the loyal opposition

Opposition groups name their 2010 candidate for UFT president

James Eterno, a member of ICE, is running for president of the UFT. (<em>Photo via GothamSchools' Flickr</em>)

For months now, outgoing UFT president Randi Weingarten has made it clear whom she would like to see succeed her — chief operating officer Michael Mulgrew. But the seeming inevitability of Mulgrew’s election has not stopped two small opposition groups within the union from promoting their own candidate, James Eterno.

Eterno’s name didn’t make the list today, when the UFT’s executive board met to nominate candidates for interim president. Weingarten nominated Mulgrew and no one on the board offered any other names. Non-board members weren’t permitted to make nominations. Eterno’s party, the Independent Community of Educators, commonly known as ICE, as well as the Teachers for a Just Contract, do not have any members on the board, which is dominated by the UFT’s ruling party, the Unity caucus. At the end of the month the board will reconvene to vote in Mulgrew (according to the constitution, there have to be two separate meetings even if there’s only one candidate). But not being chosen won’t preclude Eterno from running for president in 2010, when all union members will vote.

Eterno is keenly aware of his role as the underdog. “It’s a long shot,” he said of his 2010 candidacy, which he and fellow ICE members are funding. “If you were making betting odds, you wouldn’t favor us.”

Eterno, 48, has been a social studies teacher at Jamaica High School for 23 years, and he served on the union’s executive board from 1997 to 2007. He left his party, the New Action caucus, when it made a deal with Unity to back Weingarten’s reelection, something Eterno vehemently opposed.

Still, he says he’s not running on an anti-Weingarten campaign, so much as an anti-Unity campaign. It’s how the union works rather than who’s at the helm that bothers him.

“My biggest gripe is that you have one political party that since the early ’60s has been running this union,” he said. The UFT “needs to run like a bottom up labor organization where the membership is really in control.”

If you want to put Eterno in a frenzy (but don’t, his wife, who is also a teacher, is due to give birth to their first child this weekend), ask him about the 2005 contract Weingarten negotiated with Chancellor Joel Klein, or the side deal she brokered a few weeks ago that creates a new pension tier in exchange for a later start date for teachers.

“The city has once again taken the UFT to the cleaners,” he wrote on ICE’s blog in reaction to the recent deal. “When you are enjoying those extra days off on September 3 and 4, just call them the billion dollar days. That’s roughly the amount that each day will end up costing us in the long run. For that kind of gift, couldn’t we get back just a little bit more of our professional dignity?”

He says the changes he wants to see in the way the union works would also change the way teachers do their jobs.

Eterno wants a contract that doesn’t oblige teachers to do hall patrol duty or run tutoring sessions if they don’t want to. He’d like some of the “nonfinancial sweeteners” back, he said, and less of an emphasis on test scores. “We’ve given them the grand enchilada,” he told me, referring not just to the pension plan that will require newer teachers to contribute more, but also to the many work rules that disappeared in the 2005 contract.

“I don’t expect much except cosmetic changes under Mulgrew,” he said.

The son of a Catholic school teacher — his mother taught the second grade in Flushing, Queens for 31 years — Eterno grew up on her small salary. “She made garbage,” he said, “It made me realize the absolute necessity for a union, a strong union.”

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”


What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said