UFT Online Debate


It appears as though the other parties involved in this UFT Election do not want to engage in a democratic debate (Read here). Therefore, UFT Solidarity is putting this page together so we could still elicit questions from the UFT members who are concerned about their careers and union.

To make it easier for Jia Lee and Michael Mulgrew, UFT Solidarity took out a permit for PS 64 Manhattan to hold a debate March 18th. PS 64 is co-located with Earth School, Jia Lee’s school and not far from Michael Mulgrew’s office. Neither candidate responded, but our Staten Island candidate made the trip. Watch below.

UFT Solidarity Presidential Town Hall 03.18.16 from UFT Solidarity on Vimeo.

Debate/Town Hall

Debate/Town Hall

Here are some of the questions our constituents have emailed to us for candidates Mulgrew, Lee, and Portelos. They are sent to the respective candidate and we will post their answers below (if they answer):

Who do I want to answer my question(s)? I want to know . . .
Francesco Portelos Since the “union” is totally powerless and no longer able to protect teachers’ rights and job security, what would you do to protect TENURED teachers from being targeted by out–of-control administrators? The tenure laws are being violated and ignored; the “arbitrators” are in the pockets of the DOE. The entire system denies due process and no one seems to care.

Francesco’s Response:  First, we do care. That’s why we support and are running. The arbitrators come in to play when a tenured educator is formally charged pursuant to NYS Education Law 3020-a. The arbitrators are jointly selected by the UFT and DOE. Since the UFT works alongside the DOE, we have arbitrators who systematically terminate members with twenty years of satisfactory service, that are kept on the panel. Not with us in charge. We will take a close look at the track record of these arbitrators, along with NYSUT, and keep/remove accordingly.

The goal is to avoid the 3020-a process entirely and push back against abusive administrators who launch warrantless attacks on our members. Our tactics will involve sending strong reps to the school, empowering chapters to stand in solidarity, speaking to higher ups at the DOE, partnering with parent groups, rallies outside, talks with local politicians and exposing supervisors in the NY Teacher and UFT’s social media streams. We’d like to have a section with the top administrators with the highest grievances and turnover rate in every issue. A UFT Solidarity led union will bring back the feeling of concern to the employer who hears a UFT member say “I’m calling my union.”

What are you going to do about aides taking secretarial jobs? Administrators hire aides over secretaries on the claim that they don’t have enough money to hire a secretary. Yet aides get paid thousands of dollars in overtime! If secretaries object administrators ask us if we want both jobs.

Francesco’s Response: No. We have to stop that. Not only is it bypassing our members, but it also raises privacy concerns as schools aides are not suppose to have access to student records. This has been on our platform since last July. Stop using school aides as secretaries when we have many capable UFT secretaries available. We will work with HR and Borough Field Support Centers to make sure legal and appropriate hiring practices are adhered to. The UFT already won an arbitration on this.

A lot of paraprofessionals have their Masters but can’t afford to quit and start the process of becoming a teacher or they are near retirement age and feel teaching would not be for them. Would you consider a pay step for those paras with a masters degree?

Francesco’s Response: Yes, just like teachers and other professionals who have additional related degrees, paraprofessionals should be compensated. This is something we need to discussing during contract negotiations.

In what way (or ways) will you be able to effectively lead a large organization like the UFT when so many established activists across New York, upon whom labor unions depend to run and function, feel so extremely threatened by your presence on the scene?

Francesco’s Response: I am going to repeat the famous quote that I’ve been riding on the last few years, as I attempted to bring positive change to a very broken system: 

You have enemies? Good. That means you stood for something in your life.” -Winston Churchill

If I didn’t have critics, if no one felt threatened by my presence, then I truly feel I wasn’t doing a good job. It’s difficult to answer the question without knowing specifics of who these “established activists” are and what they are “threatened” by. If they are all connected to the same group, perhaps they should feel threatened that someone has the guts and ideas to do what they haven’t. Perhaps they spent decades failing to bring positive change and they don’t like that UFT members are supporting a group that is. 

I have a resume full of leadership roles. Granted there’s nothing as large as the UFT, but I won’t lead it…WE will lead it. Including these “established activists.”

Michael Mulgrew (Unity), Francesco Portelos (Solidarity), Jia Lee (MORE) How will you deal with administrators and hold them accountable for their abuse?

Francesco’s Response: See answer above.

