Monday, October 20, 2014

Out of Sight, Out of Money

There are many things I remember about my beginning days as a teacher. I had no education training, so I was thrown into a classroom of kids without the slightest idea when I was doing. Worse than that, since I was taking over for someone going on sabbatical, the administration of my school decided it would be a great idea to take the worst problem kids in the entire school and dump them on whoever came to fill the vacancy--in this instance, me. By the time I finished my first year, four of my students were in prison, and one had been committed to a mental hospital. And these were eighth graders. How I didn't end up in a mental hospital myself is a mystery.

To top all that off, I wasn't getting paid. I don't know if the situation is better today, but veterans can confirm that it used to take the DOE forever to get people on the payroll. In my case, it took, if I recall correctly, about 3 months for me to get my first paycheck, and longer than that to get the arrears.

I'm sorry to report that things are just as crappy today as they were then. I have been officially retired now for nearly three months, and I have not gotten a pension check yet.

Oh, they warned me this could happen, with a wink and a nod as if they were only covering themselves. I was told that the reality was probably two months, tops, before I got a check as long as everything was in order.

TRS has this wonderful thing they call "advance payments" which they offer people like me to make sure we don't end up licking discarded candy wrappers in the street for nourishment. Even if they can't straighten out your paperwork immediately, they'll send you some money to tide you over.

What they don't tell you is that it takes two months to get an advance payment. And the check I got was for less than a third of what I was owed. And now, another month has passed.

If you want the gruesome numbers, I have received about $2000 of the approximately $12500 I am owed. Supposedly, I will get my first check along with all the back money at some point, but when that will be is anyone's guess.

If you're an in-service member, you got a large check on September 30 that included the retro money for the 1% pay increases over the last two years. As a new retiree, I have not gotten than money, nor has the union provided any clue when retirees will receive theirs.

So far, it seems that if you're a retiree, you're out of sight, out of mind, and pretty much out of money. I've ended my career just the way I started--waiting to get paid.

It's not a crisis for me, luckily. My bills still get paid, and I have plenty of money saved in my TDA (see Chaz's excellent piece on TDA investments, although I advise keeping it all in fixed at 7%, which, IMO, really can't be beat for steady returns and security). But it would be nice, just once, to get what I am owed in a timely way, and it's a bit discouraging to see that things haven't changed much since I started teaching.

And let's not even talk about how we won't be getting our retroactive payments on the new contract in full for another six years.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brown is the New Flack

The buzz is that Michelle Rhee is stepping down from her sullied perch as CEO of StudentsFirst, the radical ed reform group that was supposed to raise a billion dollars to attack teachers' rights, but which failed in that goal by something like 975 million. In a way, this departure is a real surprise. Once individuals like Rhee get a little juice, they are reluctant to give it up.

On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why it's surprising she lasted this long. Her husband, Kevin Johnson, was TWICE accused of molesting a student, has been called a slumlord, and was accused of misusing funds for the St. Hope Academy. Rhee herself admitted that she taped shut the mouths of some of her students. These are offences for which real teachers would be dismissed, especially if Rhee had her way. Her book, Radical, was a bomb (one of my own books on teaching still consistently outsells Rhee's by a large margin, even though her book came out last year and my book in 2006).

Rhee's harsh look and sharp tone was once perceived as no-nonsense, even though it made nails on a chalkboard sound like symphony by comparison. Now, those same qualities are a detriment to her movement, especially as her policies have produced little or no results.

The UFT was quick to hail Rhee's rumored departure as a blessing on Twitter last night. Yet, there's little doubt that the UFT shifted in a reformy direction during Rhee's tenure (pardon my use of the T word). Perhaps they feel that her leaving will take some of the spotlight off the reform movement.

Nevertheless, Nature and ed reformers abhor a vacuum, so there will be someone along shortly to take place of the preeminent media flack, Michelle Rhee. So, who will it be?

As I mentioned, I believe much of the reason for Rhee's departure is that her public persona has grown tiresome to the public. She's harsh and shrill. She generally off-putting. The reform movement needs a kinder, gentler face. So who will be crowned the new flack of the reformers?

Brown is the new flack. Campbell Brown, that is.

