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Feeling Congested? Pricing’s Not the Answer

July 20, 2021 pm31 11:22 pm

If all the major politicians in New York agree on something, it’s either a very good idea or a very bad one. Congestion Pricing is a very bad idea.

It has been played up in The New York Times. Cuomo has signed on. De Blasio is a proponent. Adams wants to hurry it up. All the defeated democratic candidates for Mayor supported it. There is pretty broad consensus among politicians.

New Jersey has an issue. And Sliwa doesn’t like it. Melinda Katz once opposed it – but I’m not sure if she still does. Residents of NYC had a pretty negative view until recently, but I think it’s closer to 50/50.

The idea is to charge drivers for entering Manhattan below 60th Street, with the amount of the charge varying depending on how crowded the Zone is. Result – fewer cars, less pollution, and a shitload of money to be used, at least in part, on mass transit. Let’s take the two big ideas – Reduce Congestion and Raise Revenue separately.

A Familiar Problem

Reduce Congestion

I once worked, perhaps a few of you know, in transportation planning. I got curious when I saw Sam Schwartz speak at Brooklyn Polytech. Average Vehicle Speeds on Manhattan Avenues and Streets. I was immediately hooked. And while my actual work eventually involved mostly private bus lines that no longer exist, I never lost my fascination with traffic. I’ve read a bit more than a normal person should. Actually, more than a bit more than that.

Short version: You can cut down the number of cars entering the Zone. But you cannot cut down how bad the traffic is.

Longer version: People tolerate only so much delay. Make the delay worse, and some people will stop taking their vehicle in, until the delay is restored at the level the community tolerates. Reduce the delay, and more cars will flow in until the delay reaches the level the community tolerates.

Example for those of you annoyed by how counterintuitive this is: Recall when a road was straightened, or had a lane added. Recall how traffic moved better for a bit. And recall how other traffic found your spot, and filled it up. And how the delays returned to what they had always been.

Another example: Lane saturation was studied in England, and was the subject of an intelligence report from The Economist, drawing the same conclusion – add lanes? traffic will find them and congest them to the level that congestion existed before. Here’s a brief paper from Canada about this “rebound effect”.

Corollary: Remove lanes, and traffic will drop until congestion reaches the previous level. Great study from the EU – click here to look it over (other links here are brief – but this one is 50 pages)

Conclusion: To reduce Manhattan traffic, remove lanes. Make more streets pedestrian only. Add consistent bike lanes. Add restaurant/commercial space (created from street space). The cars will still be delayed, but there will be many fewer of them.

Who will be affected? Well, everyone in the Zone will face less direct pollution from cars. Quality of life will be up. More walking. More outside seating, dining, etc, etc. Drivers? Those who most need access to Manhattan will deal with the worse delays. But those whose need is more marginal will opt for public transit, or not to take the trip. If the trip takes a long time, drivers will decide if it is worth their time.

Wrong conclusion: Congestion Pricing. Fewer cars will enter the Zone, it is true. But instead of those who really need access coming in, we will see those who can afford it. In fact, we will see an overall drop, but as part of that, wealthy drivers will replace middle class and working class drivers. Very Bloombergian. Zone residents might see nicer looking cars, but that is not a reasonable public policy goal. Plus, Congestion Pricing requires hardware and monitoring devices. Congestion Pricing draws an arbitrary line in Manhattan, and places an arbitrary boundary between one part of the City and others.

And a simpler and more effective method is available to reduce the number of cars traveling in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Just close some streets, and remove some lanes. Nice story here about traffic “evaporating” when a popular link was removed from the London street system.

One Sort of Solution

Side note, since I mentioned lanes. American lanes are wide. Wider than most other places in the world. Do you know what that means? It makes it easier to stay in your lane. Sounds good, right? Wrong. When lanes are narrower, drivers are forced to focus more on their position. They go SLOWER. Fat American lanes produce FAST American traffic speeds. And that contributes to this country’s horrible vehicle accident record, including a bad pedestrian vs car fatality rate. One of the most significant road safety reforms we could enact would be to narrow lanes. Google this if you want to learn more, or click this link that popped up when I searched.

Increase Revenue

Revenue? That’s money the government takes from some of us, and uses. If we are lucky, that money gets used for something that benefits society, maybe benefits us personally.

Taxes. We are talking about taxes. And who they come out of, and who they go to, those are very important questions.

it makes sense that taxes from car use go to fixing roads that cars use. Or does it? Maybe taxes from car use should go to making alternate forms of transportation better or more viable. Or maybe, just maybe, our taxes get jumbled together and repurposed as society needs them.

That last one, taxes don’t get used based on how or where they were collected, is the right answer. Taxes on parents do not pay for schools. We do not tax disaster victims to pay for fire service. We do not tax anyone based on how much trash they generate.

And in fact, this discussion (well, my discussion) is not about what taxes get used for. It’s about how they are assessed. And here we have choices.

Wealth taxes and luxury taxes – good. They are coming right from those who can afford them most.

Income taxes, graduated, with higher rates for higher income, and with a bottom below which no tax is assessed – very good. Progressive taxes. Done right, those at the bottom do not pay, those in the middle pay little, and those at the top pay a lot.

Sales taxes – regressive. We all buy “things” and so get taxed pretty equally, even while some people make much more than others.

Use taxes – even more regressive. This Congestion Pricing business might fall into this category.

Sin taxes – also very regressive. The paternalistic idea that cigarette taxes are to benefit people’s health is bs. Those least able to pay are also the least likely to feel the sort of daily control over their lives that would allow them to quit. These are regressive taxes, and bad taxes. Perhaps because of pollution some NY Times readers would categorize Congestion Pricing as a sort of sin tax.

Lottery – jeez – just rob the people least likely to be able to afford, thank you Andrew Cuomo. And some of those payoffs should be illegal.

Conclusion

Want to reduce the number of cars? Take away roads, take away lanes.

Want to increase revenue? Raise wealth taxes, luxury taxes, and marginal income tax rates on top earners.

Want to avoid bad policy? Stop this Congestion Pricing nonsense before it starts. Opt for solutions that work, and for fairness, instead.

With a Straight Face

July 19, 2021 pm31 1:28 pm

It happens every year, in every class, lots of times. I’ll get a question. It might be silly, or off topic. Maybe it is irrelevant. And instead of saying “that is off topic” “silly” “irrelevant” I tease. I give a fabulous answer. And outrageous answer. A ridiculous answer. How old am I? As if it mattered. 89. With a straight face. Wait, no? That’s not true! And I keep a straight face. Well, almost straight, as a smirk elbows its way into the corners of my mouth. And they make a fuss and laugh, and so do I, and we move on.

I taught last Tuesday. In a room. With kids. Rising 9th graders. Our Discovery Program.

It was great teaching in a room. I got to respond to questions. I tailored discussion to things kids said. No cameras were on. No cameras were off. The kids were just THERE. I could see their reactions. Sort of. I could see who understood well, who wasn’t following, who was distracted. I could generate excitement. I could play kids’ answers off of each other. It was teaching. I had missed it.

It was mildly not-so-comfortable teaching in a mask. But it was ok. And it interfered, somewhat, with reading kids’ faces. That’s a real issue. But still much better than little boxes on the zoom screen.

When I signed up for Discovery I missed some things. A few kids are remote. It does mean I have to have a screen on. I wasn’t so happy about that. But it was minor, and only happens in one of the two sections. And I don’t know all the stories, but one is a local kid who has to babysit for her family – and she’ll be a good student. I understand the necessity. Also, teachers are assigning work on Google Classroom. I completely stressed out when I heard that. I went along with it… but I’ve shifted to collecting work, on paper, in person, as much as possible. I really want to get as far away from March ’20 – June ’21 as I can, as soon as I can.

Anyhow, it was fun being in class, and at the board (even though this room has white boards instead of chalk). And I got to listen to the answers, and to encourage good thinking, even when it wasn’t completely correct, and gently correct quick thinking that was way off course.

And then I got a silly question, and I gave an outrageous answer. These kids never had me before, so they weren’t expecting me to make stuff up. And my straight face, and then my almost straight face, were hidden by my mask. My shtick flopped.

Much better than Zoom. But still, one of my favorite parts is still missing.

Best / Worst Breakfast

July 18, 2021 pm31 11:23 pm

Today I had the most delicious breakfast – but it came with the worst service I’d experienced in a long time.

After breakfast I went for a long ride, which gave me a lot of time to think. I thought about how lousy the service was (this isn’t just a teaser – I’ll tell you further down what got me so bothered) – but I it got me mostly thinking about the nature of serving, and of service work.

This was a diner, far from any big city. The cooks are regular, maybe one is the owner. White men. One server, mid-20s? I think has been there. The other two servers seemed younger. All women.

Is serving by its nature a temporary job? Were these high school kids, who needed some summer money? If that’s the set-up, are we devaluing both service work AND our young people, by treating this work like it is worth a few bucks, and that’s it? Do we send the message that this work doesn’t matter much? And neither does the worker?

If we think that serving is important – and I do – don’t we need to send a different message?

It’s true – astronaut, ballerina, cowboy, doctor, server – which one do kids NEVER say they want to be when they grow up?

Clearly one thing we can do is pay servers more, pay all service workers more. The drive to raise the minimum wage to $15 completely necessary, and, frankly, completely inadequate. (Think about $2400 a month, and then tax taken out, and then pay for housing, food, transportation – include all fares, car payments, gas. Is there anything left?)

And remember, this is serving. There is a LOWER minimum wage for servers. This whole “tip” business is unfair – servers should be paid correctly, and not have to rely on the sometimes unpredictable or arbitrary whims that go into tip calculations (or non-calculations). Here’s something interesting on the subject. I am not an expert, but I am convinced. And, by the way, yes, I considered not tipping this morning. Probably the first time ever I seriously considered that. But I did tip. Just shy of 20%.

But back to the minimum wage – raising it seems like the right way to go. Abolishing the lower minimum for servers? Clearly. But things may be more complicated.

