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Arbitrary and Capricious; Or, Some More Contract Demands

I’m marginally astonished at the city’s contract demands, the ones that Mayor Bloomberg says are not demands. As I review the demands that are not demands, the one that really jumps out at me is the lowering of standards for dismissing teachers. Apparently, the city now has to show “just cause” but wishes to lower the standard to “arbitrary and capricious.”

One of the social studies teachers in my school, trained as a lawyer, could not believe I’d gotten the term right. But there it is, in GothamSchools, the most reliable source for education news and opinion in the known universe. So basically, they can fire you for stealing pencils, and you’d have to prove to them that you didn’t do it. After all, it’s “Children First” in New York City. So if you’re an adult, falsely accused, too bad. No salary or health benefits for you. And when the children who “came first” grow up, the hell with them too. They get the same 19th-century-style jobs we just took away from their parents.

The DOE, of course, is now two years into its quest to fire more teachers. So far, they’ve only been able to build successful cases against three. It’s remarkable that, led by a noted attorney, that’s as far as they got. I’m sure they could’ve done better if they weren’t expending so much energy on personal vendettas and utter nonsense. Still, you’d think someone who so reveres accountability and spurns excuses, like Chancellor Klein, would have a better explanation than the one he’s got — that the rules and regulations are neither arbitrary nor capricious enough. But those are the sort of results you can expect when you send people to the rubber room for bringing plants to school or reporting administrative malfeasance. I personally worked with someone who spent time there largely for the offense of not wearing a tie.

As a chapter leader, I’m particularly fascinated by the clause demanding that chapter leaders do all their work outside school hours. I’m wondering exactly how that would work. If the principal calls me into a meeting that takes place during class time, would I have to teach my class after school? Would I perhaps be expected to tutor the kids in my home one at a time? If I get called into an arbitration over class size violations, would I get to ask the arbitrator if he could hold it off until after dinner? Or would we simply ignore class size violations, so Tweed could get back to its policy of doing whatever it felt like doing, with no consequences whatsoever?

With 300 UFT members in my building, when would I consult with them? Who on earth could handle such a thing? I suppose the goal is to leave union members without union representation. That’s a worthy and admirable goal in this administration’s continuing effort to roll back the 20th century. If they get what they want here they’ll have come pretty close.

I’m struck by their proposal to create modified contracts in phasing out schools. It seems they think they ought to be able to do whatever they wish in those schools. The fact that they close them arbitrarily and capriciously based on false statistics is of no consequence. Doubtless they’d like to make up contracts on the fly in all schools. In fact, by offering compensation increases based on whether teachers are “apprentice, practicing, mentor, or master,” they’re pretty much saying they ought to pay whatever they feel like as well.

Frankly, if they really want to be arbitrary and capricious, I see no reason why the UFT shouldn’t negotiate in kind. To hell with the 4 percent increase. Let’s demand a four hundred percent increase. We’ll also demand that Joel Klein come to each school personally, every week, and pay everyone in quarters.

Let’s make sure there are fresh baked goods in every workroom and every classroom. Why shouldn’t kids reap the benefits of our new and improved negotiation techniques? Every school needs a state-of-the-art gym and spa for UFT members and public school kids, with personal trainers, sports drinks, and complimentary Starbucks drinks of every stripe. An Iron Chef in every school cafeteria. And for goodness sake, let’s demand a golf course to work off those calories.

Let’s make assistant principals subordinate to teachers, as it’s well-known we do all the work anyway. Let’s demand a huge barrel of cash in every department office, so that we can take handfuls of it and distribute it to our best students. Or best buds. Or Best Buy.

Finally, let’s make sure the mayor and chancellor are truly accountable. The next time a kid, any kid, is left behind, let’s phase out Tweed.

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