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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why Post-Scooped Mulgrew Sex Story has Political Relevance --UPDATED

(Go to the bottom of this post for UPDATES; these updates also deal with the political ramifications.) This New York Post salacious story, "UFT ‘sex coverup’: Union chief caught in act at school: lawsuit", is just another media outlet's union-bashing attack on a powerful union official who helps the less fortunate. Not so fast.
The Post's story this morning of United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew does indeed have great significance.  It moves beyond the level of a salacious tee-hee story to one of great importance.  For the first half of the article it justs reads as sour grapes gloating over an embarrassing story of improper behavior.
However, the story matters a great deal for the integrity of UFT president Mulgrew.  If the facts are indeed true, they raise highly disturbing concerns for the membership.
First the details: an aggrieved teacher at the Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts in Queens alleges that Mulgrew engaged in a sexual act on a shop table in a wood shop of the school campus of William E. Grady Vocational High School --Mulgrew's last teaching assignment, and that he was caught "in flagrante delicto" [Latin, "in blazing offence"] by a school janitor. His alleged partner in the act was a school guidance counselor. So far, just a sleazy story of misconduct and more than a little bad judgment.
Then come the political details. The article reveals that his act partner received a nice union office job on the side. (For the uninitiated, the union office jobs generally come with a second pension and a token appearance at the school.)
One former staffer at Grady High School made comments that cut to the core of the issue:
“The sex thing, it’s between them and nobody’s business,” one said. “The thing that upset me is the patronage job to Mendez — rewarding her with a high-paying job with my union dues.”

