Monday, May 30, 2022

A Memorial Day Wish

I'm thinking of my dad today. He passed a few years back, but he was a veteran. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. Unlike many others, he did come back. He lived into his nineties. Toward the end of his life, he needed long-term care. He had a policy, one he paid into for decades, that was supposed to cover it, but really didn't. (I have the NYSUT catastrophic medical emergency insurance, and I'm acutely aware that doesn't cover it either.) 

Toward the end of my dad's life, his wife was looking into divesting him of his assets and getting him into Medicaid so she wouldn't lose her home paying care facility bills. Meanwhile, my friend's grandmother in Canada got end-of-life care from the government with no out-of-pocket expense.

When I was a lot younger, my friend's father had to sell his house to pay for his wife's medical expenses. I don't recall exactly what was wrong with her, but I remember she lost her leg and lingered for a long while. When she finally passed, the father had to move into the basement of one of his grown sons. He didn't seem to like it there very much. I know that because one Christmas Eve he blew his head off with a pistol. This was the first time I realized something was very wrong with our health care system.

Once, I had a job playing fiddle in a bluegrass band in a small theater in Pennsylvania. We were opening for a name band much bigger than we were. I remember there were four guys in the band, and three of them were really overweight. Only the banjo player was not. They sent us all to lunch in a nearby restaurant, and I sat with him. I remember we both ordered Reuben sandwiches.

That was a Saturday. The following Tuesday, this banjo player had chest pains. Playing banjo is not generally a very lucrative career, and this particular banjo player, of course, had no health insurance. He thought about going to the ER, but also had to think about the thousands of dollars that visit would have cost him. (I know for a fact he didn't make thousands that Saturday night. The singer probably paid him sideman wages, whatever they may be.) He decided to ride it out, but the ride didn't go well. He died of a heart attack later that day.

Throughout the years, I've seen musical heroes of mine get sick. Often, I'd see people giving benefit concerts for their health care. Sometimes I'd contribute to GoFundMe or similar things for musicians I knew who'd gotten in trouble. These artists I respected, and likely ones you respect too, ought to have been covered somehow. In Canada they all are. In fact, anyone working in a Taco Bell in Canada has full health coverage, as they should. I don't think anyone deserves to have health care because their jobs are more important, prestigious, or better-paying. I think everyone needs and deserves health care. As for expenses, it would certainly be cheaper in the long run to guarantee it for all and cut out the parasitical private health care companies.

It's a moral imperative that we give health care to all, one way or another. NYHA could be a first step. I recently read a book called The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, that examines our culture. A core question McGhee poses is, "Why can't we have nice things?" The answer, in short, is that America presents benefits as a zero-sum game. Oh, if we have that, then those bad people (read people of color) will get it, and somehow you'll lose something. Thus, white people don't get it either, no one gets it at all, and we're all somehow losers. Bigots can congratulate themselves for preserving freedom, whatever the hell that is, and Tucker Carlson will urge them to be vigilant in protecting it. 

UFT has a position on single-payer. As I understand it, we oppose the New York Health Act (NYHA) because its expense would somehow cut into education funding, or interfere with benefits we already have. This is odd, because I voted for a resolution that said, albeit in past tense, that we supported the 2015 NYHA. It does go on to state that we support national single payer. I don't agree with the current position on NYHA. If we have issues, we should negotiate with the sponsors of the bill and fix whatever the issues may be. We are union. Union should be in the business of rising all boats, not saying, "Our boat is fine and yours can sink for all we care."

I have heard UFT President Michael Mulgrew say on more than one occasion that we prefer a federal health care program, and that we support that idea. Despite that, NYHA could be a first step, something for the rest of the country to aspire to. I'm horrified to find the UFT on this list of organizations that oppose single-payer. It says it's about NY, but doesn't really make the distinction of only opposing state-run health care.This particular site maligns Canadian health care, and clearly implies that any government-run health care program would be a failure. Despite that, I see a absolutely no country with universal care moving toward a US model. And Medicare belies that too.

Yes, I like my health care. It's a whole lot better than nothing, the US standard. That said, I'm not crazy about the copays. I'm not crazy about having doctors tell me they've dropped my insurance. My friends and family in Canada don't have that issue, they don't have insane wait times, and they don't envy us at all. I'm sure gazillionaires in Canada and elsewhere can fly here and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the best specialists in the United States. Still, I'm a US resident with relatively excellent health care, and I can't afford that either.