How will you fight the dreaded problem code that has barred many discontinued teachers from seeking employment in the DOE in different districts?

Francesco’s Response: The mass discontinuance of our members is a serious epidemic. It’s one that we have been fighting for some time. Over 2,000 have been discontinued since 2006. That number pales in comparison to the much larger number that resign. We need to push back and support members before it gets to that point. If a member is discontinued, they need to be cleared to work in another district, not problem-coded to go to interviews with a Scarlet letter. This can only be done with collaboration and talks with the DOE’s Human Resources department, specifically the Office of Personnel Investigation (OPI).

As more and more administrators investigate UFT members, place letters in the file, and justify their actions because they have been advised by DOE’s legal department  to do so,  what role should “legal” play in the running of our schools?

Francesco’s Response: There are too many attorneys in the DOE. Some say there are over 300. Internet search “NYCDOE Senior Field Counsel” and see which attorney represents which district.  If it’s found that they are giving administrators unethical advice, such as targeting members, then they need to be held accountable not only by us, but the Bar Association. We need to “disconnect” an administrator’s speed dial to their attorney and have administrators that can think and act for themselves. Chancellor Fariña stated she gave more power to her superintendents. Let’s see if that holds true.

In addition, we need to bring back the right to fight disciplinary letters to file. That’s a right Unity gave away. 

What will you do about superintendents and principals who don’t know enough about instruction, but use their positions as “instructional leaders” to conduct faulty observations of people they don’t like?

Francesco’s Answer:

We need to repeal NYS Education Law 3012-c, d. That’s the law that dictates the evaluation system. I’ll say it again… WE NEED TO REPEAL THE NYS EDUCATION LAW THAT DICTATES THIS FAULTY EVALUATION SYSTEM! The UFT is a political machine and we need to talk to our politicians about making these changes. 

How would you get better salary for paraprofessionals and what would you do to do so?

Francesco’s Response:

We have contract negotiations that should be starting in the next year. The way to increase paraprofessional pay is to work it through the salary structure in the contract. The NYC Council just received a raise almost equal to top paraprofessional pay. We also need to add 10 and 20 year longevity. Currently there is only 5 and 15. Most paraprofessionals need to work a second job just to make ends meet. We also need to work on due process, since they work with our neediest children. We are contacted by paraprofessionals who are fired on the spot, with no investigation. 

How do you plan to deal with this unfair attack on teachers?

Francesco’s Response: Please see above. We also need to fix the broken grievance process. Step 1 grievances are denied at 99.9 % and Step 2 grievances are denied at 97%. We need to have it that if a UFT member has to travel to the Manhattan for a grievance hearing, so does the administrator. No more call ins.

Why is the DOE allowed to continue hiring new teachers when over two thousand union members are languishing in ATR status?

Francesco’s Response: They are allowed to do this because they are not challenged to do otherwise. Our UFT Unity leadership, not only condones this, but has brought members of the DOE’s Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality (ATR office) to Executive Board meetings to discuss hiring new teacher initiatives. 6,000 new teachers hired this hear and another 5,400 last year. We again will work with HR to remedy this situation.

What is your stance on Educators for Excellence? 

Francesco’s Response: I have been to some of their events. They pull in high profile guests, such as chancellor’s and NYS Education commissioners. My concern is their large funding source in excess of $2 million. Who donates and what is their agenda? Are we talking about the average educator who is now an activist? Need more information.

Why are ATR members denied representation in their own chapter? What will you do to help them? Rotating from school to school and being rated by “field supervisors” in classes you may not be certified to teach in is not right!

Francesco’s Response: Not only is it not right, but being observed and evaluated in classes one just meets and in a subject out of their license borders on harassment. This isn’t about support or the students. It’s about using former administrators to attack experienced educators. UFT Solidarity promises to add the ATR Functional Chapter where ATRs can democratically elect representatives. UFT Solidarity is not waiting to win an election to support ATRs. We speak to them everyday and manage www.atralliance.org where tools to fight back and survive are shared.

SESIS attendance reporting is causing service providers to spend hundreds of hours of their own time to complete this horrific laborious assignment. What will you do to relieve this burden on these service providers who are not compensated, but are mandated to report attendance and write detailed progress notes along with detailed IEPs for each individual student?

