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NYC mayor's new attack on teachers

By Megan Behrent, United Federation of Teachers | March 2, 2007 | Page 11

NEW YORK--In mid-January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced their latest assault on teachers and public education here through a series of "reforms" that amount to a declaration of war on both new and veteran teachers.

Bloomberg's "Children First" initiative includes a complete reorganization of New York City's public schools; changes in school funding, which will make it difficult for schools to hire or retain experienced teachers; and obstacles for new teachers to obtaining tenure.

In addition to the mandatory three-year wait for tenure, Bloomberg and Klein are demanding a more difficult review process and want to include student test scores among the criteria.

Already, 50 percent of teachers in New York leave within five years--and the new attacks on tenure would only drive away more teachers who need greater support. Moreover, Bloomberg wants individual teachers' salaries to be paid out of each school's individual budget--under the guise of "fair student funding."

These changes are touted as more equitable, but the real effect would be to force schools to compete for less expensive and less experienced teachers or to pay the additional costs out of their individual budgets, as well as choose between retaining senior teachers and smaller class sizes. This could also give school principals incentives to harass senior teachers and attempt to drive them out.

This attack comes on the heels of the 2005 teachers' contract, which relinquished important seniority rights for teachers who were "excessed" from their schools, making it more difficult for these teachers to find new positions.

Recent trends--breaking up bigger schools into small schools and other school closures--have meant that many teachers, even those with a great deal of experience and seniority, are forced to seek new jobs in other schools.

The combined effect of Bloomberg and Klein's latest proposals would be to set up a new permanent two-tier system in schools, with a minority of experienced teachers with seniority and a revolving door of untenured teachers with low wages.

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has so far done little to mobilize the membership to oppose these attacks.

While UFT President Randi Weingarten has verbally opposed many components of the reorganization plan, she understates the impact this could have on union members, insisting in a recent article in the union's newspaper that "our members will be fine, but our schools will not."

In fact, the current union leadership, by failing to mount a real fight to defend our schools and giving disastrous concessions in previous contracts, has facilitated these latest attacks.

That's why opposition caucuses in the UFT--Teachers for a Just Contract and the Independent Community of Educators--are running a joint slate in the upcoming local union elections in March. We aim to put union democracy and rank-and-file mobilization back into our union and to build a fighting union that can defend our public schools from further attacks from the likes of Bloomberg and Klein.

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