I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, July 26, 2013

How the Newark Teachers Union Shot Itself In the Foot

By now, those of us in Jersey are well aware of the construction trade unions' endorsement of Chris Christie, the biggest foe of public worker unions in the Northeast. I guess these supposed "allies" of teachers and cops think Christie's "pro-business" policies will lead to more jobs, even though the evidence suggests Christie is very bad for economic growth and job development.

Whatever: it still stings mightily when, as a teacher, I see my union "brothers and sisters" out there shilling for a man who has done more to take money out of my family's budget than any other politician in the state, and who is gearing up for a run at national office. Weren't we all supposed to be sticking together as a united labor movement? After all, the leaders of New Jersey's public worker unions have happily stood up and endorsed public works programs when they meant creating union construction jobs.

Take, for example, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, Joe Del Grosso [annotation mine]:

Here's Del Grosso supporting the Teachers Village project in Newark that, apparently, created union construction jobs for AFL-CIO members. Keep in mind that the NTU is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, which is, in turn, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. And it was only with the AFL-CIO's support that the developers of Teachers Village could get the New Markets Tax Credits necessary to make this project so lucrative for the big-money boys who financed it.

So it was, of course, perfectly natural that Del Grosso would support a project that would create jobs for AFL-CIO members in the building trades. But his members - the teachers and support staff of the NTU - ought to ask themselves: at what cost?
Normally, I wouldn't think this was a particularly noteworthy story: how TFA chooses to organize itself isn't really a big issue. But then I took a look at who serves on the Advisory Board for TFA-Newark, which will undoubtedly be the hub around which the state-wide TFA is built:

Advisory Board

Ron Beit, Partner and CEO, RBH Management
Ron Beit - hmm, where have I heard that name before? Oh, yeah, that's right - he's the developer behind Newark's Teachers Village:
Remember the name: Teachers Village. It's a $150 million, mixed-use development that just broke ground with great fanfare in Newark. The idea is that teachers will live in the complex and teach at one of the three charter schools that will occupy the site.

As you might imagine, your taxpayers dollars are funding this experiment:
The project was awarded nearly $40 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority and allocated $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion. Other public financing came from the city of Newark, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, according to an EDA memo. Private financing came from Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial Corp., TD Bank and New Jersey Community Capital, Beit said. In the early months of the recession, Beit said, Berggruen’s unwavering commitment to the project — Berggruen said he considers his investment "long-term" — brought everyone else together.
$100 million in tax credits; not too shabby. If anyone tries to convince you that billionaires are interested in charter schools solely out of altruism, point them to this project. Why else do you think the biggest Master of the Universe of them all showed up?
A veritable who’s who of real estate developers, corporate leaders and elected officials gathered this morning to celebrate the groundbreaking of Teachers Village in downtown Newark and mark the start of a major project now underway.
The crowd of more than 200 piled into a tent at the site at the corner of Halsey and William streets, two blocks from the Prudential Center. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose urban investment group helped finance the project, said projects like Teachers Village are exactly the types of opportunities they look for to support economic growth. World famous architect Richard Meier, who was born in Newark and designed the buildings, said the day was “more than a homecoming, it is a dream come true.” The majority of project investors are from New York, including lead developer Ron Beit of RBH Group. [emphasis mine]
I'm going to have a lot to say about this as I keep digging over the next few weeks. For now:
  • The apartments in the complex are studios to two-bedrooms that will range from $700 to $1,400 a month. Who do you think will be attracted to this housing: young people just starting out, or older couples with families? So much for experienced teachers working at these charters, although that has always been one of the key points of the charter "movement," hasn't it? Even here in Jersey (thanks, Darcie).
Beit's got himself one sweet deal, doesn't he? He uses $100 million in tax credits to finance a project in Newark, then lines up a group of charter schools as his business occupants, who will pay their rents with taxpayer funds.

Then, as if that isn't enough, he sets himself up to direct a steady flow of college-educated renters right into his residential units - through TFA! In fact, TFA has a page where prospective "teachers" can figure out their expenses when they move to Newark. By default, rent is listed as $1150: right in the range for units at Teachers Village. There's also a happy-happy neighborhood description on the TFA-Newark website: I don't think a real estate agent could have written one better.

This is hardly a new idea: in Baltimore, 70 percent of Miller's Court's residents are TFAers. Again, the financing was helped by New Markets Tax Credits.

Now, I want to be fair: there is no reporting that I have seen that confirms TFA has signed an agreement with Teachers Village akin to the deals they cut in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. But when you look at the connections TFA has to Newark and Teachers Village, it's clear that a formal deal isn't even necessary:
  • The primary developer of Teachers Village, Ron Beit, sits on the board of Teach For America - Newark.
  • One of the three charter schools housed at Teachers Village, TEAM Charter School (a KIPP school), is run by Ryan Hill, a 1999 TFA alum (Hill has also been asked back to cheer on new TFA grads).
  • KIPP was instrumental in securing supplemental financing for Teachers Village: "With so many Teach For America corps members and alumni involved in TEAM Schools, the broker was eager to help both organizations."
  • Another occupant of Teachers Village, Great Oaks Charter School, "strongly encourages" TFA alumni to apply.  
  • Cami Anderson, the pro-charter State Superintendent of Newark, is the former Executive Director of TFA-New York and a 1993 TFA alum.
  • The Foundation for Newark's Future, fueled by the $100 million grant from Mark Zuckerberg, gave $500,000 to TFA.
There is little doubt that TFA has many ties to Teachers Village, and that many of its corps members will rent apartments there. There is little doubt that the charter schools occupying Teachers Village will not have a unionized staff. And there is little doubt that Teachers Village is yet another step in the charterization of Newark's schools - a process that has led to budget cuts and school closings against the will of parents, students, and the elected yet powerless school board.