Francesco’s Response: We hear many service providers tell us that they have caseload issues. Too much work and not enough time. Would the same work, but smaller caseloads help? Or is it that the paperwork required is redundant? We need more service providers and we need all school related professionals to be treated as professionals. Please email us at help@uftsolidarity.org to explain this attendance assignment more. You can also report it anonymously on our www.lesspaperworkfor.us site.

As it is right now there is little to no per-session opportunities for Education Assistants, and we are not allowed to be alone in the class room with students. What will you do to make the Education Assistants feel more like equals to the teachers?

Francesco’s Response: There is plenty of funding and there is plenty of work to be done, so why isn’t there more per-session for Education Assistants? There should be more per-session for everyone. We know and have read in the news how administrators have made money hand over fist with per-session. 

As far as feeling equal to teachers, we need to sit and review requirements and expectations of EAs and then make sure you are supported. I’m interested in hearing what ideas you have to feel more respected.

What are you going to do about arbitrators receiving pay from DOE? What are you going to do about NYSUT lawyers weakness in the face of the bureaucracy?

Francesco’s Response: We really need to sit and review that entire 3020-a hearing process. It is actually the NYS Education Department that pays the arbitrator, but the UFT and DOE jointly select them. However, we are hearing that arbitrators that terminate 90 % of the respondents are kept by the UFT. We also find that they team up and group DOE, NYSUT and hearing officers. What we would like to see is that each case pulls in a random arbitrator, not from a panel. What happens is that the arbitrators are paid about $1,500 a day and if they do not decide the right way, they can lose that. We need to keep impartial hearings impartial.

Why are retirees co-payments going up while our pension remains the same? The contract left that out!

Francesco’s Response: When we heard that the unions had to come up with savings to the city’s benefits system, we were immediately concerned. We new something was going to come down with increases. Make no mistake, this isn’t it. More savings to the city are owed and therefore we might be seeing more increases. We need to sit and work with our UFT Welfare Fund specialists to make sure that retirees can work through these increases.

Will paid maternity leave (not CAR days) be included in the next contract?

Francesco’s Response: It will, but we surmise it will be negotiated before the 2018 expiration. President Mulgrew is eluding to the fact that we will have to give back something in order to have paid family leave. Unfortunately, I do not trust that the UFT leadership will be tough with negotiations.

Michael Mulgrew (Unity) Why has the retirees medical coverage changed (like now having a deductible, and now our copays going from $15-$50 for some providers).

What kind of contract did YOU negotiate? Teachers injured on the job have to spend their OWN money to retain an attorney. They have ZERO help from YOU and the UFT. Where is all of the money going?

Why have you deleted so many of your emails from people who have been trying to talk to you about serious issues with the UFT?

Why have you failed to fight the SCI threat that principals use as a spiteful weapon against good employees?

Have you already signed off on an extension of the ATR agreement for next year? What are you doing to end it? Why are you opposed to ATRs having their own chapter?

Concerned educators would be interested in your positions and knowledge of the issues that face teachers. Why not participate in a debate?

What are you going to do about aides taking secretarial jobs? Administrators hire aides over secretaries on the claim that they don’t have enough money to hire a secretary. Yet aides get paid thousands of dollars in overtime! If secretaries object administrators ask us if we want both jobs.

Jia Lee (MORE/New Action) Jia, you apparently refused to administer standardized tests in 2014 with your principal’s approval and support. Shortly after, that principal left the school. Did you administer standardized tests in 2015 and 2016?

Jia, you apparently left a school with an abusive administration, high free lunch, and high Black/Hispanic population to go to a school, in the same district, that is mostly white, low free lunch, and a principal that supports you. Can you explain how this action, by a social justice caucus leader, benefits the students and staff of your original school (PS 63)?

Can you explicate exactly how MORE caucus has ever assisted any single teacher fighting for their career in the DOE?

Concerned educators would be interested in your positions and knowledge of the issues that face teachers. Why not participate in a debate?

What are your goals with the ATR pool?

What are your plans with fixing the wrongful reassignment procedures?

You claimed on a radio show that you left a troubled school to work on your administrator’s license, however records show you don’t have such a license. Can you explain? 

What is your plan to create a more democratic union? 

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One Comment

  1. What are they going to do about AIDS taking secretarial jobs. they’re putting them in saying they don’t have enough money to hire a secretary and the pay them overtime thousands of dollars. If we object they ask if we want two jobs.

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