Sunday, June 9, 2013

January 1st 2014: The Day After No Future

Many thanks to my guest blogger, Kevin Kearns (a very intelligent New York City teacher and fellow MOREista) for hashing out these thoughts about what pre-conditions the UFT should set for their mayoral endorsement. I've been follower of Kevin on Twitter for sometime now and have found him as informed an intelligent as anyone out there (as you're about to see with this terrific piece of writing).

By: Kevin Kearns (@KFrancisKearns)

For weeks, one of the biggest topics of discussion on twitter and the blogs has been the UFT endorsement for the mayoral primary.  At this point, everyone knows that the UFT is announcing an endorsement on June 16th and all signs point to Bill Thompson.  While many of us believe Thompson is a poor choice due to his connection with Merryl Tisch, I am starting to second guess that notion due to the rise of Anthony Weiner.  The prospect of a Weiner/Quinn runoff is a very real, and downright scary, possibility, and Thompson would be far more likely to ease up on the Bloomberg reforms than either of the two.  For months I have said that Liu is the best candidate, and on principal I do believe he deserves the UFT endorsement.  He is the most labor friendly and the most progressive, and if we really believe we can “make a winner” then he should be our guy.  If you are not going to endorse the candidate who you believe is the best, why endorse at all?  Still, Liu’s chances of making a runoff even with the UFT endorsement are very slim, and if the UFT wants to pick a winner he is not the best choice, DeBlasio is.  He is the second most labor friendly/progressive and with a hard enough push could make it into a runoff.  However, endorsing Liu, DeBlasio, Thompson, or Albanese could all be for naught if a) they can’t win the race, b) they really are just pandering to us c) if elected they won’t follow through on many of their promises.  Maybe it is time for the UFT to stop talking about an endorsement of a candidate and really push what is most important: The issues that affect their members and the students in NYC.
The other week a few of us, including the primary writer of this blog, debated the possible Thompson endorsement on twitter when DOENUTS brought up a crucial point  “we've all come to hate Bloomberg so much that not many people are thinking about what we want.”  DOENUTS is right, the biggest lie I have heard every week since January 1st 2010 is “Just ____ days till Bloomberg is out and all of this gets better…”  Some teachers rightfully fear Quinn or Lhota, but assume everyone else will be better, but when you ask them “better how?” or “who is better?” they never seem to have the answer.  While there are many things that the new mayor will have to fix, many will be out of his/her control.  Fortunately the three biggest issues are completely in their control. If I were leading the UFT, I would refuse to endorse any of these candidates if they won’t agree on these major points.
  1. An immediate and permanent moratorium on school closings/colocations.
    School closures have been by far the biggest crime of the reform movement, and right now it seems that the only way they will ever be stopped in NYC is with a mayor who imposes an immediate moratorium.  Even CTU, who really upped the ante on union activism, was unable to stop Rahm Emanuel from the largest wave of school closures in the history of this country.  Our next mayor must agree not only to a temporary moratorium on school closures (as some candidates called for this year), but a permanent moratorium on school closures.  It has become quite clear over the years that the students who are disproportionately affected by school closures are students who are poor, and of color.  Students who are in phase out schools lose valuable services, and are denied access to many courses and after school programs as budgets shrink.  School closures have also created a culture of fear among teachers in New York City.  I worked in a school that was threatened with some form of closure for four years in a row, and this was constantly used as fuel for administrators to overburden and attack teachers.  Many great neighborhood schools were eventually lost, and large comprehensive High Schools are not almost non-existent.  The School closure policy has led to many other issues, such as co-locations that create “separate and unequal” atmospheres in buildings, and an ATR crises that has gone on far too long.  No candidate wants to touch the issue of the ATRs, and the UFT doesn’t want to bring it up either, but this problem would not even exist if we had not allowed the Bloomberg administration to close well over 100 schools in 12 years.  If I were Michael Mulgrew, I would not even consider endorsing any candidate that did not agree to a permanent school closure moratorium.  
  1. A complete end to mayoral control.  
    We all know that there is no way the next mayor will agree with the UFT on everything, and to be fair they shouldn’t.  The mayor should do what is in the best interest of all stakeholders (teachers/parents/students) and although most of the time our interests are the same, sometimes they are not.  The problem is, under our current system the mayor has power to do whatever he/she wants even when thousands of teachers, parents, and students come out in protest.  With the mayors ability to choose the chancellor and make any changes to education policy through the PEP there is almost no democracy in our schools.  It is time we give our schools back to the communities that they belong to.  Until parents, students, and teachers have a real voice in the process, our education system will never be fair.  Amending mayoral control does not go far enough; we need to abolish mayoral control.  No candidate has called for this, and the UFT has not called for it either.  I have seen parents, teachers, and students, literally in tears, begging the Panel for Education Policy to go against the mayor’s wishes and save their schools, yet not once has a single mayoral appointed voted against a DOE policy ever.  When the stakeholders become completely disenfranchised all hope to work together to fix our schools is lost.  
  1. A fair contract with no givebacks and back pay.
    In a way this last one is a bit comical.  We cannot have a contract with no givebacks, since we just gave up a ton of rights last weekend, without a new contract.  For several years UFT members have gone without a raise.  Now with the new mess imposed on us by State Commissioner King, every teacher in New York City just got a massive increase in work load and a loss of tenure as we know it.  What do we have to show for it?  Nothing.  If teachers are going to work much longer hours, and with the cost of living only going up and up, it is time for us to get the raises we have waited five years for.  Teacher morale has gotten lower and lower every year under Bloomberg, and the only way to begin fixing this is with a fair contract. 

January 1 2013 does present our first and maybe last real opportunity to turn back the tide of the education reform movement before the damage really is irreversible.  The UFT has a chance to really enact change and I am glad they are choosing to take that chance and not sit this race out.  However, if we want to make the most of this chance we need to make sure the candidates are willing to take a tough stance on these crucial issues, even if it means they will be attacked in our local tabloid newspapers, or by groups like Students First, and DEFER.  We need to stop thinking about life after Bloomberg, as an automatic better life with a brighter future.  It will only be a brighter future if we fight to make it one.  We cannot miss this chance and allow any candidate to continue these reforms, because I am not sure our school system can handle another four years of the status-quo without completely collapsing.  

-Kevin Kearns

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