Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New blood at PFT

On the May "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

It is my understanding that the PFT had a recent election and a new slate - "Teachers for Change", won 2 key positions. George Gensure and Sylvia Wilson both lost. The current PFT slate has ordered a recount.

If the results stand, it will be very interesting to see how some "new blood" affects what is going on with all the PPS changes coming soon. Many teachers do not like all the new reforms that PPS/PFT are forcing down their throats. Maybe a "fox in the hen house" might be good for the system.


Anonymous said...

The vote stands - no recount - fresh faces and ideas. Maybe there is hope yet.

Questioner said...

PG article on this topic:

Questioner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Things are getting interesting now.
Tarka didn't return calls...hmm.

Old Timer said...

This union has become la cosa nostra---"our thing". Rank and file is not supposed to have input. Rank and file types aren't supposed to win elections. The article was good but it didn't go deep enough in describing the collusion going on between Tarka and PPS. In particular, it failed to mention a great degree of frustration older teachers feel with regards to:

-The RISE program that "evaluates" effective teaching
-The transfer system that has gone from a system of transparency--where every PPS employee knew what positions were open--to a system mired in mystery
-the canned curriculum
-learning walks that seek to deride teachers who are not walking in lockstep with the curriculum
-the 50% grading policy
-the merit pay system--a complete and utter failure anywhere it has been instituted across the US.

Tarka has stated publicly during meetings that even if rank and file are against these issues, he will try to push them through.

Somewhere, Jimmy Hoffa is doing somersaults in an end zone.

Now this. 4 "outsiders" win elections. 2 are supposed to be full time members at the PFT building. Tarka states that this will not be the case.

Note to John Tarka---
You have embarrassed the rank and file of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers over the course of 10 years.
I urge you and your staff to resign IMMEDIATELY.

Questioner said...

Re: the members who are supposed to be at the PFT building- is this arrangement part of the union's by-laws or other governing documents, or is it more of a custom followed in the past?

Old Timer said...

I am SURE it is part of the by-laws. I am also sure that Don John Tarka, the Godfather of the PFT--la cosa nostra---will be looking to change the bylaws ASAP.
I am hopeful that union membership sees this fraud for what it is. This is NO union and this is NO union leadership.
I hope my Carrick brethren have legal representation and have contacted the AFT, parent organization of the PFT.
I also hope Roosevelt is peeing his pants in realizing that the brainwashing tactic has not worked.

Questioner--shouldn't this article have its own thread?


tootsie said...

If you check the minutes of legislative sessions and the personnel report within the minutes, the union leadership is included as individuals on "special assignment" or some such designation. I do not recall what month this occurs but apparently this is the practice.

Wouldn't this mean that the administration could essentially override the union's preventing the newly elected from assuming their positions? What is to stop the admin from including the two full-time people on a personnel report and having the board vote them to be on "special assignment" to their union? Perhaps this is too simple a solution or perhaps there is a brave board member willing to suggest it to colleagues.

Old Timer said...

Sorry tootsie, but what you are relating calls into question the idea of collusion, pure and simple. A union and its leadership need to be adversarial where administration, not kissy faced and glad handing all over town. What this union leadership has done is an affront to anyone who has ever had a union member in his or her family, no matter the industry. And now you are talking about the PPS administration having some say in how the PFT is run?????
If what you relate is accurate, then the PFT needs to be dissolved immediately. I want an account of where all the money goes. This is no union.

Mr.Tarka, you have embarrassed your teachers long enough. RESIGN IMMEDIATELY.

tootsie said...

Old timer, this is what I have seen in the minutes over a few years. I assumed that in order to keep the union leader's position available if he was not reelected a leave of absence is approved by the board vote allowing for full-time service to the union.

Anonymous said...

TO: Catherine Ciccone

FROM: John Tarka

A PFT Member contacted me about the Post-Gazette article this morning regarding the recent PFT election and staff position.

Below is my response to that member's concerns:

Thank you very much for your note of guidance and concern.

It is very unfortunate that an article full of such inaccuracies and negative implications was published.

We were in negotiations all day yesterday and have interrupted negotiations today so that we can rectify what has been inaccurately communicated to our members.

Please be assured that I personally congratulated the winners and indicated that I looked forward to working with them as Executive Board members.