Newark Public Schools, under state control for decades, has already announced its intention to layoff staff; NTU leadership walked out of a budget meeting in protest. The unionized teaching jobs in Newark are being converted into non-unionized teaching posts in charters, often filled by TFA corps members.

And yet, despite all this, NTU's leaders have heartily endorsed Teachers Village: a project that will accelerate the growth of charters and the deunionization of Newark's Schools.

Is NTU unaware of what is happening in Chicago? In Philadelphia? That TFA is still pushing to place its members in these cities even as experienced, tenured, unionized teachers are being laid off? That non-unionized charters are an important part of TFA's clientele, with one-third of TFA's recruits placed in charters? Given all this, how does supporting Teachers Village help support NTU members?

As I have said many times before: I am a union guy. AFT-NJ and the NTU know that I am on their team. And I completely understand that when you're part of a larger organization, you sometimes have to do something you don't particularly want to do, if only to show solidarity.

But this, in my humble opinion, goes too far. It's fine to create private-sector construction jobs through public investment; we should do a lot more of that (remember the ARC tunnel, Christie-supporting union members?). But we shouldn't create construction jobs at the expensive of unionized teacher jobs.

Let me ask NTU leadership something: do you think Karen Lewis out in Chicago would have signed off on this plan? Maybe "WWKD?" should be your mantra from now on...

We gotta start thinking about the long game, fellas. I'm just trying to get you to see that.

This blog remains a proud and loyal supporter of AFT-NJ, and the Newark Teachers Union.

(h/t to the reader who tipped me off to this. Keep 'em coming...)


history teacher said...

Not only are we supporting this but we are also paying for it. Here is an excerpt from Randi Weingarten's speech that she gave during the AFT Convention last year in Detroit.

"One of our partners, the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust, or HIT, which is funded largely by building trades’ pension funds but also by educators’ pension funds, has helped create affordable housing for teachers. Through its subsidiary, Building America, HIT is moving forward on plans to invest in the new teachers’ village in Newark, N.J."

Ellen said...

I follow several labor union pages on fb - it always shocks me when the anti-teacher comments start. I guess "solidarity" only goes so far. In WA state the representative union assembly voted to strengthen our ties to other unions - I argued against it because it means continuing a no raid agreement with another union that actively supports policies detrimental to teachers and classified employees. Where is the benefit when taken in the context of stories like this? Feeling very discouraged here on the west coast...

ed notes online said...

Don't know how many times I can say it: Vichy? Quislings?

Mrs. King's music students said...

Studios and two bedroom apartments would definitely appeal more to young teachers just starting out. Especially the untenured ones that just said no to the NJEA in Newark. If I'm following your rationale correctly, we might also conclude that this group, previously neglected by the NJEA, is actually being targeted (or wooed) by Christie adherents who have detected some anti-union sentiment in the air.

Gee - whatever should they do? Continue to pay dues to a union that has no obligation to them, or work for a school system that will supply affordable housing?

giuseppe said...

The NJEA does not operate in Newark. The teachers in Newark belong to the AFT, not the NJEA. So blame the AFT not the NJEA. Having no union representation doesn't sound like a particularly good idea.

history teacher said...

Mrs. King - the main collective bargaining unit in Newark is the NTU (AFT affiliate). The NTA (NEA affiliate) does operate in Newark as well, but they are mainly the nurses and teachers that have chosen to pay dues. But what is troubling is the scenario that you present: "Continue to pay dues to a union that has no obligation to them, or work for a school system that will supply affordable housing?" Why are those the only two choices? Why can't they get into their union jobs and fight to make their unions better? It is happening all over the world. Workers are beginning to fight back and it is our responsibility to show these young people the role that they are playing in this struggle.

Mrs. King's music students said...

Amen History Teacher. I did my first 3 years of teaching in Worcester MA, where believe it or not I represented 47 music teachers for the WEA and gave my poor supervisor the wild ride of his life - protecting me from angry principals. In retrospect, I know that the only reason teachers like me were able to teach and music students were able to learn in Worcester were the strength of character exhibited by our union president (Ms Janet DeFault) and my Arts Supervisor. Oddly, the Superintendent of Worcester Schools at the time frequently threw wrenches in our spokes but was also a man of character. Go figure. I left Worcester thinking strong union/strong BOE made for strong public schools.

However, for family reasons, I came back to Jersey. I've taught here for 10 years, am certified supervisory, and generally end up doing much of my supervisors' work for them (instead of them). The NJEA is perfectly well aware of me and lots of other teachers like me. Their decision to pit half the membership against the other and bargain away our rights is a conscious one, and they have a strong tendency to blame their victims for their own actions.

Finally, you sound young. Don't let my bad attitude deter your righteous quest.