Monday, December 31, 2012

Obama Seizes Raises for Teachers (and everyone else...)

Neither Republicans nor Democrats seem willing to do a damn thing about the payroll tax increase. Even as the "fiscal cliff" is avoided, your taxes will go up because the payroll tax (called FICA on your paystub) will rise from 4.2% of your gross income to 6.2%, effective tomorrow.

That is an IMMEDIATE 2% increase in taxes that will come out of your very next paycheck. That means that even if we somehow sign a new contract for a 4% increase tonight, you'd lose virtually all of it due to federal, state, and local taxes, plus the 2% you'd lose due to the payroll tax increase.

Of course, we are not going to sign a new contract tonight, so you will start losing money immediately. A NYC teacher making $75,000 a year will have to pay an additional $1500 in payroll taxes, effective tomorrow. In real dollars, you'd take home $62.50 less in every single paycheck, starting with the January 15th check. That's $125 a month. For families that have been struggling to make ends meet after years of stagnant wages, that increase is a personal fiscal cliff.

Why is the press not discussing this? I have no idea, other than it doesn't really care about the middle and working class. There is still a slight chance that some principled Democrats will object on these grounds, but don't bet on it.

The 2% tax cut was put in place as economic stimulus several years ago because it was deemed the most effective way to get more money into the economy. Giving a tax break to working people generally means that we will spend it, basically because we have to. Economists pretty much agree that it works--and should be left alone. Here's a take on it from Forbes:

By raising payroll taxes, Washington is pushing ahead with an austerity measure likely to inflict the most economic damage while producing minimal savings for the Treasury. The payroll tax cut would have cost $86 billion in 2013, roughly 3% of expected federal revenue. It elimination threatens to diminish economic growth by roughly one-third.

Obama made two big promises to help himself get elected. He promised to let the Bush tax cuts expire for anyone making more than $250,000 a year, and he promised that taxes would not go up on the middle class.

He gave in (I'd say lied) on both. Tax rates will only go up on people making $450,000 a year, and the expiring payroll tax cut will guarantee that 125 million middle and working class families will see their taxes go up immediately. The vast majority of us make far less than $450,000 a year.

Rich people made out pretty well. Capital gains will rise only slightly, meaning hedge fund billionaires will continue to pay a smaller percentage of taxes than many wage earners.

So, teachers, it's time to write Mr. Mulgrew to insist that he get us that 4% raise that every other city union got. That way, Obama can snatch it from you and you'll break even.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mr. Talk Predicts: Your Guide To 2013

As many of you are aware, I have an uncanny knack of predicting the future of the NYC public schools. I don't wear this fortune teller's hat because it's a babe magnet, you know.

We have an interesting year ahead of us, with a contract to be negotiated, evaluation talks, an outgoing mayor, a union election, and more. Here are some of my prognostications for the new year:

Despite the fact that "Waiting for Superman" failed to influence anyone and "Won't Back Down" earned less money than I currently have in my couch cushions, the reformers will once again try to use entertainment to sway public opinion. Reformers will pick a new genre, as documentaries and fictional movies have failed to click. To that end, StudentsFirst will present "Rhee-formers on Ice", an entertainment extravaganza starring Michelle Rhee as the Ice Queen, who will skate a bloody figure 8 into a senior teacher's chest in the finale. Kevin Johnson will co-star as the uncle no one will let near their children.

The UFT will continue breaking off large chunks of our contract and handing them over, gratis, to the city. Mulgrew will call each of these events a victory, and talk about how glad he is to have a seat at the table, even as he pulls the chair out from under teachers.

Teacher's Choice will survive, but in a new format. Rather than giving each teacher the current whopping $45 a year for classroom supplies, the city will finally increase that amount to $1000 per teacher. Unfortunately, that money will come directly from teacher salaries. Michael Mulgrew will promote this idea because "teachers already spend more than $1000 dollar a year each, on average. Making it official gives us leverage with companies like Staples, who want our business." The UFT will declare this a victory for teachers.

Despite no contract, a sellout evaluation agreement, and a loss of vacation days due to Sandy, Mulgrew will win re-election as UFT president. Only 25% of UFT members will vote. The other 75% will express surprise that there was even an election. This will be the only victory that the UFT will declare in 2013 that will actually be a victory, albeit not for the teachers themselves.

