Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Puerto Rico Teachers' Union Trounces SEIU

Nov 24 2008
Micah Landau

The Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers (FMPR) has done the near-impossible: Solidly defeating one of the world’s most powerful labor organizations in an election for representation of Puerto Rico’s 42,000 public school teachers.

"The FMPR does not 'give in,' it struggles. Vote no!" (By FMPR Support Committee)

In results announced on October 23, only about a third of teachers voted in favor of representation by the U.S.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The big plurality to reject affiliation is a stunning defeat for SEIU's President Andy Stern and the rest of the union's international leadership.

The conflict between the two organizations, which began almost a year ago, grew increasingly intense, culminating in the recent elections. Last fall, before SEIU stepped onto the scene, members of the FMPR voted at a mass meeting of more than 7,000 members to authorize a strike. The teachers had suffered through more than two years without a contract and had had enough. In November 2007, they gave Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde an ultimatum: “Contract or Strike!”

The response of the government was swift and unusually harsh. In January 2008, before the teachers had even begun their strike, the local Public Sector Labor Relations Commission and the island's governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, unilaterally decertified their union, invoking Puerto Rico's Law 45, which grants public employees the right to bargain collectively but denies them the right to strike.

Enter SEIU

While the leadership of the FMPR prepared to fight their decertification in court and the union’s rank-and-file prepared to fight for their contract demands in the street, SEIU’s international leadership was busy rolling out its own plans for Puerto Rico’s teachers. As Juan Gonzalez subsequently revealed in the New York Daily News, Dennis Rivera, an SEIU international vice-president and one-time member of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, had met secretly with Acevedo Vilá on multiple occasions while negotiations between the island’s government and the FMPR were ongoing. As reported by Gonzalez, the governor told Rivera prior to the strike that the Federation is “yours to take.”

The SEIU's next move revealed its intention to undermine the FMPR. Almost simultaneously with the FMPR’s decertification, SEIU announced the affiliation of the Teachers’ Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR), which is the island’s association of school principals and supervisors—and itself a longtime rival of the Federation. The SEIU now sought to replace the Federation with an offshoot of its new affiliate, the Puerto Rican Teachers’ Union (SPM).

At a time when the leadership of SEIU should have expressed its solidarity with the striking teachers, Stern, Rivera, and their allies chose instead to strike a deal with the government-employer by forging a company union in an effort to pull the rug from beneath the feet of the FMPR. Democratic reformers and rank-and-file activists in the labor movement have roundly criticized Stern’s top-down approach to unionism and his strategy of union-member accretion at all costs, but his bid to raid the FMPR reaches new lows. Gonzalez called the raid “a shameful betrayal of solidarity.” Labor journalist Steve Early told Democracy Now! that the raid “tarnish[ed] the image, not only of SEIU, but all unions.”

At a time when the labor movement is extremely weak, it is imperative that unions be able to count on the support of other unions in fighting their real enemy: the boss. Apparently, however, this logic is lost on the leadership of the SEIU. Rather than remaining true to their commitment to organize the unorganized, they opted in Puerto Rico for a policy of reorganizing the already organized. The SEIU's actions in Puerto Rico do little for either the strength or the unity of an already fractious labor movement, whether on the island or the mainland.

Teachers Triumphant

Despite the betrayal of SEIU’s leadership and their best efforts to undermine the FMPR, the Federation has persevered. Not only did the Federation win several important concessions from Acevedo Vilá and Aragunde in their February 2008 strike, but it also managed a dramatic defeat of the SEIU in their recent head-on confrontation in the elections for representation.

The SEIU-affiliated Puerto Rican Teachers’ Union (SPM) was roundly defeated in the elections. (By FMPR Support Committee)

The strike, which paralyzed Puerto Rico’s public school system for 10 days, drew unprecedented support from parents, students, and local communities sympathetic to the teachers’ struggle for a just settlement of their grievances and the improvement of public education on the island. As a result of this critical support and the determination and militancy of the teachers and their union, the government was forced to accept several of the strikers’ key demands, including an immediate raise of $250 per month for all teachers, a freeze on the government’s plans for privatization of the public education system, and a pledge from the governor to slowly but surely increase teachers’ starting salaries to $3,000 a month. In the scope of both its demands and its base of support, the strike, by its end, had become a small social movement—and its success was a victory not only for the FMPR but also for all defenders of public education.

The implications of the FMPR’s electoral victory against the SEIU, however, are much greater still. The FMPR is a militant and democratic union of the rank-and-file and its sitting president, Rafael Feliciano of the Commitment, Democracy, and Militancy (CODEMI) caucus, is an avowed socialist. In this context, SEIU’s raid was not simply an attack on the Puerto Rican teachers and their union, but also on the ideals of trade union militancy and democracy, which the FMPR—and, in particular, CODEMI—upholds.

The SEIU sought by its raid not only to replace FMPR as the teachers’ representative, but also to replace FMPR’s style of militant and democratic unionism with its own brand of top-down, management-friendly unionism. The rank-and-file’s rejection of the SEIU, therefore, also represents a rejection of bureaucratic unionism and an embrace of union militancy and democracy. The battle between SEIU and FMPR thus forms part of the much larger war of ideas now raging in the U.S. labor movement. The victory of militancy over cooperation is in fact a victory for those among us who believe securing the future for labor and working people depends on recreating a fighting movement for democratic, social justice unionism.

The FMPR’s victory also points to the possibility that a relatively small but extremely dedicated band of labor activists and reformers can make headway against a much larger and more powerful foe. FMPR spent approximately $60,000—half of it borrowed—on the election and fielded a small staff made almost entirely of volunteers. SEIU, in contrast, is estimated to have spent upwards of $10 million and fielded a staff of approximately 300 professional organizers. It is a classic case of David and Goliath.

Another important aspect of the FMPR’s victory over SEIU: The strong rejection by the Puerto Rican teachers of North American labor imperialism. In voting against SEIU, the teachers not only opted for union militancy and democracy over corporate unionism; they also asserted their independence from the North American labor movement and sent a clear message to North American unions that, while their solidarity is welcomed, attempts to manipulate or control Puerto Rican unions and unionists are not.

Solidarity: Strings Attached?

Perhaps SEIU has now learned an important lesson about meddling in the internal affairs of foreign labor movements. Either way, their actions in Puerto Rico have certainly raised concerns as to their plans for the rest of the Americas, and with good reason: The AFL-CIO’s uncritical support of right-wing U.S. foreign policy in the region in the 1970s and 1980s, which earned it the moniker “AFL-CIA,” remains a sore subject for Latin American unionists.

Solidarity protest against the SEIU at its offices in New York City. (By Micah Landau)

At the same time, the SEIU is undoubtedly engaged in good solidarity work. The union has offered badly needed support to the persecuted trade union movement in Colombia; and in July, Stern called on the Bush administration to grant visas to the wives of the Cuban Five (the five Cuban nationals accused by the U.S. of spying and whose spouses have thus far been barred from visiting their husbands in prison).

The question is at what cost: What will the SEIU ask—or demand—as the price for its support? The FMPR has drawn a line in the sand. A true and equal partnership between North American and Latin American labor organizations cannot be built on a basis of labor imperialism; the independence of Latin American unions from North American domination is the prerequisite for any meaningful joint work.

FMPR’s victory over SEIU in the recent elections is a heartening development, but it represents the beginning, rather than the end, of the struggle between the two organizations and the different models of unionism they offer to the teachers of Puerto Rico. The “no” vote victory also comes at a cost. The prospects for an FMPR return to official bargaining status have been improved by the "no" vote, but Puerto Rico’s teachers are still without a bargaining representative or agreement.

While the FMPR remains decertified, SEIU took out a paid ad in the San Juan daily, El Vocero, asserting that the employer, and not the Federation, won the elections. In the ad, the SEIU also declared its intention to continue to struggle for representation of the island’s teachers. A new and daunting challenge lies ahead: To see the FMPR re-elected within the next 12 months as the exclusive bargaining representative of Puerto Rico’s teachers and the return to the teachers of their full labor rights as unionized workers.

Micah Landau is a New York-based labor journalist and recent graduate of Yale University, where he studied

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joel Klein Propaganda

Children first policy raises bar at New York schools

Joel Klein
November 24, 2008

Many urban school districts in the United States are inefficient and
ineffective bureaucracies where authority is widely dispersed, political
patronage is entrenched and no one is held responsible for student outcomes.
Rigid and inconsistent rules and regulations stifle innovation and educators
are not sensibly compensated. Under these conditions, it is no surprise when
student achievement remains stagnant.

New York City's school system functioned in this way for decades. Schools
were not safe, parents had no choices, teachers were paid far too little and
were rewarded for the wrong things. Curriculums - and standards - varied by
neighbourhood. Schools were unfairly funded and school leaders hobbled
because they lacked the authority to make good decisions for students.

Public school culture in New York City valued compliance over innovative
decision-making and accepted low expectations and finger-pointing as excuses
for results in student outcomes. Results were largely stagnant at a very low
level. Far too many children were failing in reading and maths, yet were
pushed from grade to grade, perpetuating an acceptance of failure. The
graduation rate was low and had hardly budged in decades.

Six years ago, when the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, appointed me as chancellor
of America's largest school district, we pledged to transform this broken
system. Bloomberg had secured legislation giving him control over his city's
school district. Since then, we have worked to create a new system that puts
children first and all other (adult) interests second.

We have turned a decentralised system that lacked clear citywide standards
into a system in which principals have clear performance goals and have the
decision-making power and resources they need to do the best job possible in
educating their students.

Our "children first" reform strategy is based on three principles:
leadership, empowerment and accountability. If we have strong, prepared
leaders who will attract and support great teachers, if we set high
standards, and if we give leaders the tools and the support they need, as
well as the power to make decisions and the resources to execute those
decisions, we will change outcomes for students.