People reading that site could interpret the UFT to be an organization whose policy is, "We have ours, so screw you." That's fundamentally an anti-union position. In fact, it's an anti-human position. I'd also argue that our brave veterans didn't give their lives so people could go bankrupt over catastrophic medical emergency, something that happens in no other developed country I know of. We owe it to their memory, and we owe it to our peers and children to leave them something better than this. 

Whatever objections there may be to NYS single payer, we can ask that they be addressed. And even if they aren't, we should get our name the hell off that list. With our name there, we appear to support the status quo. We look like every disingenuous GOP politician from Trump on down who advocated replacing Obamacare with the nothing we had before.

This is not a good look for the largest teacher local in the country.

Monday, May 23, 2022

UFT Executive Board May 23, 2022 Bar Talk and More

LeRoy Barr--Welcomes us. Speaks to verifying visitors online.


Christina Gavin--Kathy Perez and Dan Leopold, Ronnie Almonte, Travis M. would like to join meeting. Wants to discuss false allegations in relation to using google group. Had asked for librarian listserve, went unresponded. Sends emails from her list. A candidate contacted people saying because group contained UFT name, belonged to UFT. It is not a UFT list. Anyone may join by sending me an email. Second complaint about false reports against me by Bill Woodruff. On 49 occasions suggested I messed up, had bad intentions and wounded union. Said it was sincere apology, but charged me with behaving in inappropriate manner, and thus another complaint was filed. Speaks of Bar 47 distribution, but was not a union group, used no union resources. Prohibited us from distributing flyers. Was verbally assaulted, and other candidates were slandered. Transcript available. 

Mary Perez--CL from Bronx, D79. March 25 UFT social at Bar 47. 10-12 teachers joined about 3. Saw a lot of old friends. Saw no flyers, sat down and talked. Saw William in front waiting for people to come in. Saw people giving UFC flyers. Was there to see friends. At the bar, Christina came in, we were ready to leave. Saw her flyers and saw her on phone. Told her I wasn't interested, and she continued behind me. I felt harassed. Friend asked her to leave me alone. Bill said leave it alone. 

Barr--Comments in response to election complaint at our last meeting. Have heard from both sides. Chance for us to hear. With respect to UFT librarians @gmail---This election was a little different. We got complaints about members who happened to work for UFT using their personal accounts with UFT embedded in name. Told them they could not use accounts with UFT embedded in it, because people might think you are speaking on behalf of UFT. Got same complaint about similar group and came o same conclusion. This meeting as well as DAs should not be recorded. Will go into executive session if I don't have agreement. These are EB and DA rules. Trusting people, and don't wish to see recordings on social media. If people can't cooperate, that will change the way we do business. Would like to have access, but not recording. We record for minutes, but don't distribute outside. 

D7 event--We heard different accounts. Everyone should act respectfully. Elections are over, we are one union, and we have enemies who'd like us to fail. We need to come together and move forward. 


Michael Mulgrew--Welcomes everyone. Albany--Assembly discussing mayoral control. Also talking about class size. Spring conference--Class size piece did well. Told governor, mayor, Regents that class size matters. They have to end June 7 because of primaries. New lines drawn, elected officials freaking out. We are focused on legislative session and major policy issues. Thanks everyone who came Saturday and spoke of what teachers and members need. 

Calendar--Was just on phone--DOE has sent calendar to NYSED for approval. Hoping it gets done. Will get it out when it's approved. Ridiculous it takes so long.

June 9 will be like Election Day--remote. DOE agrees unless there's reason for people to be onsite will be virtual.

32,400 people filled out survey. Negotiating committee will meet June 15. 


Q--Can we move forward with SBOs on schedules--Ruling from NYS on Regents to appeal--APPR-are we included?

A--SBOs can be started. CLs like to do them all at once. 

Debbie Poulos--We have a pilot workday agreement. When it's signed off and calendar goes out we are ready. 

Mulgrew--We have an agreement but not signed. Regents have not gotten back to us on appeal or APPR. I did sign for waiver. Both us and they have to agree. Up to district, not union.

Q--D79 superintendent very good, cares, is knowledgeable, but wasn't finalist. Now is part of it, but it's an outrage. He was heads above other candidates. When new people come in, can be disaster. Many issues in this district. Need this person in charge. 

