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The attempt to close 20 schools and the UFT elections

May 7, 2010 am31 12:28 am

The campaign by the DoE to close 20 schools ran into a campaign by the UFT not to let them. The result was a temporary win for the schools and the kids and the teachers and the union:  a court has stopped the closures from taking place at this time. But it is a sort of draw – the DoE can go back and try again, and has a guide for the steps to follow. They may not be able to follow for that guide, maybe not for all 19 (one is off the list) at once – but they can choose to reengage on all 19 or on a smaller group or larger group, they choose the timing, etc.

The series of events had some impact on the UFT elections. This was the first big conflict for newly appointed-but-not-yet-elected UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Th closings

School closings are not new to New York City this year. The DoE has been closing schools at a fairly rapid clip for a decade, and some even earlier. The union, on paper, has a resolution calling for a moratorium on closings (until/unless a study shows that it is an effective strategy. I don’t like that clause). But moratorium or not, the UFT has not done much to stop any closings, or even to object to them. In fact, in 2007, in response to over a dozen closings, the official UFT statement did not condemn the closings but rather “called it ‘a major upheaval for all involved’ and said the city needed to see ‘every effort is made to ensure that everyone affected is treated with care, dignity and respect.'”

Last year the UFT challenged a few of those closings, but it was 3 specific schools for a specific reason. We did not challenge “closings as policy”. So when the UFT decided to fight these closings en masse this year, that was a change people noticed. There was a two-pronged approach. President Mulgrew challenged the policy of closing schools, and the field staff helped most of the schools organize both a brief and attendance at their CEC/SLT meeting, and a bus to the PEP in Brooklyn.

At the same time, New Action was pushing for a bigger mobilization prong to this strategy, including reaching out to teachers in schools that were not immediately threatened.

ICE went further, denouncing the leaders, and calling their own demonstration against the school closings in front of Bloomberg’s actual residence. Attendance, as at all away-from-school demonstrations in this period, was weak.  ICE also sent speakers to several of the CECs, and distributed literature.

In the event, the PEP voted to close all the schools. The UFT joined a suit with the NAACP and others, and a court agreed that proper procedures had been violated, and stopped the closings in the middle of the UFT election period.

Elections

ICE was banking on a groundswell of support, especially in high schools where they run their strongest. But members did not mobilize in large numbers around the school closings. The issue was passively followed by members in other schools. And even in the closing schools, while ICE’s speeches were rousing, they didn’t translate into new support.

Most voters supported Unity directly. That’s not a surprise. Additionally, neutral voters would have seen the court victory around voting time. They would have seen the union actively involved supporting the schools. That helps Mulgrew. But it probably helps him get votes through New Action as much as through Unity.

Voters who had voted for opposition caucuses (New Action, ICE, or TJC) previously were now looking at a UFT that had challenged the DoE on the closings policy after 10 years of more or less acquiescing. Those voters were likely to stay with New Action (Mulgrew was NA’s presidential candidate as well), or switch to New Action.

New Action’s vote increased almost 50%. A piece, albeit not the major piece, was our good positioning around school closings. I’ll discuss the numbers in more details in future posts.

But ICE’s vote fell hard, and that was linked to their work around school closings.  1) I don’t know why they didn’t run anyone for middle school exec board, but I assume that they were too tied up with the school closings to work on getting candidates and signatures. Their middle school vote fell 45%. 2) Their elementary school vote also fell by a similar amount. During school closings their most active members were going to CEC/SLTs and giving speeches… it is likely they were too spent to campaign in the lower divisions.  3) In the high schools, their efforts were focused on a smaller number of high schools, their mobilization strategy did not work, the mobilization they ran themselves was small, and they were sharply criticizing a popular president who clearly was interested in fighting back, effectively. This was their focus, and they only lost 15% of their vote.  4) Functionals include many high school teachers. There, too, ICE lost a smaller percent of their vote.

ICE’s strategy was to mobilize around school closings, and parlay that into a surge in high school votes, and win those seats. With limited resources, they ignored the other divisions to concentrate on their chance. As a result, their vote in those other divisions (unsurprisingly) fell. But as the mobilization of members never developed, they were not able to win new votes in the high schools. Mulgrew’s appeal actually pried loose a chunk of their voters from the previous election, leaving ICE stunned and routed.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Millionaire Game permalink
    May 10, 2010 am31 7:50 am 7:50 am

    It is always sad to see schools close. It is worst if politics are involved.

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  1. Analyzing the UFT elections « JD2718

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