Saturday, February 29, 2020

Coronavirus: The Chances that NYC May Close Schools

Four days ago, I would have thought a post like this to be ridiculous.  Coronavirus is not, afterall, nearly as deadly as the Flu. 80% of patients who have the virus report only mild symptoms before getting on with their lives. The SARS outbreak, ten years ago, led NYC schools only to issue hand sanitizer to every school. Most of all, the press making a big deal about it seem only to be a desperate attempt at selling more papers through shocking and scaring readers and viewers and, when you looked at where the virus was a real danger, it was only in nations on the other side of the world with poor leadership.  was only in nations on the other side of the world and New York has strict protocols in place for people entering and leaving the nation.

Then three days ago, the NYSE began to slide and news reports indicated investor fears (from the virus) had lead to it.

Then two days ago, Japan closed schools for one month (here). Surface level news readers were shocked because, after all, closing schools for a whole month seems drastic. But more thoughtful news viewers were shocked to learn that schools were not closed because of health concerns but because of economic concerns, which the Times reporting the government is "is under pressure to act decisively to preserve the Tokyo Olympics."

They don't want to lose the economic dollars. So they closed schools -for a month!. Wow.

And then., yesterday, Fox 5 reported "NYSE could close trading floor in coronavirus contingency".

"The New York Stock Exchange is preparing for the possible escalation of the novel coronavirus crisis that might include closing the trading floor in Lower Manhattan, according to Fox Business.
Should the outbreak of COVID-19 escalate into a global pandemic, as is expected, then markets and firms are concerned that traders and other employees might not be able to get to work."
I do think this is just may be just click bait. The NY Daily News had a similar headline which they change after only four hours of being online (The original headline the had was "NYSE preparing for the possibility of closing the floor due to coronavirus crisis: report" was later changed to "Amid stock market jitters, NYSE ‘carefully monitoring the spread’ of CONVID-19’. Something like switch the headline after publication only happens after someone in the news room had second thoughts. That's a clear sign a clickbait).

What isn't clickbait is the fact that CNN also reported yesterday that WHO seems to think the the risk of the spread is "very high" (here).

These represent very fast moving events. Fast moving events change peoples' mindset in a very fast way. I remember the economic meltdown over ten years ago. Those were fast moving events as well. It took just four days (and the collapse of an investment bank) to change the mindsets of everyone in New York (and  the world). I wonder how long may it be before everyone's mindset changes again?

After all, last Tuesday, I thought even talking about this to be ridiculous. But that was before a whole nation shut their schools -for a month- because they were worried about the economy. I give NYC a 4 in ten chance that schools will close for at least one week.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

America's Dad

First, they said that Bernie Sanders made people's skin crawl. Yet his poll numbers grew. Then they took half of his ideology, Democratic Socialist, and accused him of being a socialist. Yet, somehow, his poll numbers grew. Then they said that his ideas were a thing only for third world countries. Yet his poll numbers grew. And when they said he couldn't win, his poll numbers grew and when they tried to pretend his win in Iowa (by 6,000 votes) wasn't a win his poll numbers grew. They grew after New Hampshire. They grew after the Bloomberg debate (and he wasn't event the main story of that debate) and they grew after he won dominated the Nevada Caucus.

Nowadays, when Amercia's Dad wins, his poll umbers grow. When it looks like he may not win, his poll numbers grow. When he's seen being attacked, his poll numbers grow and when he is seen as being embraced with love his poll numbers grow again. This smells like momentum.

And the momentum is saying one thing: That the unlikely may actually happen: That guy ... the one up the block from you ... your friend's dad ... the one who rarely combs his hair and is strangely comfortable in his own skin ... the one who has no shame in consistently saying the same damn thing every time he sees you .. that one ... the one who puts everything in terms of 'right or wrong' ...  the one about whom you're never quite sure whether he likes you, hates you or just doesn't remember who you are ... yet the one who you know will be there for you if you ever need a hand because he's kind of like your dad, too ...  that guy ... that dad ... may well become the DNC candidate for president.