In a surprise move, Anthony Weiner will throw his hat into the mayoral race. He will immediately grab his hat back when he realizes it was the only thing covering his genitals. His campaign slogan, "Go Big with Weiner!" will be a huge hit with bloggers everywhere. The UFT, in keeping with their history of supporting wieners in elections, grants him an endorsement. Weiner will win the election and Mulgrew will declare that his endorsement gave Weiner the momentum he needed to thrust himself to victory, causing the city to come together.

To no one's surprise, this blog will continue making Weiner jokes in 2013.

Mayor Weiner will choose erstwhile Gotham Schools blogger and celebrated E4E asshat Ruben Brosbe as Chancellor. He will cite Ruben's extensive experience at not achieving tenure as a major plus. "None of our three previous chancellors had any real experience in the classroom," Weiner will say. "Brosbe actually taught and failed to achieve tenure, which will inspire future teachers not to expect tenure, either."

Although there will be no new teacher's contract in 2013, it will be a year of innovative deals, such as giving in on teacher evaluations in exchange for a promise of 'economic credit" in the event a contract is ever signed. This will lead to a pinky swear on the Danielson Framework, a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die ATR agreement, a hand-to-God paperwork reduction agreement, and a swear-on-my-mom's-life no charter school pledge. Mulgrew will hail all these innovations as a victory for the union. In a shocking turn of events, Mayor Bloomberg will reveal that he had his fingers crossed the whole time. Anthony Weiner's "No Take Backs" pledge will turn the tide in his favor and sweep him into the mayor's office.

Some quick predictions to round things out:
  • At least one of your admins will be a dick.
  • Cathie Black's emails to Bloomberg will finally be released.  The most damaging revelation will be that she referred to the mayor as "Poopsie".
  • Reformers will claim that everything they do is for the kids, even if they propose tying students in potato sacks and beating them with ball peen hammers.
  • Eva Moskowitz will begin planting flags in the public schools she wants to take over and claiming them for "The Country of Moskovia".
  • Evan Stone and Sydney Morris will marry, but only so they can spawn more members for E$E.
  • Diane Ravitch will continue to defend public schools and sound educational policy by typing more on her blog and Twitter feed than seems humanly possible. It will be revealed that she also types with her feet.
  • Arne Duncan will bring phonics back to schools, but only after he gets tired of everyone pronouncing his name "Arn" instead of "Arnie".
  • Mayor Bloomberg will continue to increase class sizes while pushing a law to reduce the size of a "large fries" to whatever can fit in a urine sample cup. 
  • The mayor's push to eliminate guns will take up a larger and larger amount of his time. This will result in dramatic improvement in the schools.
  • Michael Mulgrew will declare all of the above a victory for teachers.
Add your own predictions to the comments, and happy new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mulgrew Demanding Wage Increase in Return for Evaluation Sign-off

In a stunning development, Michael Mulgrew appears to have developed a backbone. According to the New York Post and DOE officials, Mulgrew has refused to sign off any new evaluation system without a guarantee of a wage increase in a new contract:

The teachers’ union has refused to sign a long-awaited agreement with the city on a new teacher evaluation system unless it gets a guarantee of wage increases in the next contract, Department of Education officials charged today.

Lending credence to the usually suspect Post, Chancellor Walcott responded saying, "Mr. Mulgrew’s failure to bargain in good faith and insistence on including issues unrelated to teacher evaluation is unacceptable and illegal." Leave it to Bloomberg's toadie to claim that negotiating a contract is illegal.

Mulgrew declined to comment, saying "“I’m not negotiating in public."

Of course, the Post is possibly the most unreliable paper in the country, but I think this story must be true. Why would the city claim that the UFT is stalling for more money if it isn't? Wouldn't that basically force Mulgrew to do just that?

Also, the terms seem to be somewhat Mulgrewian, in that it appears that the union is asking for a "guarantee" of a raise in the next contract, rather than an immediate signing of a new contract with the 4+4% raises given to the rest of the city's unions. Even if the city agreed, would that contract ever get signed? Does anyone remember when the city guaranteed that Teacher Data Reports would never be made public and then supported them being published in the papers? Moreover, if a new contract isn't signed and we're only given a vague guarantee, would the next mayor have to honor it? Would a downturn in the economy, real or manufactured, nullify it?

So this appears to be real. Perhaps Mulgrew really does feel the heat of MORE and his re-election bearing down on him, especially after he bungled Sandy. We can hope. The signs are good.

Now let's see the UFT execute.

