A Very Close Look At Tenure

South Bronx School posted the first twelve of what promises to be many hundreds of pages of transcripts from Christine Rubino’s 3020a hearing. This is the supposedly fair hearing process through which teachers in New York City accused of wrongdoing have to go to determine whether or not they get terminated.

This is tenure in action. Anyone who still clings to the fallacy that tenure means a job for life should read these transcripts. By the way, the “tenured” Christine Rubino was terminated in this hearing.

It has been some months since I have read a book. Yet, in that time, I have read a few 3020a transcripts from different teachers and I am always enthralled by what goes on in those secretive little rooms on Chambers Street. This is the type of reading material that can be made into a great and sad movie, like a Greek tragedy or, more appropriately, a farce.

From a distance, the 3020a process resembles a legal proceeding. There is a judge, known as an arbitrator. There are lawyers: a defense attorney (appointed by the union by default) for the teacher and a lawyer for the Department of Education (the one who tries to terminate the teacher).  There is a stenographer keeping records. There are supposedly neat protocols and procedures determined by state labor law.

These protocols, again, resemble a court of law. There is a pre-hearing where the lawyers exchange evidence, the most important of which is a list of witnesses. This process is called “discovery” in a regular court of law (correct me if my legalese is off here). Then, witnesses are examined and cross-examined by the lawyers. Attorneys can object and have those objections sustained or overruled by the arbitrator.

Upon closer look, however, the fancy sheen of these hearings hides a rotten core. We can see this rotten core in the transcripts of the Rubino case.

As is mentioned in the transcripts, Christine rid herself of her union-appointed lawyer during the pre-hearing. This is understandable. Teachers who have gone through this process raise concerns that the union lawyer is not really on their side. For example, union lawyers always advise teachers to close off the hearing to the public. This allows them to work clandestine deals with the arbitrator and DOE without input from the teacher. These deals routinely end up with the teacher getting either the pink slip or forced resignation. It seems that the union lawyers have an interest in shepherding as many veteran teachers out of the system as possible. In many cases, the lawyers advise the teacher to resign even before the hearing begins. The same thing can be said for union leaders at both the school and district level who, as I have seen on many occasions, advise teachers facing 3020a charges to merely lie down and die by allowing the DOE to take their careers from them. Therefore, even before the pre-hearing begins, the union, the supposed defender of the teachers, beats it into the teachers’ heads that there is no hope.

How hard, then, do you expect the union to fight in a teacher’s favor? Campbell Brown says the United Federation of Teachers goes to bat for sexual predators. In reality, they do not go to bat for anyone.

So, after being subject to the union’s defeatist attitude for months, Christine fired her union attorney. She saw him in (in)action during the pre-hearing and knew she was toast if he continued to represent her. She signed off on his release, at which point he gave her all of the pertinent documents given to him by the DOE during discovery. This was late in the day of February 16, 2011. The hearing was scheduled to start the morning of February 17, 2011. Christine had mere hours to scrounge up the money to find a new, non-union lawyer. She also had to get home to feed, bathe and tuck in her two young children who she raises by herself.

Needless to say, when the next day rolled around, she was short a lawyer. She knew that she was going to retain Bryan Glass as her attorney, but did not have the time to get him the $5,000 he charges for his services. She had the money, which she had to scrap together throughout the course of the previous evening, but not the time to get it to him. All she needed was an extra day, an extra few hours even, to get him the money and have him come to Chambers Street.

Therefore, the entire first day of Christine’s hearing (the day covered by the transcript at the South Bronx School website) revolves around the DOE lawyer maneuvering to start the proceedings without Christine’s lawyer. He had a lot of help in this from the arbitrator and our old friend, Randi Lowitt.  Christine was faced with the prospect of being her own lawyer that day. She at least wanted an hour to go over the humungous stack of files given to her the day before so that she could know who the DOE was going to call as witnesses that day. As she said:

… I had just gotten the packet. So I would like to read it. I really haven’t been given much time. Once I left Mr. Glass, I went home to my two children and was enthralled in homework and bath and bedtime. So I could not read that. I would like to have some time to read this and go through the documents. I need a good hour or two. And Mr. Glass will get his money by the end of today or tomorrow, so that he can take on the case. So, right now, I have no counsel.

