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Fighting NYC School Closings: What happened? What worked? What next?

May 1, 2010 pm31 4:10 pm

This is going to take more than one post. I’ll start with some thoughts and questions.

The governance law.

How bad that the Mayor controls the majority on the PEP?  Any sense of checks and balances on the PEP?

The court stopped the closings because of major and systematic procedural errors (intentional errors) on the DoE’s part. The notification/public hearing requirements, and the need for input, the DoE screwed that stuff up. To what extent will those provisions continue to help us?

Strategy differences

There was some discussion and dispute about how best to fight back: school-based initiatives or centrally-based? (we did more school-based). Involve members from other schools, or not? (we did not). Media campaign? (we did not do one). Lean on mobilizing members? (we gave mixed messages). Argue that the closings were bad decisions? (we did a lot of that)

In the event, Central designated a few organizers who worked closely with the schools and created what we called a “war room.” The borough offices worked even more closely, assigned point people, helped the schools develop local efforts. Some of that effort went towards mobilizing for the CECs; some of that effort went towards constructing the case that the school was being unjustly targeted. The UFT claimed that the schools themselves knew what the DoE was hiding or ignoring, that the schools themselves were best able to counter the charge that they were “failing schools.”  And, as it turned out, some of the schools did create explanations and counters to the DoE propaganda.

There was not a general UFT-generated anti-closure campaign. We had statements that sounded sharp, mostly internal. There was a great Mulgrew piece in the News. But as a union we relied more on “HS XYZ has a good case about why it should not close” and less on “The UFT opposes school closures as policy”

Mobilization at the schools

The joint SLT/PEP meetings were a mixed bag. At some of the larger schools, turnout was larger. And at most of the smaller, it wasn’t. (based on going to five of them and reading reports from a bunch of others.).  The biggest two were Columbus/Global Enterprise and Jamaica, with Smith third, each substantially larger than the rest.

Who showed up differed from school to school. At Columbus (and apparently Jamaica was similar) – everyone. Administration. Teachers. Students. Alumni. Community. And some teachers from other schools. At the others I went to, only part of that list showed up. In one school, the staff seemed absent. In another, only current students but no alums.

Several schools organized rallies or protests the day of the SLT/CEC, or in the days leading up. In some cases there was outreach to neighboring schools, but they tended to be smaller and local. I know Maxwell, Smith, Columbus had something, but I think I am missing 3 or 4 more.

Mobilization outside the schools

ICE/GEM held its own rally in front of Bloomberg’s house. It was small. 350 people. The UFT didn’t block it, didn’t endorse it. The Bronx UFT organized a “rally as backdrop” on the steps of the Bronx Courthouse. The Bronx PEP member, Ana Santos, was announcing that she was going to vote against the closings. (but the rally participants did not know in advance about the announcement, nor that they were going to be backdrop). It was also small, maybe 150?

And finally, there was the ‘big’ rally outside the PEP at Brooklyn Tech. Mulgrew pushed it from the podium at the DA. But the message that ran through the organization was weaker – there was push for members from closing schools, but not much of a push for others.  The UFT brought 50 or so buses from closing schools, but made less effort for the rest of us. And what happened?  I think about 3000 showed. The UFT low-balled an estimate of 1500 (organizers never low-ball these. What was that about? There were about 1500 bus riders alone, I’d guess.)

So, push past the finger pointing (there’s going to be some of that). Ask, why were all three turnouts low? That question needs a general answer. And does that mean that there was not potential for a larger rally? Also needs an answer. Was there potential for larger local rallies? Needs an answer. Should  resources have been allocated differently? Needs an answer.

The Court Case

So we brought people to CEC/SLTs. We made 17 or 16 individual cases for KMOP (keep mine open, please). We rallied at the PEP; we spoke at the PEP; we watched the PEP vote to shut them all down. And then we sued. And won.

Why?  The DoE was sloppy on the governance law. Arrogant? Probably? Careless? Good guess. Couldn’t be bothered? Perhaps. Too hard to comply?  Hmmm. It’s a lot of paperwork (they like giving busy paperwork to our members, but probably don’t much enjoy it themselves.) They tried to ambush us, making announcements just inside the minimum window (late November, for January hearings, for a January 26 PEP vote, with less than 8 months until closure – in other words they left about 6-7 weeks to spare – pretty tight). On that timeline, they probably can’t comply. But if they have all summer and start in September?  That’s a question.

Our individual cases made some of the argument that such cases might exist. But the court did not say that our individual cases were good – just that they were ignored, not heard. It was the procedural violations of the law that saved the schools, for now. I’m glad we have good lawyers. I’m glad we won. But it is a temporary victory.

What next?

I don’t know. What next? Will the DoE come back and try to close all 19, but another dozen from the NY State list?  It depends. Do they have the capacity to comply with the new law on a massive scale? That’s a lot of hearings to hold, comments to listen to, comments to respond to. The impact statements will be much harder to write. They will need to account for students and programs that are displaced. Will they instead target a smaller number of schools? Will they give up? (yeah, not going to happen)

For the schools and teachers and the UFT, we need to be prepared for their most likely strategies.

Do we think that forcing them to actually respond to our 16 individual cases will do the trick? That, for example, Columbus’ case is so well prepared that the DoE will have to concede and leave that school alone? And that it now will depend on the quality of the individual case each school makes?

Do we think we can mobilize our membership more widely, differently from this year? Do we think mobilization can slow the DoE down, or stop them?