This was a small business, in an area where there’s not a lot of money. People walk in and out of service jobs (not sure if that is true of this place – hadn’t been there since before COVID). But between various sources of assistance, including stimulus unemployment – there are ways to get some money. And these jobs are around – there is seasonal tourist industry, so there’s cycles of employment.

Now, after COVID (I hope “after” is true), there are fewer businesses around. Bigger companies got the stimulus money, and lots of little guys got shut out. Chains got treated as separate businesses, and each got a check. But my diner and the businesses like it in these poorer communities that are dependent on tourists? Didn’t do so well. And those businesses that made it through are, many of them, hurting.

So the point: minimum wage. What good does it do to raise it if these small businesses can’t afford to pay it?

Don’t forget, bigger businesses can afford to pay it, and should.

But we need some sort of cushion for small businesses. They should not be forced out of business in our attempt to help poor workers, service workers.

Some sort of guaranteed income might help. And some sort of payroll assistance to small businesses?

Ok, this morning. Place was about 1/3 full. “Take any table” and I did. Server shows up, asks for beverage, I ask for coffee with whole milk (this is half and half territory). Tell her I’m ready. “Classic Breakfast” (their #1): “2 eggs scrambled well, home fries, sausage, dry rye toast.” “Rye?” – “Rye, no butter”

Back with the coffee, I ask again for whole milk. I wait, fidget with phone. A few minutes (not moments) later, look up, see her chatting with other server. I try to get her attention – she doesn’t see the room (which is small). I try more. Nope. Finally get her – I say “whole milk” and exaggerate the words so she can lip read as well. A minute later she shows up – with coffee. I ask again for milk, she returns. I pour, and realize that my coffee is now luke warm.

Server appears a few minutes later with my plate. This place makes tasty stuff, but the portions are a bit small. I look, portion looks nice. But the bread, on the plate with the eggs/meat/potatoes – is buttered. I send it back, and ask for more coffee (and water). And then I eat. And the coffee comes. And I ask again for water, and it comes, and actually the food is tasty. And I am thinking about how minor these annoyances have been, as I enjoy the flavor.

And she takes everything away, and I wait a little too long for the check (again I see the server schmoozing, not watching the room, and not making eye contact with me), and when the bill finally comes it is for almost double what I expected.

“You got three eggs” – I didn’t ask for three eggs “Yes you did” – She brings over the senior server. “What did you ask for?” “2 eggs scrambled well, home fries, sausage, dry rye toast” “Did you eat what came?” “Yes. But wait a second, even if I had 3 eggs, not two, the upcharge for an extra egg is $2, not $6” “Let me check with the manager”

The senior server returns. “You ordered three extra eggs”

So, ladies and gentlemen, no. And wtf?

Here’s the story, what probably happened. I said “classic breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled well…” and the server, paying little attention, took that as a classic breakfast PLUS 2 eggs scrambled, and then somehow thought 3 instead of 2 because, well, who knows? Maybe an earlier order. Maybe this was her third shift.

And then it came out, and the eggs didn’t look short, like they’ve seemed before in this place, and maybe they looked a little more than a regular 2… could have been 3. But 5? no way. And anyway, I was focused on the buttered toast when I’d said not buttered and she’d repeated it, and I’d repeated it.

Back to my little friend. Someone gets a breakfast with eggs, and then orders extra eggs, and you don’t say “so you want 5 eggs altogether?” (or four, if you were listening only half as badly).

Manager/cook came out – asked what happened. I explained. He said they’d been busy (maybe yesterday. Not while I was there) and said they’d take it off my bill.

I don’t need this tension, and I’m glad it’s over, and wait for the new bill. And wait. And wait. Over five minutes, pushing ten. The servers are chatting amongst themselves. The place is just about empty. I finally get the senior server’s attention, ask if I should come up or if they’re bringing the ticket to me. She runs back, they huddle and decide to make me a new check, and she brings me it. And then she brings my credit card back, fast. And I think, and I tip. Still have to tip, no matter how bad the service. And this was bad. Out of extreme indifference.

Good food. But an hour fifteen (too long!) of pretty awful service.

So no excuses for my server. She didn’t give a fuck, and not in the cool way. Inattentive, indifferent, that’s not right.

But look at the set-up. She’s got a temporary gig – this is not her life, her career. The pay is lousy. And the message all over the place is that serving is a no-skill job that doesn’t matter, and neither do servers.

We need to change that – the entire set up.

But in the meantime, if you are headed way upstate, Essex County, message me, and I’ll tell you the diner and the server you have to avoid.

UFT Endorsement Mess

June 26, 2021 pm30 3:01 pm

The UFT has had bad political evenings before – but June 22, 2021 may go down as their worst ever.

(Now that the school year has ended, it is time to breathe. Part of that, for me: I will try to return to semi-regular writing. I’m going for a variety of topics: education, math, teaching math, fun math problems, science and the pandemic, other science, politics, New York State politics, New York City politics, the United Federation of Teachers and its politics, the New York City Department of Education., and other stuff that surprises or amuses me).

Mayor

UFT endorsed: Stringer

Winner: not Stringer (probably Adams, outside chance for Garcia or Wiley)

The UFT leadership tried a new process, and chose Stringer. They ran a “final” round with Adams, Stranger, Wiley, and Yang – but failed to anticipate Kathryn Garcia and her pro-charter campaign would take off. They poured four million dollars into Stringer’s campaign, and once that tanked, that sat pat.

Their strategy for ranked choice voting was Yes on Stringer, No on Adams and Yang, and to acknowledge that RCV exists. At two Delegate Assemblies in a row Mulgrew quickly mumbled about the ranked choice being hard to figure out, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens. They must have tested the line and realized that it sucked, but had nothing else to say. Only choosing one IS a real strategy. If, for example, it was clear a progressive would win, ranking one and leaving the others off might be an effective strategy. But not here.

With Stringer non-viable, and no recommendations on the rest of the ballot, any UFT impact was lost. UFT votes were likely widely divided. The lack of any word on Garcia probably led to many UFT Stringer/Garcia or Garcia/Wiley ballots.

And the last word, for now, on how ineffective Mulgrew was?  Weingarten ranked Stringer first, Adams second.

“You had a lot of billionaire money — $16, $17, $18 million. That money coming from the labor movement was very eclipsed from money coming from the billionaires,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who said she ranked Adams second, after city Comptroller Stringer

Comptroller

UFT endorsed: Corey Johnson

Probable winner: Brad Lander

The UFT’s Unity caucus fought hard for the Johnson endorsement, losing the first vote because of Mulgrew’s smug antics at the DAs, and winning the second despite being challenged. But no one discussed Lander, a popular City Council member, clear progressive voice, and strong advocate for public education.

Bronx Borough President

UFT endorsed: Vanessa Gibson

In the lead: Vanessa Gibson

She has a five point lead on homophobic scumbag and Bronx non-resident Fernando Cabrera. A lot will depend on how ranked choice plays out. Did voters just choose their number one, and stop? That would help Gibson. Did they choose their number one, and put familiar names on the ranked list? That would hurt her. Did some voters vote their self-identification/race/ethnicity?  The other three candidates have Hispanic surnames. That would definitely hurt her. Or did voters research policies? In that case, from left to right, Fernandez, Sepulveda, Ravelo… that’s also the order of their vote totals (14, 10 and 2%), would seem to favor Gibson.

Brooklyn Borough President

UFT endorsed: Joanne Simon

Probable winner: Antonio Reynoso

Again, Unity endorsed against the progressive, and lost. Simon is in third place.

Manhattan Borough President

UFT endorsed: Brad Hoylman

In the lead: Mark Levine

With just a 3% gap, (28.7% to 25.7%) this could change with later choices being added. I don’t know a thing about the candidates.

Queens Borough President

UFT endorsed: Donovan Richards

In the lead: Donovan Richards

This one is even closer, 41.5% to 40.2% over Elizabeth Crowley, but as they are closer to the magic 50% mark, any lead is meaningful

Manhattan District Attorney

UFT endorsed: Alvin Bragg

In the lead: Alvin Bragg

Another 3% gap. Bragg has 33.9% and Tala Farhadian Weinstein has 30.5%

Next time I’ll talk a little about City Council. They picked more winners in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, and did really badly in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

And someone needs to talk about Unity and political action. Even for them, this was horrible.  They consistently endorsed centrists over progressives, without strong results. They either completely failed to grasp ranked choice (isn’t that what paid political staff is paid to do, figure things out?), or strategized that going with one candidate per race would produce better results (isn’t paid political staff supposed to have better ideas than that?)

And there was paid staff. They brought in an outsider, Cassie Prugh, to run political action. We always had teachers as directors of political action. If going professional means losing more, maybe they’ll go back to the amateurs.

Mayor, failure. Public Advocate, sat out. Comptroller, embarrassing mess. Brooklyn Beep – embarrassing. Other three Beeps, lead in two, trail in the last, but all too close to call. And most of the calls made not on principal, but on who cuts deals without rocking the boat. Bad job guys. Really bad job.

 

Casualties, Central States, and Stabilization

June 17, 2021 am30 11:16 am

When I was a kid I heard the news. It seemed like it was always on. I understood lots of words, but not all of them, not close to all of them.

Part I

I think I was 5 or 6 when my mom showed me Viet Nam on the globe. Cool. And why when it was day there it was night here. I remember where we sat, and I remember that sun beam…

Expressways of Vietnam - Wikipedia

I’m not sure if that was a separate conversation, or if she was deflecting. Because I knew from the news that Viet Nam was a place. And I knew it had really cool low-numbered highways. Highway 1. Highway 9. Highway 13. Not the awkward Eye-91 and Eye-95 that we had. And I knew that there were lots of things along those highways. The news said. But I did not know what these things – “casualties” – were. I must have asked. And I may have gotten a distracting lesson on the rotation of our planet instead.

Part II

I recall hearing about teamsters. I didn’t know what a teacher was. I didn’t know what a pension fund was, but I knew that ‘fund’ meant there was money. Central States! That was cool. I knew every state on the map. Some states came in groups. My state was part of New England, though that was just a name, and didn’t really mean we were connected to England. I had heard of the Midwest, though I’m not sure I knew what states were in it. Iowa? Pennsylvania? Ohio? I’d have to wait to be an adult to be truly confused about that one. But “Central States” – that was new to me. Again, the cool short name. Central. Which were in the center?

