Saturday, August 31, 2013

Francesco Portelos Holds Arbitrator Carol Wittenberg Accountable For Denying His Grievance

Dear Arbitrator Wittenberg, DOE Evidence Not Needed?
by Francesco Portelos on August 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


*Note: I had to jump out of vacation mode here in Greece for this one.

I cashed in my American Airlines miles and came here with my family in attempt to unwind and relax. Now since I came to Greece, I’ve really gone almost cold turkey as far as education reform and my own battle goes. I really haven’t been on Twitter and I temporarily unsubscribed from many education reform lists. I’ve archives many other emails to read when I get back to “work.” However, I was at the beach a few weeks ago and jumped on the beach bar’s Wi-Fi. I remember staring at the blue Mediterranean and being relaxed when my phone buzzed. It was an email from the United Federation of Teachers. I thought to open this email as I knew it was the reassignment location decision by Arbitrator Carol Wittenberg. It’s like not buying cigarettes when you’re trying to quit, but occasionally bumming one from a friend. The NYC Department of Education had violated their own regulation by reassigning me out of my district in Staten Island and banishing me 20+ miles away for over a year. It was a simple decision as the DOE had no proof or supporting documentation, and I, as always, was armed to the teeth with evidence.

I skimmed the email and saw ” Unfortunately, the arbitrator did not agree with our position and ruled in favor of the DOE. I put the phone down and picked up my wine glass instead and started out to the water to find my family playing. Greece was working, but the gears in my head were also on the move. I thought to download the attached PDF later.

Over the last three weeks I had read and re-read the really bizarre decision by an arbitrator who was known to be “fair” (or so I’ve heard), and exchanged some emails with my attorney and the UFT. Then, as I laid down on a hammock, under the shade of grapes and grape vines I decided to write the below email to Arbitrator Carol Wittenberg. I inserted the attached emails below the respective paragraphs.


From: “Mr. Portelos”

Date: Aug 5, 2013 11:48 AM

Subject: Carol Wittenberg Decision


Madam Arbitrator Wittenberg,

I have reviewed your latest decision that pertains to my reassignment location case. Prior to our hearing date I had not only read up on your vast and commendable history, but was also verbally told of your fair decisions by others. I’ll admit that with your history of fairness, my extensive and detailed evidence supporting my case and the Department of Education’s lack of supporting evidence, I left the hearing thinking I would be back in Staten Island and this case was “in the bag”. This makes your decision to uphold the Department’s violation of Chancellor’s Regulation C-770, and keeping me 20+ miles away, a much harder pill to swallow.

I’d like to go over some of the key elements of the case and see where we might disagree.

The issue before you was:

“Did the Department of Education violate Articles 20, specifically Chancellor’s Regulation C-770, when it reassigned Francesco Portelos to a location outside of his community school district consistent with the limitations of the collective bargaining agreement? If so, what shall the remedy be? ”

5. Assignments for Suspended Employees Suspended employees are to be assigned within their own districts or divisions. Requests for a temporary change of assignment because of extraordinary circumstances must be directed in writing to the Executive Director of the Division of Human Resources, with supporting statements for the request. The Executive Director shall confer with the Office of Legal Services regarding this request. The employee is not to be reassigned from the district or division until written authorization has been granted.

I believe we can agree that the dominant document here is Chancellor’s Regulation C-770 and it states that the department may “temporarily” reassign an employee out of their district due to “extraordinary circumstances” and have “supporting documents.” My first question to you Madam Arbitrator is “Do you feel 450+ days can be considered as ‘temporary’?”

Now I’d like to move to the “extraordinary circumstances” phrase.

The Department’s attorney, Kerri Crossan, introduced Michelle Nacht, an administrative assistant who is involved in reassigning employees, to give testimony. Ms. Nacht stated that Greg Bowen, a deputy network leader with no involvement in my school or network, told her that in the day and a half I was at the Petrides complex in Staten Island I was a “wanderer” and in a room with computers and “little supervision.” He also claimed that I was seen “eavesdropping outside the superintendent’s office”. Supposedly I was also told to “remain in my assigned room”, but in over a year we were never told by who or shown any documentation of this request. For these reasons Ms. Nacht decided to move me two boroughs away. She didn’t decide to move me to a room with more supervision, but to a basement two boroughs away where my supervisor was three floors above me. I have to add that my initial assignment at Petrides was just one room away from my supervisor, Ms. Kristine Broschart. Do you see the issue here? I went from a few steps from supervision within my district to three floors from any supervision. This all came out during the hearing though, so it should have been in your notes.

