello, good day.

While the UFT is sending around messages to the the chapter leaders to get people to fax Albany on the projected $223 million cuts to schools, and that vaccination clinics are open now to kids 4-24 and some other categories of adults, and how to pressure the city for more parking spaces, we've collected some other business below that actually affects your job.

But here's one topic they mention that I do feel is important, though their solution is as always gutless and anemic:

"Some principals are still requiring teachers to regularly create individual, written goals for each student. The new rubric for the quality review makes it clear this is not required. If this is occurring in your school, please e-mail aross@uft.org.
I'd follow this instruction anyway, just in case the UFT has the intention to actually do something about it. But don't hold your breath. How long ago was it that they started asking for exorbitant paperwork? They're still asking.


PS: Please forgive typos, I can't look at this anymore.



I've mentioned before that schools keep more than one educator "file." At a recent meeting, the dist. rep said that principals are printing out emails they've sent you and placed them in your files. That is a definite no-no, since you need to know what is in your file. Make sure to cull this stuff out every year.

The DR also said that files on your observations, LIFs, counselling memos, etc., and the file the Personnel Secty keeps for her financial records should be separate - since one's work history should not be accessed by anyone except the principal. The DR said that these two files are legal in the contract, but I do not see a clear picture of how many files are actually allowed in the contact.

In most of the articles, the implication is a single file (see Art. 2, for ex.). Many of the references in Art. 21.A. are to a single file, but see no.3 below: it's plural. To me it seems more of a grammatical mistake than a permission for the school to set up more than one file. Here are some examples from Art. 21.A., but there are way more references to this kind of teacher file.

3. Upon appropriate request by the teacher, he/she shall be permitted to examine his/her files.
4. The teacher shall be permitted to reproduce any material in his/her file.
5. Members may not grieve material in file, except that if accusations of corporal punishment or verbal abuse against a UFT-represented employee are found to be
unsubstantiated, all references to the allegations will be removed from the employee’s personnel file.
However, the teacher shall have the right to append a response to any letter. If disciplinary charges do not follow, the letter and response shall be removed from the file three years from the date the original material is placed in the file.

B.2.b. Counseling memos may not be referred to in, or attached to, any other letter sent to an employee for their official school file.

Other stipulated files:
Under Art. 15.C.7. there's an implied file for "per session" work.
Under Art. 18.A there's an implied file where they keep your job applications at schools you're trying to transfer to.
There's a "medical" file at the Medical Office downtown (Art. 21.K.4)

There is a sneaky little item later down in Art. 21. It clearly indicates they keep MULTIPLE files on you and that there are things called "departmental" files. I will write the UFT on this as I am pretty furious at the inconsistency.

H. False Accusations
. . . . If an accusation of sexual misconduct or physical abuse against an employee is found by the Board or Special Commissioner of Investigation to have been knowingly false when made, the Board will take the following actions to restore the falsely accused employee’s reputation: removing all references to the charges from the employee’s personnel file(s) and adding evidence of the unfounded nature of the charge to departmental files that may have to be maintained to satisfy other legal requirements, if any; . . .

Also: There are probably lots of AP files on you — they should never keep any in hard copy, but probably all do — as well as computer files (which the DR says you can't do anything about).



I heard at a district UFT meeting that some schools are not letting kids take the regents. The principal announced at one of them that certain kids should not be allowed to take the test because it "would cause them too much stress."

Or it might also show how that school, like many others, can't service kids properly under this chancellorship.



I just heard at the same meeting that when they brought over the International Teachers some years ago (at least six or seven, but still going in 2007 according to this UFT article), they made them waive their due-process rights.
PS: The UFT website still talks about Fulbrights for international teachers - not the same thing, obviously, but beware of the small print all the same.



Chanc. Reg C-601 says that for teaching staff -- if school starts at 8:40 and you arrive 8:43, you are "3 minutes absent."