We have implemented strategies to accomplish our goals. We have worked to
build leadership capacity by creating a top-tier "leadership academy" to
train principals and created more rigorous mentoring and support. We have
also raised principal salaries by almost 25 per cent and made principals
eligible for up to $50,000 in bonuses each year for taking on the hardest
jobs and being successful in helping students make progress.

We have set clear, high standards based on helping students learn - and we
have created tools to measure how well schools are achieving. We created a
progress report, giving each school a yearly grade of A to F. The grade is
based on student performance, student progress and on schools' environments,
as measured by a new survey we created, which asks all parents, teachers,
and students in years 6 to 12 to assess how well the school is serving
students. We also created a system of quality reviews, so each school
receives an on-site evaluation by experienced educators.

Accountability is not just about measuring results, rewarding success and
doling out consequences for failure; it is also about giving schools tools
and resources to help them measure how well they are helping students learn
and devise strategies to improve. That is why we have created a system of
periodic assessments allowing teachers to measure what students understand
and where they need more help. That is why we have invested in teaching our
teachers how to use data effectively to advance student learning. It is also
why we have created a world-class data-management system, which allows
teachers and principals to track student performance, analyse results and
connect via the internet with educators in other schools across the city to
share ideas and strategies.

Six years ago, roughly half the city's fourth-graders and a third of the
eighth-graders were meeting or exceeding state standards in maths and
reading. Today, seven in 10 New York City public school students in years
three to eight are meeting or exceeding state standards in maths, and almost
six in 10 are meeting or exceeding these standards in English language arts.
Since 2002 our graduation rate has increased by more than 10 percentage
points. It is now the highest it has been in decades.

What does all this add up to? A new culture of learning with a strong focus
on student achievement, plus a new focus on working together to put the
interests of our children first.

Joel Klein is chancellor of New York's Education Department. He is visiting
Sydney this week.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Is Change? Obama's Hawks, Neo-Cons and Clintonites

This Is Change? Twenty Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in
Obama's White House

A who's who guide to the people poised to shape Obama's foreign policy.

by Jeremy Scahill

U.S. policy is not about one individual, and no matter how much faith
people place in President-elect Barack Obama, the policies he enacts will
be fruit of a tree with many roots. Among them: his personal politics and
views, the disastrous realities his administration will inherit, and, of
course, unpredictable future crises. But the best immediate indicator of
what an Obama administration might look like can be found in the people he
surrounds himself with and who he appoints to his Cabinet. And, frankly,
when it comes to foreign policy, it is not looking good.

Obama has a momentous opportunity to do what he repeatedly promised over
the course of his campaign: bring actual change. But the more we learn
about who Obama is considering for top positions in his administration,
the more his inner circle resembles a staff reunion of President Bill
Clinton's White House. Although Obama brought some progressives on board
early in his campaign, his foreign policy team is now dominated by the
hawkish, old-guard Democrats of the 1990s. This has been particularly true
since Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the Democratic primary, freeing
many of her top advisors to join Obama's team.

"What happened to all this talk about change?" a member of the Clinton
foreign policy team recently asked the Washington Post. "This isn't
lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time."

Amid the euphoria over Obama's election and the end of the Bush era, it is
critical to recall what 1990s U.S. foreign policy actually looked like.
Bill Clinton's boiled down to a one-two punch from the hidden hand of the
free market, backed up by the iron fist of U.S. militarism. Clinton took
office and almost immediately bombed Iraq (ostensibly in retaliation for
an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George
H.W. Bush). He presided over a ruthless regime of economic sanctions that
killed hundreds of thousa nds of Iraqis, and under the guise of the
so-called No-Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq, authorized the
longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam.

Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam
Chomsky described as the "New Military Humanism." Sudan and Afghanistan
were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and "free trade" deals like the
North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs
and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated
globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries.
Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in
Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military
operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war
contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and
Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East

The prospect of Obama's foreign policy being, at least in part, an
extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real. Even more disturbing, several
of the individuals at the center of Obama's transition and emerging
foreign policy teams were top players in creating and implementing foreign
policies that would pave the way for projects eventually carried out under
the Bush/Cheney administration. With their assistance, Obama has already
charted out several hawkish stances. Among them:

--His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan;

--An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation
that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future;

--His labeling of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization;"

--His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend U.S.

--His position, presented before the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), that Jerusalem "must remain undivided" -- a remark that
infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe;

--His plan to continue the War on Drugs, a backdoor U.S. counterinsurgency
campaign in Central and Latin America;

--His refusal to "rule out" using Blackwater and other armed private
forces in U.S. war zones, despite previously introducing legislation to
regulate these companies and bring them under U.S. law.

Obama did not arrive at these positions in a vacuum. They were carefully
crafted in consultation with his foreign policy team. While the verdict is
still out on a few people, many members of his inner foreign policy
circle--including some who have received or are bound to receive Cabinet
posts--supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Some promoted the
myth that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. A few have worked with
the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, whose radical
agenda was adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration. And most have proven
track records of supporting or implementing militaristic, offensive U.S.
foreig n policy. "After a masterful campaign, Barack Obama seems headed
toward some fateful mistakes as he assembles his administration by heeding
the advice of Washington's Democratic insider community, a collective
group that represents little 'change you can believe in,'" notes veteran
journalist Robert Parry, the former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter
who broke many of the stories in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

As news breaks and speculation abounds about cabinet appointments, here
are 20 people to watch as Obama builds the team who will shape U.S.
foreign policy for at least four years:

Joe Biden

There was no stronger sign that Obama's foreign policy would follow the
hawkish tradition of the Democratic foreign policy establishment than his
selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Much has been written on
Biden's tenure as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his
role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq stands out. Biden is not just
one more Democratic lawmaker who now calls his vote to authorize the use
of force in Iraq "mistaken;" Biden was actually an important facilitator
of the war.

In the summer of 2002, when the United States was "debating" a potential
attack on Iraq, Biden presided over hearings whose ostensible purpose was
to weigh all existing options. But instead of calling on experts whose
testimony could challenge the case for war--Iraq's alleged WMD possession
and its supposed ties to al-Qaida--Biden's hearings treated the invasion
as a foregone conclusion. His refusal to call on two individuals in
particular ensured that testimony that could have proven invaluable to an
actual debate was never heard: Former Chief United Nations Weapons
Inspector Scott Ritter and Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran diplomat
and the former head of the U.N.'s Iraq program.

Both men say they made it clear to Biden's office that they were ready and
willing to testify; Ritter knew more about the dismantling of Iraq's WMD
program than perhaps any other U.S. citizen and would have been in prime
position to debunk the misinformation and outright lies being peddled by
the White House. Meanwhile, von Sponeck had just returned from Iraq, where
he had observed Ansar al Islam rebels in the north of Iraq--the so-called
al-Qaida connection--and could have testified that, rather than colluding
with Saddam's regime, they were in a battle against it. Moreover, he would
have pointed out that they were operating in the U.S.-enforced safe haven
of Iraqi Kurdistan. "Evidence of al-Qaida/lraq collaboration does not
exist, neither in the training of operatives nor in support to
Ansar-al-Islam," von Sponeck wrote in an Op-Ed published shortly before
the July 2002 hearings. "The U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA know
perfectly well that today's Iraq poses no threat to anyone in the region,
let alone in the United States. To argue otherwise is dishonest."

With both=2 0men barred from testifying, rather than eliciting an array of
informed opinions, Biden's committee whitewashed Bush's lies and helped
lead the country to war. Biden himself promoted the administration's false
claims that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, declaring on the
Senate floor, "[Saddam Hussein] possesses chemical and biological weapons
and is seeking nuclear weapons."

With the war underway, Biden was then the genius who passionately promoted
the ridiculous plan to partition Iraq into three areas based on religion
and ethnicity, attempting to Balkanize one of the strongest Arab states in
the world.

"He's a part of the old Democratic establishment," says retired Army Col.
Ann Wright, the State Department diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in
Kabul in 2002. Biden, she says, has "had a long history with foreign
affairs, [but] it's not the type of foreign affairs that I want."

Rahm Emanuel

Obama's appointment of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff
is a clear sign that Clinton-era neoliberal hawks will be well-represented
at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. A former senior Clinton advisor, Emanuel is a
hard-line supporter of Israel's "targeted assassination" policy and
actually volunteered to work with the Israeli Army during the 1991 Gulf
War. He is close to the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council and was
the only member of the Illinois Democratic delegation in the Congress to
vote for the invasion of Iraq. Unlike man y of his colleagues, Emanuel
still defends his vote. As chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee in 2006, Emanuel promoted the campaigns of 22 candidates, only
one of who supported a swift withdrawal from Iraq, and denied crucial
Party funding to anti-war candidates. "As for Iraq policy, at the right
time, we will have a position," he said in December 2005. As Philip
Giraldi recently pointed out on Antiwar.com, Emanuel "advocates increasing
the size of the U.S. Army by 100,000 soldiers and creating a domestic
spying organization like Britain's MI5. More recently, he has supported
mandatory paramilitary national service for all Americans between the ages
of 18 and 25."

While Obama has at times been critical of Clinton-era free trade
agreements, Emanuel was one of the key people in the Clinton White House
who brokered the successful passage of NAFTA.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

For all the buzz and speculation about the possibility that Sen. Clinton
may be named Secretary of State, most media coverage has focused on her
rivalry with Obama during the primary, along with the prospect of her
husband having to face the intense personal, financial and political
vetting process required to secure a job in the new administration. But
the question of how Clinton would lead the operations at Foggy Bottom
calls for scrutiny of her positions vis-a-vis Obama's stated
foreign-policy goals.