UPDATE: The city has filed with PERB, claiming that the UFT is not bargaining in good fair by demanding an "economic credit" to be applied to any increase in a future contract. See the filing here.

Friday, December 14, 2012


You want to yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater? You can't, because your freedom of speech rights are limited.

You want to make others pray to your particular god in a public school? You can't, because your freedom of religion is limited.

You want to buy enough automatic rifles and handguns to stroll into an elementary school and murder 27 people, including 20 children? You sure can. This is America. You have a virtually unlimited right to bear arms.

You can't yell fire in a movie theater, but if you want to open fire in a crowded movie theater dressed as the Joker and massacre people, there's nothing to prevent you from buying as much ammo as you want.

Now we have this unimaginable tragedy of dead children in Connecticut, and you just know the gun lobby will be out in force telling us that their right to have enough firepower to wipe out a small community is more important that your right to feel secure when you send your children to school.

It's happened in theaters, in colleges, in high schools, in shopping malls, and now in an elementary school. As of yet, nothing has been done. Not a single law limiting the right to own automatic weapons has passed.

If this tragedy in Newtown doesn't do it, what will? Will it take a massacre at a pre-school? A mass killing at a nursery in a hospital? Is there any tragedy heinous enough that politicians will finally stand up to the gun lobby?

President Obama set the right tone when he wept at a press conference about this latest shooting. Not the president's tears, nor anyone else's, can bring those children back. But Obama can act now to make sure we don't have to suffer through any more of these mass killings. You want a rifle to protect your family? Fine. You want a gun that can fire 60 rounds of ammunition in a minute? No. NO. Enough.

My thoughts and prayers go out to these families whose suffering is unbearable. I only hope we can find the will to make sure that this kind of event never happens again.

UPDATE: Here's a screencap of the Facebook page of Wisconsin Republicans, subsequently removed, discussing the fact that just yesterday, they won the "right" to carry concealed weapons in schools. God help us.

UPDATE II: I am temporarily limiting comments to registered users, because I don't want to hear from any more idiot gun lovers who are more interested in talking about how we should arm kindergarten teachers that doing something sensible about guns.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Delegate Assembly Denies Teachers A Say In Our Own Futures

It was just a short while ago that many of us believed that the new evaluation system would necessarily be part of a new contract agreement on which members would have the final say.

Fat chance.

Not only has Unity decided that they can make a side agreement with the DOE to push evaluations through, but last night at the delegate assembly they shot down a resolution by MORE that asked that members be allowed to vote on any plan absent a contract agreement.

Basically, Unity argued that the delegates know what the members want better than the members themselves. In the end, they prevailed because they own the DA. You can read the ugly details over at the MORE blog. There's also an excellent account over at the DOENuts blog, and a fine analysis of the carnage by Reality Based Educator.

RBE is right on when he says that Unity is afraid to let the members vote for fear that whatever deal they cut with the city will be voted down.

Ask your chapter leader and delegate how they voted. If they voted down MORE's resolution, demand to know why. A new evaluation system is a fundamental change to our rights and dramatically alters our contract. It should be subject to a vote.

This union should be a democratic body. If they won't let you vote on evaluations, then exercise the one vote they can't take away from you, and vote them the hell out of office in the upcoming elections.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Can Unity Be Dethroned?

There's an interesting post and conversation going on over at EdNotes as to whether the MORE Caucus can defeat the Unity Caucus machine run by Michael Mulgrew which has reigned supreme for half a century. There's a question, in fact, whether MORE should even be running at this point or spending more time developing the kind of infrastructure and support that just might dethrone Unity in the 2016 election.

I have to admit, I don't know whether MORE can win, but I do think they need to be in the fight. While their chances may not be great against the well-oiled Unity machine, their chances drop to zero if they're not in the ring. Surely no one thought that CORE in Chicago could win, but they did, and then held a successful strike and began taking back much of what the reformers had stolen away.

So, the real question may be, are teachers in New York City as fed up as their colleagues in Chicago? Has the weakening of tenure, the lack of a contract, the endless concessions, the ATR fiasco, the shaming of teachers in the tabloids, and the failure to oppose Bloomberg or mayoral control in the last election got you thinking that a change is needed? How about the collaboration on teacher evaluations using VAM, the cooperation on Race to the Top which will result in unending testing and teaching to the test, and the impending implementation of the 57 page Danielson framework rubric to evaluate teachers? If that's not enough to rile you, think about school closings, rising class sizes, and support of charters through creating two of our own?