A--He's a good man, always there for kids. This is their process. Teachers advocate for various people to be supe, sometimes sitting, sometimes not. Seems they are backing away from taking recommendations of people involved with process. Didn't understand what they were getting into. If people feel strongly, we will do what we can to support. 

School safety has been doing great job. Visited every school in city, measured square footage and ventilation. Tough year with violence, shootings and lockdowns. 

Reports from Districts--

DeShanna Barker--Queens HS had bowling event, 14 HS participated, was great event. 

Seung Lee--With four days notice, Asian American Parade, dozens of members showed up. Had children, retirees, was great event. Had organizing meeting, was great week.

Melody?--Asks for paid leave. Heart disease and chemo take a long time. Members don't have enough time in banks. Grateful for health care, but only good if you can use it without detriment of family. Hurts women, sick and disabled. We don't want educators to leave, need benefits commensurate with private sector. 

Janella Hinds--Abortion rights rally May 15. UFT members came out on short notice to march across Brooklyn Bridge and fight for right to privacy confirmed in Roe v. Wade. On May 17 George Altamare acknowledged for 69 years of service in NYC labor council. We've been involved in labor movement since our inception. Was proud to give him award. 

Tammy Miller--Thankful we had provider appreciation ceremony May 13. Thanks childhood educators, nurses. Was great to see 350 providers celebrate culture and diversity. 

Rashad Brown--Pride committee doing Daniel Dromm scholarship. UFT members can nominate. Will celebrate students in their communities. PSL loan forgiveness--Oct 31 2022 limited waver ends. Don't lose out. 

Mary Atkinson--Reports on superintendent candidates at Town Hall. Join yours if it hasn't taken place. Our DRs and CLs have been going to hear and give feedback. People can ask questions and get pulse of community. Can sign on to Zoom.

Mike Sill--250 years ago James Madison said (reads quote about dividing mankind and animosity) Questions about election process have gone so deep as to endanger election process. Debate should strengthen, not weaken us. One thing to disagree about what happened at the bar, but to assume worst about motivations does not strengthen us. Should debate but not cast aspersions on one another. We are one union. Let's act like it.

Barr--Ready to work with any activists ready to take on this work. Only way we will get through this is together. Every conversation strengthens us, in person, in meetings, online. We are still greatest and strongest union in country. 

Resolutions for AFT--

Condemning hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans. 

Seung Lee--Carried in June 2021. Wants UFT to show leadership. 

Passes unanimously.

Second resolution calling for POTUS to pardon Marcus Garvey

Rashad Brown--National situation needs to be handled now. Over 100 years since he was wrongly convicted of mail fraud. First civil rights hero. J. Edgar Hoover was wrong to undermine movement, government had huge part, and we need to correct this. 

Barr--This country has to come to terms with its history.

Passes unanimously. We are adjourned. 6:53.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Chancellor on School Time

Dear UFT members:

As you know, I appreciate teachers quite a bit. After all, I not only said so, but also made a video about it. How many of your students have bothered to do that? Nope, only I did it, because I am the cream of the crop, the top dog, the soaringest highestest when it comes to teacher appreciation. Consequently, because of my great respect for you, you should all do whatever I say without question.

As His Swaggerness Himself has declared, we need to get our schools together. We are in crisis! There was a pandemic, and while most tests were canceled, that still doesn't mean our kids are passing them. As you know, before I became the great Soaring Highest Chancellor, I ran the Eagle Academies, and we opened on weekends and Saturdays. Now sure, you'll say, our results were not that great, but that's only if you read blogs like this one

As far as the NY Times knows, as far as Chalkbeat NY knows, and as far as our Swaggerific mayor knows, we did a fantastic job. After all, there was an HBO documentary about me, and they didn't bother to nitpick the small points, like a 32% passing rate on the Algebra Regents exam, only 7 students in the whole school passing the Geometry Regents exam, or our terrible AP results. After all, tests aren't everything. Unless it's you teaching for them, in which case you're ineffective. You wouldn't want that, would you? So just help me out here, and give me what I want.

And what I want, not to put too fine a point on it, is for you all to work summer and weekends. Now sure, you'll say, it's never been done that way. And sure, you'll say, if students aren't interested in school five days a week, ten months a year, they're unlikely to be interested in 8 days a week, 16 months a year either. But the world is changing, and the old model of people having time to think or reflect, or spend time with their families is not what Americans want.