Clinton was an ardent defender of her husband's ec onomic and military war
against Iraq throughout the 1990s, including the Iraq Liberation Act of
1998, which ultimately laid the path for President George W. Bush's
invasion. Later, as a U.S. senator, she not only voted to authorize the
war, but aided the Bush administration's propaganda campaign in the
lead-up to the invasion. "Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his
chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and
his nuclear program," Clinton said when rising to support the measure in
October 2002. "He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists,
including al-Qaida members...I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no
mistake about our national unity and for our support for the president's
efforts to wage America's war against terrorists and weapons of mass

"The man who vowed to deliver us from 28 years of Bushes and Clintons has
been stocking up on Clintonites," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd
recently wrote. "How, one may ask, can he put Hillary--who voted to
authorize the Iraq war without even reading the intelligence
assessment--in charge of patching up a foreign policy and a world riven by
that war?"

Beyond Iraq, Clinton shocked many and sparked official protests by Tehran
at the United Nations when asked during the presidential campaign what she
would do as president if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. "I
want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will atta ck Iran,"
she declared. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly
consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally
obliterate them."

Clinton has not shied away from supporting offensive foreign policy
tactics in the past. Recalling her husband's weighing the decision of
whether to attack Yugoslavia, she said in 1999, "I urged him to
bomb....You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen
the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend
our way of life?"

Madeleine Albright

While Obama's house is flush with Clintonian officials like former
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Defense Secretary William Perry,
Director of the State Department Office of Policy Planning Greg Craig (who
was officially named Obama's White House Counsel) and Navy Secretary
Richard Danzig, perhaps most influential is Madeleine Albright, Bill
Clinton's former Secretary of State and U.N. ambassador. Albright recently
served as a proxy for Obama, representing him at the G-20 summit earlier
this month. Whether or not she is awarded an official role in the
administration, Albright will be a major force in shaping Obama's foreign

"It will take time to convince skeptics that the promotion of democracy is
not a mask for imperialism or a recipe for the kind of chaos we have seen
in the Persian Gulf," Albright recently wrote. "And it will take time to
establish the right20identity for America in a world that has grown
suspicious of all who claim a monopoly on virtue and that has become
reluctant to follow the lead of any one country."

Albright should know. She was one of the key architects in the dismantling
of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. In the lead-up to the 1999 "Kosovo war,"
she oversaw the U.S. attempt to coerce the Yugoslav government to deny its
own sovereignty in return for not being bombed. Albright demanded that the
Yugoslav government sign a document that would have been unacceptable to
any sovereign nation. Known as the Rambouillet Accord, it included a
provision that would have guaranteed U.S. and NATO forces "free and
unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout" all of
Yugoslavia--not just Kosovo--while also seeking to immunize those
occupation forces "from any form of arrest, investigation or detention by
the authorities in [Yugoslavia]." Moreover, it would have granted the
occupiers "the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without payment."
Similar to Bush's Iraq plan years later, the Rambouillet Accord mandated
that the economy of Kosovo "shall function in accordance with free-market

When Yugoslavia refused to sign the document, Albright and others in the
Clinton administration unleashed the 78-day NATO bombing of Serbia, which
targeted civilian infrastructure. (Prior to the attack, Albright said the
U.S. government felt "the Serbs need a little bombing.") She and the
Clinton admin istration also supported the rise to power in Kosovo of a
terrorist mafia that carried out its own ethnic-cleansing campaign against
the province's minorities.

Perhaps Albright's most notorious moment came with her enthusiastic
support of the economic war against the civilian population of Iraq. When
confronted by Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” that the sanctions were
responsible for the deaths of "a half-million children...more children
than died in Hiroshima," Albright responded, "I think this is a very hard
choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it." (While defending
the policy, Albright later called her choice of words "a terrible mistake,
hasty, clumsy, and wrong.")

Richard Holbrooke

Like Albright, Holbrooke will have major sway over U.S. policy, whether or
not he gets an official job. A career diplomat since the Vietnam War,
Holbrooke's most recent government post was as President Clinton's
ambassador to the U.N. Among the many violent policies he helped implement
and enforce was the U.S.-backed Indonesian genocide in East Timor.
Holbrooke was an Assistant Secretary of State in the late 1970s at the
height of the slaughter and was the point man on East Timor for the Carter

According to Brad Simpson, director of the Indonesia and East Timor
Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George
Washington University, "It was Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski [another
top Obama advisor], both now lea ding lights in the Democratic Party, who
played point in trying to frustrate the efforts of congressional
human-rights activists to try and condition or stop U.S. military
assistance to Indonesia, and in fact accelerated the flow of weapons to
Indonesia at the height of the genocide."

Holbrooke, too, was a major player in the dismantling of Yugoslavia and
praised the bombing of Serb Television, which killed 16 media workers, as
a significant victory. (The man who ordered that bombing, now-retired Army
Gen. Wesley Clark, is another Obama foreign policy insider who could end
up in his cabinet. While Clark is known for being relatively progressive
on social issues, as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, he ordered bombings
and attacks that Amnesty International labeled war crimes.)

Like many in Obama's foreign policy circle, Holbrooke also supported the
Iraq war. In early 2003, shortly after then-Secretary of State Colin
Powell's speech to the UN, where he presented the administration's
fraud-laden case for war to the UN (a speech Powell has since called a
"blot" on his reputation), Holbrooke said: "It was a masterful job of
diplomacy by Colin Powell and his colleagues, and it does not require a
second vote to go to war....Saddam is the most dangerous government leader
in the world today, he poses a threat to the region, he could pose a
larger threat if he got weapons of mass destruction deployed, and we have
a legitimate right to take action."

Dennis Ross

Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ross was one
of the primary authors of Obama's aforementioned speech before AIPAC this
summer. He cut his teeth working under famed neoconservative Paul
Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in the 1970s and worked closely with the Project
for the New American Century. Ross has been a staunch supporter of Israel
and has fanned the flames for a more hostile stance toward Iran. As the
lead U.S. negotiator between Israel and numerous Arab nations under
Clinton, Ross' team acted, in the words of one U.S. official who worked
under him, as "Israel's lawyer."

"The 'no surprises' policy, under which we had to run everything by Israel
first, stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required
for serious peacemaking," wrote U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2005.
"If we couldn't put proposals on the table without checking with the
Israelis first, and refused to push back when they said no, how effective
could our mediation be? Far too often, particularly when it came to
Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, our departure point was not what was needed
to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with
only one--Israel." After the Clinton White House, Ross worked for the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a hawkish pro-Israel think
tank, and for FOX News, where he repeatedly pressed for war against Iraq.

Martin Indyk

Founder of the Was hington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk spent
years working for AIPAC and served as Clinton's ambassador to Israel and
Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, while also playing a
major role in developing U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran. In addition to
his work for the U.S. government, he has worked for the Israeli government
and with PNAC.

"Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner by appealing to the most
hard-line, pro-Israel elements in this country," Ali Abunimah, founder of
ElectronicInifada.net, recently told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!,
describing Indyk and Dennis Ross as "two of the most pro-Israel officials
from the Clinton era, who are totally distrusted by Palestinians and
others across the Middle East, because they're seen as lifelong advocates
for Israeli positions."

Anthony Lake

Clinton's former National Security Advisor was an early supporter of Obama
and one of the few top Clintonites to initially back the president-elect.
Lake began his foreign policy work in the U.S. Foreign Service during
Vietnam, working with Henry Kissinger on the "September Group," a secret
team tasked with developing a military strategy to deliver a "savage,
decisive blow against North Vietnam."

Decades later, after working for various administrations, Lake "was the
main force behind the U.S. invasion of Haiti in the mid-Clinton years,"
according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn, whose groundbreaking
reporting revealed U.S. support for Haitian death squads in the 1990s.
"They brought back Aristide essentially in political chains, pledged to
support a World Bank/IMF overhaul of the economy, which resulted in an
increase in malnutrition deaths among Haitians, and set the stage for the
current ongoing political disaster in Haiti." Clinton nominated Lake as
CIA Director, but he failed to win Senate confirmation.

Lee Hamilton

Hamilton is a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and
was co-chairman of both the Iraq Study Group and 9/11 Commission. Robert
Parry, who has covered Hamilton's career extensively, recently ran a piece
on Consortium News that characterized him this way: "Whenever the
Republicans have a touchy national-security scandal to put to rest, their
favorite Democratic investigator is Lee Hamilton....Hamilton's carefully
honed skill for balancing truth against political comity has elevated him
to the status of a Washington Wise Man."

Susan Rice

Former Assistant Secretary of Sate Susan Rice, who served on Bill
Clinton's National Security Council, is a potential candidate for the post
of ambassador to the U.N. or as a deputy national security advisor. She,
too, promoted the myth that Saddam had WMDs. "It's clear that Iraq poses a
major threat," she said in 2002. "It's clear that its weapons of mass
destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're
on." (After the invasion, discussing Saddam's alleged possession of WMDs,
she=2 0said, "I don't think many informed people doubted that.")

Rice has also been a passionate advocate for a U.S. military attack
against Sudan over the Darfur crisis. In an op-ed co-authored with Anthony
Lake, she wrote, "The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and
African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and
other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan's
oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy--by force, if necessary,
with U.S. and NATO backing."

John Brennan

A longtime CIA official and former head of the National Counterterrorism
Center, Brennan is one of the coordinators of Obama's intelligence
transition team and a top contender for either CIA Director or Director of
National Intelligence. He was also recently described by Glenn Greenwald
as "an ardent supporter of torture and one of the most emphatic advocates
of FISA expansions and telecom immunity." While claiming to oppose
waterboarding, labeling it "inconsistent with American values" and
"something that should be prohibited," Brennan has simultaneously praised
the results achieved by "enhanced interrogation" techniques. "There has
been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation
procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hard-core
terrorists," Brennan said in a 2007 interview. "It has saved lives. And
let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible
for 9/11, who have20shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000

Brennan has described the CIA's extraordinary rendition program--the
government-run kidnap-and-torture program enacted under Clinton--as an
absolutely vital tool. "I have been intimately familiar now over the past
decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been
involved in," he said in a December 2005 interview. "And I can say without
a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence
that has saved lives."

