chapter politics

Proposed change in union rules would give retirees more votes

A policy change up for approval by teachers union leaders today would increase the weight of retired teachers in union elections.

The proposal, which the union leadership’s say is meant to make voting more democratic, has roiled critics who say it represents a bid to consolidate power by a leadership that fears dissent.

At issue are the union’s complex rules about how to count votes from its different constituencies during leadership elections. Under the bylaws, active teachers and members of other UFT chapters, including paraprofessionals and nurses, get one vote each. If 25,000 current teachers cast votes, 25,000 votes are counted.

But the votes of retired teachers are capped, a provision that union leaders have said was aimed to limit retirees’ influence. Since 1989, if 25,000 retired teachers vote, only 18,000 of those votes would count. In 2010, when the union elected Michael Mulgrew president, retired teachers’ ballots counted only for seven-tenths of a vote.

Under the proposed policy, that cap would be raised but not eliminated: 23,500 votes from retired teachers would be counted.

UFT officials say they are taking advantage of the addition of more than 20,000 members this month to amend the union’s constitution to reflect membership changes, including growth in the influential retirees chapter. Also up for approval is a move to give the new members, home day care workers, representation on the executive board.

But the proposed change has its critics — and is making strange bedfellows out of people who are often viscerally opposed to each other. Members of Educators 4 Excellence, a group aimed at boosting teachers’ influence on education policy, and Norm Scott, a union activist who has criticized E4E, both said they thought the move would diminish the voices of active teachers.

“I think this is extremely dangerous for the union to do this,” Scott said, who helped found an opposition caucus within the UFT. “[Union leaders] already have too much power and the danger for the union is that it continues to shut out the voice of people in the classroom.”

“I think by doing this the UFT leadership is telling classroom teachers that they don’t matter,” said Sydney Morris, an E4E co-president.

The shift could give retired teachers more weight in elections. If 23,500 retired teachers’ votes had been counted in the 2010 elections, retired teachers would have made up 46 percent of the vote. Under the 18,000 cap, their ballots accounted for 39 percent of all votes.

Not that they could have altered the outcome: Mulgrew won the presidency by an 82-point margin, with 91 percent of the vote.

The amendment also would not restore retired teachers’ vote to its power in 1989, when the 18,000 cap was set, union officials said. Since then, the number of active teachers increased, but the number of retired teachers grew faster, from about 18,000 to 57,000 now, they said.

Retired teachers make up the union’s most enthusiastic voting bloc. In 2010, less than a quarter of active teachers voted in union elections, but nearly half of all retired members cast ballots. Retirees contribute significantly to the union’s political fund and also turn out in large numbers for advocacy campaigns, officials said today. The union even conducts voting by snail mail to ensure that retired members, who might lack internet connections or computers, can weigh in.

Scott said the influence of retirees is one of many ways the UFT’s power structure discourages members from becoming involved. Without strong involvement from active teachers, he said the union would be unlikely to wage an effective battle against policies it opposes, such as the city’s rollout of new evaluation evaluations. In recent weeks, city and state officials have ganged up on the union after negotiations over new evaluations broke down.

“The union is in this position because they shut out the powerful voices of any teacher who wants to say ‘I disagree with that policy,'” Scott said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.