Weingarten's War

The Teacher Boss Puts Bloomberg on the 'Bad Step'

Strangely, while she told the Voice she was a per diem for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years, her records list her as a full-time teacher. Because she was credited with the required two years of full-time service she doesn't even claim she performed, she was given a permanent certificate in September 1996. She has been on union leave since 1997, accumulating a total of nine years of pensionable city time though she only did one semester of full-time teaching.

In fact, her speech's obsession with power politics was itself out of touch with the far more professional concerns of teachers at the conference. When the chancellor appeared at the morning soapbox and took questions for more than an hour, teachers raised substantive issues ranging from the science curriculum to the fate of bilingual education. During breaks in the main program, teachers swarmed around the Rhinelander Room at the hotel, which was filled with UFT booths offering teaching guides, and packed workshops that were apolitically educational.

While the teachers at the luncheon were receptive to her attacks on the mayor's plan, they might just as easily have kept an open mind about it, had Weingarten instead delivered a mixed speech, reviewing its pluses and minuses. That's what she was doing in January when she bearhugged Klein at a meeting of the union delegate assembly, pushing them to back the changes, though adding a series of caveats to the resolution. Then she was praising Klein's 10 new regional superintendents as the cream of the crop, and calling Klein "brave" for choosing a single citywide curriculum.

The Times quoted her in February as saying, "I have people telling me, 'You're being too open about this, not cautious enough.' But if the system isn't working and someone has an idea that could theoretically make things much better, why not try it?" Defying the logic of her own question, she's now turning her union into a saboteur, prepared to kill the reform from within.

Seismic swings are hardly new for her. She endorsed Alan Hevesi in the mayoral primary of 2001, Freddy Ferrer in the runoff, and Mark Green in the general, but managed to get the best contract in union history from the only candidate she didn't endorse. She gave the union's highest honor, its 2002 John Dewey award, to George Pataki to get his support for the new contract, even though she'd presented the same award in 2000 to the lawyers who were suing Pataki to force change in the state aid formula. She endorsed Pataki, only to watch him propose the biggest school cuts ever.

Now, blessed with a mayor who's made education his top priority, and backed three extraordinary tax increases to help finance schools, Weingarten has bizarrely positioned her union as the advance guard for whatever 2005 campaign emerges against him. Part pout and part powerplay, her sudden swing may make her the center of her own future storm.

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