crib sheet

We read the Moskowitz/Klein e-mails so that you don't have to

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (GothamSchools)
Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)

There’s a lot more than school siting and closures in the 77 pages of e-mails between Chancellor Joel Klein and charter school operator Eva Moskowitz.

The e-mails, obtained by the Daily News, include a little bit of news — such as that Bill Clinton considered weighing in on the charter schools fight — and a lot of insight into the way Klein and Moskowitz think about the politics of education. We’ve read every word of the 150+ e-mails and have collected the highlights below. 

A PERSONAL CHALLENGE: Moskowitz puts her expansion goal in personal terms, in an April 2007 e-mail to Klein: “I plan to be educating 8,000 of your children by 2013.”

SHE DIDN’T LIKE THE TWEED WORKFORCE, EITHER. We know that district school leaders and parents often clashed with Garth Harries, the Tweed official who for years led efforts to insert small schools and charters into their buildings. Now we learn that Moskowitz fumed at him, too. On May 16, 2007, she praised a new Department of Education official, Tom Taratko, to Klein. “He got done in 2hrs what garth could not accomplish in 9 months,” she declared, adding, “look out for him and hire more!!!!!” The more typical Tweed worker she describes this way: “maddening sluggishness and people afraid of their own shadows.”

POLITICKING FOR EXPANSION: In July 2007 Moskowitz described to Klein how she and her main financiers, John Petry and Joel Greenblatt, shored up support for her application to open three copies of the original Harlem Success Academy. They courted New York State Republican Committee chairman Ed Cox, who was at the time chairman of SUNY’s charter board. By January 2008, SUNY sent the charters to the Board of Regents, which approved charters for Harlem Success II, III, and IV in May 2008.

GHOST-WRITING IN KLEIN’S NAME: In August 2007, still marshaling support for the expansion plan, Moskowitz asked Klein to write a “letter of commitment” on her application’s behalf. “To save time,” she wrote to him, “I drafted a quick letter.” There’s nothing unusual about ghost-writing a recommendation letter, but it’s funny to see Moskowitz impersonate Klein.

JOEL KLEIN’S BIRTHDAY IS OCTOBER 25. Put it on your calendars.

SHE CONSULTED ON THE MAYORAL CONTROL CAMPAIGN. And it was war! But Moskowitz was humble about what she had to offer. “Though I have grit and courage,” she wrote to Klein on Jan. 23, 2008, “am not always as good at chess moves when up against the uft.”

THE “HOLY GRAIL”: “BOTTOM UP” SUPPORT: By Feb. 4, 2008, after meetings with “chris” (presumably Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf), Moskowitz has gotten excited about the campaign to renew the mayor’s control over the public schools. Agreeing with an observation by “chris” that their “holy grail” is “bottom up” support (presumably this refers to grassroots support from non-white parents), she sounds an optimistic note. “[W]e will have armies,” she says.

THE COST OF SPACE-SHARING: On March 21, 2008, Moskowitz tells Klein that she was forced to re-wire her Harlem school building at a cost of $150,000.

THE REV. MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE: Moskowitz fills Klein on her latest activities on March 25, 2008. “As you know, i met with Sharpton,” she writes. “Had a great meeting.”

THEY PLAY FOR THE SAME TEAM. “[W]eird as it may seem,” Klein wrote to Moskowitz on April 12, 2008, “I see us on the same team.” In the same chain, Moskowitz wrote about her small team of aides as if they were bodyguards. “i trust w my life,” she said.

BILL CLINTON MULLS TAKING ON THE UNION: April 16, 2009, was my birthday and a hectic e-mailing day for the odd couple. First, Klein offers his frank thoughts on his new buddy Al Sharpton, after Moskowitz asks whether she should invite Sharpton to visit her school. He’s good on charters, but not on mayoral control, Klein says. But he is “working” on Sharpton. The same day, Klein lets Moskowitz know that Bill Clinton called him to say he’s upset about the teachers union attack on charter schools — “keep confi,” Klein instructs. Clinton apparently “wants to do an op ed.” Pretty sure this never materialized, though Moskowitz offered some talking points.

PENN RESEARCHERS MIGHT BE STUDYING HSA: The e-mails oddly get a little out of order here and we fly back to 2008 for a while. On May 16, 2008, Moskowitz indicates that she’s getting researchers at the University to Pennsylvania to study her school. An academic study is something her funder Greenblatt really wants, apparently — and which, as far as I know, no New York City charter school has ever had done.

SPARRING OVER THE SIZE OF HER FOOTPRINT: In June 2008, Moskowitz and John White, who took over for Harries in moderating the messy space battles, sparred over how much city school space she should have. Moskowitz then complained to Klein. “Really could use your intervention,” she said, forwarding her exchange with White.

OUR FRIEND ELI: Juan Gonzalez has chronicled how Klein helped Moskowitz get $1 million from the Broad Foundation. You can read the details in emails from October 3, 2008; October 8, 2008, and November 11, 2008. The grant was made public in April 2009.