However, the contention that the election to HS Vice-President and Secretary automatically assures staff positions is not supported by our PFT constitution or past practice. For example, Sylvia Wilson served as elected Secretary for 19 years before earning a staff position. Mary Van Horn served as Elementary Vice President for 15 years before earning a staff position. George Gensure served as Parliamentarian for 22 years before earning a staff position. All three performed the duties of their offices while teaching fulltime during these timeframes. As you can understand, their respective deep expertise and experience as PFT leaders provided them with the qualifications essential for staff position work, and they were recommended by then President Al Fondy and unanimously approved by the PFT Executive Board, as is required by Article 5 Section 5 a. (7) of our PFT constitution.

You are absolutely correct that these are extraordinarily challenging times and we are in extraordinarily challenging situations.

The PG article presents a most unfortunate and misleading account of what our union's constitutional provisions are and our past practice has been. We are working now to correct that inaccurate message.

Thank you again for writing about this issue.

Please feel free to share this communication with colleagues, if you so choose.

Best regards.

Ciccone published this on a website for public knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what will happen if this causes a backlash and members do not ratify the new contract? (If we ever get to see it, that is!) Boy, wouldn't that cramp Roosevelt's and Tarka's style and put a monkey wrench in coming affairs? I can't wait.

Questioner said...

According to the letter many elected PFT reps waited years before obtaining a staff position.

Are there other PFT reps who obtained staff positions quickly?

It seems strange that the individuals mentioned would have to wait so many years for a staff position. Has anything changed in the way staff positions are filled in recent years- for ex, was it normal at one time for elected reps not to receive a staff position but the practice changed?

Anonymous said...

It is worthwhile to get all sides. Why are there staff positions now that did not exist before? Who completed the job duties before staff positions opened to those elected.

Anonymous said...

It is to note that William Hileman never served as an elected official before he was given a staff position after his election as "member at large". Perhaps time served is not the sole criteria for being chosen as "staff".

You must put this move by Tarka in perspective. Dale Moss and Ed McManus are members of an opposing slate that ran against and beat the entrenched union leadership in a fair election. These circumstances are akin to Barak Obama winning the presidency and the republicans telling him not to leave his day job. The question becomes, what does Tarka have to hide that would force him to play such heavy handed politics. Checks and balances do not exist within the PFT leadership.

Anonymous said...

The word interesting keeps coming up. Here is something that is interesting that should be investigated. Most, if not all, of the current PFT leadership got in their positions by being appointed - not elected. Someone left at a non-election time...either retired, passed on, etc. Then one of their "chosen" was "appointed". Once appointed, the chosen one is on their slate. Then no one has ever...until this week...beat their slate.

This starts with John - follow the bouncing ball...Al passed. Only a vice president can fill the spot. John is not a vp so he cannot. In ONE meeting - - hear that ONE of the current vp's steps down, someone nominates John for V.P., seconded, all in favor, done. We need to fill the pres. position. Someone nominates John, seconded, all in favor, done. Now John has left the vp position vacant again and it needs filled. The VP who stepped down gets nominated, seconded, all in favor, done. Was this legit according to the by-laws??? Yes. Right? Fair? You be the judge. Interesting!

Questioner said...

From the PG, "President of city's teachers group downplays infighting":

"The group -- which maintains that union leadership has been drifting out of touch with the views and concerns of its 3,500 members, 2,700 of them teachers -- said they cannot take on what are full-time positions at union headquarters and remain teachers at Carrick at the same time."

- One question would be, back when some full time teachers also held leadership positions at the union, were the teaching and leadership positions as demanding and time consuming as they are today?

Or, as positions became demanding, were the jobs separated out so that some who for a long time held both positions were assigned to work full time at the union? If so, it is disingenuous to point to union leaders who also taught full time for 10 or more years. Such an approach by union leadership would actually demonstrate why these teachers are speaking out.

Anonymous said...

Look at the website. On the home page is a "leadership" section on the left. There are 7 "officers and staff." Then under "executive board," there are 32 members. The 7 "officers and staff" are ALSO members of the 32 member "executive board." No wonder the 7 can "influence" the way things are run. The 32 should NOT include the 7 so that more individuals could be on the executive board. You would have more checks and balances it would seem. It is like a "closed shop."
Sylvia Wilson, in fact, has 3 positions if you look!

Questioner said...

Focusing on the members voted out of office, it sounds like they will be returning to classrooms, their colleagues and the merit pay and evaluation positions they have been helping to develop. What a good opportunity to share perspectives on these new initiatives!

