a big day

Ballot count, "like watching paint dry," underway in UFT election

Julie Cavanagh, speaking to UFT members at Murry Bergtraum High School last week, is running against union President Michael Mulgrew in this spring's election.
P.S. 15 teacher Julie Cavanagh, seen during a campaign stop earlier this year, ran against UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this year’s union elections, whose winners will be announced today.

The United Federation of Teachers’ internal election season comes to a close today when a vote count decides who will be the union’s leader for the next three years.

Current President Michael Mulgrew is expected to win another term easily, after garnering 91 percent of the vote three years ago. But more than 90 other positions are also being filled, many with significant decision-making power. The vote also offers an opportunity to gauge dissent within the union at a potentially pivotal moment for education in the city.

The vote count is taking place at a Holiday Inn on 57th Street in Manhattan, where about 70 employees of the American Arbitration Association are processing ballots that have rolled in by mail from UFT members across the country.

The UFT’s elections committee decided that only union members can attend the public vote, according to Jeff Zaino, vice president of AAA, which handles elections for unions across the country. Representatives of each of the union’s internal parties are on hand to observe the process.

But there isn’t actually that much to see, Zaino said. The election workers are opening shrink-wrapped stacks of envelopes carted over from AAA’s headquarters, then pulling ballot sheets out individually to run them through a scanner. At some point, the workers will take a break to consume about $1,000 worth of pizza. Then they will return to scan more ballots.

“It’s like watching paint dry,” Zaino said. “It’s really boring.”

Only a fraction of union members vote in leadership elections, and a significant portion of them are retirees whose votes tend to fall heavily with Unity, Mulgrew’s part, which has never lost a leadership election. Still, by the end of the day, the union will know how big a bite the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a minority caucus, has taken out of Unity’s total.

“MORE had two goals in this election campaign: To build a grassroots movement of educators and school-based workers and to replace the current UFT leadership,” the group wrote in a statement released Wednesday night. “Whether or not we succeed in the latter goal, we are confident that we made important strides toward the former. … We have made a bigger splash in this election than we thought possible.”

The group is throwing a “victory party” tonight to celebrate its impact on the election, citing a growing social media following and interest in its campaign literature from schools in all five boroughs. And it has also vowed to maintain a collegial rivalry with Mulgrew and his deputies into the next union administration.

“If we do not win this vote, we will work with the elected UFT leadership when they stand up and fight for educators, students, and parents,” the caucus’s statement said. “We will also continue to challenge the UFT leadership when they don’t.”

A second minority group, New Action, opposes some of Mulgrew’s positions but has endorsed his candidacy.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.