WHAT RANDI SAID: In an Oct. 8, 2008, e-mail, Moskowitz claims that former city teachers union president Randi Weingarten, and her personal enemy, suggested that the duo write a thin contract together. Presumably that would mean that Harlem Success schools would become unionized, and the resulting work contract would have very few restrictions. Moskowitz said she would but only if Weingarten also agreed to a thin contract at half of all city schools. The union’s first thin contract, with the Green Dot charter school in the Bronx, landed in June 2009.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, JOEL: November 19 is Klein’s anniversary with his wife Nicole Seligman, and in 2008 he spent part of it speaking at a Harlem Success event. “[W]e will have a new generation of warriors,” Moskowitz said, thanking him.

PRINCIPAL MOSKOWITZ: Feb. 12, 2009, Moskowitz fills Klein in on how she had to lay off a principal — and become principal herself.

KLEIN AND GATES: STILL FRENEMIES: On Feb. 15, 2009, Klein admits that he doesn’t “get” the strategy of the Gates Foundation, which has been avoiding New York City K-12 school investments lately.

PONTIFICATING ON PATERSON AND OTHER POLITICIANS: In March 2009, Moskowitz breaks down the mayoral control fight by the politicians taking part in it. “Malcolm [Smith] is yours if floyd flake cmes through (though of course don’t trust Malcolm),” she writes. “Shelluy [Silver] wants patronage and keeping randi happy.” And presciently, she adds about the year-old governor, “Paterson (we are sending him 10,000 postcards – friendly but reminding him that he said he was oufriend) is just about re-election. He will go with the path of least resistance.”

PUTTING THE POLITICS ASIDE: After the Harlem Success lottery on April 23, 2009, Klein wrote to Moskowitz, “Meant what I said: put the politics aside and enjoy what you’ve done for people. Truly extraordinary and I don’t say that casually. Bravo!”

Moskowitz responded in minutes with a thank-you note of her own: “You were terrific too tonight. You sounded like an evangelist. Donors loved. And parents did.”

state of the union

New York City teachers union braces for Supreme Court ruling that could drain money and members

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
UFT President Michael Mulgrew (standing) met with teachers during a school visit in 2014.

A few dozen labor leaders gathered recently at the the headquarters of New York City’s 187,000-member teachers union to hear a cautionary tale.

In a glass-walled conference room overlooking downtown Manhattan, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew settled into a chair facing a colleague from Wisconsin. He asked the state teachers union president, Kim Kohlhaas, how her members have fared after an aggressive rollback of labor’s bargaining power there.

She described rampant teacher turnover, fewer job protections, and ballooning insurance and pension costs. In short, a union’s worst nightmare.

For the UFT, Wisconsin is a harbinger of what could result from a Supreme Court case known as Janus, which revolves around the ability of public unions to collect mandatory fees. Oral arguments begin on Feb. 26, and the decision, which is expected in a matter of months, could dramatically alter the landscape for unions across the country.

The impact will be felt especially by the UFT, the largest union local in the country. If the court rules that teachers are not required to pay for its services, the union is likely to shed members and money — a war chest that has allowed the UFT to be a major player in New York politics and to secure robust benefits for its members.

“This is dangerous stuff we’re getting into now,” Mulgrew told Chalkbeat. “They’re trying to take away people’s ability to come together, to stand up and have a voice.”

While the case deals with different issues than Wisconsin’s anti-union policies did, New York City labor leaders say the limits on their membership and funding would weaken their ability to fight against further restrictions on their organizing and bargaining power.

In anticipation of the ruling, union leaders have reportedly already considered downsizing their operations. And they have undertaken a preemptive information and recruitment campaign to hold onto members — who, soon, may be free to choose whether to keep supporting the union financially.

“Much as I oppose Janus, it’s kind of a wake up call for entrenched union leadership,” New York City teacher Arthur Goldstein blogged recently. “People need reasons to pay, and it’s on leadership to provide them.”

At issue is whether public unions can continue to charge “agency fees,” which are payments collected from people who are not members. Sometimes called a “fair share” fee, it is meant to help unions cover the cost of bargaining contracts that cover all workers, regardless of whether they are union members. Only a fraction of New York City teachers currently opt out of the union and pay the agency fees rather than dues — but experts expect many more teachers could leave the union if the Supreme Court bans the fees.

Mark Janus, a government employee in Illinois, is challenging the fee on the grounds that it violates his right to free speech. The Supreme Court deadlocked on a similar case in 2016 after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. With Neil Gorsuch now on the bench, observers expect a conservative-leaning court will side with Janus. If that happens, workers covered by unions — including the UFT — will be able to opt out of paying the fees that help keep the unions in operation.

“What that means is there will be a lot of teachers — potentially a lot of teachers in New York — who do not invest in the union,” said Evan Stone, co-founder of the teacher advocacy group Educators for Excellence. “There will be potential growth in free riders who are benefiting from the work of the union without contributing to it.”