If none of this bothers you, then by all means vote for Unity. You will doubtless get more of the same.

I do sense an opening for MORE in this election. There is a looming trifecta of bonehead moves by Unity leading right up to the union elections. First, there was the Sandy fiasco, in which Unity surrendered three work days without a fight or even waiting to see whether the state would take action to excuse the mandatory 180 days that Unity claims are necessary. Next comes the seemingly inevitable sellout on new teacher evaluations. Finally, right before the election, we will actually have to work those three days in February thanks to Mulgrew's surrender. Those three days are key. People will be tired and angry. Can MORE capitalize on that anger?

They can if you help. Let the other teachers in your school know that MORE exists by passing out their petition on evaluations, or telling people to sign online. If you can't do that, just talk to people at your school. You'll be surprised at how many teachers don't even know that there are other caucuses.

While a win might be a long shot, it may not be necessary to effect change. Remember that Mulgrew got an astounding 91% of the vote last time around. Suppose we could cut that to 70% or less this time around. Unity would have to take notice of the fact that the UFT membership is getting educated and is ready to act. As long as they get 91% of the vote, they have no motivation to do anything but sit on their hands and not make waves when the city makes demands.

I want some waves, dammit. I don't send the UFT my dues so they can have gala lunches and plush offices and double pensions, and neither do you. Those dues are supposed to be there to protect us, the members.

Do you feel protected by your union? Do you feel that your job is secure as long as you work hard to educate children?

Neither do I. It's time for something better. Check out MORE.

Friday, December 7, 2012

On the Coming Teacher Evaluation Sellout

I had the opportunity (I wish I could say the pleasure) of speaking to a higher-up at the UFT this week. When I was done, I was firmly convinced that a sell-out on the new evaluation system is virtually a done deal.

Before meeting with this official, I knew that I had to get one question answered for sure: Will the UFT sign off on an evaluation deal in the absence of a new contract agreement? While this official, hereinafter known as the Hack, would not give me a straight yes or no (big shock), he eventually conceded that the deal could be added to the current contract without a vote of the membership. It's the first time I have heard an actual Hack admit this.

Now, you may say that this admission doesn't necessarily mean that a sell out is in the works. You might reason that just because they can do it doesn't mean they will do it. Silly you.

I asked Hack why on Earth we'd give away the only bargaining chip we have. His answer was we can't afford to lose that $300 million dollars in state aid. And why not? Because if we did, there would be layoffs. Thousands of them, he said.

Really? Not even Mayor4Life Bloomberg, for whom threatening layoffs almost qualifies as a hobby, has made that threat. Dennis Walcott just this week spoke of the cuts that would have to be implemented should a deal fail to materialize, and nowhere did he mention layoffs. So why is Hack saying such a thing?

Simple. The UFT wants to generate fear among its members so that when it cuts a deal without getting a new contract, it can claim a victory because it saved jobs. They did the same thing when selling the horrific 2005 contract--they sent DRs and other hacks into schools to raise the specter of layoffs so that teachers would ratify that turd of a contract. And ratify it, we did.

Another interesting--and shocking--thing that Hack told me is that we have to agree to this evaluation system because no other organization he can think of has just 1% of its members rated unsatisfactory, and that has to change.


Is it really possible that a UFT higher up believes that its the union's job to ensure that a greater number of teachers are fired? That's essentially what he said. It's a PR nightmare, he said, that so few teachers are U rated, and the papers will vilify us if we don't change that. It made me wonder if Hack even reads the papers, because we are vilified on a daily basis.

Rather than throw its members to the wolves, why doesn't the UFT publicize the fact that fully half of all teachers either leave voluntarily or are "guided out" of the profession before they reach year five? Is there any other profession in which half of those who start end up gone? Why doesn't the UFT mention that long term teachers have already put in many years of satisfactory service to get where they are? Why is the UFT talking up the talking points of the city? Why don't they tell the simple truth that the vast majority of teachers who make it past the first 5 years are genuinely great at what they do?

So, you heard it here first. The UFT will agree to an evaluation plan that uses the discredited VAM scores to get rid of teachers. More teachers than ever will be fired. And in exchange for all of that, we will most certainly not get the 8% we are due (although Hack was careful to claim that PERB may save the day, and some future mayor may come to the rescue).

I hope I am wrong, but when Unity sends the big-gun hacks out to schools to try to scare teachers into passively accepting a crappy deal, you know said deal is in the works. When it comes to sellouts. no one does it better than Unity.