Brennan is currently the head of Analysis Corporation, a private
intelligence company that was recently implicated in the breach of Obama
and Sen. John McCain's passport records. He is also the current chairman
of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), a trade
association of private intelligence contractors who have dramatically
increased their role in sensitive U.S. national security operations.
(Current Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is former
chairman of the INSA.)

Jami Miscik

Miscik, who works alongside Brennan on Obama's transitional team, was the
CIA's Deputy Director for Intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. She
was one of the key officials responsible for sidelining intel that
contradicted the official line on WMD, while promoting intel that backed
it up.

"When the administration insisted on an intelligence assessment of Saddam
Hussein's relationship to al-Qaida, Miscik blocked the skeptics (wh o were
later vindicated) within the CIA's Mideast analytical directorate and
instructed the less-skeptical counterterrorism analysts to 'stretch to the
maximum the evidence you had,'" journalist Spencer Ackerman recently wrote
in the Washington Independent. "It's hard to think of a more egregious
case of sacrificing sound intelligence analysis in order to accommodate
the strategic fantasies of an administration....The idea that Miscik is
helping staff Obama's top intelligence picks is most certainly not change
we can believe in." What's more, she went on to a lucrative post as the
Global Head of Sovereign Risk for the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers.

John Kerry and Bill Richardson

Both Sen. Kerry and Gov. Richardson have been identified as possible
contenders for Secretary of State. While neither is likely to be as
hawkish as Hillary Clinton, both have taken pro-war positions. Kerry
promoted the WMD lie and voted to invade Iraq. "Why is Saddam Hussein
attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don't even try?"
Kerry asked on the Senate floor in October 2002. "According to
intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons...Iraq is
developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and
biological warfare agents."

Richardson, whose Iraq plan during his 2008 presidential campaign was more
progressive and far-reaching than Obama's, served as Bill Clinton's
ambassador to the UN. In this capacity, he supported Clinton's December
1998 bombi ng of Baghdad and the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq. "We think
this man is a threat to the international community, and he threatens a
lot of the neighbors in his region and future generations there with
anthrax and VX," Richardson told an interviewer in February 1998.

While Clinton's Secretary of Energy, Richardson publicly named Wen Ho Lee,
a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as a target in an
espionage investigation. Lee was accused of passing nuclear secrets to the
Chinese government. Lee was later cleared of those charges and won a
settlement against the U.S. government.

Robert Gates

Washington consensus is that Obama will likely keep Robert Gates, George
W. Bush's Defense Secretary, as his own Secretary of Defense. While Gates
has occasionally proved to be a stark contrast to former Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he would hardly represent a break from the
policies of the Bush administration. Quite the opposite; according to the
Washington Post, in the interest of a "smooth transition," Gates "has
ordered hundreds of political appointees at the Pentagon canvassed to see
whether they wish to stay on in the new administration, has streamlined
policy briefings and has set up suites for President-elect Barack Obama's
transition team just down the hall from his own E-ring office." The Post
reports that Gates could stay on for a brief period and then be replaced
by Richard Danzig, who was Clinton's Secretary of the Navy . Other names
currently being tossed around are Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, Republican
Sen. Chuck Hagel (a critic of the Iraq occupation) and Republican Sen.
Richard Lugar, who served alongside Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations

Ivo H. Daalder

Daalder was National Security Council Director for European Affairs under
President Clinton. Like other Obama advisors, he has worked with the
Project for the New American Century and signed a 2005 letter from PNAC to
Congressional leaders, calling for an increase in U.S. ground troops in
Iraq and beyond.

Sarah Sewall

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and
Humanitarian Assistance during the Clinton administration, Sewall served
as a top advisor to Obama during the campaign and is almost certain to be
selected for a post in his administration. In 2007, Sewall worked with the
U.S. military and Army Gen. David Petraeus, writing the introduction to
the University of Chicago edition of the Army/Marine Corps
Counterinsurgency Field Manual. She was criticized for this collaboration
by Tom Hayden, who wrote, "the Petraeus plan draws intellectual legitimacy
from Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, whose director, Sarah
Sewall, proudly embraces an 'unprecedented collaboration [as] a human
rights center partnered with the armed forces.'"

"Humanitarians often avoid wading into the conduct of war for fear of
becoming complicit in its purpose," she wrote in the introdu ction. "'The
field manual requires engagement precisely from those who fear that its
words lack meaning."

Michele Flournoy

Flournoy and former Clinton Deputy Defense Secretary John White are
co-heading Obama's defense transition team. Flournoy was a senior Clinton
appointee at the Pentagon. She currently runs the Center for a New
American Security, a center-right think-tank. There is speculation that
Obama could eventually name her as the first woman to serve as defense
secretary. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported: "While at CNAS,
Flournoy helped to write a report that called for reducing the open-ended
American military commitment in Iraq and replacing it with a policy of
'conditional engagement' there. Significantly, the paper rejected the idea
of withdrawing troops according to the sort of a fixed timeline that Obama
espoused during the presidential campaign. Obama has in recent weeks
signaled that he was willing to shelve the idea, bringing him more in line
with Flournoy's thinking." Flournoy has also worked with the
neoconservative Project for the New American Century.

Wendy Sherman and Tom Donilon

Currently employed at Madeline Albright's consulting firm, the Albright
Group, Sherman worked under Albright at the State Department, coordinating
U.S. policy on North Korea. She is now coordinating the State Department
transition team for Obama. Tom Donilon, her co-coordinator, was Assistant
Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Chief of St aff at the State
Department under Clinton. Interestingly, Sherman and Donilon both have
ties to Fannie Mae that didn't make it onto their official bios on Obama's
change.gov website. "Donilon was Fannie's general counsel and executive
vice president for law and policy from 1999 until the spring of 2005, a
period during which the company was rocked by accounting problems,"
reports the Wall Street Journal.


While many of the figures at the center of Obama's foreign policy team are
well-known, two of its most important members have never held national
elected office or a high-profile government position. While they cannot be
characterized as Clinton-era hawks, it will be important to watch Denis
McDonough and Mark Lippert, co-coordinators of the Obama foreign policy
team. From 2000 to 2005, McDonough served as foreign policy advisor to
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and worked extensively on the
use-of-force authorizations for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, both
of which Daschle supported. From 1996 to 1999, McDonough was a
professional staff member of the House International Relations Committee
during the debate over the bombing of Yugoslavia. More recently, he was at
the Center for American Progress working under John Podesta, Clinton's
former chief of staff and the current head of the Obama transition.

Mark Lippert is a close personal friend of Obama's. He has worked for
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, as well as the Senate Appropriations20Committee
and the Democratic Policy Committee. He is a lieutenant in the Navy
Reserve and spent a year in Iraq working intelligence for the Navy SEALs.
"According to those who've worked closely with Lippert," Robert Dreyfuss
recently wrote in The Nation, "he is a conservative, cautious centrist who
often pulled Obama to the right on Iraq, Iran and the Middle East and who
has been a consistent advocate for increased military spending. 'Even
before Obama announced for the presidency, Lippert wanted Obama to be seen
as tough on Iran,' says a lobbyist who's worked the Iran issue on Capitol
Hill, 'He's clearly more hawkish than the senator.' "


Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to bring change to Washington. "I
don't want to just end the war," he said early this year. "I want to end
the mindset that got us into war." That is going to be very difficult if
Obama employs a foreign policy team that was central to creating that
mindset, before and during the presidency of George W. Bush.

"Twenty-three senators and 133 House members who voted against the
war--and countless other notable individuals who spoke out against it and
the dubious claims leading to war--are apparently not even being
considered for these crucial positions," observes Sam Husseini of the
Institute for Public Accuracy. This includes dozens of former military and
intelligence officials who spoke out forcefully against the war and
continue to oppose militaristic policy, as well as credible national
security experts who have articulated their visions for a foreign policy
based on justice.

Obama does have a chance to change the mindset that got us into war. More
significantly, he has a popular mandate to forcefully challenge the
militaristic, hawkish tradition of modern U.S. foreign policy. But that
work would begin by bringing on board people who would challenge this
tradition, not those who have been complicit in creating it and are bound
to continue advancing it.

Bill Koehnlein

"My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the
battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."
--George W. Bush, May 1, 2003

"...I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult, and
that we would prevail. Well, it has been difficult--and we are
--George W. Bush, June 28, 2005

"Our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary....America is engaged in a new
struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and we will
--George W. Bush, January 10, 2007

"Prevailing in Iraq is not going to be easy."
--George W. Bush, March 19, 2007

+U.S. military fatalities through May 1, 2003: 140
+U.S. military fatalities through June 28, 2005: 1743
+U.S. military fatalities through January 10, 2007: 3017
+U.S. military fatalities through March 19, 2007: 3217
+U.S. military fatalities as of November 22, 2008: 4204 (this figure exceeds
the number of people killed in all of the incidents that occurred
on September 11, 2001)

+Iraqi deaths due to the US invasion, as of September 2004 (estimated by
The Lancet): 100,000+
+Iraqi deaths due to the US invasion, as of July 2006 (estimated by The
Lancet): 654,965
+Iraqi deaths due to the US invasion, as of November 22, 2008 (estimated
by Just Foreign Policy): 1,288,426*

*These figures are based on the number of deaths estimated in The Lancet
(the British medical journal) study through July 2006, and then updated
based "on how quickly deaths are mounting in Iraq". To do that, Just
Foreign Policy multiplies The Lancet figure as of July 2006 by the ratio
of current deaths reported by Iraq Body Count (IBC), divided by IBC deaths
as of July 1, 2006. The IBC numbers, considerably lower than those cited
by The Lancet, Opinion Research Business (a British polling firm which
estimated 1.2 million Iraqi deaths as of September 2007), and even the
Iraq Ministry of Health, are based on the number of fatalities cite d in
various news reports and have been criticized, with much justification,
for not giving an accurate assessment of the real Iraqi death count. The
much more rigorous and statistically-reliable study, conducted by teams
from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and Al-Mustansiriya
University, and published in The Lancet in September 2004, put the figure
at around 100,000 civilians dead. However, that data had been based on
"conservative assumptions", according to research team leader Les Roberts,
and the actual count at that time was credibly assumed to be significantly
higher. For example, The Lancet study's data greatly underestimated
fatalities in Fallujah due to the surveying problems encountered there at
that time. The second Lancet study, released on October 10, 2006,
indicated that 654,965 "excess" deaths of Iraqis have occurred since the
outbreak of the aggression and genocide committed by the United States
against the people of Iraq. The current figures provided by Just Foreign
Policy seem to be logically consistent with the increasing rates of death
from 2003 to 2004, and 2004 to 2006.