Even when I was a bit older, and learned about Jimmy Hoffa, I didn’t really understand. Turns out that the employers contributed to a big pension fund, but did not administer it, and that gangsters used influence in the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters – “teamster” is someone who drives a team of horses – like a horse drawn wagon, and later since it’s the same job really, who drives a truck) – gangsters used influence in the IBT to “gain control” over the Central States Pension Fund. I still don’t know exactly what the mechanism was, or how much control. The Times has us afraid of mobsters. It’s the accountants who will kill us.

Part III

Today I hear a lot about a “Stabilization Fund.” Stable is a cool word. I don’t like when things that affect us are in crazy flux. Stable is good, right?

Retirees get some reimbursements from this fund, so it makes them more stable? Is that where the name comes from? (answer – no)

The City (I think it is just the City, New York City) contributes money into a Stabilization Fund. I do not know who administers the Fund. Do the municipal unions, including the UFT, administer this fund? Money from the Fund is used to reimburse retirees for some of the costs not covered by Medicare. Do I have that right?

When Mulgrew and de Blasio talk about “health care cost savings” I know they are not talking about savings for you – or for me. “Health Care Savings” is when I pay more, or a procedure is not covered, or a doctor is no longer in network.

When we lose health care, or doctors or procedures, that’s “Health Care Loss” for members but Mulgrew / deBlas call it “Health Care Savings.”

Who is saving that money that we, members, are losing? Is it the “Stabilization Fund”?

Who works in the Stabilization Fund? Is it a source of patronage jobs?

I want some answers. About Stabilization, not celestial mechanics.

Today’s UFT Delegate Assembly – What to Look For

June 16, 2021 pm30 5:01 pm

Mulgrew will talk for a long, long time. Few delegates will get a chance to speak. Every vote will go as Unity Caucus wants it to.

That’s all given. But what specifically will happen?

1. Will Unity really win every single vote? They lost their endorsements in April?

1. They lost their endorsements in April because Mulgrew was being a dick, and not allowing people to object to candidates they didn’t like. A little less dickish in May, and they all passed easily.

2. Will there be any real discussion of the NYC Mayor’s race?

2. Wow. So much here.

  • Why did Unity refuse to consider Ranked Choice Voting? Will they consider it today?
  • Stringer looks dead in the water. We spent one million dollars on him (with the AFT throwing in another three mil). How much money do we have to toss around?
  • Will we endorse, or co-endorse, or rank Maya WIley?
  • The UFT consistently says No Adams, No Yang. But Mulgrew has been silent on Garcia, less noxious, but more corporate and dangerous than the other two. Will he say No Garcia, or is this a stealth endorsement.

3. Will there be any real discussion of the Unity Plan to Privatize retirees’ health care?

3. Delegates are trying to get this discussed. Will Unity allow discussion? They might let it come up, and just vote it down. But they might also use Mulgrew-style procedural objections to stop anyone from even asking “can we talk about this?” This is a huge deal.

Privatizing Medicare is bad for future retirees (Unity is making sure that current retirees keep the same level of benefit)

Privatizing Medicare opens the door to what Mulgrew says he wants to do next – renegotiate health care for in service members. I don’t trust Unity with the future of my health care.

Maintaining benefits for current retirees might require taking money from current teachers (additional savings – but those savings are for the City and Unity Caucus. Where doe the money come from? You and me). At a retiree meeting a perceptive retiree suggested that more savings could come from keeping new teachers in HIP, no choice, for 5 or 10 years (it is currently 1 year). Mulgrew said “that’s interesting, we will take a look”

Unity’s approach to healthcare is working AGAINST the New York Health Act (kind of medicare for all / MFA for New York State). At this point there is much support for the New York Health Act. The opposition? The Trump people, joined by Weingarten, Pallotta, and Mulgrew. On health care, Unity are honorary Trumpies.

The NY Health Act, by the way, carves out protections for us. When Mulgrew says that the act will hurt us, he is not being honest.

4. How tightly will Unity control the discussion?

4. In May, every resolution had Unity Speaker for, Unity Speaker for, one independent delegate against, Unity Speaker then vote. Someone orchestrated every word. Unity has always controlled discussion, but after losing that vote in April they were full-throttle paranoid. Was that a one-time, and they will relax? Or has Unity assigned a DA Choreographer as a new category of patronage job?

5. How will next year’s DA function?

5. Mulgrew will be proposing hybrid Delegate Assemblies – remote and in person. Motions and fun stuff? Only in person. Voting? Everyone, remote and in-person.

There are delegates who are saying that remote delegates will be disenfranchised, and that is undemocratic. Others will say that if you want to make a motion, come in person.

Unity will get it’s vote to pass. There will be people speaking against. There is a question what percent votes no. 5% vote no on everything. 50% + 1 would defeat it. What’ll happen? Not sure what delegates will think – but I’m guessing about 20% vote no. It’ll pass.

But here’s the bottom line. My first reaction is to distrust this proposal. Not because I necessarily buy James’ argument 100% (I have to think about it). No, I distrust the proposal because Unity has been manipulating process badly, baldly, blatantly during this pandemic.

Unity got caught cheating last month – 10 resolutions were submitted, but Unity did not place them on the agenda in the order they were submitted, they put the ones they didn’t want to talk about at the bottom. Someone found the receipts. Proof. I would distrust any proposal Unity made about procedure.

Sorry for not ending on an optimistic note. After a year of fighting against hybrid, and blended, and instructional lunch, and “flexibility” in the contract(s?), which all seem to emanate from Unity, I’m not feeling generous.

Stringin’ ’em along – Mulgrew’s Mayoral Mess

June 5, 2021 pm30 3:24 pm

When it comes to mayoral endorsements, the UFT leadership tried to claim that it got it right this time – without admitting how they had botched it in the past. Old timers remembers the Hevesi/Ferrer/Green fiasco (one race, three endorsements, three losses). And everyone should remember how the UFT leadership sat out Bloomberg’s 3rd election, letting him win when we could have beaten him, and spared NYC schools Bloomberg’s four most savage years.

The UFT Leadership Finally Got an Endorsement Process Right?

This time, according to Mulgrew, the UFT leadership (Mulgrew and his caucus, Unity) got it right. Members could freely participate. They read how members reacted. There was a vote at the DA. And the process chose Scott Stringer… who did not (at the time) seem like a crazy choice.

But we still have a mess. Unity cannot escape its history of mayoral endorsement miscues.

The UFT (and AFT – why are they getting directly involved in a local race – the AFT president did work in NYC, but she had worse political instincts than Mulgrew – and it’s a national federation. Anyhow…) The UFT and AFT have contributed four million dollars to Stringer. That’s going all in. Could be smart if he were going to win – but $4M is a LOT of money. And he’s probably not going to win. That’s money pissed up a rope. That’s stringing us along.

Stringer Stumbles

Stringer had an allegation of sexual harassment. End of April. There might be something fishy about it. There was definite weirdness to what the accuser said, and she has a connection to Yang. I don’t want to dismiss it, nor endorse it. But Stringer’s response was weak and a bit slow, and he lost a lot of endorsements – mostly local politicians. And he had a bunch of those – and he lost most of them. One major endorsement he kept? The UFT.

Stringer Fondles

And yesterday, over a month later, a second allegation. Back in the day he ran a bar, he grabbed a waitress’ butt, he tried to make out with her – when she said no, he stopped. That was a different time, back in the 90s. Right? Well, yes, but… I wouldn’t have grabbed someone’s behind. An employee? That’s a problem. And grabbing someone and starting to make out – touching her thigh, kissing – not like that, no. Even if it were a different time, and even if some men behaved that way – I did not – most of us did not – and it was not okay.

And, when he doesn’t recall if it happened with the second accuser, makes it sound like it happened with Stringer in general – he just doesn’t remember with who.

We’ll get back to what the UFT will do. Should do. Could do. But let’s go back for a moment.

Who Were the UFT Finalists?

One of the key decisions in the UFT’s endorsement process was inviting candidates to the final round. The UFT invited Adams, Stringer, Wiley, and Yang. Why those four? Because they were top polling at that moment. And that was not a great reason. Adams and Yang are hostile to us. They are big charter supporters. Yang is an unknown, unsuccessful businessman, who sounds smart, as long as he doesn’t talk too long, or about something the listener actually knows something about. Adams, ex-cop, ex- and future Republican, doesn’t share our values. And at the time a significant minority of UFTers were backing Dianne Morales (whose campaign floundered, and then ran up on the rocks. I think she’s through). But inviting hostile Yang, but not Morales – that wasn’t a UFT member-driven choice. As inclusive as Mulgrew/Unity make the process seem, this key choice was made behind closed doors.

In the end, the final round, Mulgrew questioning Adams, Stringer, Wiley, Yang – it was good television. Both Adams and Yang said things that made clear that teachers should not support them – I’ll grant that – they are useful soundbites. And I’m not sure how “we” chose Stringer over Wiley, but I’m not complaining loudly.

Questions of Competence

But I didn’t understand why the UFT didn’t do a ranked choice selection. When asked, they gave a lame answer. Mistake.

And I wonder why there were not more thorough take-downs of other hostile candidates.

Part of the answer, the UFT’s political shop is weak. They were unable to think, to look, beyond the latest polls. During a run up to an election, dark horses emerge. Front-runners stumble. But the UFT leadership saw the polls as if it were election day. Yang. Adams. Stringer. The top three – why bother with anyone else?

This is not me criticizing the UFT leadership for not being progressive. (They are not, when it comes to elections, and I do criticize them for it.) This is me criticizing them for being amateurs.

Garcia?

I did not anticipate Kathryn Garcia rising so high. But with the Times and the Daily News endorsements, with Yang stumbling here and there (his handlers should time limit mikes in his face – he’s good for 10, maybe 15 seconds) – Garcia’s numbers moved up, and she actually topped the last poll.

