As of November 21, 2012, I have been removed from my position, as a classroom STEM teacher, for:
210 Calendar Days and 100 School Days
(40 days past 60 day time limit agreed upon)
…and I’m not the only one of the 220+ educators who is passed the time limit. Just ask Andrew Gordon, HR Director email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call Andy at 718-935-3790
On April 15, 2010, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) signed an agreement to close the Teacher Reassignment Centers, also known as “Rubber Rooms“. These were large rooms where about 800+ teachers were detained around the city. The agreement was praised by all sides as it was supposed lead to a speedier process. The issue was thought dead for about two years until they reassigned the wrong guy…. This guy (as I stop typing and point two thumbs at myself). As I stated in the many TV news interviews I did, “They didn’t close the Rubber Rooms down, but more like restructured them.” However, there were some who knew the 2010 agreement was destined to be a failure just days after it was signed: http://iceuftblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/rubber-room-agreement.html
In any case, I exposed that the Rubber Rooms still exist, just like I exposed that the School Leadership Teams are a sham and have no say in million dollar school budgets or school goals. Just like I will expose the kangaroo court that is the 3020A teacher termination hearing process, should the department want to go down that road. Trust me, from what I have seen, they are not ready to take me on at a 3020A. It’s not only because I’m innocent, because many innocent educators have been terminated, but because…well let’s just leave it at that for now.
My Reassignment Grievance
On October 4th and 5th I pulled what many thought was a well planned publicity stunt. I Live Streamed myself in the Rubber Room. Trust me when I tell you that was a no brainer. The public should find it interesting that on the 4th, the DOE stated that there were no Rubber Rooms and on the 5th I said “Oh yeah?…then what is this?” as I streamed for hours with no work and no supervision. A common day.
A week or so later, Rosanna Scotto surprised Chancellor Walcott, on Good Day NY, by asking “What about the Rubber Rooms?” As he was stating that there are no rubber rooms and everyone is assigned administrative duty, the producers go ahead and superimposed my video next to him.
It reminded us of the Iraqi Information Minister who went on Iraqi TV to tell everyone they are OK as Baghdad was in flames behind him (2003).
If you know my story, then you know that all my trouble started after I alleged financial misconduct at my school, Berta Dreyfus IS 49, Staten Island, NY. Actually, a paper trail of disciplinary notices, Unsatisfactory rating and allegations started only 4 days after my allegations were submitted to the Special Commissioner of Investigation. When the attacks started, I thought all I had to do was call my union for protection. It was wishful thinking. Throughout my whole battle, I have secretly criticized the UFT for what I feel was a lack of strong support for me and it’s members. I have countless of unanswered emails from UFT to brass. Even the NY Teacher newspaper emailed me they wouldn’t run a story on what’s really happening. However, after my first day of live streaming (Day 75) I received the following statement from the UFT attorney:
“The April 15, 2010 agreement between the DOE and the UFT states that if an employee has not been charged pursuant to Education Law section 3020-a within 60 days of being reassigned, the employee must be returned to his prior assignment, except where the reassignment was caused by (i) an allegation of sexual misconduct being investigated by SCI, (ii) an allegation of serious financial misconduct involving more than $1,000, (iii) criminal charges pending against the employee, (iv) an allegation of a serious assault that is being investigated by SCI, (v) an allegation of tampering with a witness or evidence, where the allegation of tampering is being investigated by SCI. I am telling the DOE that it must return you to your school assignment unless the DOE informs both you and us which one of the exceptions mentioned your case falls into.”
A few days later, as my story went viral, I also received this notice from Michael Mendel, UFT Secretary:
“We have demanded that the DOE put you back in your school. If they do not we will be looking at all other remedies”
I thought “Great! Let’s get this going together guys! Better late than never.” A few days later I received this from UFT Attorney Adam Ross:
“Mr. Portelos, Following up on my email below, the DOE notified me today that it believes you fall into the exception to the 60 day limit for “an allegation of tampering with a witness or evidence, where the allegation of tampering is being investigated by SCI.” If you believe that this is incorrect based on your interactions with SCI, then we recommend that you immediately speak to Emil so that he can assist you in filing a grievance about being reassigned more than 60 days in violation of Article 20 and the April 15, 2010 agreement. ”
So I did just that and my Reassignment Grievance was held this past Friday, November 16, 2012. Pause and get some popcorn for the rest of this.
If you are an avid follower of my blog or have experienced grievance hearings at the NYC DOE Office of Labor Relations (OLR) yourself, you already know that the process is a bit of a Kangaroo Court. Evidence that can help a teacher’s case is dismissed and evidence that can harm a teacher can be made up. This is process is widely known and somewhat accepted even from the union’s standpoint. Grievances are denied and hopefully go into unbiased arbitration, but why? Why deny all these violations committed by admin and DOE officials? That’s a great question, but unfortunately I am still researching the answer. My research has me leaning towards “Teachers are the enemy. They make too much money and don’t retire, so let’s force them out and cut the numbers down.” Actually something like this was left on the board of one of the hearing rooms and someone took a picture of it.