(And if you're not a fan, then that's OK. You've got your own opinions, but if you are a fan, then it feels just, I don't know, glorious. Kind of like watching your own dad being proven right after he notices you were overcharged at the grocery store and drags you in to cause a scene to get your money back. Sure, it's uncomfortable for a while but it damn sure feels good to get your money back and thank god dad was there anyway.)

Back here in New York, the UFT continues to be the largest political action group in New York State, period. It's last three presidents have gone on to preside over the AFT and it's politics are the politics of many urban locals, from El Paso to Philadelphia, spread across the United States. It matters.

And through most of 2019, the word from UFT to its members about the POTUS election was "we're neutral". The word to the insiders was a slightly different, "we're neutral, but ... " and when looked carefully at their actions, it looked very much they were kind of angling toward supporting Biden. "Sanders is someone they will never support" is something you heard over and over again from informed members within the New York teacher union.  That made sense. Hillary Clinton runs the Democratic Party and she is very close with AFT President Randi Weingarten.

But earlier this week, when the AFT effectively disqualified support for four candidates and suggested that members focus on just three, the crack squad here at NYCDoE-nuts noticed that Mike Bloomberg's name wasn't there.

First, the fact that AFT cut Bloomberg out of possible candidates to ask members to support -while his poll numbers were climbing- is the final proof I'll ever need that the critics are wrong: The UFT/AFT is not that desperate for a seat at the table. Kudos to them for that.

And with Five Thirty Eight reporting just today that the most likely scenario isn't a brokered convention but one in which Sanders triumphs, the one scenario that UFT folks  may have to make the one choice they did not want to make: Back Sanders or sit out the election and risk a Trump victory.

There is little doubt that at least parts of the DNC will just sit it out if he becomes the nominee. But what will organizations like the UFT and the AFT do if this happens? Will they follow the DNC establishment folks who choose not to phone bank or donate or stuff envelopes? Or will they turn their back on dad and let mom's rich, ugly disrespectful new boyfriend stay in the house for another four years? That's a pretty big question.  Many organizations correctly see a Trump reelection, and the re-alignment of working class voters with the nation's conservative party, as an existential threat to their existence. Will it be worth it to stay with the DNC establishment? Or is will it be time to break away.

One thing's for sure: If the DNC is the grocery store clerk who just overcharged you, it looks like America's Dad is making his way over to the counter right now -and he doesn't look one bit intimidated about the conversation he's about begin.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bloomberg's Billions: Why Some NYC Teachers Are Experiencing Collective PTSD

It is its own sub on Reddit.  NY Magazine has used it Left (and right) Wing Haven the Seattle Sun Times has used itIt trends, every so often, on TwitterAnd now, Sunday's NYTimes has embraced it.

From "Blood-Soaked Mayor Bloomberg Announces Homelessness
No Longer A Problem In New York City" in The Onion
The term "Bloomberg's Billions" is quickly becoming synonymous with the wealth and power exhibited by the one percent in America.

More specifically,  the term is being used as a metaphor with how wealth yields power in the United States today  (through, according to today's Times, charitable donations to organizations which also wield political power).

Most folks point to his extreme use and defense of Stop and Frisk (a white-washed term the press has used to describe what the UN has identified as a Human Rights Violation). Others defer to his embrace of charter schools and his anti-union reputation -including his record as NYC mayor.

But teachers -not the teacher union, but teachers themselves, ones who worked and lived in the city during the Bloomberg years- recall something far more dark and sinister when confronted with the term -and those folks have to deal with a fair amount of PTSD because of it.

It's not his 2005 contract which removed rights for teachers and which helped start this EDU blog that caused this PTSD. And it's not his 2007 "Gotcha Squad" which sought out to match teachers with violations in order to fire them. That move filled the rubber rooms and helped lead to the creation of this NYC EDU blog. But that's not what causes PTSD either. It isn't even the accepted fact that many of us have still not been made whole by receiving the pay raises which we should have received in 2009. That is not the true nature of our collective PTSD.