Otherwise, why would they vote for so many politicians who are anti-union, who preach about government handouts, who even oppose national health care? Unless you're in a bracket like I am, making over 330K a year, this government is all about pulling yourself up by your frigging bootstraps. So wake up, New York! If you didn't want this sort of thing, you'd have voted for something other than Swagger. But you didn't.

However, there is a bright side. Your contract is coming up pretty soon, and our position is offering zero-percent increases unless we see gains in productivity. I see a whole lot of people complaining about near ten-percent inflation. Sure, companies are making record profits, and there are arguments that this is all just price-gouging. But that's all academic. (You see what I did there? You're teachers and I said "academic." That's a pun. My mother says I have a great sense of humor.)

And hey, if you don't want to do it, we'll just get community members to volunteer under our new and innovative "work for free" model. We don't care if they have teaching licenses, or experience, or subject knowledge, or an actual heartbeat. None of those things matter under our new and revolutionary "no standards whatsoever" model. The important thing is we need to do something. This is something, and we therefore need to do it right away, without hesitation! 

And hey, guys, don't go giving me any guff about smaller class sizes. We're not about to spend money hiring more teachers, or building facilities to accommodate students. We place children first, and we're the first to place them in inadequate facilities under deplorable overcrowded conditions. Because priorities.

Anyhoo, you all need a ten-percent raise if you're gonna keep up with inflation. The good news is Mayor McSwagger is willing to offer you a ten-percent raise, phased in over only nine years, if you'll agree to work 40% more time. That's what you call a WIN-WIN. You get your money, and we get you to work round the clock seven days a week. No more frittering away your time going to the beach in the summer, or visiting far-away places that aren't even New York. 

So what do you say, guys? Remember, we're doing this for the children, so when they grow up, they can work 200 hours a week just like you do! Remember, you heard it here first!

Soaring high,

Chancellor David C. Banks (And should we meet on the street or something, please address me as MISTER Chancellor David C. Banks. To me, you're one of the family.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


NYSESLAT is the test the state uses to test the level of English Language Learners.

In case you're wondering why you didn't see Exec. Board minutes here yesterday, you now know. On Saturday, I took a second booster and then drove to Costco. I was walking around the store when I started to feel really disoriented. 

I decided to get out of there without buying anything, and drove home very much hoping not to pass out or something on the way. I thought I was having a reaction to the booster.

I went right to bed, and later in the day developed a very sore throat, which a friend had told me was her first symptom. I took a home test, and both lines turned bright red immediately. After an interminable 15 minutes, the test remained that way. For a few days I stayed in bed, forcing myself to drink water. Yesterday I saw a doctor online, and she gave me an anti-viral med. This morning I was able to get up and make breakfast, and actually eat for the first time in days, but I'm not quite up to walking the dogs, one of my favorite things to do.

I was pretty surprised to test positive because I took a PCR test in school on Wednesday and tested negative. I've also been masked virtually all the time in school, and whenever I visited stores. So I had to wonder where the hell I caught the bug from. 

Now I'm pretty sure I know. I spent all of last week giving a speaking test to English Language Learners. Of course I couldn't give them to my own students because NYSED assumes I'm a criminal who will pass everyone simply to make myself look good, with no regard whatsoever as to their placement. I'm going to talk about that a little before I get back to COVID. 

One thing I noticed as I tested students one level above mine, the lowest, was that several of them were no more advanced than my students. There are two reasons for that. One reason is that it is not, in fact, corrupt teachers who place students in too high an English level. It is the test itself, which is the very worst standardized test I've ever seen. It was probably developed in a test tube. I'm sure they give valuable lip service to real teachers while this work goes on, but it is, nonetheless, total crap.

The second reason is the NX grades we were forced to issue last year. I'm not opposed to the concept of being merciful under extreme circumstances, and I know there were sincerely good intentions here. However, everyone was promoted regardless of mastery. And the fact is, whatever makeup work students may have done did not likely equal what original teachers had intended.

On the test, there is a glaring run-on sentence, a comma splice very much in need of a conjunction on the speaking script, which the students read. (Let's ignore the fact that, by allowing them to read, we are not measuring their listening skills at all.) They capitalize the word "sun" for no particular reason. These are errors I'd certainly expect from my beginners, not professional test-writers demanding exorbitant sums for their work. I am absolutely certain my colleagues and I (or you and yours) could place these students more accurately, and that we could help them more than the state. I deem the state incompetent.