“I will testify that I saw on the chalkboards at 49-51 Chambers that the room had been used to go over the policy and that the goal was to reduce average teacher pay by 10K and they were supposed to do so by encouraging retirement, unpaid leaves and bringing 3020-a hearings” -Anonymous
The person representing the principal or DOE side always works with the chancellor’s representative hearing and deciding the case. Not only works with, but next to them. Imagine going to court and seeing the judge and the opposing lawyer coming out of the judges chambers right before your case is heard….everytime! They probably rehearse the skit right before they come out of the office that is marked “Authorized Personnel only”. It’s the same door I saw their boss, Director of OLR, David Brodsky hurry into as I sat front row in the waiting room. I was star struck as I have followed the puppet strings to him and listened to his video seminars. Part of me thinks that he may actually be a nice guy, but does the bidding of others above him. I hope that is the case. I’ve emailed him and left many messages and even invited him and Larry Becker, HR Chief, to attend my hearings, but unfortunately no response. If I had a $1 for every time I emailed DOE and received no response, I would have enough to buy a new set of tires…expensive ones.
The admin rep, Susan Mandel, representing Principal Hill and Marcel Kshensky, the chancellors representative deciding the case, come out to meet my union rep, John Torres, and I. In my usual cordial and professional manner, I introduce myself and put out my hand. Marcel shakes it, but Susan has her hands full of papers. She states “You don’t want to shake my hand anyway…I’m the enemy.” I quickly respond that I too am going for my administrator’s licences and “…perhaps one day you will be representing me.” Enemy? Her words..not mine.
We walk into a small room that looks like this:
I say that because it seems every meeting I now have with DOE starts off with “I just want to make sure that this conversation is not being recorded” Hmmm…I believe NY is a one consenting party state. Meaning at least one party involved in the conversation has to know. I’m just speaking hypothetically of course.
We sit down and Susan Mandel calls Principal Linda Hill on speakerphone. This is the same method I have tried to use to partake in meetings I cannot physically attend, like School Leadership Meetings (SLT) and UFT Consultation meetings. I have been denied every time. It was like music to my ears to hear Linda Hill’s voice. A sound I have not heard in over 200 days. I wondered who else sat in her office with her quietly? I should have asked.
My rep, John Torres, starts by read the 20+ allegations against me. Marcel attempted to stop him and ask “What’s the relevance? Can you just give me a copy?” on at least two occasions. John remained steadfast and read all of them. “Relevance?” I thought to myself. “What’s more relevant in a reassignment hearing then the reasons I was reassigned?” I chuckled, inside, as I often do when I read them and at Susan and Marcel’s facial expressions. John finishes by stating “Do the right thing and return Mr. Portelos back to the classroom.”
Again, to recap, the 60 day time limit exceptions are:
(i) an allegation of sexual misconduct being investigated by SCI,
(ii) an allegation of serious financial misconduct involving more than $1,000,
(iii) criminal charges pending against the employee,
(iv) an allegation of a serious assault that is being investigated by SCI,
(v) an allegation of tampering with a witness or evidence, where the allegation of tampering is being investigated by SCI.
Now it’s Susan’s turn and I don’t remember word for word but she said nothing about “tampering with evidence or witness” as the DOE previously stated and instead said the following “There may be an allegation that could possibly lead to criminal charges”. Instead of being worried, I smiled. I asked John to step outside and had him ask flat out “Is there or isn’t there a criminal investigation on Mr. Portelos?” The exception does NOT state “Well kinda sort perhaps there may be something that will eventually lead to kinda sorta potentially something criminal.”
The response from Susan was, as it has been for months, vague. “Well, we don’t know.” It’s like playing poker and it’s me and one player left. I’m all in with my high stack of chips and pocket Aces, while I wait months for the other player to decide to call or fold and all they have is a 2 and 7 unsuited. 🙂 Seriously, that is what I feel like.
Ready for this?
Susan Mandel finishes by saying that she does not think that the chancellor’s rep, Marcel Kshensky, “has the authority to decide this case.” Whaaa? Why have I been sent here then? Remember that this is all scripted and the two work together so it’s even funnier when he asks “What do you mean?” As if he didn’t know this was coming.
Susan reads off the following lines from the 2010 agreement. The very same ones I asked UFT Staff Director Leroy Barr about the day before.
“The Chancellor or his designee and the President of the UFT or his designee shall meet monthly, or less frequently if the UFT and DOE agree, to review the status of these cases. At the end of the first year of this Agreement, and in subsequent years if requested by the UFT, the DOE and the UFT will meet to review the issue of investigations and reassignments extending beyond 60 days and, if there has been a significant increase in the number of such investigations and reassignments, to negotiate ways to address this issue.”
So there you have it… My union sends me to a grievance held 97 days after my reassignment only to be told “Sorry…It’s not on us…It’s up to Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT President Michael Mulgrew.” Do I feel like Monkey in the Middle? Yes, and who really loses out in this game…..the children…remember them?
Update: A brand new investigation was started on me over 160 days after I was removed. An SCI investigator came to visit me on October 26, 2012. My attorney, Bryan Glass, inquired and we were told it had to do with routing a website. I can think of only two things that it could be. Again nothing illegal and no hacking. I’ll keep you posted. Seem like they are looking for anything and they have nothing.
I’ll keep you posted. Follow me on Twitter