Teachers who lived through and survived Bloomberg know full well what he actually achieved: Bloomberg erased the institutional memory of the NYCBOE and, because of this, its union, the UFT. It is as though the system that existed, including workplace protections and a concentration on the whole-child, before 2002 has been erased from the chalkboard. Any remnants of the way things were have long since been swept away. They will take decades to fully restore. And that is at the root of the collective "Oh, my God" that is swirling around more senior classrooms throughout New York City.

In order to illustrate my point, let me ask you a few questions. What happens to students and to teachers when we give a principal too much power? In what ways do we redress that principal? What happens when metrics, ones which many simply do not understand, are used to determine the worthiness of continued employment? What happens to a union that must divert resources to explain these metrics to its members? When actually happens when the overwhelming majority of a workforce -whole school communities across five boroughs- report to an underpaid job each day with no real job protections? What goes on inside those school communities? Is there a balance that takes place? Or are teachers forced to work for free every day, as was the case with Maspeth High School just three years ago?

Were you able to answer these questions? If you're answer was no, then you must understand; teachers just one generation ago were.

Check Facebook's Teacher Chat and you'll find an entire generation of educators just now learning the answers to these questions -just now beginning to build back the institutional memory that this one man successfully erased. But there was once a time when these were readily available in any teacher lunch room and through virtually any chapter leader in the city. These answers helped new teachers understand the lay of the land and helped older educators pass the torch of 'how to get by'. This is just a small part of the effect of erasing our collective institutional memory. And this is what causes PTSD for many more seasoned teachers.

It's not one or two parts of the whole. It is the gestalt; the sum total of the whole which many of us did not fully at first fully understand and had to, slowly, piece together for ourselves, then deal with. We see that happening again and we don't want it to.

Within the walls of 52 Broadway, headquarters of the UFT, it is generally understood that teachers during the definitive 1968 teacher strike were part of our greatest generation of UFTers. After all, these were the folks who built the union. They assembled at Randall's Island (by the tens of thousands) every August to demand a fair contract. These were the ones who walked out -and stayed out- in order to assert the basic due process protections that you and (currently on payroll) enjoy today. These were the ones who fought for decent pay, decent benefits and decent hours -and they are the ones who won.

Yet much of what they accomplished has been forgotten. This is why the final story may well reveal the current corps of city teachers to be the UFT's greatest generation.

These folks now -the ones who, through social media or through the demonstrating or attending meetings, or even harmless union bowling events- are the ones who are rebuilding (almost brick by brick) the institutional memory that Bloomberg's Billions were able to erase. They are the ones surrounding untenured employees and preventing them from being mistreated in the work place. They are the ones just now beginning to speak up or to speak out during staff meetings in defense of the profession (which is just another way of saying in defense of our students against really stupid policies). These are the folks who question almost everything they hear from a supervisor and are brave enough to speak up about it.

This is probably why this generation of teachers are the ones who really are rewriting that playbook and who find themselves tackling challenges (such as what it means organize around an issue or to just simply stand together through a difficult time) when so much effort is devoted to dividing them. These are the ones who are forced to, sometimes, speak up against their own supervisors on behalf of students, even though they're still not sure if the've committed original sin by doing so or have scored one for the students. With almost no one around to tell them that they have scored one for the students, they make these stands out of almost pure gut instinct.  Bloomberg's Billions has given this generation of teachers the short straw in this manner and his billions are, even now, compelling them to do things akin to walking up to the headmaster and making that age old plea; 'please sir, may I have some more?' without having one single notion of what may happen to them as a result.

The "greatest generation" had an active union behind them. These folks have only their wits and a general sense of what is right and wrong. These are folks who have inherited Bloomberg's real legacy and they're the ones who find themselves rebuilding that institutional history which his billions helped take away.