She's perfect for the job (this is not a compliment, as Charles Manson was perfectly suited for his job as a psychotic killer). She's attractive, knows how to deal with the media, and she comes off as charming and warm on television. The fact that she knows next to nothing about education is no barrier to entry in the ed deform field; Rhee's abbreviated stint as a teacher placed no obstacles in her path. Brown displayed her political savvy by demanding that "pervert" teachers be fired--a position that virtually no one disagrees with (provided there is actual proof to the allegations)--to catapult her into the media spotlight as a crusader for children and an education pundit. From there, she has become the face of the anti-tenure movement by jumping on the Vergara case bandwagon.

Still, some of you may wonder whether she's truly qualified for the job. For example, can her husband match the creepy credentials of Rhee's spouse, Kevin Johnson? Pssh...don't make me laugh.

Dan Senor, Campbell's husband, is on the board of Students First NY. While he has not, as far as we know, molested any teens, he eats Johnson's lunch on several other counts. He's a wealthy investment banker who regularly rubs elbows with the most filthy rich, filthy reformy characters in America. He has also been described as "the spinmeister responsible for selling the early years of the occupation of Iraq as a rosy time--even as bombs exploded daily and sectarian violence ripped apart the country". He was also called "the face of the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq." What else could you ask for from the presumptive first gentleman of reform?

When Campbell Brown bats her doe-like eyes and coos "It's for the children!", people will listen. Unfortunately, few people will ask how concerned Campbell was for the children of Iraq as bombs exploded around them and her future husband made everything sound peachy keen.

Sadly, I believe Brown is the new flack. Prepare yourselves.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mr. Talk Hangs Up His Chalk

I'm sitting here next to my school briefcase, which had formerly been stuffed with student papers. It is now stuffed with my retirement papers. Yes, gentle readers, after 26 years serving NYC public schools, I have decided to make my exit. I am retiring.

Believe me, it is with a heavy heart that I hang up my chalk. I love my school, I love the kids (in a figurative sense, in case Campbell Brown is reading), and I would love to experience working under a pro-teacher mayor like Bill de Blasio instead of the teacher hater, Michael Bloomberg, for whom I worked for the past 12 years.

My decision was spurred on by a number of factors. First is fatigue, I suppose you could call it. I have taught roughly 3000 students in my career. If I graded just 20 tests/papers/homeworks for each child per year (and I can hear my colleagues chortle at such a low figure), that's 60,000 papers along with millions of corrections. It makes my head hurt thinking about it.

Next is the administrative hassle. No, I don't mean administrators--I actually like mine. (One of my admins knows I write this blog, although I have never admitted it to her. This is my formal admission, MR). The paperwork that comes along with this job now is daunting. Every English teacher out there (yes, English is hit the worst) knows that we have to keep running records, pre/mid/post assessments, portfolios, hold-over folders, and a thousand other slings and arrows. I don't think I can bring myself to do it again.

But the main reason I'm calling it a day is that I want to do other things before I get too old to try them. Some of you may recall that I blogged about my brother's struggle with lung cancer; he recently lost that battle. He was only a year older than me, and his death has made me reconsider my priorities. I have devoted close to three decades to the children of NYC--that is enough. I want to devote some time to me.

Besides teaching and blogging, I am also a published writer (yes, one who gets paid to do it, not vice versa). I have quite a number of books to my credit of various genres, including education, children's fiction and non-fiction, and a number of pieces that have been published in places like The New York Times. While I doubt I'll write any more education books, I'm going to concentrate on fiction and see what happens. Obviously, although I've been successful at writing professionally, I have not been so successful that I could afford to quit teaching. Now it doesn't matter whether I can make a living at it. It's what I want to do.

I started this blog because I was being harassed at my old school and wanted a place to vent. I left that hell hole to come to my new school, where my abilities were appreciated. Despite all the turmoil in my life this past year, I am proud to say I was rated highly effective. From dud to stud. As I learned from Mel Brooks and Seinfeld, it's always best to leave on a high note.

EDIT: Just to make it clear, I am retiring from teaching, not blogging. You'll just have to put up with me a bit longer, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mr. Talk Nails It Again

Yes, the contract has been approved. But the big news is that Mr. Talk once again nailed the numbers.

Technically, the contract passed with 77% of the vote of UFT members. I predicted 75%, which was the exact percentage of teachers who voted yes. School secretaries, paras, and social workers, who are not subject to many of the provisions that regular teachers are, voted almost 85% in favor of the contract, thus skewing my numbers. Well, no one is perfect.