And our good friend Randi Lowitt responds later:

The case, as I told Mr. Glass on the phone last night, and I know he wasn’t representing you, and as Mr. Kelly (the union lawyer) told you yesterday during the course of the prehearing conference, the case is properly scheduled. The timing is properly met. Nothing has been improperly done, relative to the scheduling of this case. And that is why today’s hearing has not yet and will not be adjourned. It is a properly timed, properly commenced action. And it will proceed today. You will be able to participate in it, to the extent that you wish. The Department has the obligation to bring the case forward. So, unless I’m speaking out of turn, Mr. Gamils (the DOE lawyer), he’ll make an opening statement. I assume he has a witness or two here for us to hear. He’ll question them. You’ll have the opportunity to cross-examine them. And that’s the way the case proceeds. And the next hearing date is February 28th. So there is plenty of time, between now and then, if you chose to retain counsel…

Therefore, because the case is “properly scheduled”, it does not matter if Christine has a lawyer or not. Christine can cross-examine the DOE’s first witness, which happened to be Christine’s principal, on her own. For all of the proper rules and procedures established by 3020a, apparently a properly represented teacher is not one of them. Even accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay get some sort of representation. But, hey, we are teachers. We are worse than terrorists in the eyes of everyone else.

Of course, the DOE lawyer chimes in later with this revealing nugget:

I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Department to make any type of comment on Ms. Rubino’s statements. All we’re going to say is that we believe that she was well aware that this hearing was commencing by February 3rd. She had requested the hearing. She has spoken to counsel previously. She was adequately represented yesterday. The Hearing Officer made a representation that the hearing was commencing today. She still chose to fire her counsel and she has come today without counsel. Department is ready to proceed and, at that point, we will rest making any comments regarding her statements…

So, Christine was told way ahead of time that the hearing was going to start that day. Despite that important fact, she still chose to fire her lawyer. What a horrible decision on her part! I mean, she knew the hearing to decide her career and whether or not she will be able to feed her two children was starting February 17, 2011, and she had the gall to not want her incompetent, defeatist and uncooperative union attorney to be in charge of her defense. She is just so difficult. To hell with her representation. If she does not want to play ball the way it is supposed to be played, she can defend herself. We, the almighty DOE, are ready to proceed. After all, we had an army of high-priced New York City Police Department detective drop-outs investigate her for a year, go through her garbage, question her friends and write up reports through Richard Condon’s office, and we did it with no time limit and no pressure whatsoever. We took our sweet old time and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars railroading Christine Rubino for the past year. It is only fair that she have no opportunity to get real representation or even get an hour break so she can read the thousands of pages of “evidence” we handed off to her deadbeat lawyer yesterday. Most of that evidence we have absolutely no intention of using anyway, since it is a tactic we use to prevent the other side from properly preparing a defense.

Yes, this is exactly what Mr. Gamils, the DOE lawyer, is saying.

To her credit, Christine held her ground. She held the floor as long as she could to reiterate her point that she needed proper representation that would take her one measly old day to get. She kept explaining how it was not fair that she was being forced to proceed without representation, or at least a break to give her the opportunity to prepare. At one point, she even said that she felt as if she was being punished for firing her union lawyer. That is precisely what they were trying to do. It is typical DOE: retaliation for not playing their brand of filthy ball. Retaliation with the complicity of the union.

