Farina Negotiates in Public: Is She “Mis-Speaking” or Challenging the Union?

Speaking at a City Council hearing, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was unequivocal that the city would stick with its current policy of not forcing teachers to work in specific schools or principals to accept teachers they don’t want.

“There will be no forced placement of staff,” she told Council members. ”This is one of the things, when I come back in a couple of weeks, we’ll be happy to discuss.”

One of the ironclad rules of negotiations is that you negotiate in private, never in public, unless you want to send a message to the other side. Whether Chancellor Farina was speaking on her own or carrying a message from the de Blasio administration is crucial. After a bargaining session with the Bloomberg/Klein crowd, no matter the confidentiality agreements, you knew the NY Post or the Wall Street Journal, the Murdoch press, would have the story, at least the mayor’s side of the story, before you got back to the office.

Both de Blasio and union leader Mulgrew have answered every question about negotiations with the same answer, “We don’t negotiate in public.” the union has to ask, have the rules changed? Do Farina’s comments mean the mayor is following the Bloomberg/Klein playbook?

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool is made up of over 1,000 folks with pedagogical titles: teachers, guidance counselors, principals and assistant principals who have been bumped from their schools mosly due to school closings. The lower salaried teachers tend to get absorbed into schools, the higher salaried ATRs not so because they carry their salary under the department’s Weighted Student Funding formula.

For a couple of years the department has supported ATR Field Supervisors who regularly observe and rate ATR performance. A few percent are at the low end of the scale, the vast majority in the middle of the curve.

The ATR system costs the city $100,000,000 a year – dollars that can buy many pre-k and after school slots.

Bloomberg/Klein, and apparently Farina insisted that principals alone should choose all staff. They haven’t done such a good job! Teacher attrition continues to rise and thousands of teachers change schools every year under the Open Market system. Any teacher, regardless of seniority can move to any school – principals in higher achieving schools located in “safer” neighborhoods routinely snatch teachers from lower achieving schools in tougher neighborhoods.

30% to 40% of probationary teachers have their tenure extended, new teacher hired by current principals. There is absolutely no evidence that the current ATR system has better outcomes than simply assigning excess teachers to schools with vacancies.

For decades teachers who were excessed, bumped out of their schools due to loss of enrolment and/or funding, were routinely assigned to other schools.

Is retaining the ATR system worth a hundred million dollars a year?

At the same City Council meeting the chancellor emphasized increasing the number of guidance counselors in school, has anyone told her there are 200 or so counselors in the ATR pool, guidance counselors rotating from school to school on a weekly basis?

The chancellor also spoke to increasing the arts in schools, and hinted at using the punitive School Progress Report, a “stick” to increase arts education. For the last twelve years schools/teachers have been beaten regularly with bad letter grade and school closings – the whip and the cudgel never increase performance.

How about a competitive grant program so that schools can create arts programs?

You get a lot more with candy than with vinegar.

The union and teachers really want to like the chancellor, after all she “one of us.” Mulgrew announced at the delegates meeting that the chancellor will be invited to numerous teacher events. She will be on the stage answering questions from teachers at the breakfast section of the UFT Spring Conference.

The glow of honeymoons rapidly fades away and the reality grabs hold. Teachers want a leader who is both sensitive to the indignities of the past and willing to lead the charge into the future, negotiating a “fair” contract, with appropriate financial remuneration, as well as fixing the insanely complicated and mind-numbing teacher evaluation system. A chancellor who can stand up to Albany and lead the fight to delay the full implementation of Common Core tests, a chancellor who can lead the battle nationally to restructure the insidious impact of No Child Left Behind.

We deserve a chancellor who can stand up to Arne Duncan and the assault on public education. The education system in New York City is frayed by inattention to the needs of children, families and practitioners and being used as a place to experiment, to introduce one “idea” after another that had little to do with teaching and learning.

We need a modern-day Jeanne d’Arc.

“She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honest was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; … she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; … she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation…” Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

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6 responses to “Farina Negotiates in Public: Is She “Mis-Speaking” or Challenging the Union?

  1. The Chancellor was a principal with a reputation for pushing teachers she did not like out of her school. Her comments seem to reflect that perspective rather than the perspective of a manager who is now charged with maximizing return on dollars spent across the whole system.

    Clearly, if she wants to stick with the Bloomberg policy of no forced placement, she also needs to change the funding formula back to one that treats teachers as units rather than as dollar for dollar expenses. Schools get teaching units based on student enrollment and dedicated units can be added to ensure access to art, music, guidance services etc. to avoid both the carrot and the stick. Doing this would immediately make the experienced pedagogues in the ATR pool more desirable.

    Fair student funding has neither been fair nor effective in improving schools. LEt’s scrap that first and then we can look at what other changes are necessary to make the system work.

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  2. The Farina Effect: in March 2oo3, she observed my U.S. History lesson on cold war figures like Mao, Stalin, Kruschev, et al. at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies. At the time, she was Region 8 Superintendent. The lesson was a review for an upcoming test. Playing the multiple intelligences game, my double-sided, legal size handout had a visual component. The task was (1) to match the pictures with statements associated with the the figures and (2) to fill in the blanks in the statements. Farina looked at the handout and was not pleased. I was told that she thought it was a simple mix-and-match rather than a mix-and-match puzzle on the big ideas and achievements of the figures with an untitled visual requiring identification. Not so bad for a review. Farina soon departed with the Principal. Two periods later, he returned, observed me, and U-ed me. The next day my AP did the same thing. Two Unsatisfactories in two days, perhaps a DOE record. Thanks a lot, Carmen. Anyhow But I was not observed again for the rest of the term and got a yearend S. The takeaway: there will be willing executioners in Farina’s Tweed, too.

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  3. James S.vlasto

    We need, we deserve, a Chancellor was the refrain in the late 1989 and the search committee led by Stanley Litow produced Joseph Fernandez.
    The current mayor should use the same process. A Chancellor with skill to not only negotiate a contract, but with ability to explain the policy on charters with clarity and firmness and to implement a policy for all to understand.

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  4. Bill should not have settled for less. I fear he has compromised his vision before even having an eye exam.

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  5. I believe Carmen farina was intended to be a transitional Chancellor and her job was to change the tone at the DOE, based upon her years there. I’m sure Bill de Blasio is cringing every time Carmen Farina speaks and must be disappointed that she hasn’t done any housecleaning to date.

    I agree that “forced placements” are counterproductive. However,, there is a way to encourage principals to fill their vacancies with quality teachers from the ATR pool but you need to change the polices dealing with the destructive “fair student funding” school budgeting considerations, and finally, a hiring freeze need to be part of it.

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