That’s why the UFT is kicking into action. The union has trained scores of members to knock on doors and talk to fellow teachers about the case. In about two months, the union estimates its members have knocked on 11,000 doors, sharing stories about how the union has helped them and hoping to convince teachers to keep financially supporting the work, even if the courts decide they’re no longer required to.

Union leaders are also launching “membership teams” in every school. Tasked with “building a sense of unity,” the union is asking the teams to engage in personal conversations with members, and plan shows of support for the union. Stone said his organization is organizing focus groups across the city to inform members about the case.

New York City teachers automatically become union members. They pay about $117 a month in dues, while social workers, paraprofessionals, and members in other school roles pay different amounts. Members can also choose to contribute to a separate political fund, which the union uses to lobby lawmakers and support union-friendly candidates.

About 2,000 educators opt-out of the union and pay agency fees instead — which are the same amount as regular dues, according to a UFT spokesman.

Ken Girardin, who has studied the potential fallout of Janus for New York’s unions as an analyst for the right-leaning Empire Center for Public Policy, said the number of agency-fee payers is low compared to other unions. But the Janus case could change that.

Girardin looked at what happened after Michigan enacted a “right to work” law, which forbid mandatory agency fees. The result: The Michigan Education Association, among the state’s largest unions, saw a 20 percent drop in dues and fees. Among full-time teachers, membership declined by 18 percent.

Girardin estimates an equivalent decrease in New York would mean the state’s teachers unions would take a $49 million hit annually. The UFT relies on dues and agency fees for about 85 percent of its $185 million budget, according to federal documents.

“It means they’d have to make up a course change,” Girardin told Chalkbeat, referring to the potential impact of the Janus decision. “They would have to treat their members like customers instead of people who are going to pay them regardless.”

Behind the scenes, the union is reportedly making contingency plans to deal with the potential budgetary fall-out. The New York Post recently cited unnamed sources who said union leadership is considering reducing the staff at some of its borough offices and cutting back on discretionary spending.

Girardin said public-sector unions in New York have already begun to fight for state legislation that would make it harder for members to drop out — a potential work-around in case the court sides with Janus.

Some UFT members say the threat of Janus is already being felt. The union recently voted down a resolution to support Black Lives Matter after leadership said it was a divisive issue at a time when the union can’t afford to lose members, according to an NY1 report.

Rosie Frascella, a Brooklyn high school teacher who helped organized Black Lives Matter at School events across the city, said she was disappointed in the leadership’s decision. But despite those internal disagreements, she said the threat posed by Janus should compel all teachers to speak out in support of their unions.

“You need to be in a union because it protects your right to teach,” she said. “And it stands up for our students and it creates the schools our children deserve.”

after parkland

As Trump doubles down on call to give teachers guns, the growing #ArmMeWith movement offers an alternative

Counselors, time, diverse classroom libraries, money — these are some of many things American teachers say they need in their schools instead of guns.

The pleas are coming via a social media hashtag, #ArmMeWith, that has spread quickly this week as teachers grapple with the aftermath of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Some lawmakers and advocates — including President Donald Trump — have responded to the shooting by arguing that teachers should be armed. That idea has drawn scorn from educators who argue that more guns in schools would make students less safe and do little to address the underlying issues that contribute to violence in schools.

Now thousands of those educators are offering an alternative, using a template that two teachers shared on Instagram on Tuesday. Olivia Bertels and Brittany Wheaton already had substantial social media followings when they asked others to join them in starting a movement.

“My friend @thesuperheroteacher and I think that we should find more practical solutions than giving teachers guns,” Bertels wrote on her post with the template, where she asked to be armed with school supplies. “I hope you’ll take the same stance.”

More than 5,000 people so far have done exactly that on Instagram, and the hashtag is also trending on Twitter, bringing educators together in a cross-country conversation.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” wrote one Texas teacher, HowsonHistory, in a comment on a Rhode Island teacher’s post. “But am so glad that so many teachers are. Maybe soon we will be listened to.”

Here are some of the posts that have caught our eye.

“We, the teachers, have a few ideas.”

“#armmewith not guns, but counselors who do not double as test administrators and more than one overbooked, crowded therapist option for families with Medicaid and social workers without overloaded caseloads.”

“#armmewith the liberation of our students, a microphone to speak out against the policies you make from people who aren’t teachers, resources to empower our children, and love to keep our babies safe. We refuse to be armed with guns. #teachingwhilemuslim”

“Because there are so many other things to be arming ourselves with that will do more good than harm. I choose to #armMeWith kindness not violence and teach my students to do the same #jointhemovement”

“I took my first teaching job the year Sandy Hook happened. And the thing is, in that year and in all the years I have been a teacher since, I have stood in my classroom too many times and wondered where I would put my children if someone came into my classroom with a gun. I have stood on playgrounds and in hallways with dozens of students and wondered what would be the best action to take. I have sat through too many of my lunch breaks with my colleagues hashing over the best strategy for protecting our students. There has to be change. Teachers and students deserve to work and learn in peace. #armmewith #thingsteachersshouldnothavetosay”