Sources: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq/iraqdeaths.html

November 20, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

DAVID vs. GOLIATH: HOW The Puerto Rico Teacher's Union WON A BATTLE.....

Friday, Nov. 21, 6:30-9:30pm
--trains to 8 St/Astor Pl; W. 4 St./Washington Square--

* Rafael Feliciano, FMPR President
* Mark Brenner, Labor Notes
* Lisa North, ICE (Independent Community of Educators)-UFT
* Marvin Holland, TWU (Transit Workers Union) Local 100 R&F Activist

A powerful coalition consisting of the Government, Boss, Courts--and a US Union that spent millions--couldn't defeat the teachers of Puerto Rico, whose union stood firm defending quality public education, labor justice and union democracy in a stunning election victory in October of 2008.
What are the implications for other labor activists and the US Labor Movement as a whole?

Sponsored by: Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico/FMPR Support Committee-NY
fmpr.support.committee.ny@gmail.com http://fmprsupportcommittee.tumblr.com

some background:
Puerto Rico teachers defeat SEIU raid
Excerpts selected from an article by Brian Cruz, a rank-and-file member of SEIU Local 1021 in the Bay Area.--Oct 31, 2008

PUBLIC SCHOOL teachers in Puerto Rico overwhelmingly voted October 23 to reject representation by the Puerto Rico Teachers Union (SPM)--a union affiliated with the U.S.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Those who voted "no" to the SPM weren't voting against having a union, however. In effect, they were voting in favor of their current union, the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), which was not allowed on the ballot. The 42-year-old FMPR previously had exclusive rights to represent the teachers. However, the FMPR was decertified by an anti-labor government in January 2008 for voting to go on strike. This created an opening for the SEIU to push its affiliate, the SPM.

The cards seemed stacked against the FMPR. Under Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), the Puerto Rican government had been unwilling to agree to a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers. The FMPR sensed an impasse and decided strike for better wages, better conditions at schools for both teachers and students, and a halt to the privatization of the schools through the expansion of charter schools. However, the island's Law 45 prohibits public workers from striking, so the government decertified the FMPR even before the strike began in early February.

More than just a viciously anti-union government was at play here. In the New York Daily News, columnist Juan Gonzalez revealed that Vilá and Dennis Rivera, a top leader of SEIU, had arranged a deal in which SEIU would contribute to Vilá's campaign for re-election if Vilá would support SEIU's attempts to gain representation. The plan for the raid was for Vilá to refuse to negotiate, and then let SEIU run in a representation election. The vehicle for this plan would be the Teachers Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR), which associated with SEIU in late 2007. AMPR is an organization of administrators of the school system, such as principals and regional directors. As such, it can't represent teachers under Law 45, and in practice, never represents the interests of actual teachers in work disputes. So AMPR created SPM, whose general secretary and main spokesperson, Aida Diáz, is also president of AMPR.

While FMPR won widespread support for its strike, AMPR moved to undermine the struggle. It denounced FMPR for striking, then ran uncontested, via SPM and aided by staff and resources of SEIU, for exclusive representation rights. At first, FMPR challenged the decision that it wouldn't be allowed to participate in the election on the grounds that Law 45 had no provision prohibiting decertified unions from participating. FMPR leaders submitted 12,000 teachers' signatures petitioning for their appearance on the ballot--for which only 8,000 signatures are required. Yet the authorities still denied FMPR a place on the ballot. When they realized the unfair election would continue as planned, FMPR organized a vigorous "vote no" campaign. If successful, it would mean that the SPM wouldn't win exclusive representation rights and the FMPR would still exist as a "bona fide organization" under Puerto Rican law.

By one estimate, SEIU committed between $10 million and $20 million to the campaign, with more than 300 paid organizers on the ground, slick ads and free t-shirts. The FMPR, on the other hand, spent a mere $65,000 ($30,000 of it in loans), with mostly volunteers organizing. The difference is that these "volunteers" were the same people who helped organize the 10-day strike in February that won a wage increase and put a stop to the spread of charter schools. They were rank-and-file members with experience and a history of struggle alongside their co-workers.

FMPR's "vote no" campaign won a clear victory. The official tally is 18,123 to 14,675, in a vote where turnout was nearly 94 %. The victory is all the more impressive given that FMPR was denied the right to have observers at polling places, and that various vote shenanigans took place, with votes appearing after the last day of the election, and various "no" votes being counted as "yes." Now that FMPR has won, it continues to exist as the main organizer of teachers. However, it is not the formal collective bargaining agent. FMPR will maintain its network of shop stewards, continue to represent teachers at the school level, and to fight around issues such as wages and privatization. Eventually, FMPR could perhaps reestablish exclusive representation for the teachers.

The U.S. labor movement has a sordid history of collaborating with the State Department and CIA to undermine labor and democratic movements in other countries. SEIU's alliance with an anti-labor government to raid FMPR is only another chapter. SEIU's defeat in Puerto Rico is humiliating for SEIU President Andrew Stern, who seeks to remold the labor movement in his image. During Stern's 12 years in office, he and his team have centralized power in SEIU at the International level, in the name of being able to negotiate better contracts via "partnership" with employers and organize workers even faster. The result of substituting a militant rank and file with a small team of highly paid staffers is apparent. The types of deals being negotiated from the top have been so bad that rank-and-file workers are increasingly rejecting them.

Obviously, the black eye received by SEIU didn't help the SPM's campaign against the FMPR. Also, the challenge to the top SEIU leadership by UHW and reformers in other locals undermined SEIU's claim to be the way forward for the labor movement. The victory of the FMPR over the alliance of the Puerto Rican government, school administrators and SEIU teaches us important lessons about building unions today. First, it underlines the importance of building a fighting union from the bottom up, as opposed to more bureaucratic methods. Second, it teaches us the importance of genuine labor internationalism, based on rank-and-file action, solidarity and a commitment to union democracy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT: Absent Teacher Reserve and Vacancies

Memorandum of Agreement entered into this _______day of November, 2008 by and between the New York City Board of Education (hereinafter “DOE”) and the United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO (hereinafter the “Union).

All terms and conditions of the current collective bargaining agreements between the parties remain in full force and effect. This side agreement assists in using talent and resources more effectively:

1. In recognition of the realities of the evolving budget situation and a pool of available qualified, experienced teachers, the Chancellor will convey to principals that though they continue to have final say over teacher hiring decisions it is his clear preference that the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool be used as the first option in filling new and existing vacancies. Towards that end, the Chancellor will send a letter to principals strongly urging them to consider and interview members of the ATR pool to fill vacancies before considering other candidates, explaining the significant financial incentives created herein for them to do so, and underscoring that, as the city confronts the current fiscal crisis, responsible management principles require a commitment to actively and in good faith pursue hiring ATRs prior to filling open positions.
2. The DOE will also send principals lists of ATRS and their license areas and district/superintendency.
3. “ATR” refers to all UFT-represented titles.
4. When a centrally-funded ATR is hired to fill a regular position in a school (other than the school from which the ATR was excessed), on or after November 1st of the calendar year in which they were excessed, central DOE will pay the difference between the actual salary of the teacher and a starting teacher salary, and then, in subsequent years, will continue to pay the difference between the actual salary and the subsequent steps on the salary scale (for example, in year 2, the difference between actual salary and step 2A on the salary scale). This subsidy will terminate once the excessed employee has been in the position 8 years.
5. Until November 15, 2010 a school that hires a centrally-funded ATR to fill a regular position (other than a school from which the ATR was excessed) on or after November 1st of the calendar year in which they were excessed, in addition to being charged in accordance with ¶ 4 above, central DOE will credit the hiring school’s budget one-half of the starting teacher salary that would otherwise be paid by the school under ¶4 above.
6. After November 1, principals can offer to hire centrally-funded ATRs for the balance of the school year on a provisional basis whereby ATRs accepting this offer can be excessed, regardless of seniority, at the end of the school year in which they are hired, or can opt to be placed in excess again at that time. If the ATR is not excessed again at the end of the school year, and does not opt to be placed in excess at that time, the ATR will become a regularly-appointed pedagogue at the school. The subsidies provided for in ¶¶ 4 & 5 above will not apply to ATRs hired provisionally pursuant to this paragraph, but will apply should such an ATR become a regularly-appointed pedagogue at the school.
7. There will be a city-wide posting consisting of all schools that have a high enough rate of absences to benefit from a full-time ATR and that do not have an ATR already assigned, or have enough students to warrant one or more additional ATR’s. With principal approval of adding one or more ATRs, centrally-funded ATR’s may apply to transfer into the district/superintendency and be placed in the selected school as an ATR up to a limit of one (1) ATR per 500 students, with city-wide seniority determining priority among multiple applicants.
8. Excessed pedagogues will not be separated from other job applicants at job fairs, though they will be given the option to decline to attend briefing sessions for new teachers.
9. ATR’s will be used for classroom assignments, e.g. push-in, pull-out, intervention, remediation, to cover day-to-day and long-term teacher absences, to reduce class size, and other assignments within the teacher job description.
10. DOE will make its best efforts to modify its systems so that, by school year 2009-2010, applicants for specific vacancies in the open market or the excess hiring system will be notified when their application is received, if they are hired and if the position has been filled with another applicant.
11. It is the mutual objective of the DOE and UFT in reaching this side agreement to reduce the size of the excess pool by 1) eliminating any financial disincentives to fill open positions out of the ATR pool; 2) creating a financial incentive for the school to hire out of the ATR pool; and 3) improving processes and procedures that will facilitate the hiring process for ATRs. The UFT and the DOE will review the results of this side agreement after it has been in operation for one year and, on that basis, will work collaboratively to determine if it is necessary to find additional solutions aimed to reduce the size of the ATR pool in a manner that serves the best interests of the students of New York City public schools and reflects the need to address the fiscal challenges we face together.
12. This agreement will expire on December 1, 2010 although paragraphs 4, 5 & 6 will continue to apply to hiring done on or prior to that date, according to the specific terms set forth above.
13. The UFT will hold its arbitration (case number A-079-C16257) in abeyance to allow this agreement time to go into effect.