Garcia is more pro-charter school than Yang or Adams. She is friendly with the big real estate industry and hostile to tenants rights. She opposes the wealth taxes that Alessandra Biaggi and the State Senate enacted, and those they are still trying to enact. She is politically in Bloomberg’s mold.

It’s time for the UFT to release the lousy things Garcia said. Members need to know that Adams and Yang want to redistribute unused charters, but that Garcia actually wants to raise the cap.

But we’ve got silence on Garcia. Or worse. Look at what I got a week ago:

Notice the message about ranked choice: Just that it exists, and that we can use it. Nothing about who to rank.

The Delegate Assembly approved only one candidate – a first choice. This message may be a violation of UFT policy, by implying the UFT is recommending making other, unspecified, choices.

Notice the message about who to vote for. Stringer. Notice who not to vote for. Adams and Yang. And Garcia? Surging in the polls. Endorsed by the Times. The UFT’s silence looks like a tacit okay to rank her number two. Which would be a horrible mistake.

No Garcia!

Does the UFT have a deal with Garcia? I doubt it. I just think our political shop is amateurish. Unfortunately, with consequences.

Let’s get that message out today, ok? Don’t rank Adams, Yang OR Garcia.

And Still Getting Strung Along?

We are four million dollars in the hole for a likely loser. Let’s not compound things. Please cut off the flow of money. No matter how much he had a chance before, it’s faded. And the money already spent is gone. Don’t make things worse.

As the UFT leadership pulls money from Stringer and stops supporting his events, should they also drop the endorsement? Yup. But unlikely. Flip-flopping doesn’t bother them. The perception of flip-flopping does. They will almost certainly unofficially drop him. Don’t look for them to make it official.

Rank Someone Else?

Will they back a second candidate? Instead of Stringer? Unlikely. As well as, or as a second choice for ranked choice voting? Some UFT leaders were backing Maya Wiley early on. it would seem like the smart thing to do.

Ranked Choice Poll Mess/NYC Mayoral Race

June 3, 2021 am30 9:24 am

We are thinking about “lanes” – blame modern polling pundits for that – but voters apparently aren’t. It’s the easy way to break down politics, especially if you are a numbers guy, nNuAmTbTeSrIsI LgVuEyR… and don’t know much about politics.

Ranked Choice Polling (asking what voters will do in a ranked choice elections) gives away the mistake.

Here’s the last ranked choice poll that I can find on wikipedia:

Notice what happens when Morales is eliminated? Adams and Yang don’t gain votes. Stringer and Garcia gain 1% each. And Wiley gains 5%. That’s like 70% of Morales’ vote going to Wiley. That’s a lane, isn’t it?

But watch what happens when Stringer goes out. His 13% goes to Adams (3%), Garcia (4%), Wiley (5%), and Yang (3%). Pretty evenly split. No lane.

And previous polls? A May 17 poll has Morales’ vote going 1% to Adams, 2% to Garcia, 1% to McGuire (!), 3% to Wiley. No lane. And Stringer’s going 3% Adams, 4% Garcia, 3% Wiley, 3% Yang. No lane at all. More of his votes go to Garcia than to Wiley?

Where do Stringer’s votes shift?

DateAdamsDonovanGarciaMcGuireMoralesWileyYang
May 243%4%5%3%
May 173%4%3%3%
*May 1517%14%
*May 126%5%6%
*May 1212%10%
*April 2113%13%
**April 15
*Mar 1813%13%

*Wiley and Morales were already eliminated

**Runner-up, votes did not shift

Where do Wiley’s votes shift?

DateAdamsDonovanGarciaMcGuireMoralesStringerYang
***May 246%9%4%
***May 1716%14%
May 151%0%2%1%1%0%1%
May 123%3%3%3%
May 127%5%6%
April 214%6%7%
April 154%5%7%
Mar 184%4%7%

***Stringer and Morales were already eliminated

Where do Morales’ votes shift?

DateAdamsDonovanGarciaMcGuireStringerWileyYang
May 240%1%1%5%0%
May 171%2%1%0%3%0%
May 151%0%2%1%1%0%1%
May 120%0%2%0%1%2%1%
May 121%0%0%0%1%3%2%
April 211%1%2%3%2%
April 152%1%1%3%2%
Mar 181%0%1%0%0%1%0%

No Early Retirement Incentive This Year

June 1, 2021 am30 9:36 am

The City did not want it to happen, and gummed up negotiations. That’s my read. Here’s how I think they were thinking:

  • An ERI would have saved money today, with a greater cost in the long run. Kicking the can down the road. But the Biden money undercut the need for cost savings today. And the NY State budget did some of the same.
  • Retirements will be up this year. Schools in New York City will be challenged to fill vacancies. An Early Retirement Incentive would have likely aggravated the crisis.

The UFT leadership supported an ERI – those members who would have benefited would have been very grateful. But the leadership knows, and I know, and you know, the vast majority of the membership would not have been affected.

There were people commenting on previous posts (An Early Retirement Incentive Exists. But What Does it Say? – with almost 1000 comments, and Probably No Early Retirement Incentive This Year)who desperately wanted this to happen. Let me pause here and say that I understand. Let me also pause and point out that some of them may not have actually benefited. It is possible (for some people?) to retire before age 55 but with a substantial penalty – I do not believe that penalty was going away.

Let me also pause to point out that I am over 55, and have enough years. I would have benefitted, with no penalty. Just gravy.

But I was a bit surprised the bill kept moving forward after the federal money was announced. “Good for me” I would tell people “but bad policy. Let’s see what happens.” And then we saw, the City mucked up negotiations.

Look at it this way: For those of us at all invested in an ERI, we wanted it to go forward. And both seats at the table were occupied by players who knew that (UFT leadership and DoE). The UFT leadership could honestly negotiate – as long as there was no cost, it was fine with them, and a good deal for a few members. The City side pretended to negotiate – no reason to piss off a bunch of people – but they did not want this to happen, so they negotiated in a way that guaranteed no deal would happen. I’m referring specifically to the demand that some teaching licenses be included, others excluded, which everyone knows would be unacceptable.

So what next? Nothing, not now.

People still will retire. The numbers will likely be quite high. And we will see some real scrambling to fill positions – much more than in a regular year.

What a mighty fall

May 30, 2021 pm31 1:33 pm

COVID rates, by state, mapped, mid-month and end of the month, from Thanksgiving to today.

Numbers are from CDC, as presented here, on the heat map, by NPR. Maps, including mistakes, are mine.

Colors: The reds are very bad, tans and yellows less bad. At some point I introduced light greens for rates that were above containment levels, but not necessarily indicative of community spread. That’s where most of the country is today.

Are we done? No. Needs to get below that. But this summer will be a great opportunity, as long as we don’t create hotspots and start spreading it rapidly again.

That’s a separate post, probably more. The opponents of public health – concentrations of Trump voters and NY Times readers – are anxious to put us back at risk. Another discussion.

Rectangle Puzzle: Area = Perimeter

May 29, 2021 pm31 11:26 pm

Every square has a perimeter, and an area. If the perimeter is 12, the area is 9 (check that).

But one special square has its area equal to its perimeter. (Answer is in a few lines).

You could just guess at it, and get it. You could do some algebra:

(side)^2 = 4(side) Call the side s, and s^2 = 4s and s^2 - 4s = 0 and s(s-4) = 0 and now we have 4 or 0, but 0 makes no sense.

And yeah, the area of a square with side 4 is 16, and so is the perimeter.

Rectangles (here’s the puzzle)

Now, rectangles come in more varieties than squares. That can make them more interesting, or more complicated.

Can a rectangle have its area equal its perimeter? Yes, 4×4 works (remember, a square is a special rectangle). But there is at least one more.

Can you find another rectangle with its area equal its perimeter?

Can you find all of them?

How do you know when you have them all?

A Little Cryptography

May 28, 2021 pm31 11:51 pm

I’m teaching a Number Theory elective this Spring, and trying to have some fun.

I chose a text, and I knew we would finish it in April, which we did.

And I gave students some choices of what to explore next. While they were choosing, I started a unit on old encryption systems, biding time, figuring they would pick a new direction.

But the direction most picked was to learn a bit of math that underpins modern cryptosystems, so learning a bit more about old systems made sense. Plus, they were having some fun. It’s one thing for me to claim that a code is easy to break, it’s another for me to post gibberish, and for my students figure out what it says.

They don’t own Captain Midnight Decoder Rings, but if they did, the rings would have been perfect for the first few lessons.

I told them to dial the rings to G and to decode the text I gave them. Wow! they all got it. Then I told them to encode a text (sounds bad, but just 250 characters). Not a problem.

Then they looked at encrypted stuff without knowing the key, but the one-letter words gave the key away.

Then we took away the spaces. Who needs them? And they make it too easy to break the code. But letter frequency gives it away. English has lots of As and Es and Ns and Ts, and not so many Qs or Zs.

Once students learned to break codes by letter frequency, even with the spaces gone, we decided it was a good thing we didn’t invest in Decoder Rings.

Next we looked at Napoleonic systems, that involved FOUR (4) or MORE (more) Captain Midnight Decoder Rings. That takes us historically up to the US Civil War (the slaveholders used this outdated cipher, some surprise), and in today’s time, up to today. I can show students how to break this system, and why it is eminently breakable, but breaking it is still hard, and only a few will even attempt it on their own. That’s ok. This has been fun. And next i’ll show them some of the mechanics of Enigma, and some of the basics behind modern stuff (Enigma shouldn’t count as modern).

But that’s all background.

Credit

Any part of that I got right, I owe to Dr. Kent Boklan of Queens College who taught a massively enjoyable class on Cryptography when I was on sabbatical. My group (we did group work) got some cipher text encrypted with Enigma, and we broke it. (Yay!).

And any part of the above I got wrong, I owe to not paying close enough attention in class.

That’s also background.