Just to be clear: I'm not speaking of my generation of teachers (folks who probably read this blog). My generation of teachers got their asses kicked. We were the ones who were fired or were fined or had their schools close around them or had to deal with stereotypes that exist as a result of the ATR.  We were the ones who faced retaliations of all kind for speaking out, even a little. We are the generation who were castigated in the press and were investigated for simply speaking (or missing eleven days of work (true story) or passing gas (again; true story) or raising a question during SLT (most famously, a true story) and were powerless to stop it. We were the ones who heard stories from the rubber rooms and hid away out of fear. We were the ones who read in the papers what Bloomberg's money did to teacher David Pakter (who was almost fired for bringing plants for his new school, who spoke out against the attempt, and who soon found that Bloomberg's Billions had planted a false story in the New York Post falsely accusing him of sexual abuse (he had not committed this act. It was a political hit job, only done on a school teacher (again, true story. That actually happened.  Pakter's lawsuit against the Post for $10 million dollars was still in court documents last time I checked).

The general point I'm making is not only accurate but important to assert: The current veteran teachers, the ones like me, were the ones who totally lost to his billions and we're the ones who are now in a process of quietly working our way toward a pension. We are far from any greatest generation of UFTers. Mr. Bloomberg's money made damn well sure of that.

And, as part of that process, some of us try to take some time to remind people and to warn them, sometimes with every breath we take, that a Mike Bloomberg presidency would be just as much of a disaster for anyone in the working class or in the professional service class, as it was for teachers in the 2000s in New York City. And if it looks like older teachers are losing their minds, it's just because we're experiencing a heavy case of PTSD as we watch this man buy his way into another round of political relevance.  We want for him to not matter anymore. Yet his money ensures that he does.

 It's almost like a mission  -to remind folks that this same man who, during the very week the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans were ruined, paid a sympathy call to  the HQ of Goldman Sachs to make sure that the bankers knew he had their back.

He is currently running 3rd place in the overall polls for the presidential primaries. So it is a good time to jot down some thoughts: Mike Bloomberg sucks. His billions can come after me again (they know who I am) but he sucks. He sucks for working class. He sucks for teachers. He sucks for people of color. He sucks for anyone except the ultra rich and the people who spend all of their time wanting to be the ultra rich. He will cut Social Security. He will cut Medicare. He will continue to allow retail workers in this country to work for substandard pay and require welfare benefits just to survive -and then he will cut their benefits.  He will cut all entitlements that he can, will increase military spending, will reduce taxes for high earning professional class, while balancing that increasing taxes for regular folks and he will declare victory while doing it.

Because it will be a victory. It just won't be ours. This is the truth that Bloomberg's Billions is seeking (successfully) to obfuscate. Older teachers know it (the way old dogs can feel in their bones when it's about to rain) and we simply can't believe we're watching this happen.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

55/25: A (Long) History and (Short) Possible Future

Ah, the NYS budget season. The most interesting drama packed time of the entire year! Ain't New York State politics something? 

Who could forget last season's *almost* legalization of Marijuana? Or the season before that, which gave us our new (new) teacher evaluation system? Or the one I wrote about way back in 2012 which, again, addressed a then pending teacher evaluation system through a mayoral announcement that no city unions would be offered a contract (good crazy time under Mike Bloomberg. Good, crazy times.)? My personal favorite is the 2015 season. That was a doozy. It one gave us (yet another) teacher evaluation deal and allowed us to all watch, popcorn in hand, as the governor dethroned a long time New York State Pol   (Mr. Silver; we still miss you).

Oh, the drama.
Oh, the calamity.
Oh, New York.

The scoop
This year's budget may bring back an oldie but goodie: The non-incentive-retirement-incentive. Teacher should read the papers  and their UFT email updates in the coming weeks. We may be hearing about another 55/25.

You should probably know the history of this first

In 2007, while contending with a very powerful mayor, New York City teachers were offered a stunning and seemingly generous "early retirement incentive". In exchange for allowing some teachers to submit to merit pay based on test scores, the mayor backed a plan in Albany that would allow all teachers to retire up to 5 years early (here). In exchange for paying 1.85% more toward their pension, teachers would be able to retire with a pension worth 50% of their pay (the usual rate for 25 years of service, and 10% less than it would be if a teacher had served all 30 years). All educators needed to do was sign on the dotted line and wait unit they were old to reap the benefits.

