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March 17, 2011
City effort to enlist parents in politics began months ago
For months, Department of Education employees have been trying to mobilize parents to public meetings and to sign petitions in support of city political goals, parent coordinators said today. Evidence of that effort came to light yesterday after a staff member of the DOE's parent outreach office distributed a petition to hundreds of parent coordinators urging state lawmakers to abolish the current seniority-based teacher layoff system. City officials renounced the petition and said that political organizing would stop going forward. But parent coordinators from schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens said today that the Office of Family Information and Action's push to have parent coordinators politically mobilize parents began months ago and that the message was spread by several OFIA staffers. The coordinators spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their positions at their schools. In January, OFIA held a parent organizing workshop for parent coordinators in Manhattan. Staffers did not mention advocating against the current layoff system at that meeting, said a parent coordinator who shared detailed notes taken at the session. Instead, staff focused on asking the coordinators to build relationships with satisfied parents who would be willing to show support for the DOE at Panel for Educational Policy meetings. "I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, honestly, and I didn’t really trust my own ears, so I wrote things down," the parent coordinator said. OFIA officials said that they were frustrated that the panel meetings — which have been frequently contentious — have been dominated by parents angry at city policies. OFIA staff encouraged parent coordinators to bring "Happy Harry" parents to citywide meetings, according to the parent coordinator's notes, rather than "Angry Sally" parents.
March 16, 2011
City renounces effort to use DOE employees to lobby on LIFO
An office inside the Department of Education improperly recruited its employees to lobby against the state's seniority-based layoff system, city officials acknowledged today. Staff at the city's Office of Family Information and Action asked hundreds of parent coordinators to distribute a petition urging state lawmakers to abolish the current layoff system. In the e-mail, an OFIA staffer asked parent coordinators to gather signatures from parents and other members of their school communities and return them to the DOE. The e-mail message went out to nearly 400 of the 1,000 parent coordinators around the city. The petition asks state lawmakers to "allow the City to keep it's [sic] most effective teachers by ending the State's 'Last-In, First-Out' policy, allowing teachers to be retained based on their performance, rather than just seniority." The message, which was first reported this morning by the teacher activist Norm Scott, echoes the position of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black, who have made ending the seniority-based layoffs this year a chief political goal. The city teachers union strongly opposes ending the system and has argued that the city should instead focus its lobbying efforts on fighting budget cuts. DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said that the petition had not been approved by top city officials. “While we strongly encourage parents to speak out on issues concerning their children’s education, it was not appropriate for Department of Education staff to prescribe a specific solution for parent coordinators, or parents, to advocate," Ravitz said in a statement.
March 8, 2011
Now playing on prime-time television, a layoffs arms race
The city teachers union and Joel Klein's education advocacy organization are engaging this week in a televised game of one-upmanship over layoffs, and the advocates seems determined to win the war for airtime. Both the union and the advocacy group, Education Reform Now, debuted television advertisements this morning, and ERN just announced that it will begin airing a second commercial this week as well. The union's ad targets Mayor Michael Bloomberg, arguing that the mayor is pushing for layoffs while ignoring both parent wishes and the city's financial realities. "I don't know what Mayor Bloomberg's agenda is, but he should stop playing politics with our kids," a Harlem parent, Candace Frazer, says in the ad. The spot also argues that teacher layoffs are unnecessary because the city is carrying over a $3 billion surplus from last year. City officials dispute that figure, claiming that the rollover is not enough to cover the deficit caused by state budget cuts.
March 2, 2011
Dispute over layoff bills boils down to a question: now or later?
The argument that heated up today between city officials, Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the state legislature over abolishing the state's seniority-based layoff system for teachers essentially boils down to one thing: timing. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Education officials want to do away with the "last-in, first-out" system immediately so that they can use new criteria to lay off teachers at the end of this school year. Cuomo and other state officials — several of whom support changing the layoff system generally — counter that abandoning seniority-based layoffs must wait until the state has a better system it can use instead. Yesterday, Cuomo introduced a bill that would speed implementation of the teacher evaluation bill that Albany passed last May up by a year but did not propose any changes to the layoff system. City officials immediately blasted the bill as "a sham" and a distraction, and Bloomberg said today the governor's proposal "simply kicks the can down the road." Part of the disagreement lies in whether or not the city and the state have time to kick that can. City officials speak of the need to change the layoff system with a sense of urgency, arguing that a budget crisis necessitates laying off more than 4,000 teachers this year.