Choice of Text

I have to choose things to encrypt. And then ask a question. I could ask “first three sentences” “blah blah” “name of author” etc etc. Or I could ask things like, “Who wrote this, and why is he so angry?” Which I did ask (George Wallace on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)

I have picked some righteous words. Frederick Douglas, on Caribbean emancipation. Mohammad Ali, on why he would not fight in Viet Nam, Leonard Peltier: “America, when will you live up to your own principles?”

There was a boring abstract from the World Health Organization. It was so loaded down with Cs and Vs (Covid vaccines and variants) that it made the frequencies challenging.

There are classics. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells (letter frequencies go off in poetry), the prologue to the Canterbury Tales (some English looks funny, and has skewed frequencies).

Songs. Mail Myself to You (really cute, if you’ve never listened, you should). The Guns of Brixton. This Land is Your Land (lots of As, not so many Es in that one). My Rambling Boy was yesterday.

There was an unfair one (I think I got the key, but it doesn’t look like English). They were correct, it was the first few of the 95 theses. I don’t think anyone broke that one.

Another time they couldn’t get the key. But there were only 12 letters, which was a clue. And a few of them checked, and that sounded like something Polynesian. One guessed, correctly, Hawaiian. And then decrypted the Lords Prayer. Pretty impressive.

Choice of Text

I have also assigned students to encrypt texts of their choice. That’s fun, too.

I get popular songs.

I got “I Have a Dream”

I got a Sponge Bob song.

I got an excerpt from the Hobbit.

I have gotten philosophers. And poets.

An excerpt from the Communist Manifesto.

And a bicycle repair manual.

Last week I got a guide to answering questions on the AP English Language exam.

And a reading from an economics class.

More Fun Than Teaching Logarithms

It’s true.

Probably No Early Retirement Incentive This Year

May 27, 2021 pm31 11:44 pm

Today’s email from Mulgrew held out the smallest glimmer of hope, “We will continue to fight until the final hour.” But the final hour is just about here.

When the NY State legislature included in the state budget a provision that would allow the City to negotiate with unions for an early retirement incentive, some teachers got excited.

But the negotiations bogged down. The City made ridiculous proposals (for some teacher licenses, but not others) that they knew the UFT would never agree to. It does not look like the City is serious. They will probably just run out the clock.

What happened? Here’s my guess.

An incentive would save the City money today, but increase overall pension liability. And, with the COVID economy and scary budget this fall, the City was thinking about the incentive more seriously than in any recent year (An incentive gets raised every single year, but usually dies a quiet death. One assemblyman gets to score points at home for introducing it).

Bureaucracy moves slowly, and the City’s interest in the fall turned into serious legislative moves over the winter, and the adoption of the incentive with the State budget last month.

Bureaucracy moves slowly, but the world doesn’t.

While an incentive was working its way through votes and negotiations and back-room deals, the feds sent money – a huge infusion. But at least some of it is only one-year money. So now the City’s immediate situation was much brighter, but with questions about the future.

The City might have gone for the incentive if they were short money today, but were good a couple years down the line. Now they saw their situation as the opposite: today’s money is good, but after that?

The City lost its incentive to pursue the incentive.

But there was already a bill. The City had already committed to negotiate with unions.

The City got what it asked for in November, but no longer wants it in May

So that’s where we are now. The City got what it asked for in November, but no longer wants it in May. Thus the fake negotiating. The demands they know are impossible. The City has every reason to run out the clock. Which, I believe, they are doing.

A year and a day

May 26, 2021 pm31 9:44 pm

Yesterday people wrote meaningful remembrances.

Today I am asking: What’s changed?

One conviction. Almost a thousand more people killed by cops. Police still lying about deaths in custody.

After a few months of outrage and protest – what’s changed?

Why are armed, uniformed police still in charge of traffic stops?

Why are armed, uniformed police still in charge of dealing with the mentally ill?

Why has there been no discernible change in policing?

There is certainly more awareness today, among white people, that police treat Black people differently.

But after that horrible video (and how many other videos?), after those massive protests, after those demands for real change – shouldn’t we have done more than raise awareness?

Oh, that change is still needed, desperately.

I’m glad to see Trump gone from the White House, but that’s not the change I’m talking about. And that change, having a new president, is that going to change policing? Of course, of course, I know lots of people who say “of course” but let’s see that change before we are so sure it’s coming.

Where is that change?

Why do police have military weaponry? Why are traffic stops done by men with guns and tasers? Why do those men go to domestic disputes? Get called to deal with disturbed individuals?

Why haven’t we thought about other ways to keep ourselves safe?

“Modern” police forces have only been around 150 years or so. How else could we keep communities safe? Without killing young men. Black young men.

Armed. Uniformed. Military command structure. Not from the communities they serve/occupy (which one depends on the community, right?)

Magnets for racists. Sadists. Brutes.

There’s got to be better than “modern” police forces. What is it? Why aren’t the papers and commentators talking about it?

Where is the rich discussion? The debate? Where is the progress?

This is urgent, but a year has passed.

Something has to change.

And “soon” is a tired answer.

UFT Makes Endorsements in May that it Rejected in April

May 16, 2021 pm31 1:19 pm

In April the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly rejected a package of endorsements, including Comptroller, Brooklyn Borough President, and some City Council Members, 55% – 45%. It was a highly unusual occurrence – the DA, while occasionally noisy, is a fairly reliable rubber stamp for the leadership. Since I’ve been attending (2000), I do not recall a leadership resolution being rejected.

In May the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly ratified the same endorsements, this time presented singly or in small groups. The votes ranged from 82% – 18% to 88% – 12%. All passed, all had a bit of opposition, but really not much. (at this DA 6% voted no on everything – so 94% would have been as close to unanimous as we would have gotten).

In April there were two speakers against the endorsement package:

  • Dave Pecoraro, a retired teacher and former chapter leader, objected to Corey Johnson for Comptroller and preferred Dave Weprin. He urged a No vote on the package, because it was not possible to separate out one race for separate consideration

Johnson, current City Council Speaker, is, in the context of NYC, a mainstream liberal. He is ambitious. He is willing to make deals. He has no special background or knowledge that makes him stand out as a Comptroller candidate. The UFT leadership is very comfortable with him.

Weprin is the son of a New York State politician, and has been a politician (city council, NY State Assembly) for a long time. Pecoraro talked about Weprin’s financial background. I think the demographic (white ethnic, outer borough, not conservative) better explains whatever appeal he has. I believe some of our delegates, especially older white delegates from Queens, are familiar and comfortable with Weprin’s name (they are probably more likely to remember his father, Saul, or have passing acquaintance with his brother, Mark).

(no one mentioned Brad Lander, the clear progressive in the race).

  • Tom McDonough, current chapter leader, mentioned his objections to Johnson, and to the Brooklyn Borough President endorsement not going to Antonio Reynoso (running as a progressive). But then Tom turned on the process. It is not right that the leadership does not present the candidates individually. Delegates should be able to discuss each race.

Tom’s argument probably swung the vote.

Outside of the pandemic, the UFT leadership brings a package of endorsements to the Delegate Assembly, but allows delegates to separate out controversial endorsements. Those are then debated separately, before a vote is taken.

During the pandemic the UFT leadership instituted different rules, including limitations on motions, amendments, and points of order. They are enjoying much higher Delegate Assembly attendance, which they want, and less discussion and debate, which they are happy to avoid.

Gjonaj Endorsed Without Debate

The first batch of endorsements that came up in January, Mulgrew asked for debate. I got in line – I was going to speak against Mark Gjonaj, a real estate lobby shill in the east Bronx who the UFT has shamefully supported in the past. But I did not get in line to make a motion, or to make an amendment. I was going to talk about who Gjonaj is, and why we shouldn’t endorse him. But Mulgrew asked if I wanted to separate him out. Sure. And then LeRoy Barr suggested that under the current rules this wasn’t allowed without a vote to suspend the rules. My mike was cut off without me having said a word about why I had asked to speak. Mulgrew made a motion to suspend the rules, which failed, 41% – 59%.

Mulgrew and Barr must have been slapping each other on the back, having so deftly avoided discussion. Of course, the proper sequence of events would have been Mulgrew asking “Jonathan, do you want to make a motion to suspend the rules?” to which I would have replied, “No, I will speak against the entire package” – but my mike was cut off, I had no way to object to the abuse.

Made You Look

But they should have paid attention. Their abuse of debate was flagrant, and someone, more than just some ONE, noticed. 41% voted to suspend the rules. That’s a lot of people. How many delegates know who Mark Gjonaj is? Maybe 5%? Maybe 10? In any case, rather than being so pleased with themselves, Mulgrew and Barr should have been concerned about so many delegates voting yes on such a small procedural resolution. At subsequent DA’s versions and variations of the same thing happened. One motion to suspend the rules actually passed.

Two fourth graders playing “Made you look” can play for hours and think they are amazingly clever, and not notice that no one around them is entertained.

This year active participation at DAs is way down. Conversation has become non-existent. Processes are less democratic. But attendance is up, way up. We dial in, instead of taking the train to Wall Street. And, sadly, we have time. Maybe attendance has more than doubled? Lots of regular teachers are tuning in on the phone conference, listening to reports, voting, listening to questions, and listening to debate, as minimal as it may be, for the first time. And regular delegates are hearing Michael Mulgrew, as clever as he thinks he is, playing “made you look.”

I don’t think 55% wanted David Weprin. I don’t think 55% wanted an all-progressive slate. I think most of that 55% agreed that the candidates should be presented and discussed individually, and further, that Mulgrew’s juvenile procedural shenanigans should stop.

Theory Confirmed – May DA

In May Pecoraro tried to get a Weprin endorsement on the agenda. It failed, 25% – 75%. Then Unity put up their Johnson endorsement. It passed 82% – 18%. Also, there were at least 6% voting no on every single vote. Look at 25 minus 6 is 19 and 18 minus 6 is 12. The support for Weprin was somewhere between 12% and 19%. Call it 15%.

In April, 55% voted down the Unity leadership’s endorsements. Around 5% vote no on everything. 15% or so wanted to support Weprin. That puts around 35% voting no because they objected to Mulgrew’s procedure. This “don’t be a jerk” vote is a breath of fresh air.