Anonymous said...

Questioner...the 2 who were voted out will not be returning to the classroom. You see, they are full time PFT staff. Therefore, whereas before there was never a distinction made between "PFT staff" and the elected officials, now there will be a distinction made. They will stay on as full-time staff and carry on the duties of the 2 newly elected representatives. Why? Because the 2 newbies who are not "automatically given staff position" will still be teaching full time and will not be able to negotiate, meet, support their teachers, take notes, etc.

Questioner said...

Totally confusing... how can someone who members have voted out remain on at the PFT?

Anonymous said...

I *think* they were elected to board positions and the union officials argument is that those are separate from staff positions. So they're welcome to go to board meetings and all, but haven't been appointed to staff positions.

Certainly seems like someone who is there full-time on staff and has been on the board for decades is going to still have far more influence than a FT teacher doing this in his/her "spare" time.

Especially if there are only 4 new board members and they aren't around when the topics/issues to be decided are discussed by the staff.

Anonymous said...

Questioner...that's the beauty of it...the loophole that the poor suckers never knew anything about. The membership had a choice in who they voted for. They take full advantage and vote two of the existing leaders out. It just so happens that those two leaders are also PFT staff. So, they no longer hold the TITLE of VP of High Schools and Secretary. However, since they were staff ALSO, and according to the by-laws/constitution, Mr. Tarka can appoint whomever he wants as staff, they can stay.

Mr. Tarka is playing it off as an unfortunate misunderstanding stating, "they made a wrong assumption". What he fails to mention is that NO ONE other that the current executive board members knew about this. EVERYONE who voted for change was under the "wrong assumption" that they were voting two people out and two new people in.

And funny enough, not even all of the current executive board knew about the loophole right away. We were shocked and upset by the vote results. However, within 24 hours our moods changed because we were informed that there was not really going to be any big change. Think about it...what can 4 people out of 32 do? Since none of them will be named staff by Mr. Tarka, they will not be involved in any of the real decision making. Despite the titles VP and Secretary, the only power they have is to vote for or against things that Mr. Tarka takes to them. 4 votes out of 32 votes will not halt anything. It will change change everything from a "unanimous vote of the Executive Board" to a "concensus of the executive board".

Anonymous said...

Don't be so quick to think that 4 people cannot help change some things. Many PFT members, regardless of which slate they supported, are very shocked and bothered by Tarka's actions this week. Just those 4 getting voted in and seeing the reaction of the current PFT leadership may be a start in the direction of big change.

Questioner said...

So where do the other 28 members of the executive board come from? Is there a staggered voting system that will bring those seats up for a vote as well? A majority of this board could select new union officials, right?

Anonymous said...

I think 16 positions were up for election this time and 16 will be up for election next time. I believe the next vote will be in 2 years.

Anonymous said...

And a vote NO to the new contract will speak volumns too.

Hopefully this will be the start of "some sort" of change. Some is better than none. Tarka and his "group" have had their true colors revealed now. We need a "Tea Party" like effort to effect change.

Tarka has too much power and the dues paying union members are getting sold down the river. Too much has been swept under the rug for too long. Time for a good airing out and house cleaning. Let's get all the grievances out on the table.

A lot of members are afraid to speak out publically for fear of retaliation. But the contract vote is private...

Questioner said...

Were there only 4 candidates on the opposing slate?

Anonymous said...

Yes -- the four on there all won.

Questioner said...

Maybe that will encourage more to run next time. But 2 years is a long time. Is there any chance of these 4 building support among the other 28 already on the board?

civiliandad said...

Perhaps the real issue with assigning these newly elected people to staff positions is the fear tht they will sink the EET programs in development. Couldn't it just as likely be that the EET plans could be stronger with the fresh input? Who from the PFT sits with the district's two people actually designing the EET-Rise programs?

Anonymous said...

Please explain EET programs.

Anonymous said...

EET = Empowering Effective Teachers

Too much to explain in writing.

At this link, you will be able to access the full plan as well as other information.

Please do not be fooled by the amount of money the Gates Foundation is giving PPS/PFT. It is only a drop in the bucket when the entire budget of the PPS is taken into consideration. Also, they will be very specific as to how the money will be allowed to be spent. There are always strings attached to foundation money.

What EEF is all about said...

The really repulsive thing about EEF (Empowering Effective Teachers) is that it does the exact opposite of what its title wants you to believe.