Do we think we need a citywide response, a response with our officers at the lead?

Do we think we need more of a national response – against restructuring, RTTTing, and the general assault on us?

Which, or which combination?

At least we know that sit back and sadly watch is no longer an option.

That’s a lot of questions. But we should not wait until September to start talking about them.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Israel permalink
    May 2, 2010 pm31 9:45 pm 9:45 pm


    Excellent post! Very insightful. So many un-answered questions. We do need to talk about all of this now! We are under siege as a profession! Keep up the fight, talk to real soon!!!!

    Peace Jack

  2. Jack Israel permalink
    May 2, 2010 pm31 9:45 pm 9:45 pm

    That was “talk to you real soon”!

  3. Arjun Janah permalink
    May 4, 2010 am31 12:05 am 12:05 am

    Good post!

    Here are some thoughts.

    We are being torn to pieces by the DOE’s divide and conquer policy and by the lack of media outlets for our (teachers’) point of view:

    (1) When they closed schools one by one, we let it happen — perhaps the union figured the membership would let it go. When they tried to do almost a score of them at once, they tripped up — they got too overconfident that the union leadership and its members were pushovers, or they were in too much of a hurry — perhaps to cater to their big financial backers who are used to getting their businesses investments and enterprises rammed through. In any case, they deviated from the divide and conquer strategy temporarily — alarming the membership by the scale of the planned closures and so also the union leadership — creating a backlash as some semblance of an united opposition to the closures was born out of desperation — not by the efforts of the union leadership, but by the DOE’s rash action which brought together so many schools and their outraged constituents in one place at one time for the hearing. Grassroots organizing by teachers and parents also played a part. So media attention was finally given to the outrage.

    (2) Charter school parents and teachers are being pitted against public school ones, rather effectively.

    (3) Younger teachers are being arrayed against older ones in various ways. We can hear this from conversations in the schools.

    What is the strategy to counter all of this?

    More later.

  4. A teacher at Smith HS permalink
    March 31, 2012 pm31 8:57 pm 8:57 pm

    UFT has forgotten about the 33!!!The UFT has effectively done nothing to stop the closure of these 33 schools. A UFT rep showed his face at Smith on 3/29/12. This guy was pathetic, smug and disinterested in the plight of our school. Same old talk about mayoral control; it’s the mayor’s fault. We know that! The question is: what is the union doing about it? I say — it is time to close down all the UFT offices. All those former teachers with those cozy desk jobs have got to go. These people are not in touch with the membership! The UFT has done nothing to organize the approx. 2500 teachers who are under attack at these 33 schools. The UFT REP had no information about any pending lawsuits on behalf of teachers who work at these schools, students who attend these school or parents who selected these schools. Many of these schools are vocationally orientated; many of the teachers are tradesmen and many of the parents selected these schools for their children so that their kids could have a competitive edge when old enough to find employment – none of this matters to the DOE or the UFT. The UFT Bronx rep & the UFT VP of Career Ed had nothing to say about that the fact that the DOE has not promised to reopen SMITH as a vocational High School. Mike Mulgrew has never been to Smith since he became UFT president. The UFT did not report any pending law suits on behalf of the 1200 teachers who names were published in the Post based on bad data. The UFT had nothing to say about the fact that Mulgrew supports mayoral control and he takes credit for the new evaluation system – On a NY1- INSIDE CITY HALL interview – he personally takes credit for this new and improved evaluation system. The UFT rep had nothing to say about the fact that we have not had a contract for four years. THE UFT takes our money and plays games with our futures. The UFT is worse than the DOE. WARNING — THIS IS NOT GOING TO STOP! PREPARE YOURSELF! DON”T USE YOUR SCHOOL SURVEY AS A PLACE TO VENT and DO NOT LOOK the OTHER WAY JUST BECAUSE YOUR SCHOOL IS NOT CLOSING. YOURS MIGHT BE NEXT!

  5. A teacher at Smith HS permalink
    March 31, 2012 pm31 9:14 pm 9:14 pm

    Some strategies —
    1) the staff @ the 33 schools need a place to meet — in person or web based — to discuss a uniform strategy.
    — Right now the UFT Chapter leader & Bronx rep are stating the strategy is for all staff at the 33 schools should apply to all the positions to slow down the hiring process. An alternative strategy proposed was that NO SELF RESPECTING UFT member should apply to any of the newly opened 33 schools. Let the new principals have to deal with the hiring crisis that the DOE created and be forced to staff the school with teaching fellows –hahahaha
    All I do know that the UFT strategies of yelling like maniacs at the PEP meetings and standing on street corners with stupid signs are ineffective strategies that do nothing but provide a photo op for the POST to make fun of teachers and for the UFT paper to get a pic so as to look like they are doing something — when in fact they are doing nothing….

  6. ahumbleteacher permalink
    March 31, 2012 pm31 10:35 pm 10:35 pm

    We teachers are in a sad state of disarray, disunity and denial even as we are being torn apart, dismembered, literally, by the (bipartisan) attack against workers and what is left of their unions, financed by big money and its political operatives — read, locally, Bloomberg (playing both roles) and Andrew Cuomo (playing the latter, as attack dog), supported by both the establishment media and the rabid right. The union, in our case, is a large part of the problem as it is currently structured and positioned.

    Having outlined, broadly, the problem, one asks, naturally, “What are we to do?”

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