Certainly the contract isn't perfect, either. It opens up ATRs to near immediate firing, bows to the ed reform whims of E4E (with a "career ladder" that is merit pay) and to faux lawyers like Campbell Brown, and it defers money that we are owed so far into the future that inflation will chomp on your checks like Pacman on meth.

The question here is--what's next? I'd be willing to make another prediction--that we could flip flop the voting results and come up with a pretty good estimate of the number of teachers who had to swallow hard to vote yes on this contract. I'd wager that at least 75% of you really hate this contract--either you voted no or you voted yes because you thought this was the best that your union could do.

And if you are in the latter group, you are sadly correct. This contract is probably the best that Mulgrew and Unity could have done. Which is why they need to go.

If you believe in our union, as I do, you should not be satisfied with what Unity has done here. Many teachers will forget the ugly parts of this agreement as soon as that juicy $1000 bribe arrives. Don't be one of them. Remember this the next time you are asked whom you want to head your union. If you vote for Unity and Mulgrew, expect more of the same.

That's a prediction I can make with 100% certainty.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mr. Talk Predicts: 2014 Contract Passes in a Landslide

It's been a while since I've made any predictions on this blog. It used to be my trademark, kind of, until the agenda of the Unity folks became so transparent that just about anyone could predict what they would do next. Still, I pull out the old swami hat on occasion when the need arises, and I think we're there with this proposed contract. People want to know whether this contract will pass.

Mr. Talk predicts: Yes. Yes it will. In fact, it will be a landslide victory (for Mulgrew, but not for teachers). It will be at least 75% in favor.

There are several things that lead me to this conclusion:

Most teachers don't even know what an ATR is. Really. Ask around your school. You'll be amazed at the level of ignorance of educated people regarding what's happening to their peers. While I'm not a chapter leader, many teachers come to me to ask about union matters, because I know more than most actual CLs and people trust me. I remember telling one teacher friend of mine about ATRs. She was surprised that the union could allow this to happen, but she wasn't concerned because she believed it could only happen if you were a lousy teacher. A few months later, she was brought up on absolutely trumped up charges, fined, and told never to darken the doors of our school again. She has been in limbo ever since, despite being quite a good teacher. To sum up, most teachers think like my old friend. If they even know what an ATR is, they believe it can't happen to them. Until it does.

This contract is better than most teachers thought it would be. Since the 2005 contract disaster, most people who understand the union believed that the 2014 contract would cheat us out of the 4 + 4% increases that all other municipal unions got. Even those who know nothing about the union assumed that money was a lost cause. And although I hate to admit it, even the venerable Mrs. Talk thought I was crazy when I said we'd get it for sure. Not to brag about my fortune telling skills, but I predicted before the election of de Blasio that the new mayor would shoot for a long term contract. I thought it would be 7 years, with increases of 4, 4, 0, 0, 1, 2, 2. I wasn't far off. The new mayor had to make such a deal, because there was no way he could break the pattern. That would have meant chaos when dealing with the 150 other unions waiting for their new deal. By giving us the 4 + 4 we were owed and giving us crap for the rest of the years, the city could claim (rightly) that they didn't break the pattern and then impose the new low pattern on the rest of the unions. This is exactly what happened, except it was stretched to 9 years, with 7 years of below inflation raises.

Since expectations were so low, getting the 8% back money, as well as some money going forward, will entice many teachers to vote yes.

There's a bribe included. Just check yes on your ballot, and win $1,000 immediately, just in time to put it towards your summer vacations! In a way, this is the most cynical, despicable part of the contract. It won't be part of our permanent salaries, it likely isn't pensionable, and it's designed to push teachers in straitened circumstances to approve this contract.

The "Back of the Line" Myth. Mulgrew and his minions claim that if this contract is rejected, our union will go to the back of the line and have to wait until all other unions have settled. Many teachers believe this, but it's absurd. First of all, does anyone really believe that de Blasio wants to deal with the PBA or the Firefighter's union before he settles with us? Those are pretty strong unions with binding arbitration. If they set a higher pattern than teachers are getting, it would be a disaster for de Blasio. Secondly, we have experience here. The membership rejected a contract in 1995, and it was settled about 6 months later, if I recall correctly. Finally, even if the myth is true, what of it? You're going to have to wait for the vast majority of your money until 2016, when it will begin trickling in, and you won't get the full amount owed you until 2020. Even if de Blasio foolishly puts us at the end of the line, the line itself doesn't extend until 2020.