Agreed to this ______ of November, 2008.

For the Board of Education For the United Federation of Teachers

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thousands join march over school class sizes

By Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Monday November 17 2008

THOUSANDS of teachers descended on the Taoiseach's constituency over the weekend to deliver an angry message to Brian Cowen over Budget cutbacks in education.

Up to 4,000 primary and secondary school teachers and parents stormed O'Connor Square in Tullamore, Co Offaly, roaring slogans to show their anger at the Fianna Fail Budget.

The last time O'Connor Square saw such crowds was on May 16, when the Taoiseach belted out his rendition of the late Frank Sweeney's 'The Offaly Rover'.

But May 16 seemed like a lifetime away on Saturday afternoon as teachers marched towards Brian Cowen's constituency office in Tullamore and hand-delivered petitions from local schools calling for the cutbacks to be reversed.

It was the second of four protests building up to a national rally in Dublin planned for December 6. Teachers from Carlow, Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford were among those who made the journey to Tullamore.

It also preceded a meeting of the Federation of Parents Councils in Christian Brothers' and other Catholic Secondary Schools (FEDCBS) in Portlaoise yesterday.

Up to 100 parents attended that event to voice their concerns on the education cutbacks and were addressed by Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming, Junior Minister John Moloney and Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan.

President of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) Declan Kelleher told the rally in Tullamore that parents, teachers and boards of management would continue to oppose the cutbacks, which would "seriously damage" the future of thousands of children.

"We are united in our opposition to these cutbacks on an already underfunded primary education service. Government must be persuaded to change its position," he said.

The INTO also warned that every TD in the country would "get the message" that they would not be re-elected unless the cutbacks were reversed.

Anxious principals exchanged stories on how many teachers they would lose because of the proposals.

Principal of Rathdowney Church of Ireland NS Jean Treacy told the Irish Independent that the Co Laois school was going from three teachers to two from September.

This means the 48 children from junior infants to sixth class will be split into two classes. "We'll have four classes each, it's nearly an impossibility. It's scandalous. We were only beginning to move in the right direction and we're going back to where we were years ago.

"Children are only going to get the one chance at primary school education and we want to deliver the best we can to them and to do our utmost but it's making life very difficult."

Ms Treacy said teachers felt "cheated" by Fianna Fail's election promises to reduce pupil-teacher ratio. "It's all lies, they couldn't be trusted."

- Eimear Ni Bhraonain


Monday, November 17, 2008

"Reform-minded" Detroit teachers deserve help

Monday, November 17, 2008
Reform-minded Detroit teachers deserve help
The Detroit News

A small band of Detroit teachers is pushing hard for reform in the failing school district. They should have more help from their union, the school administration and the state Legislature.

When Ann Crowley and Ann Turner, two of the teachers, decided to run a reform slate for their union election, they figured they would face nasty attacks. They also suspected some teachers would support them. So far, both hunches have been right.

Crowley and Turner are leading a pro-charter school reform slate in the Detroit Federation of Teachers' Nov. 24-26 election.

The union is one of the nation's most militantly anti-charter locals.

Crowley and Turner have organized the Detroit Children First slate. Made up of 19 diverse classroom teachers, it faces the current union President Virginia Cantrell and a host of other candidates.

The Children First slate's goal is two-fold: First, to begin a reform conversation among teachers who too often are ignored by the district's dysfunctional, bloated bureaucracy. Second, to create its own charter school. Its model: the Green Dot Schools, a Los Angeles nonprofit network of unionized charter high schools that is proving poor, urban and minority students can reach the same academic heights as their white and suburban peers do.

Green Dot has union teachers, but its schools are radically different, and more effective, than Detroit schools.Its schools utilize a comprehensive instructional strategy for teaching urban high school students. In comparison, the Detroit Public Schools has no systemic approach to addressing high school dropout rates or tackling many teenagers' most difficult subject, mathematics.

Green Dot also invests in good teachers. Its rigorous hiring process makes teacher talent a priority.

The program spends money on classrooms, not bureaucrats. Ninety-four percent of every public dollar Green Dot receives is spent in the schools. And it uses a modern union contract that values performance over seniority and tenure.

Crowley rightly sees Green Dot as a model for Detroit. But bureaucracy is blocking her way. Children First teachers have sought support from school Superintendent Connie Calloway, who has said she seeks ideas for successful school models.

The slate also pitched its ideas to local union leaders. There are precedents. The United Federation of Teachers of New York City just opened its own Green Dot charter school.

But in Detroit, both the union and administration shot the reformers down.

It shouldn't be this way. In California, a new law empowers teachers and parents to overhaul their schools.

A majority of either group may vote to turn over the management of their public school to a charter management company.

Michigan's Legislature should provide that option to our teachers and parents, as well.

The Detroit school district is on the verge of fiscal collapse, and its students are among America's most poorly educated young people.

The fact that its leadership won't more seriously consider the proven ideas of its teachers is a testament to its closed-mindedness.

Michigan must act to make sure they do better.

David Cantor Gets Email

David Cantor, from the Tweed PR Department, responded on the NYC Education News listserve to some of the critical comments on Joel Klein and got an earful. Or a basket full of email. Below is his post and responses from parents Steve Koss and Leonie Haimson.

David Cantor, Tweed PR:

Hey folks. I continue to admire the passion of contributors to this list. I entirely stand by my comments to the Times, referred to below, but they shouldn't be interpreted to suggest that anyone critical of this administration is an ideologue or benighted. That said, what I find weird and troubling about a lot of the commentary here and on other sites is how decontextualized it is. You'd have to work hard--at least this is my impression--to find any reference to the fact that public education in New York City and across the country has been a disaster for poor and minority kids for decades and mediocre at best for most middle class kids. The philosophical and political baseline of nyceducationnews is that public education in New York City plummeted with the advent of mayoral control in 2002. Plummeted from where? Small classrooms, successful citywide instruction, rich art programs in every school, responsible management of taxpayer funds? These never existed, not in the last forty years. If its mission is to best serve kids, we all are striving to improve a system that has for a very long time been deranged. And if the best we have to offer--our only program for action--is proposing $40 billion capital plans during an economic crisis or opposing improved use of data for teaching and learning, then we're not serious people. Even if we're serious about our own kids.

David Cantor
Department of Education

Steve Koss, NYC parent:

Dear Mr. Cantor,

Having read your posting to nyceducationnews a second time, I now find myself even more outraged than after my first reading. At the closing of your message, you wrote:

And if the best we have to offer--our only program for action--is proposing $40 billion capital plans during an economic crisis or opposing improved use of data for teaching and learning, then we're not serious people.

Leaving aside the condescension dripping acid-like from this statement (how can it be helped after spending so much time around bosses who model that same behavior toward the unwashed masses?), the implication that everyone other than yourselves is not serious is simply Palinesque, either willful blindness or utter disregard for the very people who pay your not insubstantial salary and who happen to disagree.

Whom shall we say is "not serious?" Do you honestly believe that public education experts and advocates and parent leaders volunteer their time and efforts because they are not serious? Do you honestly believe that those of us who speak out are not concerned about the educational welfare of children, not just our own but ALL children? Do you honestly believe that the countless hours we spend in our schools or in digging through the DOE data you deign to release to find the truth behind the P.R. are not spent out of genuine concern for our public school system?

How dare you even suggest that these parents and advocates are "not serious!" Unlike you, they are not only passionate about public education, but they do so out of concern, not for a paycheck. They see the fraud that has become "progress" in their children's schools, they see its subversion of their children's education in the name of measurability and accountability, and they respond out of heartfelt concern whose seriousness certainly transcends yours as a well-paid DOE functionary.

To reduce these people to caricatures, to cranks who want $40 billion and no use of data, is beyond inappropriate. It's demeaning, it's dismissive, and it's a clear signal that this educational administration from the Mayor on down through Tweed has ZERO interest in public input and ZERO intention of giving public school parents a voice in the policies that affect their own children's education.