March 1, 2011
NY State Senate passes bill to end seniority teacher layoffs
A bill that would end the "last in, first out" layoff policy for New York City teachers passed in the State Senate today, but faces an uphill battle in the Assembly. Introduced late last week by State Senator John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, the bill rules out seniority as the sole factor in determining who gets laid off. Instead, the bill offers eight pages of an extraordinarily complicated, prioritized list of which teachers and school supervisors would be first in line to be laid off. The bill passed the Senate 33-27, with support from Republicans and two Democratic Senators — Jeff Klein and David Valesky. Following the vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo put out a statement saying he plans to introduce a bill that would "expedite and expand ongoing plans to implement a statewide, objective teacher evaluation system." Rather than replacing "last in, first out" with other measures, which Flanagan's bill does, Cuomo's bill would put New York's new teacher evaluation system in place sooner than was previously planned. The original law had it covering math and English teachers who teach grades 4-8 next year and expanding to all teachers and all subjects by 2012-13. Under Cuomo's bill, the evaluation would cover all teachers beginning next year.
February 28, 2011
Group of young teachers petitions to preserve seniority rights
The debate over the state's seniority-based layoff system is sometimes portrayed as dividing young teachers at risk of losing their jobs under the current system and older teachers bent on protecting theirs. But a group of young teachers is arguing that the current system benefits them too, and they've started a petition urging the city to preserve it. "As newer teachers, we rely on our more senior colleagues for guidance and support," the petition reads. "Without more senior teachers, we would lose our bridge to lessons learned through years of dedicated work in the school system." The petition, which launched online yesterday evening, had around 75 signatures by this afternoon, said one of its authors, Stephane Barile, a teacher at the Facing History School and member of the the education and social justice group New York Collective of Radical Educators. All of the signatories are teachers who have been teaching for fewer than five years, which means that unless they teach special education or certain subjects like science, they could be at risk of losing their jobs if layoffs happen this year and the current system isn't changed.
February 24, 2011
Maze of rules in bill to end seniority layoffs starts with U-rated
Mayor Bloomberg's fight against "last-in, first-out" layoff rules— the policy of laying off teachers by reverse seniority — has made its way to Albany. Last night, State Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill that would end the practice and the same bill will be introduced in the Assembly by New York City Assemblyman Jonathan Bing. The bill rules out seniority as the sole factor in determining who gets laid off. To replace the current seniority system, the bill offers eight pages of an extraordinarily complicated, prioritized list of which teachers and school supervisors would be first in line to be laid off. Bing's Chief of Staff Jake Dilemani said the bill was written with input from the mayor's office, along with groups like Educators 4 Excellence — an organization of teachers who, with funding from the Gates Foundation, has put forward its own proposal to change teacher layoffs. In a statement sent to reporters, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that the bill would "send us back to the days before civil service protections, when people could be fired for being the wrong race or gender, too young or too old."
February 14, 2011
Teachers group mirrors city recommendations for layoff reforms
A teacher advocacy group supported by prominent opponents of the law requiring seniority-based teacher layoffs has unveiled one of the first detailed proposed alternatives to that law. A task force of 11 members of Educators 4 Excellence, the group of teachers critical of many union work rules, presented their recommendations to Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this month. The group is financially backed by the Gates Foundation and is linked to the advocacy group Education Reform Now. Much of their proposal is composed of recommendations that are already being pushed by Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black. In speeches and editorials, the Bloomberg administration has strongly advocated scrapping seniority-based layoffs. Instead they propose laying off teachers whose principals have rated them as unsatisfactory or who currently lack full-time teaching positions in schools. E4E's proposal goes one step further, arguing that teachers who have racked up high numbers of unexcused absences during the school year should also be among the first to lose their jobs. Under the plan, teachers who were absent more than 22 days last school year and this one without a doctor's note would be laid off first. Still, the city could be forced to lay off far more teachers than who might be covered in E4E's proposal. The most conservative recent estimates indicate that the city may be forced to lay off more than 6,000 teachers if severe state budget cuts go through.
February 10, 2011
Education Reform Now debuts anti-seniority television ads
Education Reform Now — the advocacy organization now chaired by former Chancellor Joel Klein — unveiled a TV spot today that shows relatively senior teachers arguing against seniority. The ad's debut corresponds with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's escalating campaign against the "last-in, first-out" law that requires the city to lay off teachers according to their seniority. It shows three city teachers with between four and 21 years of experience in the New York City schools saying that if the city has to lay off teachers, it should do so based on merit. The ad doesn't say how the city should define merit, or what constitutes a great teacher, questions that the city will have to confront if the law does change. It also doesn't name the city's teachers union, like its previous more aggressive ads.
