The American Federation of Teachers Convention

The fight back against neo-liberal educational policies: Support Yvette Felarca for President of AFT

Randi Weingarten, the current American Federation of Teacher’s union (AFT) president, supported by none other than Chancellor of Education in Washington D.C., Michelle Rhee, is up for re-election this coming week of July.  The AFT convention will take place in Seattle, Washington from July 7th through July 12th and promises to be an important, if not decisive event, for the future of public education.

In a June 13th 2010 column in the New York Daily News, Rhee muses over the historic D.C. contract she hustled that destroys public education and sets the ground work for further neo-liberal privatization plans both in D.C. and across the nation.  According to Rhee:

“The D.C. contract includes many provisions that were once considered “sacred cows,” but as it turns out, were wholly embraced by our teachers. These include:

- Individual pay for individual performance. Our agreement gives the district the ability to implement a pay for performance system - paid for with private money, and voluntary for teachers - that recognizes and rewards our most highly effective teachers for their individual accomplishments in raising student achievement.

- Seniority. When a school undergoes a budget reduction and a layoff is necessary, that decision is made based on performance, not seniority, and it’s one that teachers themselves are engaged in making.

- Mutual consent. A teacher cannot be placed at a school unless the teacher and the school principal agree. Moreover, if there are teachers who cannot find a “mutual consent placement,” they are moved out of the system.

- The end of tenure as a “job for life.” If a teacher is rated as “ineffective,” she is immediately terminated from the system. If rated “minimally effective,” he has a freeze on his pay raise and after two years is terminated. Further, teachers cannot grieve their ratings, they can only grieve procedural errors.

In exchange for these reforms, teachers are receiving unprecedented levels of support, resources, professional development, voice in decision-making and pay - an increase of 20% over previous salary levels (with additional bonuses making it possible to make twice as much).

We negotiated this agreement with the help of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who used to run New York City’s UFT. At its conclusion we all agreed that the new deal is good for kids and fair to teachers (italics mine).

I completely understand the situation that New York City’s Department of Education and the UFT are in now. Based on our experiences, here are the lessons I think can be drawn for the city’s contract.

- Get rid of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool. In this time of fiscal crisis, the school district and city have to direct every available resource toward the classroom to student achievement. The city today wastes $100 million a year paying teachers who cannot find a principal willing to hire them. It’s time to stop tweaking this system around the edges and end the madness. The union has to stop worrying about protecting these teachers (who have had ample time to find a job) and prioritize putting the money in the classroom with their hardworking members who are doing heroic work every day. The solution we came up with to this problem in D.C. is fair, manageable and affordable. Replicate it.

- Allow quality to drive tough decisions. New York is facing the very same threat that many cities and states across the country are: layoffs. As any effective organization would, the Department of Education has to have to right to conduct layoffs by performance, not seniority. In our new contract, teachers at each school play a part in making these decisions though the final decision rests with the principal. In no other industry or business would decisions be made about employment based only on years of service and not effectiveness. It’s time to use common sense.
Use Randi Weingarten. I don’t like to get in the middle of someone else’s negotiation and I know that there is a long and complicated history between Weingarten and Klein. However, based on my experiences negotiating with Weingarten, she is very much able to see the direction the nation is heading in and the fact that unions need to be a part of the solution (italics mine)
- Both Klein and Mulgrew should lean on her.

- Compensate based on performance. Currently, the base salary for city public school teachers is between $40,000 and $100,000; it has increased markedly under Bloomberg and Klein. The best teachers, in my opinion, should be paid a lot more. However, given the current budget constraints, the only logical move is to base any increases to pay on merit. In D.C., we were lucky enough to have external philanthropic support for raises. That’s not always going to be the case. New York should expend all salary resources toward pay for performance starting with taking all lockstep and course credit pay increases and devoting them to bonuses for high achievement.

- Ensure an effective teacher in every classroom. Joel Klein can’t say this but I can: We have too ineffective teachers in New York City classrooms; I saw it up close when I led The New Teacher Project, a non-profit devoted to recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in high-need schools. To me, one ineffective teacher is too many. Teachers not meeting expectations should be afforded professional development - but if they can’t improve, and some of them cannot, the district must have the ability to quickly move them out. In Washington, we’ve developed an evaluation system that is robust, data driven and fair to teachers. Building on the work of state Education Commissioner David Steiner, the city should adopt a comprehensive system that strikes this balance. I have my own kids in public school and I know the havoc a bad teacher can wreak on a child’s life. I’ve been called “anti-union” for my stance. I refer to it as “pro-kid.” Move ineffective teachers up or out (Rhee, Michelle, June 13th, 2010. D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee says New York must learn from her groundbreaking union deal
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/06/13/2010-06-13_dc_school_chancellor_michelle_rhee_says_new_york_must_learn_from_her_groundbreak.html#ixzz0slaIc2sChttp://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/06/13/2010-06-13_dc_school_chancellor_michelle_rhee_says_new_york_must_learn_from_her_groundbreak.html#ixzz0qjaYV8uQ)

Rhee went on to gleefully submit to readers that:

“After nearly three years we struck a revolutionary bargain with the union. It shouldn’t take nearly as long for others to do the same. School district administrators and union leaders can build on the foundation that we’ve laid and work toward agreements that push the envelope even further. The precedent has been set for the city and the UFT to make a breakthrough. Let’s see them do it” (ibid).