Aside from the miserable quality of the test, the fact is we now have a variant that is more contagious than Omicron. Every day I sat with a series of students, face to face for extended periods of time, often leaning in very closely to hear what they are saying. You won't likely be surprised to hear that some kids are very shy with their new language, and deal with this by speaking in a near-whisper. This process was markedly different than what I'd been doing all year, circulating to see what my kids were doing, giving them oral or written comments, and moving on to my next student. I didn't have time to sit for 15-20 minutes with anyone. 

I've been wearing KF94 masks consistently. I've been eating lunch in my car, something I really hate doing. But I've tried as hard as I could to stay safe. Now I have COVID, and my wife, who is at least as meticulous as I am, has it too. I blame NYSED for this, and I'd sue them in a heartbeat if any lawyer told me I had a case. We started this year with social distancing. While regs have relaxed, it's still totally irresponsible for us to be doing one on one oral exams. 

I'm grateful that UFT negotiated non-CAR days for this purpose, but all things considered, I'd rather be at work. By work, I mean teaching, NOT giving a pointless exam so as to satisfy Betty Rosa and the Regents, none of whom appear to have the remotest notion of what language learning entails.  They seem to think if they sufficiently ignore the need of English Language learners, they will magically disappear.

The process of individually testing students for the NYSESLAT, which is wholly a waste of time anyway, should take place entirely on Zoom. Any school leader who reads this and chooses to run it otherwise is being either capricious with, or indifferent to the health of staff.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

The Chancellor Appreciates You

Dear Teachers,

Every day I am inspired by the dedication and innovation you bring to your work. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, please don’t harp on the fact that we are currently offering you zero percent salary increases unless you agree to productivity increases. What’s money, guys? Teaching is a calling.

As part of our Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations, I recorded a short thank you video for you. Now, honestly, shouldn't that be enough? Why do you need a raise in salary? I made the video. That would be enough for you if you were truly dedicated.

We are stronger because of you. You are owed an enormous debt of gratitude for your perseverance, your resilience, and your profound commitment. I can’t say exactly who owes this debt. Not us, of course, because, you know, even though we’re rolling in dough we’re offering zero percent. This notwithstanding, were it not for you, I would have to go out there and do actual work. So believe me, I appreciate you a lot.

Because of you, our students have been able to return to full-time classroom learning. Sure, they're more likely to get COVID since we don’t require masks. Picky, picky, picky. Because of your efforts, and your teamwork in getting vaccinated, we were able to stay safe and stay open during the Omicron surge. Sure, 20% of your students were out with COVID on any given day. Sure, we dumped unvaccinated teachers without due process, in blatant violation of state law. Sure, we’re being sued by UFT for that. But we don’t care, because it’s not our money we’re playing with. It’s yours, and that’s what swagger is all about.

Additionally, while our city fights against increased gun violence, and state education law, our schools serve as safe havens and tight communities that provide healing and support for our young people. Students know that whatever they do, they won’t be suspended. No matter how they mistreat you, insult your mother, or whatever, we’ll call their house, once, maybe, and hope for the best.

Despite all the incredible challenges of the pandemic, New York City’s students have the opportunity to grow and flourish. kids have pathway to a rewarding career (And lest you correct me, note the singular indefinite article, indicating one career, somewhere, for a million kids.), long-term economic security, and the ability to be a positive force for change. I’m not sure exactly what that is, in this gig economy where we pay welfare to billionaires while ordinary Americans go bankrupt over catastrophic medical emergency. And, you know I’m not even planning to give a raise to teachers, or firefighters, or cops, or anyone, but hey, look at the cool gig I scored for my brother. Maybe students have brothers too. Maybe you do. Who knows?

I also know how challenging and stressful it can be, even besides the many difficulties the pandemic has created. That’s why my focus, as Chancellor, is to ensure that we are coming through for you. Except when it comes to paying you money, or having your back when students or supervisors are violent or abusive. Like my sainted grandma used to say, “It’s all part of life’s rich pageant.”

So once again: thank you for the difference you make in the lives of our students and their families, and for the power of the example you set for us all. Also, keep doing it, because I’m sure as hell not doing it.

One more thing: this week, we are encouraging New Yorkers to send a note of thanks to the teachers who have made a difference in their lives. After all, who needs money when you have a thank you note? Not only that, but should you see me, I'll be the first to have someone from my staff offer you a hearty handclasp!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Soaring high on my $363,000 salary,

Chancellor David C. Banks