Fractional absences are deducted like this:
"Other than fractional absence which has been approved at the discretion of the principal as non-attendance (e.g., transportation delay), personal business (e.g., the illness of a teacher’s child), or the personal illness of the employee, all fractional absences occasioned by late arrival must be recorded for possible payroll deduction. Fractional absence totaling 30 minutes or less during a school year will not result in an actual deduction from salary but will be recorded as a lateness. When the total is greater than 30 minutes within a school year, a salary deduction will result."

Note that you can have personal illness lateness accrue to 3 hrs and 20 min. before you're cut one day (3.g)

For non-teaching staff, the rule is somewhat different (see 4. in that same reg).



Marjorie Stamberg wrote on Oct. 30th:

"Today's New York Times has news, or at least informed speculation, on the UFT teachers contract which expires tomorrow. It reports what everyone's been saying — that the 4 percent increases were already negotiated last spring by Randi Weingarten in exchange for support on mayoral control. The DOE is complaining they couldn't get anywhere on what they see as three "roadblocks": seniority, tenure and uniform pay scales.
A key issue that we have to watch like a hawk is what happens to the ATRs. The Times quotes the head of the union-bashing "New Teacher Project" complaining that there appears to be "no savings on how much we spend on these teachers without jobs and no flexibility."
We need to make clear that any attempt to put a time limit on ATRs, such as they have in Chicago with disastrous results, is completely unacceptable.
Last year's demonstration at Tweed is a key reason why the DOE was forced to step back on its constant teacher-bashing and vilification of ATRs. Action by the ranks was important in getting UFT officialdom to try to deal with the problem they helped created in the first place by giving up seniority transfers and agreeing to principal control of hiring and the phony "open market" -- key elements of the corporate agenda for "education reform."

I wrote her some thoughts on this, which I'll put in here as well:

I have heard nothing different from the people at the UFT than what they've been saying all along. They are still defending ATRs and claim that it is the DoE mismanagement that has created the ATR situation and doesn't work towards resolution.
I do not think it's mismanagement at all. I think it's pure design to bust the unions and pave the way for corporate education.
I do not get the feeling the UFT will back off on their ATR position or settle on anything less than what they've agreed to already — which has been and continues to be weak and passive. They "allow" the DoE to stick it to the ATRs for sure. But I don't think they will allow them to can ATRs, because every teacher in the system is a potential ATR. All the DoE has to do is close down any school they want and reduce 50% of the teacher force to ATR. That would be the demise of the profession, incrementally of course.
The present contract has the wording for the voluntary buyout. The DoE is not offered such a buyout yet, maybe it will. I get the feeling it is in their interest to allow this fester with no voluntary buyout so that the numbers of ATRs stays high and unresolved until the new contract is negotiated. Why would they do anything to fix this situation, when it works so well for them in trying to get rid of senior salaries.
People I talk to think this contract will not be the problem, but the next one. As I understand it, the DoE will have to do some political work in Albany to kill tenure before they can force ATRs out of the system. (The buyout is in this contract voluntary, as you know. If they ever offered one, the ATR wouldn't have to take it.) I've been told that in places where they put time limits on ATRs (like Chicago), there are no state tenure laws. That seems to me a big difference in how fast they can make their change happen.
Another small point: I am also hearing of chapter leaders and delegates being ATRs. I can't see the UFT taking a position that forces their own infrastructure out of the system.

I know people have different opinions on this, but until it all plays out, conjecture is all there is. Of course, my legal buddies might find some errors in the above thinking, and if they do, I'll circulate their comments in the next email.



A Gotham Schools post that Bd of Regents Chancelllor Merryl Tisch has been saying things like "charter schools need to branch out to serve more struggling high school students, English-language learners and special education students."
Why charters? Why not BloomKlein giving the rest of us the means to help these kids?

Honestly, none of them can be trusted with children.