In othe words, we broke the union, you can too New York!

One can hardly read this blanket endorsement of Randi Weingarten in selling out teachers and students in Washington, D.C without contempt.  Rhee is an Eli Broad graduate and I have written much on her chainsaw massacre in D.C. (see dailycensored.com)  Now, with the billionaire’s largess buying the district outright, Rhee is back slapping Weingarten for selling the rancid mess to the rank and file and groveling along like a toy poodle.  And rightly so.  Weingarten herself has worked with Eli Broad, seems to love Arne Duncan and is bending over backwards to move Race to the Top to fruition. 

It’s a sad day when your opposition, in this case the privatizers of education, acclaim your union boss as their negotiating friend, collaborator and facilitator of the ruthless policies of decimating the nation’s teacher’s union.  Yet this is what Rhee has done.  Unabashedly promoting Weingarten might seem odd to the average rank and file teacher.  It’s not.  Division, divide and conquer strategies and creating havoc among union members is also the Rhee/Broad/Gates style.  They know that Weingarten faces opposition from teachers all over the country for her capitulation to capital and the horrific Race to the Top and any wrench they can throw in the works will work for them, not against them.  One would think Weingarten could have seen this.  The myopia is catastrophic.

Yet even as Rhee places a firm hand on Randi Weingarten’s shoulder, no doubt to create more dissension than collaboration, it is now time for all of us in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to give Weingarten the boot.  Randi Weingarten represents what could be the end of teacher unions in the United States or at the very least, a makeover that would leave them as powerful as the auto unions.  With capitulation to neo-liberal democratic and republican policies, especially the rancid No Child Left Behind, re-branded Race to the Top, Weingarten cannot continue to represent teachers laboring in the classroom.  Her sell-out performance of teachers in D.C. is not simply scurrilous but unconscionable.  Her failed efforts in mobilizing the rank and file for anything other than confirmation for her sordid collaboration with the enemy, is obvious.

Weingarten seems indifferent, if not clueless, as to the effect of school closings, teacher layoffs, attacks against debt ridden teacher pensions, elimination of arts programs, music programs, regimentation, merit pay, and of course tethering the teacher to the for-profit testing regimes that are not only inauthentic measurements of student knowledge, but promise bondage to boredom and pillory for those not able to ‘pass the tests’. 

Weingarten is not a union leader, she is a sycophantic and perfidious ally of the neo-liberal reformation of education – reform in this case meaning the wholesale destruction of teacher unions, hard fought rights, and professionalism, as well as the transfer of public assets (schools) and public monies (taxes) to the new private for-profit charter school hustlers and their investment bankers on Wall Street.  If you don’t believe me, ask Rhee!

Her ‘tenure’ as union boss has led to the spread of this sickening sludge called ‘reformation’ throughout the nation.  Her track record, as proudly announced above by Chancellor Rhee, should be enough for any AFT member to see the necessity of building a fighting union by first getting rid of Weingarten.  Weingarten is not part of this fight; she neither has the desire or ability.  Teachers know this.

Take the following message posted at the New York Daily News in response to Rhee’s statements:

“Readers . . . WAKE UP ! This Rhee person is just another liar business thug like Klein and Bloomberg. She negotiated the private sector part of this new teacher contract with one condition: THAT SHE CAN’T GET FIRED- just like Bloomberg bribed himself into an illegal third term. Please Google the ICE educator blog and scroll down to the “Self Dealing” article: “Self-Dealing Dear Complainants: Let’s review. Chancellor Michelle Rhee negotiated millions of dollars of grants from foundations that were given to the DC Public Schools on the condition that the leadership of DCPS not be changed — in other words, that she remain employed as schools chancellor (themail, April 28). Civic activist Robert Brannum, president of the DC Federation of Civic Associations, believed that it is self-dealing and a conflict of interest for a government official to negotiate grants from foundations to government that are conditional on her continued employment. He filed a complaint with the Office of C.

Mr. Brannum filed and won the right to an investigation on Rhees. The Washington Post then trashed this man for merely reporting the obvious-this Rhees person got a sweetheart deal FOR HERSELF out of this teacher contract. PEOPLE use your brains here: THUGS LIKE BLOOMBERG.KLEIN, AND RHEES GET JOB SECURITY FOR THEMSELVES while putting other people out of work. They are holier than thou gangsters: “He filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance, seeking a ruling on the propriety of her actions, and the OCF found sufficient grounds in his complaint to open an investigation. In response, the Washington Post published an over-the-top, shrill editorial that is nothing but a personal attack on Brannum for daring even to raise a question about Rhee who, it asserts, must not be questioned, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/07/AR2010060703784.html.”

