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Feels different when it happens to you

April 22, 2008 am30 4:00 am

I attended last week’s Delegate Assembly recovering from a nasty cold. I have to say, it’s still not entirely gone. Today I yawned, wide, and I think my ears opened for the first time since they popped leaving Harriman State Park a week and two days ago.

I find the DA’s frustrating these days, but maybe I am just listening more. Anyhow, there was good. Mulgrew motivated a very strong resolution on continuing to oppose the budget cuts (I would link it. There’s now a link for all DA resolutions, but it lags. I also put it in my blogroll.)

And later Dave Gurowsky presented a strong motion on closing schools. And then something surprising happened: James Eterno offered a lousy amendment.

Background. James is a leader of ICE, and the Chapter Leader at Jamaica HS. I don’t support ICE. They are an opposition caucus in the UFT. ICE captures some of the anger and resentment that the membership feels. There are reasons for this anger – many of them, probably the vast majority, valid. But ICE channels this anger in a non-productive way – they snipe at the UFT’s leaders over everything and anything, they get very loud. I call them the Loud Angry Caucus, which wouldn’t be awful, except, strip away the shouting, as a caucus they don’t do much if anything useful.

As individuals though, different story. Many are union activists, building the union in their own schools, supporting other members against administration, supporting and attending citywide events. In particular, everything I hear says that James is a good Chapter Leader (not an easy responsibility), an active Chapter Leader, and that he successfully involves a chunk of his membership in union activities.

(continues below the fold –>)

When he speaks to larger issues, he is articulate, clear. I find myself agreeing with many things he proposes. Not all, but some. And he is not intentionally provocative – I do not feel that he is disrespectful of his audience. Plus, I’ve met him. Nice guy.

Back to the DA. Dave Gurowsky motivates the resolution on closing schools. I don’t know if New Action proposed it, or if it had a role in shaping it, but certainly we supported it, and it was no accident Gurowsky, a high school chapter leader and a New Action supporter on the Executive Board was the one speaking. It resolved:

  • that the UFT renew our demand that the DoE put a moratorium on closing any schools, including the 14 identified for September 2008, until there is concurrence between federal, state and DoE accountability systems;
  • that before a large school is closed the DoE provide conclusive statistical evidence that small schools substantially enhance student achievement,
  • that the UFT will work to bring about a concurrence between federal, state and DoE accountability systems,
  • that the UFT will continue to use all means necessary to establish a real support system for failing schools,
  • that if the DoE fails to implement the above, the UFT will take appropriate actions including but not limited to campaigns that include working with parent groups, demonstrations involving the membership, public relations and legal actions to achieve these goals.

I left out the word resolved, and the whole “whereas section.” They will be on the UFT site soon.

But for what it is, this is a good resolution. Contractually, legally, we probably can’t stop Bloomberg and his Chancellor. But this resolution declares quite clearly our public opposition, and that we will take steps to interfere with their plans.

I also note that even though some UFTers actually favor closing schools, none of them stood up to speak in opposition. That is good.

I’ve written a lot about this. They’ve closed a ton of schools, mostly in the Bronx. Read here, here, or here. But now James’ school is on the block.

He rose to speak. And he offered an amendment: we should boycott the hiring committees for the small schools getting shoehorned into the larger buildings. Like Jamaica High School.

This was not a good idea. These committees hire for the schools that squeeze out larger schools. By absenting ourselves we would leave the committees in the hands of administrators, supervisors, DoE functionaries, with potential for far more abuse in hiring. Tom Dromgoole, the Manhattan HS DR, rose to say this. As bad as it is getting reorganized, (and he named 2 or 3 schools where it’d happened to him – MLK, Park West) it is important to defend our rights on the committee.

The committees also are bound by article 18D3 of the contract, which directs that under certain circumstances 50% of the new hires will be from the impacted school. HS VP Leo Casey got up and made this point. He roared condemnation against giving up the teachers’ contractual rights. But unlike Dromgoole, he showed no empathy for the Jamaica HS teachers’ distress at losing their school. They may eventually need 18D3. But today they wanted help staying open.

They didn’t get it. At least not yet. The resolution could eventually have impact on Jamaica HS, but I don’t see it today. And even though it is a good resolution, it does not have teeth, and it does not commit UFT officials to pushing its goals. Unfortunately, it often seems that there is impetus from UFT leadership to close schools, but just close them gently.

But it is important to understand the pressure James is under. That’s his school being squeezed, and he doesn’t see his union stopping it, and he is hearing it loud and clear from his members. I saw a dozen or more chapter leaders squeezed this way in the Bronx, as they closed almost all of our schools. We scrambled, we said stupid things, we came up with crazy ideas. We were trying to protect ourselves, our members, from a really awful Board of Education. At Columbus we semi-succeeded, most everywhere else we failed, but I recognize that desire to fight back. And that frustration.

This is what led James to make his lousy amendment. We were right to vote it down. We should have better acknowledged that his anger and frustrated were warranted, that we understood, even as we disagreed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2009 pm31 10:56 pm 10:56 pm

    In your call that they prove small schools are an improvement, perhaps you can precisely state what counts as an improvement. Higher graduation rates are not enough. Percent of students prepared for college should be a measure of this improvement at any school that claims to be college prep. Schools providing vocational training can provide data about employment. Any school where fewer than 75% are prepared for college, should submit employment data.

    • August 17, 2009 pm31 7:00 pm 7:00 pm

      It’s always hard to quantify this stuff, since many of the measures are just so lousy. If we could adequately measure “preparation for college” that would be a good one. I don’t know who I trust to gather employment data…

      But, I have a decent idea of what a lousy school without either.

      As these things get specific, they get complicated.

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