The bottom line is this: Under EEF, teachers will be given a choice of "career ladders" (to become department chairs, counselors, etc.) But teachers already have these choices; they're just not now called "career ladders"!

So what's the difference? Under EEF, teachers will be closely monitored to see if they are exactly following pre-determined and rigid guidelines to achieve pie-in-the-sky results.

Miss the goal once, get slapped. Miss the goal again, get pushed out.

And please note that teachers do NOT get to set these goals, or how they are to be achieved.

What the do get is the "power" to form committees to pick things like what kind of motivational posters to hang up in the hallways.

Look, any administration, in any kind of business, has the right to clamp down and micromanage their employees if they so desire.

But it is grossly unethical to then say they are "empowering" their employees.

Questioner said...

Is there anything documented in any EET materials showing that rigid guidelines must be followed?

What if any guidelines are followed but they don't get results? It's one thing to tell employees to just get results (staying within legal and ethical boundaries). It's another to tell them exactly what to do, when, where and how, and then also hold them responsible for the results.

And, can the teachers use the same explanations that are offered when the district has disappointing results- ie, demographics have changed, we already picked the "low hanging fruit," point to one or two grades that did especially well, students are "on track," trends are in the right direction, etc.

Questioner said...

And ironically, at the superintendent level organizations like the Broad Foundation strongly favor a board giving a superintendent goals to meet and getting out of the way, rather than micromanaging (or even doing much managing).

Old Timer said...

I am hopeful that what you are seeing, Questioner, is the earliest stage of teachers who are fed up actively trying to take their union back.
What does it say to parents that teachers are MORE fed up with canned curriculum and forced 50% grade policies than they are with the idea of more pay? What does it say that teachers are tired of being called "ineffective" by central office administrators who by and large were failures as teachers themselves? What does it say when teachers understand that colleges are taking good, hard looks at PPS graduates and in many cases giving them the thumbs down for admission because their grades are inflated and their SAT scores are not at the same level?

And what does it say that a union supports all of the aforementioned lynch pins of PPS?

Mr.Tarka has now had his slimy political practices aired for all to see. It's apparent that the decision to NOT have the Carrick victors become actual PFT full-timers is akin to making those positions "straw men"--people who will never be heard.

More than anything else, I am hopeful that the superintendent and his assistants are a bit anxious now. I am hopeful that his swagger isn't as cock-sure as it was, and I am hopeful that his continued questionable policies have rankled hte feathers of even the most apathetic teachers.

I've said it before and will repeat it: Mr.Tarka, RESIGN IMMEDIATELY. You have embarrassed hard-working teachers with a shell game for too long. The game is over. RESIGN.

Anonymous said...

You are so right Old Timer, but you know as well as I do that Tarka will never resign and leave that gravy train. He has it too good. The only recourse now is to vote the contract down. That will send a message big time.

Read the Anonymous post 5/28 2:16. Is this true about William Hileman? Then read the next post following it at 4:55 regarding how Tarka got to be President. Is this true? If these can be verified somehow, it would be very damning don't you think?

Old Timer said...

Anon, I think the thing which most bothers me is that there are teachers who actually put their faith in these people without seeing a contract proposal. There are teachers who are buying into the teacher effectiveness spiel even though this was ramrodded home without any type of discussion. There are teachers being made to resign and yet, nary a whimper from Tarka and his people.
Look, let's be honest. I understand all about what is going on in other urban districts across America. I understand all about the fact we are in a new era of education in this country. But you know, I also understand undue influence. I understand that dollars from the Pittsburgh Promise and Gates Foundations have pushed the idea of academic integrity out the window. I suspect CAS parents know this, too. I understand that an association with the University of Pittsburgh has allowed undue influence in allowing teachers to effectively instruct, bending instead to data. Tell your statistics to shut up, at the end of the day effective teachers have that uncanny ability to impart knowledge thanks to building bridges with kids.
Sorry, but no failed teacher nee administrator is going to be able to teach that, especially when he or she couldn't do it themselves.
John Tarka has sold his union down the river under the banner of "progress." He's sold unknowing teachers on the idea that their jobs can be saved and that there is money to be made, just sell your soul and bend your will.


J.Q. Public said...

Isn't anyone in authority at the PFT concerned about what this situation says to the public about the union?

Anonymous said...

This may be a wake-up call for all concerned - PFT and Roosevelt. (maybe even Gates)

Old Timer said...