Coincidentally, soon after the alleged encounter, Mulgrew ascended to the position of UFT Vice President of Vocational Schools.
In 2005, soon after the alleged incident, Mulgrew became UFT vice president for career and technical high schools. Around the same time, Camacho-Mendez transferred to the HS of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn, but got a part-time job in Mulgrew’s union office.
She was later given the full-time position of UFT liaison for special education. She gets two paychecks — $22,000 in UFT compensation on top of her $85,000 city salary, although she’s no longer a guidance counselor. In 2010, Mulgrew presented Camacho-Mendez with a UFT award.
“No one ever heard of this woman until Mulgrew brought her on board,” said a longtime UFT rep. “She had no union credentials.”
This article alleges that the school's administration, the principal, participated in the hush-hush. Here's where the story gets political. You cannot be a strong union advocate of teachers when the principal, and now, by extension, the Department of Education (DOE) higher-ups, "have the goods on you." This is why Mulgrew is caught literally, in a compromised position. Compromised positions affect integrity and the ability to fully serve out duties. This is why military and security agencies are expected to treat this issue with vigilance.
Mulgrew demonstrates a profound weakness with his handling of several high-profile matters. First, he has sold out the union by agreeing to the tying of teacher performance evaluations to student test scores. He himself has conceded that the tests are statistically inconsistent. The New York State Department of Education's Meryl Tisch publicly upbraided the makers of the latest test, Pearson, publishers of several tests recently administered to elementary school aged children, for rampant test errors. Yet, scholars have often cited poverty as a greater factor in the appearance of low test scores. For example, see former principal Mel Riddile's "PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid."
Second, there is the Absent Teacher Reserve matter. ATR teachers are senior teachers. The city Department of Education, under mayoral control --which Mulgrew and Weingarten in principle agree with, only allots so much to particular schools. Thus, the city encourages principals to hire down the pay scale. So, while the media excoriates Last In, First Out, the reality is that principals hire new or relatively new teachers over experienced ones. Where does this leave excessed teachers? The ATR pool. The DOE will create hundreds of ATRs in June with the shuttering and the immediate reopening of the schools with new names and new budget numbers. The UFT's mantra was that it would protect ATRs. Now, some teachers will question this with talk of a buy-out.
We wonder why the lack of real strength on cutting edge issues? Could it be that the DOE had the goods on Mulgrew and this restrained him from going further on some of the most pressing issues for teachers? Could it be that Mulgrew is now of the two percent with his "$250,400 a year [salary], plus benefits," rather than the 98 percent?
Interesting: both the evaluations cave in announcement in February and the ATR cave in this Thursday, came in 24 hours after the Delegate Assemblies, where trouble could brew, in the absence of rehearsed, scripted opponents of statements by those representatives truly defending members' interests.
Many UFT members are snow-under by Mulgrew's scowl when interviewed and by his grandiose acts such as dissing New York Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to his face with his D rating of the Department of Education's performance. They and UFT-friendly outsiders are saying that "Mulgrew is better than Randi" [Weingarten, Mulgrew's successor]. This Post article furthers the myth, giving Mulgrew the "fiery" label.
But these gestures by Mulgrew are comparatively tame. He needs to go beyond the nyeh-nyeh-ing to Walcott and show the real potency of the union, and have mass rallies.
All of this is why many union members are viewing the union leadership as a royal fiefdom insulated from the mass of the membership, why some members are looking for a UFT caucus with MORE action, real defense of members, rather than empty bluster, to give deeper analysis of the issues, not the Mulgrew clique's brief soundbytes.
Read more of Susan Edelman's story at the Post: UFT President Michael Mulgrew accused of sex-scandal cover-up in federal suit -
See Betsy Combier's Parents Advocate blog for 2005 principal lawsuit query:
She closes her contribution with the clincher,
So, what's the truth, Mike? Why did the Principal of Grady sue you and Ellie Engler in 2005? What was the settlement? The public does need to know.
And why are you on the payroll of the DOE through 2010?
Did you hide your affair and other actions at William Grady, then decide you would not help members put into the same situation? If so, perhaps you should resign.
We go now to the 2005 lawsuit, by a principal against Mulgrew for defamation.
It appears to be retaliation against Mulgrew and other union officials for complaints over alleged principal misconduct in asbestos removal. Mulgrew and company complained of the principal's asking teachers and students to work on the site: [he] "directed students and a teacher to tear down library walls and shelves even though he knew the room contained asbestos, then tried to cover up the incident".Here is the substance of the case between Mulgrew and Grady HS principal Ivor Neuschotz. This lawsuit? It was settled out of court the next year. Was there an I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine quid pro quo, agreement between Mulgrew and Neuschotz to keep hushed about each other's scandals?
2005 a special year for Mulgrew. As we noted before, he had the on-campus fling with his colleague. And in the same year UFT president Randi Weingarten chose him as vice-president of the vocational school division of the union.
So, Mulgrew had the goods on the principal, who kept hush-hush. Again, this cuts to the core of how this is a valid political story. Just how can you go toe-to-toe with opponents when the opponents have you in mutual agreements to keep hush-hush?
Back in 1993 president Bill Clinton was searching for an attorney general. His first two appointees had minor legal problems stalling his appointment for the office.
That episode should be an object lesson that you thoroughly vet candidates for high or sensitive positions. We wonder, why did Randi Weingarten fast-track Mulgrew to the Presidency when he had the Camacho-Mendez affair in his closet? Were there not any Janet Reno-clean candidates that she could have considered?
[This story reeks of double standards. The alleged classroom tryst of two language teachers at James Madison High School, like Mulgrew were caught by a member of the custodial staff. These teachers, in 2009, the year of Mulgrew's moving to the UFT presidency, got assigned to a "rubber room." Mulgrew, when he was supposedly caught in an improper intimate act was on his way to Vice President. The end of their story: termination. The end for Mulgrew: the insulated presidency. The question some teachers might at this point ask: do we have a rubber room president?]
* * *
Finally, the Rubber Room Reporter has linked Gotham Schools' page on Grady H.S. It got a D rating for 2009-2010. It is a mostly male school; yet the top graduates are female. The graduation rate is 49 percent. That is not exactly the model of success in the DOE's eyes. It is the kind of school that might head soon for transformation. Mulgrew's old peers at Grady HS could soon be out of their positions and find themselves ATRs. Don't you think that Mulgrew is relieved that he is a mere mortal teacher?
His track record as a union leader, looking out for his fellow teachers shows a failure of compassion and understanding. The settling for a test score-based evaluation program. The abandonment of teachers whose school becomes a turnaround or transformation school to excessed status. Does he ever imagine if his fate was more like the hapless teachers at James Madison or dozens at Grady?
As Combier asks, "What was the settlement? The public does need to know."
* * *
Our brotherly blogger at Ed Notes added these observations about the story:
For those of us who are challenging his leadership for NOT battling the ed deformers and protecting teachers, this story is meaningless other than it exposes the level of Unity Caucus corruption and how they protect their own while leaving most teachers to hang.
--------UPDATED with comment from Michael Fiorillo
I agree with Norm that UFT collaboration with Bloomberg predates Mulgrew, and is predicated on much deeper corruption and deception, which also includes the self-deception of the leadership and its patronage recipients.
If the UFT/AFT didn't already accept or agree with the outlines of the neoliberal project on education, would this (alleged) tawdry episode be enough to maintain it? Not likely.
On the other hand, John Kenneth Galbreath said that all revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door, and we all know the UFT structure is rotten, despite the presence of decent, hard working people in the union. That's the destiny of every entrenched, single party state, and that's the potential significance of this story: at a certain point, the superstructure is so internally compromised that it can no longer support itself, and crumbles before a gust of wind.
If this is that gust of wind (doubtful in my mind, but you never know), the question then becomes, who will benefit from the resulting crisis: an invigorated rank and file fed up with years of lies and abuse, or the Overclass, which seeks to use it for its own avaricious ends?

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