Ms. Krossan presented into evidence an email thread between the executive director of human resources, the chief executive director of human resources and Ms. Nacht that took place after the initial violation and my reassignment to Ozone Park, Queens. In the thread we can deduce that the executive directors had no idea as to why I was reassigned out of my district. Lawrence Becker even stated “not sure what reason to give.” See attached pictures. That poses the question “How was CR C-770 adhered to if there was no written request made to the executive director?” You mentioned this in your decision here, but considered it unnecessary now. ” With regard to the technical violation, the only appropriate remedy is to require the Department to reissue its written authorization, a remedy that is required under the Feldman award. However, since the Department complied with this requirement in May 2012, such a remedy is moot.” Although I agree with you that the written authorization is a moot point now, would you agree that it shows mishandling of my case and disregard for regulation and policy?

The union and I presented into evidence an excerpt of the sworn federal testimony of Andrew Gordon. I’ve attached that as well, but you should have it in your file. At the time of my reassignment he was the executive director of human resources and Ms. Nacht’s immediate supervisor. Mr. Gordon indicated that he received a call from Superintendent Erminia Claudio about my alleged “wandering” and “eavesdropping”. There was no mention of Ms. Nacht or Greg Bowen. This contradicts Ms. Nacht’s testimony and the union asked for this reason you should dismiss her testimony entirely. Apparently you did not dismiss it at all and instead took it to be fact. Two opposing testimonies from the Department and this did not phase your decision making process at all? Did you even read the deposition of Andrew Gordon? DEPOSITION EXCERPT HERE

I think my next question is also a good one. Why weren’t Greg Bowen and Superintendent Erminia Claudio called in to give testimony about this alleged wandering and eavesdropping? Perhaps because their testimony would be under oath? Since they made false accusations, that would put them in hot water. I want to add that Greg Bowen and Superintendent Erminia Claudio are currently under investigation for violation of NYC Charter section 1116. Assigned case 2013-3720 R-OSI.

I’d like to go over the allegations of wandering and eavesdropping. Madam Arbitrator did you take detailed notes during my testimony? Just to reiterate the main entrance to the complex was through a security entrance. The superintendent’s office, as I stated under oath, was seven to ten feet away and in view of the guard and security camera. (See attached picture taken a year later). How can I possibly eavesdrop even if I wanted to? Wouldn’t I be seen by the guard or recorded by one of the many cameras? Was there any video recording submitted of this wandering or eavesdropping? No, because it doesn’t exist. Actually was there any “supporting documentation” to support the claim for “extraordinary circumstances” as required by CR C 770? No there wasn’t, but you stated in your decision that the Department did provide it. “First, the Grievant helped create the circumstances leading to his reassignment by not remaining in the room to which he was assigned, giving the Superintendent cause for concern based upon two things: one, the Grievant’s access to the district’s computer system; and two, his “wandering” around in the vicinity of her office, raising concerns that he might be eavesdropping on her conversations” Again what evidence was submitted to show this? Madam Arbitrator, how did you expect me to enter and exit the building?

I also stated that I would need to go down two long hallways and three flights to get to my assigned room across the complex. Inclusive of lunch, I would do that trip four times a day. See attached schematic depicting the route. Was that the “wandering” Greg Bowen was speaking of?

You also added this as supporting the extraordinary circumstances: “… given the Superintendent’s concern, there was no other location within Staten Island that accepted reassigned employees. Therefore, the lack of another location within Staten Island in proximity to the Grievant’s home served as an additional “extraordinary circumstance” supporting the Department’s decision to reassign the Grievant to his Network office in Queens” That’s not true. A teacher in my school was alleged to have bent back the finger of a pupil and tear the shirt of another. They were reassigned to the main office answering phones. The main office of my same school that is. I was alleged of hacking my own website and was sent twenty miles away from my home and family for over a year?

In your decision you also made mention of the allegations against me. You were given a copy of the SCI report. Did you read the part where the DOE’s Chief Information Security Officer made mention that the DOE had no recourse over what people do with websites they own? Did you read their conclusion that was vague and didn’t indicate what they found I had done wrong? You also made mention that I had access to the district’s network system and was unsupervised. I was actually in a room with broken computers and had no access to any district computer or network. Although other “unsupervised” reassigned teachers in my room did have full access to computers. See attached picture. They were alleged to have been teaching under the influence of drugs and scolding children, and they were left in their reassigned district. Again, I was alleged to have hacked my own website and was sent several districts away. Does that make sense?

Finally we also included an email from Ms. Broschart, my supervisor at Petrides, that indicates she had no involvement in my reassignment. My supervisor located one room away had no knowledge of my wandering and eavesdropping? Then who told me to remain in my room? You seemed to have omitted all this information from your decision. Actually you omitted a lot of my evidence from your decision. Again, very surprising coming from the Carol A. Wittenberg.

In conclusion, Madam Arbitrator Wittenberg it appears there might have been other factors that affected your decision as facts from the Department simply did not exist.

You may also find this post of interest.


-Francesco Portelos
UFT Chapter Leader IS 49
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
*sent from my Galaxy S3. Please pardon any typos

Back to vacation mode…
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