I have heard speculation that some Unity delegates must have voted no. I’m not so sure about that. I certainly have not heard from any. But I did notice Pecoraro openly breaking discipline. That’s unusual. But he won’t be a Unity delegate any more. As LeRoy once explained to me, their delegates need to vote in “lock step.”

Grumbles

I did hear grumbling about how long it took to get through all the endorsements. Starting with Mulgrew himself, several times during the process. And I heard more after the DA. The Assembly went until – I think 6:25 – we are usually done at 6.

But the extra time was not the delegates’ fault. Mulgrew’s over-long report can be shorter. What did he take, almost a full hour? And how much rambling and talking in circles was there? Better-prepared and better-disciplined he could have gotten us the same information in considerably less time.

But put the report aside. Assume the delegates like his style (I don’t know about that, but for the sake of this comment, let’s accept it). There was no need to make four or five separate endorsement resolutions (each with a too-long motivation, followed by 1. a Unity speaker using a prepared text, 2. another Unity speaker with a prepared text, Mulgrew asking for a speaker against, and getting 3. one speaker against, followed by 4. a final Unity speaker with a prepared text/summation.)

Instead, change the standing pandemic rules to allow any delegate to separate out any individual candidate – just like we did pre-pandemic. One resolution. A couple candidates would have been separated out for debate. Probably the same result.

UFT Delegate Assembly – Who will talk about health care and Stringer?

May 12, 2021 pm31 4:46 pm

Scott Stringer, collecting endorsements, including the UFT’s, ran into a sexual harassment allegation. What will the UFT do?

Retiree health care, stable for years, the Chief broke a story that the Municipal Labor Coalition, including the UFT, are negotiating with the City to move to Medicare Advantage. There is much worry and concern, and the UFT leadership has been attempting to put out the fires.

Delegates Unlikely to be Allowed to Debate Medicare, Stringer

So here we are, UFT Delegate Assembly, two huge issues in front of us, and what will the delegates do?

My prediction: Nothing.

Not because that is what delegates necessarily want, but the UFT’s Unity leadership is unlikely to allow any discussion.

Mulgrew will discuss (and spin) both in his report. It will be a long report (it always is) and he will play down both issues.

Delegates might ASK about either issue in the Question Period – but that’s not discussion – and Mulgrew’s answers will be far, far longer than any question.

New Motions Period – Unity Obstructs the Process

And in the New Motions period? Those ten minutes are the only real time that a delegate can introduce an item for discussion? Nope. Apparently Unity rigged the system.

There is a system. A UFT email goes out on Sunday. And delegates can respond by submitting a reso. First come, first served? Hmm. The first two resolutions up for discussion were introduced by Unity members. If they were submitted first, that had to have been done with coordination by the leadership. And there is real question about when things were actually submitted. At least two of the resolutions on the agenda are listed out of the order in which they were submitted (according to the submitters, and the return receipt timestamps from the UFT).

Here’s the list:

  • Motion No. 1 — Resolution to celebrate Provider Appreciation Day (submitted by Tammie
    Miller)
  • Motion No. 2 — Resolution in support of School Nurse Appreciation Day (submitted by
    Cynthia Bennett)
  • Motion No. 3 — Motion to endorse David Weprin for New York City comptroller (submitted
    by David Pecoraro)
  • Motion No. 4 — Motion to move the resolution on Medicare Advantage to the top of the
    agenda (submitted by Peter Allen-Lamphere)
  • Motion No. 5 — Resolution calling for the UFT to rescind its endorsement of Scott Stringer
    (submitted by Ariela Rothstein)
  • Motion No. 6 — Resolution to increase union participation and build a stronger union
    through hybrid in-person or virtual participation and voting options (submitted by Daniel
    Alicea)
  • Motion No. 7 — Resolution for transparency in health care negotiations with New York City
    (submitted independently by David Price, William Russell, Caroline Sykora and Alex Reich on
    behalf of Retiree Advocates/UFT)
  • Motion No. 8 — Resolution in support of school libraries at summer school sites (Submitted
    by Roy Whitford)

Order of Submission was Manipulated

Since the email went out at 12 noon, and the rescind Stringer reso was submitted at 12:03, something is going on funny. #4, #5, #6, and #7 are all topics that Mulgrew does not want delegates to debate. And Mulgrew, almost certainly, will slow down #1 and #2 so that they come up. I don’t know if he will let #3 come up.

Timing can be rigged; Timing has been rigged in the past

Does Mulgrew really rig the timing to keep motions from being introduced? Absolutely. Just this past November, I had a resolution up, it was #2 on the list. Mulgrew did not want it to come up (It was a call to end blended learning, which would have been a big shift since no one pushed blended more than the UFT leadership). #1 ended. Three minutes left. Mulgrew just talked. Filled the time. Filibustered. Ran out the clock. Yes, he rigs the timi

“Stuffing” the Agenda

To avoid the filibuster, Unity submitted “filler” resolutions to eat up agenda time. Tammie Miller belongs to the UFT Executive Board, and can submit resolutions there. They are, I think, very short meetings. Lots of time. I don’t know if Cynthia Bennett belongs to the Executive Board, but she certainly attended them back when I was a member. Why go through New Motions at the DA where there are only ten minutes available, and not do it at the Exec Board where time is unlimited?

Stringer?

Should the endorsement be rescinded? It should be discussed.

Mulgrew will announce that he referred it back to the committee that made the recommendation. The propriety of such a move is dubious. The committee made a recommendation to the Delegate Assembly. It is the DA that should decide whether to refer an issue to that committee. But the goal here seems to be to keep the debate away from the delegates.

Health Care?

I have more to say about this. This is a huge topic. Healthcare for members is coming up next, healthcare for retirees now. Big stuff. The proposed changes are in some ways not that serious. But they are also horrendous. This is a huge topic, and needs serious discussion and debate.

But for now, should this process stop while delegates discuss this? Absolutely. Will that happen? Absolutely not. Mulgrew is reporting right now. There may be a question – which Mulgrew will give a long answer to. And that, as Unity wishes, will be it.

Why?

Unity never likes discussion that it does not control. But after the April DA, when the delegates rejected Unity’s political endorsements, they must be terrified.

Long report. Half an hour of questions (which is a Good Thing). But delegates do not debate hot issues. The leadership does not want that to happen.

Health Care Savings

May 9, 2021 am31 11:11 am

October 19, 2019, I experienced abdominal pain. Maybe a touch of food poisoning – it’ll pass. But no, it only got worse. I was breaking into cold sweat. The pain was getting worse. Some sort of blockage? Appendicitis? Worse? I considered the emergency room, thought about it, delayed, but with another burst of pain, I went.

The pain must have hit 9. I almost passed out. The doctor quickly diagnosed a kidney stone. An IV drip was amazing. The blood work showed a really high white blood count. Sign of an infection. They were getting ready for emergency surgery. After a scan they hesitated. They did more blood work – the wbc came down – it must have been elevated by the pain. The next morning they sent me home.

I called this piece “Health Care Savings” – but where’s the savings?

  • For me? No savings.
  • For the hospital? No savings.
  • For the City? So, that’s interesting. It’s not really the City. I’ll get back to that.

But whoever pays the bills had two chances at savings, and cashed in on one of them.

First Savings – I Paid Extra

The obvious savings was my copay. I paid a $150 copay. Before the previous round of negotiations, it had been a $50 copay. So that’s a $100 LOSS for me, and a $100 SAVINGS for – for who exactly? Good question.

Because the union leadership and the City agreed that too much was being spent on healthcare, they agreed to work together to hold down costs. My copay absolutely did not go to the union – but the union absolutely got credit with the city for all of the additional copay money. The union meets its “cost savings” obligation by members paying for what the city used to pay for.

Second Savings – (didn’t happen) –

I paused before I went to the emergency room. That copay, $150, is significant. The “savings” (to the city, with credit to the union for meeting its obligation to lower costs) would have occurred if I had not gone to the ER. UFT leadership was quite open with us, people were using the ER when they didn’t need to – and the stiff copay was meant to decrease ER visits.

But I really had to go. That pain was intense – I almost passed out from it. And abdominal pain? A blockage, given my family history, would have been an emergency. Appendicitis would have been an emergency. The kidney stone might have been an emergency (I am glad they controlled the pain and waited and looked again – and realized it was not an emergency – all the same, I still underwent a procedure in January to have it removed). And there was no way I could know which of these it was, or none of them at all. Teledoc? Without a doctor feeling my belly, without bloodwork, without a CAT scan, and without appropriate (non-opiate) pain-killers? Urgent Care? That’s now a fifty dollar copay, for someone who would have sent me to the emergency room.

Nobody stopped me from using the medically necessary services. They just made me pause. They almost discouraged me from doing what I had to do.

When Someone Says “Savings”:

  • Ask, who is saving?
  • What are they saving?
  • Who is it costing?

In my case, the City, with the UFT leadership’s help, saved money by taking it out of my pocked. In my case, the City, with the UFT leadership’s help, tried to save by discouraging me from using medically necessary services. They did not succeed.

Member pays more. Member gets less service. Whoever is saving, it’s not the member.

The Medical-Industrial Complex - OtherWords

A year and a half ago I closed like this:

I only thought for one second about the copay. How about a beginning teacher, with debt? Is the copay high enough to discourage someone at the bottom of our pay scale from making a medically necessary trip to the Emergency Room?

How about we stop calling health care concessions “cost saving changes” and start calling them “life threatening changes”? And then how about we stop making them.

Triple Digit Copays

The next questions should be: why does the union leadership participate in reducing the benefit to members – and are there alternatives.

A NYC Teacher Blogger Fell, 1 Year Ago Today

May 5, 2021 pm31 4:54 pm

Eric “Chaz” Chasanoff was one of the best-known New York City teacher bloggers. He was an exceptional advocate for teachers, and a opponent of arbitrary and unfair policies.

Eric wrote regularly for well over a decade. He started in 2006. And he didn’t stop, until COVID stopped him.

During the pandemic he was writing every two or three days. On April 26 he wrote about reducing administrative costs, and not school budgets. And then… Silence. On May 2 I wrote to him. He was already sick, and did not respond. I didn’t know. I wrote to other bloggers, to his UFT borough office. And then we learned.

