The UFT in July beat back an attempt by about 120 religious schools in New York City to remove 239 UFT-represented employees who work in those schools.
In New York City, about 10,000 at-risk children in nonpublic schools in neighborhoods eligible for Title I funding receive federally funded supplementary instruction from the city Department of Education. The religious schools, which share $74 million in Title I money, sought to replace the UFT-represented employees performing that work with cheaper, less qualified third-party vendors.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law enacted in 2015, allows for more flexibility in the use of the federal education funds and the schools sought to take advantage of that. But the city DOE, the local education agency that decides how the money is spent, decided not to eliminate or reduce the number of DOE employees in those jobs for at least another year.
“Without the UFT, we wouldn’t have survived,” said Jennifer Czerwin, a Manhattan guidance counselor and the leader of the UFT’s Nonpublic Schools Chapter. “The union put together a team of people who were wonderful. Without the union, it would have been just me fighting and we wouldn’t have been able to pull this off.”
Czerwin said the members in her chapter were “exuberant” at the news. “They are excited to be able to go back to work at their sites. They are super happy and thankful to the union,” she said.
An advocacy group representing the Jewish, Christian and Muslim schools claimed it needed to replace highly qualified UFT-represented teachers — as well as union-represented paraprofessionals, school counselors and school secretaries — for financial reasons and instead hire the equivalent of temps. The group met with the DOE to discuss it in June.
Some of these schools already had been under investigation by the DOE for allegedly favoring religious education at the expense of secular education.
“Most of us have been in the program for 10 years plus,” said school counselor Carline Petit. “This was like pulling the rug out from under us.”
Petit said she and her colleagues feared leaving at the end of the school year without knowing what they would come back to in September. “The union really stood up for us, spoke up for us and didn’t stop until there was an answer before the summer,” she said.
UFT General Counsel Adam Ross said federal education law requires that all at-risk children in high-need neighborhoods receive equitable Title I services. “The people the UFT represents are career professionals, not temp agency employees who may be here one year and gone the next,” he said. “Public school educators must meet state and city requirements for employment including years of education, extensive certification and licensing, fingerprinting and criminal background checks, and professional development in child abuse prevention and bullying prevention.”
“Jennifer, being the union’s eyes for the chapter, is the hero here,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “She alerted us at the first sign of trouble and helped the union put its supports in motion. We are thrilled by the result.”
Reading teacher Angela Parussis, a chapter member who works in Queens, says she gets results working with students in grades K–8. She said the effort to replace UFT-represented workers was “all about the money” and not in the students’ best interests. “This program means a lot to the kids and to the parents,” Parussis said. “These kids deserve certified teachers.”
The children, Czerwin said, are the true victors. “The law states that services in nonpublic schools should be equitable to those in public schools,” she said. “What could be more equitable than having somebody from the DOE with a master’s or doctorate, someone with a career in education?”