Open Market is Not the Solution to Abusive Administration

Complain to UFT about abusive administration close to April, and you’re likely to hear something about DOE’s Open Market system. ‘Don’t like your school? Transfer out!’ Masquerading as a democratic platform by which teachers can find open positions at their dream schools, Open Market as actually implemented is a major bargaining failure of the UFT and an absolutely dreadful excuse of a check against abusive administration.

To understand the problems with Open Market, you have to understand a little bit of UFT history. Before Open Market, we used to have a system of seniority transfers, which had its own problems, but made it much easier for teachers with more seniority to transfer schools or get positions after a school closing. This system also overlapped with unit costing, under which schools weren’t penalized on their own budgets for hiring more senior teachers. The scrapping of that seniority transfer system coincided with the grotesque creation of the semi-nomadic ATR system for displaced teachers, as well as ‘fair student funding’ rules that made senior teachers too expensive to hire. Principals also no longer had to take transferring teachers who they didn’t want; under the new system, they essentially received complete power over who they could hire. As a result, it became virtually impossible for teachers with more seniority or with histories of union activism to switch schools, but it became much easier for younger teachers without seniority (and especially without tenure) to shop around for schools.

Open Market may be good as a solution for teachers moving from Co-op City to Far Rockaway and needing a better commute, finding a school where the mission aligns with their own, or finding a position where they get to teach their favorite grade or elective class, but it will never be a viable system-wide solution to our over-supply of toxic workplaces. Indeed, our flawed transfer system has a clear link to the production of toxic workplaces. Open Market (as combined with ‘fair student funding’) means that (1) younger teachers have no incentive to fight, since they can easily leave for other schools; (2) high turnover makes it difficult to build the solidarity necessary to fight abusive administration; (3) older teachers, who can’t leave no matter what, still fear becoming life-long ATRs in retaliation for union activity; and (4) would-be strong unionists fear the blacklist they will become a part of if they fight back, since principals have full discretion on who transfers to their building.

Moreover, it’s well documented that Mulgrew and co. turn their backs on abused chapters and make them fend for themselves, disincentivizing chapters from trying to fight back since the outcome is known in advance. And, if no one is fighting abusive admin, the abusive admin is going to stay. The more toxic workplaces that go unchecked by the UFT, the more likely it is that those who transfer will find themselves right back where they started: in another school that has abusive admin because teachers transferred instead of fighting back. Therefore, here are some suggestions I would make to improve (not dismantle) the Open Market system.

(1) Bring back unit costing, so that teachers with higher seniority don’t cost too much for principals to hire.

(2) End the ATR system by bringing back a form of seniority transfer rights for excessed teachers that, yes, would bypass principal choice.

(3) Create systematic safeguards for hiring that preclude principals from being able to hire in a nepotistic or discriminatory fashion, and place chapter leaders or (a delegate of their choice) on hiring committees that have real power to overturn principal decisions.

(4) Bring back the PINI system and create a ‘staff turnover threshold’ that would spark joint DOE/UFT investigations into those schools. Make sure those committees have the power to remove untenured principals or transfer tenured principals into non-human facing DOE positions.

(5) Ensure that our UFT leadership actually supports schools that have demonstrated that they are in trouble by (a) showing up personally after votes of no-confidence (where has Mulgrew been in the past?), (b) bringing back an organizing committee to picket outside of abused chapters, (c) making abusive principals a standing item on consultation agendas with the Chancellor, and (4) not taking no for an answer in consultation if the Chancellor refuses to acknowledge low staff morale.

Our jobs are incredibly human-centered. They require us not to be abused so that we can attend to the educational and socio-emotional needs of our students. We shouldn’t feel that leaving is our only recourse for dealing with toxic work environments in schools. Many of us would rather stay with the colleagues and students we’ve come to know, if only the UFT would stand up for our rights in the workplace. To build the necessary ‘anti-abusive infrastructures,’ we need to start by voting United for Change.

Have your own suggestions for reforming our transfer system and/or how to deal with abusive administration? Comment here or email one of our co-chairs.

1 Comment

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    Pete Zucker

    Open Market is a joke. At least with seniority transfer if you were in a mad place you could get out. Not with open market.

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