I lived in Pelham, in Westchester County, for nineteen years before returning to NYC back in 1999, and before that, five years in Mount Kisco, also in Westchester County. What I know with absolute certainty from my years in the suburbs is this: were Chancellor Klein and his staff (including you) in the same positions in any town in Westchester, you would have been ridden out on the rails of Metro North years ago. The citizens of Westchester's towns and cities, like those in Long Island and New Jersey, actually have a voice and have rights. Most significantly, they have the power of the vote, and they most definitely would have exercised it. Only in NYC's (intentionally) fragmented and broken political system can the citizenry be so marginalized and treated as so irrelevant. You should be thanking your lucky stars every day that you are not working in the Pelham public school system. They would never tolerate your attitude and your obvious contempt for rational (and, I might add, wholly serious) dissenting views, and they would have happily escorted you out of town so you could find a place like NYC where you could act out as you wished without fear of the consequences.

Steve Koss
A public school parent who is quite serious

Leonie Haimson, NYC Parent

Dear David:

I want to add my two cents now, even though it’s probably not needed.

Many of us on this list serv have been fighting for the rights of NYC children to receive a quality education long before Joel Klein moved to NYC, long before Michael Bloomberg ever thought of running for office, and long before you were hired from whatever job you held previously. The first line of defense of those at Tweed against their critics over most of their reign has been that we somehow represented the interests of the status quo, though this was never true. But guess what? After six years in power, the status quo is you.

Now you’ve picked up on Michelle Rhee’s demeaning line that you somehow represent the interests of children, vs. the entrenched interests of adults, which is even more insulting. We parents don’t want any million dollar no-bid contracts, we don’t want your high salaries, we don’t want to go to cocktail parties where we would have to fawn all over Bloomberg and Klein like the hedge-fund managers do, or the other Wall St. crowd that have gotten us into the current financial mess.

Even more frustrating to the administration is that we cannot be bought and sold by the private and public dollars that they commonly use to silence their critics and force the complicity of others. All we want is a decent education for our kids and not to be insulted on a daily basis by people who clearly know nothing about education and cannot manage their way out of a paper hat.

As to class size – yes, NYC children have long suffered from the largest class sizes in the state. But previous Chancellors did put more of an effort, despite much leaner budgets, to address this problem honestly. Under Rudy Crew, the city used the state funds that were supposed to go to class size reduction to hire additional teachers and form additional classes to reduce class, and class sizes dropped significantly in the early grades. Now we have fewer classes in those grades than before Bloomberg came into office. Crew also founded the Chancellor’s district, which provided smaller classes and longer days to students in previously failing schools, and these children experienced significant improvements as a result – a system that Klein immediately discarded. Harold Levy went on to fund smaller classes in 9th grade English and Math to improve outcomes for HS students, a program that Klein also got rid of.

This administration has squandered all its opportunities – including falling enrollment, millions of dollars in additional state aid, and several years of billions in city surpluses -- to do anything systematic to reduce class size, while lying and breaking the law at every opportunity. You want to talk about priorities? How about this – a lower percentage of city capital spending going to our schools than probably ever in our city’s history – with more seats created in sports stadiums than in schools?

Yes, right now we are facing financial difficulties, but that hasn’t stopped this Mayor from spending even more millions of dollars in scarce tax payer dollars over the last few days to acquire contaminated land in Willets point at ten times its assessed value, to push through a huge development scheme that will likely cost the city billions more. This administration has rezoned over 80 neighborhoods to further encourage residential development without a thought of where any of these kids will go to school, and has pursued policies that have made overcrowding worse – like insisting on giving their billionaire buddies precious space inside existing public school buildings, when they could clearly have afforded to find their own space for their charter schools.

Indeed, the guys at SCA told us that there would be fewer seats in the capital plan even before the financial crisis began – and I suspect that the economic downturn just serves as a convenient excuse to defund our schools, just like it did the Mayor’s successful attempt to extend term limits. I believe in data too – far more than the DOE, which continually puts out worthless garbage data, created by a system that no one believes in.

The worst thing about this administration is its continual inability to tell the truth. Where is the objective, honest needs assessment in the capital plan? If our analysis of the number of seats needed is wrong, where is yours? It is your responsibility to provide this information to the public and yet, you simply refuses to do your job, and instead, deride the attempt of others forced to do this in your place.

Come up with some real numbers, and then let’s work together to find the resources. Instead of the Mayor’s concerted efforts to convince the IRS into giving bigger tax breaks to Yankee stadium, he or Klein might have considered asking the feds for more funds to build more schools.

Oh yes, but then first they’d have to admit that there was actually an overcrowding problem and a need for more schools, and this they completely refuse to do. In the end it is the complete dishonesty of this administration that is most contemptible.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Cost of Accountability

From Leonie Haimson, posted on nyc ed news:

New report from the IBO: The School Accountability Initiative: Totaling the Cost at http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/SchoolAccountability111308.pdf

Accounting for about $150 M per year; $129.6 last year and $105 M this year – without the periodic assessments, which costed $26M last and $22 M this year.

Pretty good report but there are areas that the IBO left out:

For example, the 62 Senior Achievement Facilitators (including 32 Superintendents) who all report to the Accountability office and are supposed to focus on prepping schools to raise test scores and coaching the data inquiry teams.

These positions DOE originally tried to charge to the state through its C4E proposal, but was turned down by SED; each of these positions earn between $ 1 39,304 -- $158,602 per year -- for a total of more than $8 million.

There may be other areas as well that the IBO forgot to count… it’s not clear to me that this includes all the private courier costs, of picking up the Periodic Assessments tests at schools, to be scanned for the results. I’m sure there’s more there as well. (.The private courier costs now amount to more than $5 M per year – though not all of this can be charged to Accountability.

Excerpt: “In discussions with IBO, the department has taken a relatively narrow view, suggesting that these costs should include only the expenses of developing and producing the school progress reports, learning environment surveys, and quality reviews; school bonuses based on these assessments; and the cost of operating the Office of Accountability. IBO takes a broader view that also includes some school-based staffing costs and related items such as school support organizations (SSOs), performance bonuses, and other items contributing to the larger accountability mission….

Using IBO’s broader definition, we estimate accountability costs of $134.9 million in 2008 and $104.7 million in 2009. Note that IBO’s 2008 figure includes $20 million in capital spending for the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) data management system….
Also “Under IBO’s broad definition of accountability costs, we estimate that $130 million was spent on the accountability initiative in fiscal year 2008 and $105 million will be spent on accountability in 2009. Much of the 2009 expenditures are recurring because the initiative requires commitment of full-time staff. ….

Although IBO believes that the items mentioned above include all major accountability expenditures, there are significant uncertainties about the full cost of the initiative.

Accountability requires the use of internal staff, external vendors, software and other assessment projects, not to mention the use of pilot programs to test the utility of a product or service. This makes it difficult to pin down the overall single cost of the accountability mission. But it is clear that the initiative will continue to be a significant expenditure in coming years.”

Here is my summary:
· Progress Reports…2008 at $2.0 million. Projected costs for 2009 will decline sharply to $195,000
· Learning Environment Survey…Actual spending on the surveys has been approximately $6 million over three years
· Quality Reviews.. Cambridge Education has a $19.1 million contract set to last until August 2009 with more than $15 million encumbered.
· Central Staff/Cost: Aggregate salaries for the office cost roughly $11.1 million in 2008, out of a total budget of $23 million (accounted for elsewhere).
· ARIS (both operating and capital --(though IBO has not estimated the long-term maintenance and upgrading costs.) $22 million in operating expenses and $59 million in capital expenses so far. …
· School-Based Personnel (data Inquiry teams and data specialists) In 2008, $11.6 M with $3.1 million on school-based data specialists. Of this expense, $13.6 million was paid for by state C4E funds. Budgeted at 17.6 M this year.
· School Support Organizations.(one third the costs) for 2008: $18.5 million.
· Performance Bonuses. For 2008 for principals and teachers: about $20 million.
· School Success Grant Program; $30 million in 2007-8, but in 2008–2009 about $16 million, because grants for low-performing schools are being phased out.
· Also , in a separate category, the Periodic Assessments…more than $26 million in 2008 with a $22 million projection for 2009…though DOE refuses to admit that this is part of the Accountability initiative.

Can others think of other areas that should be attributed to this office? What about the contracts with Jonah Rockoff, etc. to study teacher performance, that is funneled through Battelle --http://www.cphre.battelle.org/ or are these privately funded?

More detailed tables here:

Here is a summary from Gotham Gazette:
Accountability Costs
November 13th, 2008

The Department of Education spent about $135 million on its cherished accountability initiative last year, according to an Independent Budget Office report released today. While such a number — most of it going for central office expenses, not teachers and classes — looms large in an era of cutbacks, at a press conference this morning Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who requested the report, and her staff seemed more focused on what that figure does not include — and on the reaction from the department — than on the bottom line figure.

The spending, estimated to come in at around $105 million this year, includes progress reports, surveys and money paid as performance bonuses to school and principals. The largest chunk — $29 million last year — was for the schools’ controversial ARIS computer system.

The total includes money to pay the 79 people reportedly working in the accountability office. Although the Department of Education cautions that all jobs are subject to budget constraints, it lists six open positions working on the accountability initiative. The jobs seem notable for their opaque titles (director of knowledge management, KM domain leader for leadership and organizational management, summative assessments product manager) and salaries of up to $170,000.

But the $135 million does not include an estimated $26 million for periodic assessments — interim standardized tests. Gotbaum clearly thought that figure should be added in, but department officials apparently argued that, since the scores don’t show up in the progress reports (a.ka. school report cards), the assessments don’t count as part of the accountability initiative. It also does not include funds spent on the federal and state tests or prepping students for them.

According to Gotbaum and her staff, department officials have stalled on providing information since the IBO started work on the accountability initiative report last February. It seems apparent that the department, which has boasted of cutting costs in administration to spend more in classrooms, wanted as little attention paid to this as possible. Failing that, it tried to bring down the bottom line, calling in downward revisions this morning. (One may still be on the way.)