The Washington Post blasted this investigation because it is in bed with Rhees’ of this world. Rhee cut a deal with private industry, getting funds for the contract only if Rhee KEEPS HER HIGH PAYING JOB. This is clear cut. The Post attacked this man, then refused to print his response without altering it! Why? Well maybe because the Washington Post is owned by Kaplan, Inc., the educational services company which will greatly increase its sales in this new education world of charters, more testing, training, etc. ANOTHER conflict of interests, THIS TIME between BIG BUSINESS and BIG MEDIA. BIG BUSINESS . . . GOVERNMENT…MEDIA…all in bed washing each others backs and faces, making millions, while poor schlub teachers get fired and lose what they have worked for decades . . . This is the CORPORATOCRACY ! Beware people, if it hasn’t gobbled you up yet, it WILL! It wants to make you into a SLAVE! (NY Daily News, Rhee, Michelle, June 13, 2010 http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/06/13/2010-06-13_dc_school_chancellor_michelle_rhee_says_new_york_must_learn_from_her_groundbreak.html#ixzz0slb9vTVb)

Or take this comment from another reader of the same article:

FOX News WASHINGTON - D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is under fire again as the city’s Office of Campaign Finance has begun an investigation on whether the chancellor broke the law in tying private funding for teacher salaries to her keeping her job. In the end, the city’s chief financial officer and the D.C. Council refused to go along with that deal. It would have meant millions of dollars in private money but there was a condition that the funding could be withdrawn if there was a substantial change in leadership at the top of the school system. One local citizen cried foul and asked for an investigation. The contract ratified by D.C teachers would give them 20 percent pay hikes by the year 2015. But more than $60 million of that would have come from private funding committed by the D.C. Public Education Fund, but with a catch. The third party funders would reserve the right to reconsider their support if there is a material change in DCPS’ leadership.

Poetic Justice says: Why should Rhee’s Washington schools be considered a model to follow if she is constantly being investigated for conflicts of interests? If the schools in Washington DC are still terrible and mismanaged? A $34 million crisis of confidence in D.C. schools By Bill Turque Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, April 25, 2010 Follow the money, if you can. First, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announces that an extra $34 million is available in the D.C. schools budget for teacher pay raises. Two days later, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi declares that not only is most of it nonexistent but also that Rhee is running a projected $30 million over budget in her central office operation. Within hours, Rhee says an unspecified $29 million has been “identified” to fund the raises. “It doesn’t seem like anybody knows how much money is being spent on a regular basis,” said James C. Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade 9ibid).

And where is Randi Weingarten when it comes to issues raised by these readers, myself and others?  She is wining and dining with Rhee, Duncan, Klein and the billionaire boyz club.  If the teacher’s union is to survive in this country we will need to stop Weingarten, Rhee and the Arne Duncan mafia.

Support Yvette Felarca from BAMN for President of the American Federation of Teachers (www.bamn.com)

Yvette Felarca from ‘By Any Means Necessary’ (www.bamn.com) is running in opposition to Randi Weingarten and she is carrying quite a fight to this year’s convention.  You can read Yvette’s statements at (http://dailycensored.com/2010/06/23/bamn-aft-and-nea-we-must-win-at-the-conventions/).  Yvette speaks [powerfully for herself and thousands of teachers looking down the barrel of a privatized rifle.  She deserves our support.  If you can help please write BAMN!

In closing, I would like to share a letter I received from a current teacher whose name is better left anonymous due to fear of retaliation.  He writes:

          “Dear Randi: 

          Goodbye, good riddance, and thanks a lot.

          Thanks for:

          1.  Collaborating with a ruthless and anti-working class mayor and

          his vile little chancellor.

          2.  Allowing the mayor to announce and then execute unilaterally his

          decision to deny teachers the sabbaticals guaranteed them in their     

          contract.

          3.  Allowing the massive deportation of teachers to Rubber Rooms.

          4.  Giving away, in the comfort of your luxurious office, rights won by

          working teachers in the streets during strikes.

           5.  Giving yourself the salary of five teachers without doing the work of

          one.

           6.  Soiling your underwear over fear of the consequences of the Taylor  

          Law; you never learned that unions can win nothing without the

          credible threat of a strike.

          7.  Disgracing the title of “labor leader” and the legacy of real labor

          leaders who served the rank and file rather than their own sordid   

          ambitions.

           8.  Building a union that rewards cowardice, conformity, and ass-

          kissing, and sanctions boldness, originality, and real leadership” (e-

          mail, July 4, 2010)

 I could not agree more with the assessments of the teachers quoted in this article.  We must build a real movement of public workers or we will all face the axe of the deficit mongers and the loss of our pensions, our children and our futures.  Without mobilization and direct action, without effective leadership and winnable strategies, teachers can effectively consider themselves low-hanging fruit for the paid gun-slingers like Michelle Rhee.’  Enough is enough!  Let’s get rid of Randi Weingarten, elect Yvette Felarca and begin the massive mobilization of all public employees against the Dickensian cuts in education and the entire public sector.