On Aug. 12, 2003, an editorial appeared in the titled “Reforming Special Ed.” The paper said New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein “has done a tremendous job” in implementing school reform and that “the turnaround in the school system must be fast and furious.”
As an employee of the school system working in Special Education in the South Bronx and Brooklyn’s Flatbush, I can attest to the fact that the changes are certainly furious. However, a closer look at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s takeover of the public school system and Superintendent Joel Klein’s “reforms” reveals a plan that, according to people who work there, will ultimately “crash and burn.”
The reorganization of this, the largest public school system in the nation, is nothing short of a corporate takeover of a public institution that less than two years ago fought off privatization by the Edison Company. Education, a fundamentally important institution still in the public domain, is now being controlled by a billionaire mayor, a big time corporate executive, and retired military personnel.
Bloomberg’s and Klein’s reforms have nothing to do with helping children, and nothing to do with quality education. Rather, they are about downsizing, layoffs, budget cuts, forced retirements, political maneuvering, replacing Democratic Party patronage with Republican Party patronage, contracting out to private agencies, and granting big contracts to their corporate bedfellows. They are also about union-busting.
The reform was supposedly aimed at trimming down bureaucracy, but instead Klein has hired high-salary regional directors, assistants to superintendents, and assistants to assistants at the same time that he has laid off hundreds of the school aides who interact directly with children in the schools.
Paraprofessionals, who assist teachers in the classroom and work directly with children, are also being laid off. Education evaluators (special education teachers), who function as case managers and evaluate children, have been forced out of their jobs due to the elimination of their title. The Special Education clerical staff has been whittled down so drastically that services for children with special needs will not be in place in September.
Highly qualified administrators, with solid education credentials who know the ins and outs of special education as well as those of their specific schools and communities, have been downsized, and those who have reapplied for their jobs are being sent to communities other than their own.
Bloomberg’s and Klein’s hidden agenda is to break the unions that serve the hundreds of thousands of people who work for the Department of Education, beginning with the principals’ union Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and AFSCME DC 37.
Perhaps most shocking is that Klein’s educational “program” was devised without any consultation with the United Federation of Teachers. Bloomberg and Klein have refused to meet with UFT President Randi Weingarten on a single issue, educational or contractual. The idea that a huge public school system could be reformed without the involvement of the very people who make it work is absurd.
Parents and the community have also been completely locked out, despite the much-vaunted hiring of paid parent representatives. This was first done by dismantling and closing the district offices around the city in the name of ending political patronage. But these are the very offices where parents and the UFT meet with superintendents to resolve educational issues. Where are parents to go now?
On Aug. 14, South Bronx parents and others in the community organized a demonstration in front of the former District 7 office. Dealing with Bloomberg’s and Klein’s “reform” is going to take more demonstrations like that one.
Teachers and, in fact, almost all municipal workers, are in contract negotiations with the city now. It is going to take a citywide, united mass movement of parents, community and the unions to take back public education in New York.
Maria Ortiz is a special education consultant with the NYC Department of Education and UFT delegate. She can be reached at