There is news tonight of a new tentative contract between PPS and the PFT. The deal is for five years with no changes to health care, a base raise along the pay scale and incentives via merit pay.

I can honestly say the following: I did not get into teaching for the money. I have never been one of those calling for ridiculous pay increases.

But I will say this: given the incredible amount of money Gates has put into PPS and the matching money PPS has had to come up with...given the incredible amount of incentives administrators NOT in the classroom are getting thanks to the work of their teachings staffs....given the incredible amount of stress PPS is placing upon teachers via the RISE program, via canned curriculum, via learning walks, via forced resignations....this had better be a tremendous WIN for teachers. This had better be a situation in which teachers are paid commensurately to other districts.

Until I see the contract, I will reserve judgment, but it seems as though this is a nice end around from Tarka and his pals, a sure-fire way to deflect scrutiny of PFT practices.

If this proposal does not substantially raise the bar for teachers, I will be leading the calls for a veto, and for Mr.Tarka's ouster.

Questioner said...

PG article on tentative contract:

Anonymous said...

You can read the contract at

Old Timer said...

Beyond belief.

I have to wonder what type of individual would ever think this is a good deal for teachers. A $75 per paycheck "raise" for teachers at the top of the scale. No raise for newer teachers.

The merit pay is like pie in the sky. It sounds like a wonderful dream that can fill your pockets--this is true for anyone at a non AYP school. Before anyone gets all hot and bothered, however, I would wonder what is going to happen to teachers and schools that continually miss AYP.

Let's tell it like it is: a vote for this contract is a vote of cowardice. The collusion going on between the PFT and PPS numbs the mind. Are they one in the same.

I urge teachers to vote this horrific agreement down. It is clear that Tarka, Gensure and others doing the "negotiating" have no sense of responsibility to their teachers.

Once again, I can only say--Mr.Tarka, you are an embarrassment to teachers and a lackey for a superintendent who was never in the classroom. RESIGN IMMEDIATELY.

Anonymous said...

Old Timer

Great Stuff, I always enjoy your input. To the other Anonymous Blogers Thank You for sharing the knowledge. Wow, I have voted no on every contract for the last 15 years. Old Timer, I think you should run for office.

Tarka stop pissing down my back and telling me it is raining.

The contract is a turd that can not be polished.

I hate my School District Leadership

I hate my Union Leadership

I love my students, I love my School, I love to Teach

Bill Gates/Eli Broad/Mark Roosevelt, I do not need people constanly breathing down my back, constanly monitoring me. I have not had one parent complaint in 15 years as a teacher. I think I was a very highly effective teacher before this so called reform. Most of my students went on to college.

You know what would be great, I would not take a pay raise for the next 5 years if you would do the following. Give me a computer that is brand new, not 13 years old. Grant my students acess to new computers and many, way more computer labs. They need to be open and staffed after school and on weekends. I could also use my own classroom LCD Projector, Elmo and the most basic of teaching tools, New Chalk Boards that I could write on.(Mine are very old) Even my overhead projector is 30 years old. Give me a curriculum guide to follow and let me write my own lessons again. Cut my class sizes from 31-36 to a max of 25.

Please provide me and my students with a safe learning enviroment. Free from constant disruptions from kids running the hallways

And most of all leave me alone and let me do what I was born to do, teach.

These are the reforms I need

Frustrated & Handcuffed but still Teaching

P.S. John Tarka Resign Now

alsoanon said...

Anonymous 7:50 most likley speaks for many. As a parent I have listened closely to my child describe the walk-throughs he has seen. He says the walkers are often not in the room long enough to really know what is happening in the class. I say the only reason they should be in the room is to judge the product they supplied to teach kids, I guess that might be what is referred to as canned curriculum. As to learning environment, ask the 2010 grads if they witnessed continued improvement during their 4 years in high school. I think the response might be that they saw peaks and valleys. A period of strict enforcement followed by little enforcement.

Questioner said...

CEP at Clayton was sold as a way to bring a safe learning environment. But now, three years and many millions of dollars later, we are hearing that the district is working on exiting this contract.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the two unseated exec board members might consider retirement from their paid positions? If not will the pft start a 3-11 p.m. shift to accomodate the schedules of the newly elected members?

Anonymous said...

Retire? Hardly. As long as Tarka keeps them in there, they will go until they each have 40 years in the system. At 40 years, you retire with a full 100% pension.