The "merit pay" part of the plan never really worked out and was very soon forgotten. At the time of the deal, Diane Ravitch told the Daily News, "The union ate the city's lunch, ...The bonus can stop ... The pension goes on forever." She was right. That's probably why the retirement incentive part of the plan -nicknamed "55/25"- quickly became the stuff legend for NYC teachers.

The news hit teacher break rooms like a wave. Colleagues tripped over themselves -and each other- in order to sign up for the chance to retire 5 years earlier than they had planned.   Every city teacher who drew breath was told by their union "this option will never be offered again. Ever. Take the deal". Most teachers, without fully understanding the details, did -and they considered themselves lucky to do it. Those who didn't, or those who became teachers after the six-month window had closed, openly complained that they had been robbed. I've seen 22 year olds in their second year of teaching complain about this and insist that the deal should be offered again. It is that popular. It is that missed.

More sober voices, like James Eterno at ICE, divided teachers into three categories from the deal, winners, no gainers and big losers. Teachers who had not yet been hired were the big losers:

Under the new system they will have to pay 4.85% for the first ten years and 1.85% thereafter but they will not be permitted to retire at 55 with 25 years of service ... Instead, the new agreement says they have to complete 27 years and be at least 55. This is why we are calling this provision a de-facto Tier V and this is how the city wins.

He was right. In future years, at the very next economic downturn, in fact, a Tier V and later a Tier VI was introduced. They both called for more money all were both that Mike Bloomberg had ever hoped and advocated for. Those teachers eventually were hired and have been complaining ever since that their retirement deal is terrible and that they, too, should be offered a 25/55.


And Now?

The idea of 55/25 itself hasn't died in the hearts of the politicians. Not one bit. Our counterparts in the suburbs had a similar deal offered to them in 2010 with a 60 day window and pending district approval. See this legal notice update which refers to that offer.

25/55 deals were proposed in the New York Senate in 2015/16 and again in 2017/18.  And then. just last Spring, a 25/55 bill actually passed the legislature (see here).

So it comes as no surprise to me that a Facebook user's recent post to a teacher chat group mentioned that a similar 25/55 deal may be in the works for this year. It makes perfect sense that a deal may be offered during this budget cycle.

This year's budget headline is Deficit. Deficit and maybe legal Marijuana. That's it. The state government says it will be $6 Billion dollars short in its tax collections and it has some serious decision making to do.  The governor, the most powerful in my life, has stated that the deficit comes from Medicare bills that were offset by Washington DC. His plan is to offset those costs by sticking localities with the bill and it will probably work. Over the years, the governor's people have been elected as the leaders of many of these localities andso, despite Mike Mulgrew's attempt for it to not happen to his locality: NYC. I think Cuomo's influence on the local leaders will be more than enough to make it happen and to offset much of that deficit to counties.

But this will leave suburban localities in quite a jam. As Spring unfolds, local municipalities, including cities, counties, towns, hamlets (and in some scenarios even school districts) will be facing their own budget woes.

And could they possibly make up those woes? Hmm...

 Teachers who are on active duty are paid form their respective general budgets. In NYC, this is tax allocation money. Teachers who are given "incentive" to retire are paid from their respective retirement systems, thus alleviating any potential budget stress within the municipalities. And, gee, politicians have been trying to arrange another 25/55 deal for almost ten years. hmm ...

It just makes sense that a deal like this may be on the way back for this year.

Is it a good deal? 

Pffft. I don't know. I'm going to go grade some papers after I'm done writing this. Go hire a money person and ask them. All I can tell you is that the retirement system will probably be in a good enough shape to handle another 25/55 deal. Currently, the NYC TRS is in relatively good health. As of last Spring, it had $76 million on hand. That's one cool million more than it had the year before (check page 28) and that includes all of the pensions it currently has to pay, so it's not like the TRS in. NYC will l have trouble affording it.

But if it is offered, it will be a gimmick to fix a budget by offsetting certain costs related to public employees. Plain and simple. I don't ever think that's a good deal. I also won't call it an incentive. The only thing the last deal did was lift an early retirement penalty -and even at that the penalty was only lifted in exchange for 1.85% of our paycheck. I don't call that incentive. I call that bail money.