Dan Brown asks Why does the NY Times attack teachers? (from the Huffington Post)

"If you don't know students personally and know nothing about classroom life, it's a lot easier to advocate the Times simplistic strategy: cut all teachers out and let self-proclaimed "reformers" impose testing regimes designed to churn out stats, not to support children's diverse needs. We need the New York Times to be better than this. "

À propos, see also the Public Editor's apologist remarks (sort of, anyway) for the disgraceful way the paper covered the Bloomberg win. For those who can't access it online, this excerpt:
"On the morning after the election, while reporting that New York’s political establishment was startled by Michael Bloomberg’s victory margin of less than five points, the paper published a revealing insiders’ account of his campaign that told a more complicated story.

"The article described how Bloomberg operatives sold “inevitability” while secretly fretting over private polls showing “alarmingly low” numbers. It included accounts of how the campaign strong-armed one potentially difficult foe out of the race and pressured the White House to keep President Obama from helping Thompson, the Democratic nominee.

"Some readers were incensed that they did not get such details before the election. Scott Kolber of Brooklyn said the information “might have made a difference to voters.” Abby Levine of Manhattan said he suspected an ulterior motive, given how unflattering the article was to Bloomberg, whom The Times endorsed.

"Did The Times withhold crucial information? Did it swallow what its own day-after-election article described as the Bloomberg campaign’s “charade”? Did it pay too much attention to polls showing a huge gap between a well-known incumbent and a little-known opponent? Did it fail to pay enough attention to signs within the same polls that many voters were weary of Bloomberg, offended by his campaign spending and his effort to change the law so he could seek a third term?



In their recent posts, we learn that people are paying fines to get out of the rubber room (nothing new) and that checks our being made out to District 65 (new and weird). Seems like another frightening aspect of BloomKlein will now start to unravel.


Ednotes on the kind of twisted stuff that can get you into the rubber room in the first place



The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYPLI) group FOILed the DoE for what info they have on how much caulk there is in NYC school buildings containing dangerous levels of PCBs. More than 50 parts/million means a danger of risk of injury or health, and removal of contaminated caulk is required by law. The NYPLI has joined with Bronx parents to form the Coalition for PCB-Free Schools, whose goal it is to push for PCB-free learning schools city wide. Contact info: Sr. Staff Attny Amiranda Massie at mmassie@nylpi.org.

Bill Cala: Out of Africa

Jambo, dear friends!

And so another mission trip to Africa is coming to a close. From providing
shoes to countless children in three provinces in two countries, to the
initiation of a new goat cooperative in Katito, Kenya, Joanne and I feel that
much has been accomplished.

We have been working on the bids for the second phase of Hannah’s Hope and
expect that construction of two additional classrooms will begin in December.

Under discussion and consideration is creating a women's self-help group in Homa
Bay in conjunction with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Talks are underway for the construction of classrooms at Lufumbo in Western
Province of Kenya and Usambara Girls School in Tanzania.

We have partnered with the Rotary Clubs of Kisumu, Kenya and Walkill, New York
(one hour north of New York City) for an international grant to provide three
wells. Rotary International has approved two wells in Usenge and one well in
Katito, Kenya. Usenge is a very poor rural community that is in desperate need
of water, education and community services. Together with the Christian Women’s
Partners of Kisumu, Joining Hearts and Hands will be discussing the possibility
of a community outreach center in Usenge. This outreach center will provide
counseling of all types (HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, health and so on). I have
attached two photos of the Usenge area. If you look to the left of the photo of
the pond, you can see a woman collecting drinking water. Women must travel for
miles to reach this pond which is very polluted. Notice the green tint.

The second photo is at the site of one of the wells and the potential community
center. Joanne and I are talking to nursery school children at that location.

Sincere and heart-felt thanks for your never-ending support. Your generosity
has empowered the people of Kenya and Tanzania.

From Africa to you with thanks,

Bill and Joanne Cala

Make you tax deductible donations to:

Joining Hearts and Hands
9 Fieldston Grove
Fairport, NY 14450


2 Attached Images