“Big Issues:” What Education Ideas Will Dominate the News During the 2012-12 School Year?

What will be the “big issues” for the 12-13 school year? Last year was dominated by the battle over the turnaround schools – months and months of meetings and demonstrations and rallies, the mayor pulling out all stops to sully the union and the union fighting back – all culminating in an arbitrator’s decision.

At the top of the 2012-13 list:

Will the mayor move to close all or some of the 24 turnaround schools?

I have no doubt that the process will begin early in the school year.

State Ed just released the list of priority, focus and reward schools pursuant to the waiver granted NYS by the feds. (See State lists here ). All the turnaround schools are on the 123 school priority list, i. e., the lowest achieving schools. Under the state procedures schools must write plans, performance monitored by the state for three years – no progress – closing is a state option. (See State Plan for School Turnaround here)

School Progress grades will be out in October and one would expect if the grades stay the same or decline the department will move to close the turnaround schools. The process is lengthy with required plans and public hearings and a final central board (PEP) vote. Considering the antipathy of the mayor toward the union there is no reason to expect last year’s closing schools decision would change.

At a conference at NYU a few months ago a question was asked about school closings – was there a “tipping point,” a point at which the burdens on the school were so severe that resuscitation was not possible? Both John Balfonz of John Hopkins and Pedro Noguera of NYU agreed that schools had a “tipping point.” The reality of whether or not a school should be closed or supported will be overwhelmed by the politics; all schools have weighted student funding driven budgets, the days of the Chancellor’s District when the board of education supported low performing schools is long gone. To move away from schools closings as a strategy would be an abrogation of the core of the Bloomberg/Klein philosophy. I’m sure the union and their lawyers will be seeking ways to thwart the city. At this point, deja vu, again.

Will the city and the union agree upon a teacher evaluation plan by the January, 2013 deadline?

The governor has set a deadline – if a plan isn’t achieved by January 2013 school districts will be deprived of funding – perhaps leading to service reductions and layoffs. Whether the governor can use state aid as a punitive measure is open to question and may not pass legal scrutiny. Some teachers demand that the union not settle and fight to change the law. This is unlikely, the Assembly, which is dominated by democrats, is deeply wounded by the Lopez scandal and attacks on Speaker Silver will escalate. If the city and the union fail to negotiate a settlement the governor could ask for a change in the law to impose a settlement. The current law does contain a dispute resolution process – it calls for the mediation-fact finding provisions in the Public Employee Relations law (PERB). A PERB fact finding report could be the basis for an agreement.

As the clock ticks toward January the pressures will grow.

Will the interim report of the Cuomo Commission recommend significant policy ideas?

The 25-member commission has been holding hearing across the state that will continue into October. See the governor’s goals for the commission here. The hearings have been desultory – more of a whining about the impact of the property tax cap, layoffs and reductions in services in the low wealth-high tax districts, pro/con charter schools and the most ink over the Campbell Brown scree – actually using the podium provided by the commission for a job interview, probably Fox.

Dick Parsons, former Citibank CEO chairs the meetings with a wry wit without a hint of the direction of the commission. The interim report is due in December. Its recommendation could be converted to proposed legislation for the 2013 session, or, lofty platitudes. Would consolidation of school districts save dollars? Should the Triborough Law be amended? (See pro argument here  and con here. The property tax cap eased? Changes in the role of the Regents addressed?

The next meeting is in the mid-Hudson region (September 10th) followed by a Long Island meeting (October 10th), unfortunately the hearings are held during the school day.

Is a teacher contract possible?

On October 31 the union will “celebrate’ three years without a new contract. Under the Triborough Law the terms and conditions of the expired contract remain in effect until the successor contract is negotiated. Either side can ask PERB to begin the mediation/impasse/fact-finding process. Neither side seems overly anxious to push the process, although the union has publicly called for the process to begin. The end of the process is a fact-finding report which in not binding but which usually is the basis of a settlement.

The union membership seems perfectly willing to wait for the next mayor.

Will the ATR pool continue or will the department and the union negotiate a resolution?

Current department policy is that any teacher who is excessed from their school as a result of school closings or budget cuts or register reductions, must find their own job; however, under the current weighted student funding the teacher carries their actual salary – a disincentive to hire a senior teacher.

The result is nearly 1,000 teachers move from school to school covering classes of absent teachers at a significant cost to the city. The ATR pool has resulted in a hiring freeze in surplus license areas although the city just removed the freeze requirements from a number of license areas.

Once again, will the city be willing to negotiate away one of the “crown jewels” of the Klein invented Children’s First mythology? The city and the union did agree to negotiate a retirement incentive for ATRs who are near retirement age – so far, no dice. Teachers who would benefit are quick say it would save money (replace a senior teacher with a new teacher), it’s actually much more complicated, an additional health plan and the impact on the pension system of the member collecting earlier, whatever is negotiated would require legislation in Albany.

Will the State Ed Department/Regents play a more intrusive role in what happens in NYC?

In the pre-Klein days all school closing had to be approved by State Ed – under the mayoral control law, as interpreted by SED, the city is almost totally independent. The SED/Regents simply allowed Bloomberg/Klein to operate as a separate state. Commissioner King announced the city turnaround plan was “approvable,” sort of wink and a nod to the city, only to be embarrassed by the decision of the arbitrator. The Regents, led by Regent Cashin, did lean on the city over the credit recovery loophole – the city sharply curtailed the practice fearing a full scale state investigation.

The state has a detailed school intervention strategy  – a strategy at variance with the NYC policy – will the state remind the city that they have not yet seceded?

Will the legislature amend provisions of the NYC mayoral control law?

No one, except the mayor, is happy with the faux central board (Panel for Educational Priorities); a board which gives rubber stamps a bad name. A few of the borough president appointed members ask the right questions and vote against Bloomberg policies, the mayor appoints a majority of the board and can replace members at any time.

The discomfit with the present system is growing with increasing voices that argue to change the system before the next mayor is elected rather than waste a year. It all depends on who controls the NYS Senate – whether the democrats win back control, and, of course, the position of the governor.

We will not go back to the former setup, as Thomas Wolfe so accurately lamented, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

I hear teachers say, “We should only endorse a candidate who promises to support all of the union’s positions.”

Teachers are an infinitesimal voting bloc, teachers as part of broad-based coalitions of teachers and parents and advocates are a significant block of voters. As we move into 2013 and the race begins to pick up steam coalitions will emerge. Whether or not these loose knit coalitions will endorse candidates or endorse policies will be hotly debated. The electorate will select the new mayor, comptroller, public advocate and a majority of the city council is term limited – a totally new city leadership will be elected.

And let’s not forget the impact of who emerges with 270 electoral votes on that fateful Tuesday in November.

As the reputed Chinese proverb/curse asks, “May you live in interesting times.”

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4 responses to ““Big Issues:” What Education Ideas Will Dominate the News During the 2012-12 School Year?

  1. Very informative as usual! Can a “Charter School” give a teacher a “Contract” which clearly states that the teacher can be terminated at any te without any notice ?

  2. Josh
    An employment contract is a legal document setting forth the terms and conditions of employment agreed upon by the parties … if the potential employee doesn’t like the conditions, don’t agree to the contract. As in all cases with contracts – speak to an attorney before signing.

  3. Pingback: Remainders: The Common Core turns up in Democrats’ platform | GothamSchools

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