You think you might get some of that juicy "totally not merit pay" money. Yes, you're a great teacher. Many of you probably deserve the title of master teacher. But you won't get the job. Not unless you are the favorite of your principal or are willing to brown nose your way to the top.

We'll get murdered in the press as "greedy" teachers if we reject this contract. I hear this one all the time. Whenever someone offers me this argument about how the press will crucify us if we do/don't do something, I have to ask myself--does this person even READ the papers? The NY Daily News and the Post crucify us every day. Both rags recently harped on the "teacher" and the EMT who had been busted for selling heroin. Here's the opening paragraph from the Daily News:

A Fire Department EMT and his gal pal, a city teacher, were busted for peddling heroin and prescription drugs during a police sting operation, officials said.

It sounds as if this "gal pal" was teaching by day and dealing by night, doesn't it? What you don't learn until you dig down to the bottom of the article, is that this woman has not taught in SIX YEARS, and when she did, she taught as a sub for a total of TWO DAYS. But why pass on the opportunity to smear teachers? The NYDN and the Post never do. Are we really afraid that they're going to say bad things about us this late in the game?

We finally lose the 37.5 minutes of small group instruction. Yes, but it's reconfigured as PD. You can bet that these long, long PD sessions will be used to give you new mandates that you'll be told to carry out. You'll be begging for those kids back in short order.

We can't do any better than the current contract. Now, this one I almost believe. Given that the union has had years to formulate a plan and a union friendly mayor to deal with, it's hard to understand how we ended up with this turd of a proposal. I have little faith that Mulgrew could do any better if we sent him back to the negotiating table.

I am one of the few folks who would probably benefit by voting yes for this proposal. I am of retirement age now, and thus assured of a higher pension as well as getting my back pay, eventually. Yet, I'd never vote for a contract that sold some of our members down the river, nor would I vote for a de facto merit pay contract that would pit teacher against teacher.

But 75% of you will. You heard it here first.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

UPDATED: Retirement Disincentive, Part II?


It took some digging, but I finally found  a definitive answer about whether those who retire AFTER June 30, 2014 will receive a pension based on the 4+4 that is not being paid out in full to in service members until 2020:

Pending ratification, the contract provides that members who retire on or before June 30, 2014, will receive payment in full for the retroactive raises in one lump sum. Members who retire on or after July 1, 2014, will be paid the retroactive money on the same schedule as in-service members: beginning Oct. 1, 2015, and ending Oct. 1, 2020. In both cases, the pension calculation at the time of retirement will include the entire 8 percent rate increase arising from 2009 and 2010 and any other pay increases that occurred during a member’s employment.


Something just struck me about the way the proposed UFT contract deals with retirement. I hope I am wrong--if anyone knows, please reply in the comments.

Yesterday, I posted how someone like myself, or anyone else set to retire in the next few years, will have to wait for retro pay as if we were in service, thus creating a disincentive to retire. The more I thought about it, the worse it became. You see, pension is based on your FAS, or Final Average Salary, which is generally the average of your salary for the final three years you worked. Here's what the union's FAQ says about that:

You will receive your full retroactive pay in a lump sum only if you retire on or before June 30, 2014. If you retire after that date, you will receive your retroactive pay on the same schedule as in-service employees. Retroactive raises would be included in the calculation of final average salary.

OK...that's fine if you've already retired. But what if, like me, you're eligible to retire AFTER June 30? What exactly does this line mean: Retroactive raises would be included in the calculation of final average salary.?

So if you retire before June 30 and your FAS is 100K (which is likely, since that's the highest salary), then your retirement benefits will be increased to reflect the retro money, i.e., your FAS will be 108K. This will increase one's pension about 4K a year (50% of the 8K). That's great.

But if you retire AFTER June 30? That part is unclear. Yes, you will receive the retro money over time like everyone else. But how will your pension be calculated? Will your FAS be 100K or 108K?

It's not a small question. That 4K difference would add up to a LOT of money over time. A person enjoying a 25 year retirement would enjoy it a whole lot less, because they would lose 100K over that time period.

So, does anyone know the answer? For those of us who must retire after June 30, will the retro be figured into the FAS? Or will we be screwed out of the money?