January 19, 2011
In State of the City, mayor calls for an end to seniority layoffs
Mayor Bloomberg renewed his push today for the end of seniority-based layoffs for public school teachers, who are facing greater odds of losing their jobs this year than they have in decades. During his State of the City address this afternoon, Bloomberg said that his first priority for legislators in Albany is pension reform. But a close second is ending last-in first-out — the seniority rules embedded in state law that could force the Department of Education to lay off teachers based on when they were hired. New York City has not had to lay off teachers since the 1970s and, though it came close to layoffs last year, the city dodged them by taking away funds that would have gone to giving teachers raises. But this year, the city is operating without stimulus funds and with the expectation of deep education cuts from Albany. In his November budget address, the mayor predicted that the public schools would have to lose 6,100 teachers this year. In his speech, Bloomberg noted that laying off the schools' most recent hires, who are also the cheapest employees, will mean losing more teachers than if the city laid off older, more expensive teachers. It will also mean larger class sizes, he said, in an unusual appeal to some parents' concerns about overcrowding. DOE officials typically downplay the importance of class size, and the mayor's statement comes after Chancellor Cathie Black caused an uproar by joking that parents in Manhattan should use more birth control.
December 23, 2010
On his way out, Klein pushes for end to ATR pool, last-in first-out
The final installment of Joel Klein's weekly memo to principals In a nostalgic final missive to city principals this week, outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein suggested three things to do once he's gone. He urged lawmakers to end the last-in first-out process of teacher layoffs, pushed for an end to the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, and underlined his belief in the importance of closing struggling schools. Klein's statement that "we have to eliminate the ATR pool" ratchets up the city's position on the pool of teachers — city teachers who lose their positions, don't find new ones, but stay on the city payroll anyway. Previously, the city has asked the union, in contract negotiations, to add a limit to the amount of time a teacher can spend in the reserve pool. That would make the pool smaller, but it would not cause it to disappear altogether. Describing the costs of keeping those teachers on the city payroll as exceeding $100 million a year, Klein argues: We cannot afford it, and it's wrong to keep paying this money. It amounts to supporting more than a thousand teachers who either don't care to, or can't, find a job, even though our school system hires literally thousands of teachers each year. That's money that could be spent on teachers that we desperately want and need. Klein also describes teacher layoffs as a sure thing. "I wish it were otherwise, but the economics of our state and city make this virtually impossible to avoid," he writes. The Bloomberg administration has a history of being bullish on layoffs in order to push for the end of the state law regulating how teachers lose their jobs. Klein reiterates that case in his letter: If we have layoffs, it's unconscionable to use the last-hired, first-fired rule that currently governs. By definition, such a rule means that quality counts for zero. Our children cannot afford that kind of approach. They need the best teachers, not those who are longest serving. (If you had to have surgery, would you want the longest-serving surgeon or the best one?) This doesn't mean that many of our longest-serving teachers aren't among the best, but this is not an area for "group think." We need individual determinations of teacher effectiveness to decide who stays and who doesn't. Klein also quoted his favorite T.S. Eliot poem, "Little Gidding," excerpting four cryptic lines that seem to summarize his "odyssey" as something more complex than a straight line of a progress: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time. Other curious lines from the poem: ... Either you had no purpose Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured And is altered in fulfilment. ... Klein has sent a memo to principals every week for years. Read the full letter here and below.
September 27, 2010
Bloomberg vows last-in first-out crackdown, new tenure policy
Mayor Bloomberg on NBC today, announcing a crackdown on seniority-based layoffs and a new tenure policy. In his first major education policy announcement for the new school year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning vowed a renewed attack on seniority laws that protect veteran teachers and a change in how teachers are awarded tenure. He made the remarks on NBC, which is dedicating this week to school reporting in a project called "Education Nation." The attack on seniority laws came as city officials made a dire budget prediction for next year, saying that they will likely have to lay off public school teachers as federal stimulus funding runs out. Under the current state law, teachers with the least seniority would be the first to lose their jobs — a policy known as "last in, first out." The mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein oppose this policy, but their effort to change the law, which the teachers union does support, went nowhere last year. Today, the mayor said he would try dismantling the policy again before the city confronts an expected $700 million budget hole and possible layoffs next year. "It's time for us to end the 'last-in, first out' layoff policy that puts children at risk here in New York — and across our wonderful country," Bloomberg said on NBC. "How could anyone argue that this is good for children? The law is nothing more than special interest politics, and we're going to get rid of it before it hurts our kids," he added. Teachers union officials immediately squashed any possibility that they might partner with the mayor.
April 8, 2010
A new union of teachers forms over happy hours and Facebook
Sydney Morris (left) and Evan Stone (right), two teachers in the Bronx, founded Educators 4 Excellence to give teachers frustrated with how they're evaluated a voice in policy debates. New York City's teachers union likes to say that it speaks for all teachers. But two young teachers at a Bronx elementary school are starting an organization with a distinctly different point of view. Both in their third year of teaching at P.S. 86 in the Bronx, Evan Stone and Sydney Morris started "Educators 4 Excellence" last month out of frustration with how their work is supported and evaluated. One of their first battles will be against the state's "last-in, first-out" law, which forces the city to lay off newer teachers in advance of their more experienced colleagues. "We want it to be the ostensible solution to a lot of screaming on both sides," said Stone, 25.
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