breaking news

Live-blogging Joel Klein's "sayonara"; hello Cathie Black

Cathleen Black, the new schools chancellor.
Cathleen Black, the new schools chancellor.

We’re live-blogging Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference right now at City Hall, announcing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s resignation.

4:11 pm. Bloomberg’s last words to Black, he says, were to the point. “I told her what I tell everyone and that is, don’t screw it up,” he said.

4 pm. Asked what her greatest challenge will be, Black tells the press: “With the help of the eight deputies in the office, we will spend a good amount of time prepping me and making sure I understand all of the issues thoroughly. The change, the opportunity to make a difference, is really what has compelled me to want this position.”

3:53 pm. The next question is, What about a public search for such a public job? “I did have a public serarch and I picked the best person,” Bloomberg answered, inscrutably. He also said, “In the end, it is the mayor who picks the chancellor.” And he added, “I have looked for people of all backgrounds.”

Also: Who was the first person Black met in this process? Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew, Bloomberg declared.

“Mulgrew has met her,” Mulgrew spokesman Dick Riley just confirmed.

Black’s children went to private boarding school in Connecticut.

3:51 pm. The mayor et. al are now taking questions from the press, starting with, Why not an educator? “Joel has built an amazing staff of pedagogical experts. That’s not our problem here,” Bloomberg said.

He said the new chancellor’s expertise needed to be dealing with the tough economy. “Jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s exactly what Cathie Black knows about,” he said.

3:46 pm. Among Black’s first remarks: “New York has the best teachers in the country.” She is also running through the objectives Bloomberg announced at NBC’s Education Nation event, which did not sound at all different from Klein’s.

“My main goal will be to build on the work of the Bloomberg administration and chancellor klein’s tenure,” she said.

3:45 pm. Klein will remain on until the first of the year to help Black with her transition, Bloomberg said.

3:44 pm Klein to Black: “I also am comfortable in saying I’m leaving you the best team ever assembled in education.” This seems to indicate that his preference is for the eight deputy chancellors to remain in place after he leaves.

3:40 pm. Klein has accepted an offer form NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch’s news organization, and will serve as executive vice president and on the board of directors. His main responsibility will be to “put them in the burgeoning and dynamic education marketplace. I do believe, as I said, that that is the future.”

“Cathie, let me congratulate you and thank you for taking on this important assignment,” Klein added, looking to Black, who is wearing black. Just saying.

“I also am comfortable in saying I’m leaving you the best team ever assembled in education,” Klein said to Black. This seems to indicate that his preference is for the eight deputy chancellors to remain in place after he leaves.

3:39 pm. Making his remarks, Klein hasn’t yet mentioned his next plans, although he did say, “To me education will always be at the core of my life’s work.”

3:38 pm. Black is the first woman to lead New York City’s school system, the largest in the country, our resident education historian Philissa Cramer just confirmed from Israel.

3:34 pm. Cathleen Black, who was president at the magazine publishing company Hearst, is the next chancellor of the New York City school systems. “I know the first thing she’ll want to do is reach out toparents, teachers, princpal and and adminsistartors to get the benefit of their wisdom,” Bloomberg said of her. He also said, “She is also someone who has had a long active, e ffort in civic affairs,” including work in youth literacy.

Chancellor Joel Klein exits as schools chancellor. He will move to News Corp, the news organization owned by Rupert Murdoch, where he will expand the company's education business.
PHOTO: KenExcellence on YouTube
Chancellor Joel Klein exits as schools chancellor. He will move to News Corp, the news organization owned by Rupert Murdoch, where he will expand the company

3:30 pm. In doling out credit, Bloomberg just named several top officials at the Department of Education — but mangled Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern’s name. He also named Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Chief Operating Officer Sharon Greenberger, who is a recent appointee. Sources told me Greenberg was placed at the suggestion of the mayor.


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”