Complicating the IBO’s task is that the Department of Education has exempted itself from many accounting and reporting rules governing other city agencies. Saying the department “has not been as forthcoming as it should be,” Gotbaum reiterated her call for more financial oversight of the city’s largest department.

Sidebar: Is it just a coincidence that the high school school report cards came out the day before Gotbaum issued this report? The timing made many education observers wonder. The report cards were released online with no fanfare yesterday — even though they showed average grades for city’s high schools increasing significantly. For a department with a large public relations operation that trumpets every achievement however minor, the method of the announcement was curious. But by releasing the reports yesterday, the department did insure they got covered on their own — without discussion of whether the money spent to compile them was money well spent.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Small businesses in the boroughs won't survive under new textbook purchasing rules.

By Helen Zelon

City Limits WEEKLY #663
November 10, 2008

Connie Attanasio stands outside her Queens business, which has provided textbooks for English language learners for years, but may be forced to close. Photos by Rosie McCobb

Connie Attanasio of Middle Village, Queens, has a master's degree in education and has been in business for 25 years providing books for students learning English and the teachers who guide them. Harlem-born Jesse Harris has been distributing language books and materials on African-American themes to city schools from his Bronx business since 1971. Genaro Bastos, an adjunct professor of sociolinguistics and language acquisition at Queens College and New Jersey City University, is a book provider, too, delivering works from his business in Woodside, Queens, to the city’s schools since 1980.

These small business owners – and dozens of others like them – have built relationships over decades with teachers, principals and other educational leaders. As minority entrepreneurs, they typify the kind of success that Mayor Bloomberg celebrates as the lifeblood of the city. Yet they say their businesses soon will be forced to close due to new procurement regulations enacted by the Department of Education in order to save money. Like all city agencies, DOE is under the gun to cut spending in the wake of the state budget crisis.

“Once this is implemented, I’ll be out of business,” said Bastos. “All my efforts have been spent serving school districts in New York City. Now, schools are no longer my customer; the customer is New York City. They change the rules, and now, you can no longer play the game. There’s no way I can survive.”

Polyglot and penny-pinching

Two in five New York City public school students speak a language other than English with their families. One in nine are formally classified as English language learners (ELLs); at least as many have attained basic proficiency but still require academic support. Dr. Pedro Ruiz, coordinator of the New York State Department of Education’s Office of Bilingual Education and Foreign Language Studies, sums up the size of the challenge by simply calling New York "a bilingual state." The city’s limited-English proficient (LEP) students, who according to Ruiz speak over 170 different languages, account for three-quarters of that population statewide; in other words, this particular textbook market is centered in NYC far more than in Rochester or Troy.

Until now, schools have relied on local vendors – practically all of whom happen to be minorities – for guidance in finding the best books for students learning English. The vendors in turn researched, developed and honed lists of books from publishers worldwide, bringing titles to the New York market that overseas publishers lack the resources to promote.

Under new Department of Education bidding guidelines, most of these established vendors are no longer eligible to compete for DOE contracts, because they don’t meet new minimum thresholds of $5 million per year in sales. The new rules also require deep purchasing discounts and sophisticated technological capacities – impossible targets for people like her, says Attanasio, who heads an Ad Hoc Committee of Minority Business Owners formed in response to the new DOE regulations.

“We don’t operate for the benefit of our suppliers. We operate for the benefit of the public schools," said David Ross, the DOE’s Chief of Procurements. Ross says the first part of the department's new contract, which was awarded in October, already has reduced the DOE's $57 million total annual book tab by $6.8 million. (The balance of the contract will be awarded later this month.) “Big and middle-size players were able to compete; the smallest players weren’t able to compete for the award.”

“We made an award to two vendors, as a competitive bid within the parameters of municipal law – although we’re not required to do that,” Ross said.

A different set of rules

Ross’ assertion that DOE procurement is not bound by municipal law is correct. The inclusion requirements for city government support of minority and women-owned businesses do not apply to the Department of Education, because the DOE is not actually a city agency. It is, according to the corporation counsel, a separate entity – a kind of orphan corporation that floats in its own legal universe, insulated from city, state and federal oversight regarding purchasing, reporting directly to Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

“For procurement purposes, DOE is not a mayoral agency,” says Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post. “The enabling legislation of mayoral control specifically exempted procurement, so DOE follows state rules.” Still, the ousting of minority and women vendors runs counter to provisions of city, state and federal law, including Local Law 129, which Mayor Bloomberg signed in 2005 requiring city agencies to buy more goods and services from firms that get city certification as M/WBEs – Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprises. Although DOE receives city, state and federal funds, the fact that it is neither fish nor fowl – neither an agency of the city nor the state – means it is not bound to uphold city, state or federal antidiscrimination law in its procurement practices. DOE does require its vendors to have affirmative action plans on file and be equal opportunity employers, however, and it encourages proposals from women- and minority-owned businesses, says spokeswoman Marge Feinberg. But the financial and technical requirements of the procurement regulations dictate the terms of who may apply.

Mayoral control of the schools, which is due for review in 2009, grants DOE its protected status – a status that has a variety of critics well beyond small business interests. “The Bloomberg administration takes the unusual and questionable position that its education policies are not subject to state or city laws that it wishes to ignore,” says Udi Ofer, advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Bloomberg also refuses to submit his proposed education regulations to a public comment period, as required by state and local law. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s rationale, education policies are under his own authority. This is an unacceptable and undemocratic approach to education policy-setting, and must be considered as the state explores whether to extend mayoral control.”


Genaro Bastos, owner of Bastos Educational Textbooks, displays his collection of books for English language learners at a DOE conference for teachers last week.

The biggies "don't speak the language"

Because “the smallest players” were excluded from the textbook bid, the educators and academics who for decades have developed products for the city’s ELL population are being pushed out, and replaced with mammoth corporations located well outside of New York. To date, the DOE has awarded contracts to BookSource, based in St. Louis, and to the Tennessee-based Ingram, described on its website as “the world’s largest wholesale distributor of book product” as well as a technology and shipping leader.

It's not just the local business people who object to the change. The state education department's Pedro Ruiz counts himself among the critics. “Students need support for different materials in different languages that the large corporations do not offer,” he says. Big companies may offer works in Spanish and Chinese – “but what about Portugese, Bengali, Russian and Urdu? These small vendors are the ones that have the materials. They have been working very closely with the communities, with teachers and with parents, looking for materials that exist around the world.”

The new regulations mean sharp cutbacks in personalized service. “The personal connection makes the difference,” says Pat West, principal of PS 90 in the Bronx, who has worked for years with Jesse Harris. “Sometimes we don’t know what we want. He brings things we might be interested in. He has introduced me to some authors that our librarian has had come in to talk to the kids. We invite them in, through his contacts.”

Harris says he built his business “coming in, sitting down with teachers, talking about materials. We’re not salespeople – we’re consultants, we talk to teachers at 7 at night, after hours. We go into areas – in Bed-Stuy, East New York – where the principal can’t talk during the day. At 7 pm, it’s dark. Sales reps won’t go into those areas. If they don’t meet at a principal’s conference, forget it – those schools are not being served.”

“All of us, it’s not just a business," says Batsos. "It’s not just a pair of shoes. It’s a product of education that’s valid and important, not just a profit-making venture. We bring materials of the highest quality to New York City schoolchildren."

“Who’ll put together these collections?” Attanasio asks, referring to series of books organized on a single theme. Her staff includes DOE veterans who’ve served as directors of literacy and heads of English as a Second Language programs; Attanasio was Assistant Director of the Bilingual Bicultural Mini School in East Harlem before leaving the public schools. “We represent companies where the faces of our kids are found in the artwork in the books.” The big corporations – according to the smaller players – can’t duplicate small vendors’ grassroots networks and relationships.

Business is business

The ethics of pushing out minority business owners isn’t the issue, says David Ross of the DOE. The issue is economics: Significant savings will accrue, along with easier, faster, cheaper and better book ordering for the city’s schools. To ease the transition, the DOE has required all current, small-business vendors to “cut over” or migrate their lists to a database that will permit Ingram and Booksource to place and fill new orders. The small vendors have not been compensated for this service, which Jason Henry, DOE’s Chief Administrator of Purchasing, valued at “less than half of a percent" of the roughly $57 million that DOE spent on all textbooks last year. The half a percent comes to about $285,000, nearly equal to the $300,000 being spent by DOE on outside trade-books consulting by Accenture. DOE procurement officials say they will reconsider refunding some of these fees.

“This is a total abuse of power,” says Bastos. “The educators are being left out.”

“Hundreds of companies have been put out of business because they depend solely on New York City,” says Harris. "It’s mind-boggling. How can the mayor stand up in front of me and say, ‘I want to be your mayor’ and take the bread out of my mouth?"

The state education department is aware of the city’s procurement practices, but has not yet responded to either the DOE or to Attanasio’s Ad Hoc Committee of Minority Business Owners on the issue. Late last month, the State’s Bilingual/ELL Committee of Practitioners met with Regent Betty A. Rosa, in charge of LEP/ELL programs, and Senior Deputy Commissioner Johanna Porter to discuss the DOE’s revised bidding practice. Outgoing New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills’s office confirms receipt of a letter from Attanasio’s group but will not commit to a formal response.

“Hopefully, in meetings with the NYC chancellor, Commissioner Mills will bring up this issue to see what can be done," said Pedro Ruiz, but time is critical. Henry and Ross of DOE say that the final parts of the contract will likely be awarded before the end of November, after which, small vendors say, their businesses will close.

Improving outcomes for ELL students is a primary goal of the Klein-Bloomberg administration. According to DOE statistics, fewer than one in four ELL students graduate from high school. “For students to improve, they have to have access to good materials,” says Bastos. “They have to have access to people with expertise. How do we provide educational access to all these students?”

- Helen Zelon