Eric was a weatherman – on TV – before he was a teacher. He became an earth science teacher. Earth Science Eric. Read here as James Eterno, his UFT Chapter Leader at Jamaica HS, talks about Eric.

Eric wrote about teacher issues. He wrote about teacher financial issues – pension, TDA. He wrote about problem schools, and problem administrators. He wrote about good work the UFT did, and he wrote about serious problems with the UFT.

Eric was independent, and fiercely so. He belonged to no caucus. Every election he endorsed people from each caucus, including some from Unity. I am proud that each time I ran, he endorsed me.

Eric was not a leftist, as some critics of the UFT leadership are. His views tended to be a bit left of center, but they varied, issue to issue. In the last presidential election he lived through, he did not vote for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton. I believe, had he lived, he would not have voted in 2020 for Trump or for Biden.

Eric’s most consistent “politics” were those of fairness. He advocated for fair treatment, again and again, for teachers who the system abused. The system abused Eric, too. Read here as NYC Educator Arthur Goldstein stands up for Eric against twisted charges (this is from 2012).

After that, the NYCDoE put Eric, a highly qualified teacher, in excess. They made him what is often called an “ATR” -forcing him to wander from school to school. But for Eric, that gave him more experience to write about, and more people being victimized by bad administrators or by the system to support.

And that’s what he did. He taught. He advocated. He wrote. He wrote after he retired. And he wrote until one week before his death.

He was missed, immediately. Many bloggers wrote of his passing. I did. Twice. Eric’s memorial page on the “UFT Honors” site is full of tribute.

I will close this post with what I shared on that page:

Eric wrote on his blog Chaz’s School Daze almost two thousand times. Most of his readers, and he had many, did not know his name. He was not writing for recognition, or promotion. He wrote because he cared deeply. He cared about students and schools. He cared about teachers, especially about teachers. And most of all, Eric cared deeply about right and wrong.

I was trying to think of one example that really stood out. And I looked at Eric’s early writings, about politics and teaching and the value of experience – but the one that caught my eye – in his first month on-line – was about a girl’s basketball game. One team’s coach had run up the score badly on a weaker opponent, 137 – 24. Eric, who had coached, was horrified:

  • * Don’t run up the score on an inferior opponent.
  • * Keep your best players out once it is a blowout.
  • * Never embarrass another team.
  • * Show class and be a role model for your players.

It was that same sense of right and wrong that motivated his defense of teachers. And it is that sense of class, and that dedication to fairness that I will remember.

Rest in peace

A year ago – a mathematical giant fell to COVID-19

April 29, 2021 pm30 6:04 pm

John Horton Conway died of COVID-19 on April 11, 2020.

This is two and a half weeks late. I have been looking for something profound to say. I will not find it.

I met Conway in the fall of 2013. I was on sabbatical, trying to take interesting math classes at Queens College. I was happy I found a class in Combinatorics. Logic made sense for me (it turned out to be both challenging and rewarding.) And I needed one more. Someone, probably Kirsten, let me know: “There’s still seats in Number Theory – you have to take Conway” – and I did.

Conway had retired, but I think Kent Boklan brought him out of retirement to teach at Queens College. They were part of the same mathematical genealogy, going back to Davenport and Littlewood. That was good fortune for me, for all of us. Conway’s stroke interfered with his mobility, not his mind, and he clearly enjoyed engaging with students.

Conway was the most famous living mathematician. Maybe. Probably. The Number Theory was fun. But the stories were wonderful. He knew. personally, the guys (almost all men) that we read about. He told us about their work. He did not hide who he liked, who he disliked, who he felt was a genius, and who he felt was not. He talked about people skills (and lack thereof) and questionable politics. I was an idiot for taking notes on quadratic reciprocity, but not on who insulted whom at a cocktail party during a conference in which city.

Conway may well have been the most famous living mathematician. But he was certainly keeping an eye on – it seemed – all the others.

He liked attention, but most students ran off after class. At some point I learned to follow him. In that way I got personal lessons in Doomsday and other stuff. But I remember Doomsday. His lessons sounded a lot like these, except they were in an office, not a bar. And they were a few months before the YouTubes were recorded.

When he died I told my students. I shared the Game of Life. I shared the Randall Munroe tribute. I told a senior with mathematical promise about the Conway knot and its recent solution (turned out, she already knew).

RIP John Conway

https://xkcd.com/2293/

This year I encouraged a student to do a brief project on the Game of Life. And instead of my regular elective, I decided to teach an Intro to Number Theory. I taught my students to appreciate mathematical genealogy, and to recognize some royal lineages, including Conway’s. When we looked at Fermat’s Last Theorem, I gave them a video about Andrew Wiles, wherein Conway was one of the talking heads.

https://playgameoflife.com/

And just now, needing a nice application of congruences, we turned to Doomsday, as Conway conceived of it, as Conway himself described it. My students watched the videos that are posted just above. And I shared with them how John showed off his speed, which was well known. When I was in the office he also showed off his intricate knowledge of the dates of adoption of the Gregorian Calendar, which is a bit more than one might think, since in the place of today’s Germany were maybe 50 or 100 individual states – some of which adopted, switched back, and adopted again.

I wish I could have found something profound to say here. But in the almost three weeks I have been stalling, I have shared with my students bits of the playfulness with which John Horton Conway approached mathematics. Maybe that’s a better tribute than the words I could not find.

Progress on Early Retirement Incentive

April 20, 2021 pm30 6:17 pm

Yesterday, in Albany, Andrew Cuomo signed the budget bill containing the incentive. Now it is up to the NYC Mayor and the City Council and the municipal unions to work something out.

A few points, before I share the UFT email I received today:

  1. It is up to the mayor, city council, and unions to work things out – including which titles are covered. I think the bill says “non-uniformed.” No one is included until/unless there is a deal, and there is no guarantee a particular group will be included (if there is a deal at all)
  2. The UFT, if there is a deal, will send out a lot of specific information. There are many, many questions, and until there is a deal in hand and a pension fact sheet (or better, specialist) in front of you, they will remain questions.
  3. Yes, there may be other unions involved.

One very specific point – I have read the relevant section of the bill – I don’t see any provision that wavies the penalty for retiring before 55. I’m not a pension specialist, and better information will come out… but I think 53 comes with a penalty, whether or not there is an incentive. Certainly you should wait for definitive information to come out, but….

And a curious point about the UFT email. Look who they do not mention – New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. The UFT’s Unity leadership has a track record of not criticizing Cuomo. Last April he took away our Spring Break (5 days), and Mulgrew sent out an email saying this was a Good and Thoughtful Decision. (And then de Blasio took away Passover and Good Friday (2 days) and Mulgrew went ballistic.) So why does Mulgrew mention de Blasio, the City Council, and the State Legislature, but skip over randy Andy? If you have a guess, I’d be curious to hear it.

Here’s the UFT email (I lost the formatting in the cut and paste. WordPress has a new editor, and I don’t know it yet)

Jonathan, we are one step closer to an early retirement incentive.

The state Legislature included an early retirement incentive in the final budget, which the governor signed on Monday. It puts us one step closer to securing the benefit before the summer. But there is still one more hurdle: reaching an agreement with the mayor and the City Council. We hope we can reach an agreement that provides this well-deserved opportunity for many of our members. We will work hard to negotiate these crucial details as quickly as possible.Please be patient. We will share the details with you as soon as we reach an agreement with City Hall.
The UFT convinces state legislature to include early retirement incentive in state budget
The UFT negotiates program details with mayor and city council
Members will be notified with details and invited to attend information sessions
While You Wait

The UFT website and your retirement system’s website are packed with helpful information about retirement. Once an agreement is reached, we will provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision.

UFT Retirement Toolkit.
TRS Website
. BERS Website

UFT Endorsement Process

April 19, 2021 pm30 10:23 pm

The United Federation of Teachers just picked a candidate to endorse for Mayor (Scott Stringer – he received 90% of the up or down vote).

Better Process

This has been a better process than previous campaigns – by far. Apparently the leadership took everyone who volunteered. That’s a change from the past. The Town Halls were like infomercials – but slick and well-run, and informative.

I did not participate (other than watching the final town hall – which Mulgrew ran nicely). I did not realize that the process was changed to allow all of us to participate (last time I had checked, members of other caucuses had a hard time getting in the door). But more than that, with ten serious candidates and many more not as serious candidates, this was going to be an enormous time sink. I chose to put my time into my chapter and my teaching.

This was very different from eight years ago. In 2013 I went to meetings with Mulgrew and the candidates – but we weren’t really participating – and there wasn’t much attempt to get input from us. But 2013 was already an improvement over what had come before.

Low Bar

But doing a better job than in the past is a pretty low bar.

Everyone knows the UFT’s track record with picking mayoral winners for the past couple of decades has been, ahem.

I guess I would say that making a bad pick while standing up for our values, our members, our profession – that would be completely understandable. But, hmm hmm…

What Pay? What Play? Hevesi 2001

We never learned what conversation between Randi Weingarten and Alan Hevesi led to the bizarre UFT 2001 endorsement. We do know that Hevesi was later found to have engaged in quite a bit of pay for play. I wish I knew what was in their conversation. In any case, Hevesi finished four out of four. The UFT went on to endorse in the runoff (finished second out of two), and then in the general (finished second out of two). One election, three last place endorsements.

2009 Cowardice in the Face of a Bully

We know what happened in 2009. I know, because I was there. Bloomberg rigged the works to run for a third term. He had done amazing damage to the school system in his first two terms. Did anyone know he would do his worst damage in his third term?

Bill Thompson was trailing in the polls, but at 8 points and closing. There were signs that this was going to be a closer election than in 2001, or 2005. So we stand up to Bloomberg, and if we don’t win, at least we go down swinging, fighting for education, fighting for the membership, fighting for what is right? Nope. The UFT leadership was quiet. It became clear they planned to sit out the election, as if not offending Bloomberg might do us some good. I got up at the October 2009 Delegate Assembly to move an endorsement of Bloomberg’s opponent – Bill Thompson. Mulgrew argued that by staying out of the election we would get a contract from Bloomberg. LeRoy Barr and Paul Egan got up to procedurally quash my motion, and to argue that Thompson was not viable.