And then we get to my favorite Randi Lowitt quote of the entire hearing:

Oh, okay. I have been reviewing in my mind the conversation we had over the past hour or so. And while acknowledging that there is no obligation at all, anywhere, for me to do so, I am going to grant Ms. Rubino’s request for an adjournment for today. Please be clear, on the record, that if State Education does not cover my fee–obviously, I am not going to let the DOE cover it because the DOE is not asking for the adjournment–and it will be your responsibility to cover my fee, Ms. Rubino. Do you understand that? If the State Education Department does not cover my fee–but I’m going to submit it to them because we have been working this and that’s the way it goes. Um, but I do not want to disadvantage you, especially when it comes to questioning witnesses, with not having counsel present. Acknowledging the fact that although you were told, yesterday, that the hearing would go forward today, you were not able to retain counsel as expeditiously as you might have wished….

So, Randi Lowitt, a woman who gets paid upwards of $1,800 a day, does not want to adjourn because she fears she will not get paid her daily “fee”. She demands that the woman she knows she is going to terminate, the woman who is blowing her life’s savings on salvaging her career, pay her daily fee if “State Education” does not cover it. This just so Christine Rubino can get halfway decent representation. Christine’s children have to starve so Randi Lowitt can keep driving her Mercedes (I assume) and living in her McMansion (I assume). Apparently, people can make a great living from destroying teachers and making inane sports references (read the transcript) all day long.

Of course, this could have also been Lowitt’s way of trying to dissuade Christine from asking for an adjournment, in which case it makes Lowitt a liar and a bully. Liar, bully, extortionist or teacher-killer, you decide.

Yet, Christine stuck to her guns and received the adjournment she was seeking. As you can read in the transcript, she refused to be bullied by the DOE, Randi Lowitt and Theresa Europe.

Unfortunately, this was just the start of many daily uphill battles Christine Rubino had to fight. We know what happened at the end of this hearing. We also know that the New York State Supreme Court overturned Lowitt’ s Draconian termination. Unfortunately, Lowitt got the case again and suspended Christine for two years without pay. That is two years of being unable to pay her mortgage or feed her children. All the while, Randi Lowitt lives high on the hog terminating, extorting and taking revenge on teachers.

This is another close-up of the 3020a process. This is what “tenure” looks like for New York City public school teachers. Oh, what cushy gigs us teachers have.

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8 responses to “A Very Close Look At Tenure

  1. When, I read your stuff…it feels so good, to have someone see exactly what has happened here. Thank you, my good friend for trying I inform the public, about what really goes on in the hush-hush world we work in. Well…done. And remember, not to be a pinch hitter….if your the next batter up..when, I heard that….it drove me crazy..and I was like don’t use sports analogies on me.

  2. … it – teaching, funding of teaching, regulation of teaching – has become such a playground game – my rules, I win, you can play, but remember I win – when it should be the most noble thing a society is doing to itself. So tragic. In the UK ‘veteran’ teachers are not so OBVIOUSLY being weeded out yet, but they operate under the cloud of ‘your experience and expertese is of no value at all unless you are a manager servicing managerialist initiatives’. There is only so long you can sustain yourself with any enthusiasm when what you think and practise isn’t seen to fit with what the bureaucracy [thinks it] wants.

    • Like in everything else, I think the Brits go about their teacher-bashing with more subtlety. We have a similar thing in the states with what you described as the “my rules” stuff. Unfortunately, we couple that here with good old fashioned American workplace harassment and exploitation, not to mention out-and-out bullying. I feel so lied to. When we were growing up and then being trained for teaching, it was all “teaching is so noble”. Now we are treated like criminals. All of the nobility stuff is nowhere to be found. This after I have spent the last 15 years investing my life into the profession.

  3. You might like my latest post related to civil disobedience. I worked at Louisiana’s DOE. I have a number of education articles I’m posting from the inside perspective of a department invaded by the Reform movement.

  4. As someone who went through the whole process which took more than 3 1/2 years from the beginning to the end, I can say with certain that 3020a is not about being fair and just, it is all about making their fees for the arbitrator, the DoE attorney as well as the union attorney involved in any case while the teacher facing the charges is the most insignificant player out of the whole farce.

  5. Pingback: WHO IS NEXT TO GUEST BLOG? A ROLE MODEL | Assailed Teacher

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