Bloomberg won the election, but by his smallest margin, just over 4 points. Would a UFT endorsement have made a difference? Absolutely, yes. Enough? We don’t know. But that was a completely unnecessary mistake. Oh, and that contract Mulgrew told us we were safeguarding by not endorsing? H-hmm.

Moving Forward

I’m glad that the UFT leadership has seen the need to improve the endorsement process. It looks like they have taken some significant steps in the right direction.

But we should be talking about what went wrong in the past, so that we can learn from it. And so that we don’t repeat it. Open, honest discussion makes us stronger.

It is certainly the right thing, what the leadership has done, involving many more members in the process. But there is information that is not being shared.

Our internal polls – perhaps the fine details, the crosstabs – perhaps there is much that we don’t want to publish. But post-town hall – who impressed you? There are certainly topline numbers that members should have seen.

And the criteria being used to select candidates – what were they – and how were they selected? I know, I know, I heard the talking point – “we want a candidate who is good for education and good for our members” – but that’s general, and there was a specific list. How did that list get made, how do we arrive at specific issues? I personally was delighted that we made class size a huge issue. I wish that it had always been an issue. So something has changed, become better. But how did that happen?

The strength, at least in theory, of the union, of any union, is in members taking collective action. That works best when we take collective decisions. And that means discussion – not just members reporting what they think to leadership, and listening to what leadership decides. It means members speaking with members. Honestly, it means active chapters. It means open discussion and debate. It means decision-making involving members, with the direct participation of members and their delegates, rather than in secret.

The town hall process, the broad involvement of members, is a step in the right direction. There is a long way to go.

A year ago, another

April 18, 2021 am30 11:21 am

Actually, a year and three days. Jonathan Leventon, New Action supporter and Exec Board member, died from COVID-19 on April 15, 2020.

Jon had retired from teaching some years earlier. He continued for some time to be involved directly in UFT activity, serving on the UFT Organizing Committee in Queens.

Jon was a direct victim of Andrew Cuomo – at the time of his death he was living in a nursing home on Long Island.

A year ago today, another loss

April 11, 2021 am30 3:53 am

A UFT Executive Board Meeting is wrapping. I’m not sure when. Not in the last two years. I’d disagreed with Mulgrew. Or Weingarten. Or Michael Mendel (I miss Michael). Or maybe a DR meeting, and I had spoken sharply.

Whatever. The meeting is over, and a slight figure, smiling, comes over, to explain that I spoke well, but that there really was no disagreement. Well-intentioned. So well-intentioned that it was tempting to overlook that he was wrong about the disagreement. Winston Slivera.

Winston was warm and friendly. He thought people should get along. I never saw him cross or angry or even annoyed. I often saw him at citywide meetings and Bronx meetings. Always smiling. I think the last I spoke to him he was saying it was a shame that I was no longer on the Executive Board (this from a member of Unity Caucus).

Winston had been a science teacher at Truman High School in the Bronx, a chapter leader, and in retirement a staffer in the Bronx office. Here’s more about him.

A year ago today Winston died of COVID-19.

Please, just tell us the truth

April 10, 2021 pm30 2:09 pm

On Thursday the New York City Department of Education got rid of the “two cases” rule – a holdover from September. If there were two unlinked cases in a school, that school would be closed. The UFT had fought to maintain that rule. This may have been viewed as a loss. In place of “two cases” are new protocols, not as strong, but that may protect members.

On Thursday Michael Mulgrew wrote to members: “A new protocol for school closures.” (full text at the bottom of this post). He outlined the new closure protocols. But he did not say that the “two case” rule had been eliminated. The biggest part of the news, he just skipped it.

This was not a media release. Sometimes we need to spin for the media. I get that. This was a letter to the members. We deserve the truth. Just tell us the truth.

Today the New York City Department of Education got its way, and will move to a 3 foot rule, instead of the 6 foot rule we had been working with. The New York State Department of Health issued new guidance. The UFT had fought to maintain the 6 foot rule. This will be viewed as a loss. There are a host of places where 6 will remain the rule, but our members, especially in elementary school, will feel this loss directly.

(as an aside – really belongs in a separate post – school lunch will be especially problematic).

Today Michael Mulgrew wrote to members: “Update on CDC’s 3-foot rule.” (full text at the bottom of this post). He minimizes the effect of the new ruling, and fails to identify serious challenges it causes.

This was not a media release. Sometimes we need to spin for the media. I get that. This was a letter to the members. We deserve the truth. Just tell us the truth.

Text of Thursday, April 8 e-mail, Michael Mulgrew to members, in which he fails to mention that we lost the two-case rule:

Dear Jonathan,

Since September, our stringent safety policies have proven successful — keeping the percentage who test positive within our schools low throughout the year. Thankfully, as school staff get more access to the vaccine, the number of adults accounting for new positive cases in our schools is decreasing.

But our children don’t have access to the vaccine yet, and we need to keep monitoring them inside schools to keep them safe. While the mayor has been fixated on removing the two-case rule for some time, we knew we must follow the science and the advice of our independent medical experts during any change in policy. Our independent medical experts have advised us to shift our attention from unlinked cases within schools to the cases within schools that can be traced to a common source. Our focus should shift to even greater monitoring inside the schools. We need to maintain a strong pulse on what’s happening in our schools to avoid spread.

We understand that as circumstances and science evolve, policies should shift to keep up. We have negotiated with City Hall to create a new protocol for closing classrooms and schools that will take effect on Monday, April 12. The goal of these negotiations was to preserve our current level of safety, mitigating spread within schools, while reducing classroom disruptions for our members, students and families.

Here are the details of the new protocol for classroom and school closures:We will continue our very strong classroom closure rule. If there is a positive case found within a classroom, that classroom must move to remote learning for 10 days.If any school has two or more positive cases in different classrooms within seven days, in addition to moving those classrooms to remote learning for 10 days, testing will be increased to 40 percent for that school building for the next weekly testing cycle.If four or more cases are found in different classrooms within one school in a seven-day period, and those cases can be traced to a common exposure within the school, the entire school will move to remote learning for 10 days.Co-located schools within buildings will be considered separate from each other, as long as the schools can prove that there is no physical interaction with the other schools.It’s been a long road, but as a city, we are making progress against this virus. We have undergone so many changes this year, and I know how flexible you have been to provide as much stability as possible for the students you serve. These new safety protocols will take us through June and give us more consistency while continuing to keep us all safe.
Sincerely,Michael Mulgrew's SignatureMichael Mulgrew
UFT President

Text of Saturday, April 10 e-mail, Michael Mulgrew to members, in which he minimizes the change, and oddly blames a judge instead of the New York State Department of Health (compare, for example, this article from Politico):

Dear Jonathan,

There have been many conversations over the last few weeks about the CDC’s recent recommendation to reduce social distancing between students to three feet in classrooms. Now, in the middle of these discussions, an upstate judge has ordered the state Department of Health to issue guidance on the new rules. Local school districts, including New York City, must plan how to implement the new guidelines by working together with all stakeholders.

Your safety remains the top priority, along with the safety of your families, your students, and their families.

After all that we have been through since the start of this pandemic, it was our hope that there would be no further changes. But this is the unfair world we are all living and working in. We know that many times those in charge make decisions without realizing that we are the ones who have to do the hard work of implementing these changes.

Under the new state guidelines, school staff must still maintain six feet from other adults and from students. The guidance also says students must maintain six feet apart in any public area, such as gyms, hallways and lunchrooms. Students and teachers must be in distinct cohorts throughout the day.

With the wide availability of vaccines and our other safety protocols still in place, we are in a good position. But we need to remain vigilant. In the coming days, we will be taking all steps to make sure that any school that moves to the three-foot guidance can do so safely.

The immediate impact of this change will be limited to predominantly elementary schools where space limitations mean some students now attend fewer than five days a week.

As we near the final stretch of this difficult school year, your patience and perseverance are appreciated. We will be in touch with more information as soon as it’s available.
Sincerely,Michael Mulgrew's SignatureMichael Mulgrew
UFT President

A Year Ago – remembering

April 8, 2021 pm30 6:01 pm

By April 6, 2020 my world was on its head. COVID was in NYC. I had decamped to near Lake Champlain. I was teaching, or trying to teach, via a computer. It was hard. And it was exhausting. And the news was relentless. Trump was horrible, but de Blasio and Cuomo were behaving like clowns – but clowns whose decisions affect millions of lives. It was too much. I’d lost a second cousin to the pandemic, but I didn’t know yet. And a colleague had passed in an auto accident a week earlier – maybe the trip was somehow connected. An alumni’s father died on the 4th. A peace officer at my school died on the 4th.

My school was started in 2002. I was there from the first. it is a specialized high school. But in those first years the student body was fairly integrated. A few years later we saw a shift, slow at first, and then not slow. We became one of the whitest NYC public high schools outside of Staten Island. There is a story there, a long one, about getting the faculty then our school community on board to address this, and the progress we have – and importantly – have not made. But that’s for another time.

I mention the segregation issue to mention one initiative in particular: our Local Outreach Tutoring Program (LOT). We started LOT four years ago. Me and some students did outreach to local middle schools, more or less walking distance from my school. Kids come after school, we do some activity, then some math enrichment and ELA enrichment. Sometimes there’s SHSAT test prep. And when I say “we” I mean our juniors and seniors. They organize, plan, and teach/tutor.

When I heard a Bronx AP had died from COVID-19 on on April 6, 2020, I checked to see the name and the school. It was my LOT contact from 95. I did not know her well. We met once, when I visited their school. We corresponded occasionally. But an educator. With a family. About my age.

I was fortunate to be near woods. I went outside, and walked, and breathed. Deep breaths. Empty shelves of toilet paper were strange. People dying was frightening, overwhelming. I was glad to be far away. I told myself I was safe. But I was alone.