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Why Are Contract Negotiations Taking So Long? and, Other Questions You Wanted to Ask

Teacher: Why are the negotiations taking so long?

Me: Because the guy on the other side of the table, Bob Linn, the Director of Labor Relations for NYC is vigorously opposing the demands of the union, that’s his job.

Teacher: Other unions received 4% increases in 2008 – why don’t teachers receive the same increases?

Me: The City is undoubtedly arguing that the Union chose not to accept offers from the City which were well below 4% and should not benefit retroactively – that being said the PERB principles of “ability to pay” and “pattern bargaining” will eventually play the major role in determining salary – both retroactively and going forward.

Teacher: If the City and Union agree to a rate that teachers should have received on November 1, 2009 would we receive that rate each year up until the new contract is negotiated?

Me: Probably not. As the 2008 fiscal crisis deepened the City offers in negotiations with unions decreased sharply as well as asking for give backs, analyzing the fiscal situation of the City, the mayor’s budget in 2011 and 2012 contained substantial teachers layoffs which the City Council restored. Where did the money come from to avert the layoffs? The City will argue the funds used to avoid layoffs should be “credited” against potential salary increases, the Union will vigorously disagree.

Teacher: Once the parties agree on the total amount of retroactive pay will all teachers receive the same rate?

Me: This is another matter for negotiations – should teachers who have resigned receive retroactive pay? Should the retroactive pay be pensionable for teachers who have already retired?

Teacher: Will receive the retroactive pay be paid in a lump sum?

Me: Highly unlikely – we’re talking about billions of dollars, the City and the Union will probably agree on a number of payments over several budget cycles.

Teacher: The Mayor has mentioned that contracts must include cost savings – what does he mean?

Me: Each year the Comptroller determines how much the city has to pay to fund the pension system: New York City has a defined benefit pension system – a pension is the result of years of service and the salary at retirement and actuarial calculations determine the required city payments. The calculations are significantly impacted by the fluctuations in the stock market.

… the taxpayer-financed pension contribution rate payable in the fall of 2015 will rise to 17.53 percent of teacher payrolls, or 1.28 percent above the contribution payable this coming September.

In the early 80′s the city contribution rate was 20% of teacher payrolls; by the late 90′s the rate decreased to less than 1% and over the last 12 years contribution rate has sharply increased.

In New York City, over the past 12 years our pension costs have gone from $1.5 billion to $8.2 billion. That’s almost a 500 percent increase — when inflation totaled only 35 percent.

Tier 6 will be a less costly pension plan, although it will take decades for the impact to be reflected in the city contribution rate. If the stock market jumps the city contribution rate will decline over time, and, visa versa.

The negotiations do not impact pensions – pensions are legislative – however, with the default in Detroit and the federal courts deciding that federal bankruptcy laws trump state constitutions, unions are concerned with the viability of pension plans.

Teacher: Does the teacher union negotiate health plans?

Me: No, the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) negotiates health plans for all city employees; however, UFT President Mulgrew and Bob Linn, the City labor guy will play major roles – the current contract negotiations will not specifically impact health plans, the MLC and the City will be negotiating health plans later.

Health plan costs have been sky rocketing over the last decade,

… health insurance costs [over the four years] are projected to grow about 40 percent, outpacing the next highest expenditure, debt service, at 30 percent. Health insurance will rise to nearly $7 billion in 2016, when it will equal 80 percent of the city’s projected budget deficit.

The Citizens’ Budget Commission argues

… that the current health plan costs for both active and retired employees are not sustainable,

The city’s policies are most generous with respect to retirees. It’s extremely rare for public employers to pay the full cost of the premium for family coverage for retirees under age 65. For those over age 65, no other government surveyed reimbursed all retirees and their spouses for the premium cost of Medicare Part B; most offer no reimbursement at all.

There’s no getting around the reality that the taxpayers’ obligations for health insurance for city employees and retirees will have to be controlled through premium-sharing. The CBC estimates that annual savings of $1.7 billion can be achieved by requiring contributions of up to 25 percent from employees and 50 percent from retirees, and eliminating the Medicare Part B reimbursement.

Teachers: So, the contract could give us a raise and the increased health plan costs can erode some of the increase?

Me: It’s possible.

Teacher: Would we lose some health plan coverage?

Me: In the past the health plan co-pays were increased and the benefits, the coverage, was not reduced; however, the plans could offer a wider range of choices at different price points.

Teacher: Will the just announced MTA-TWU labor agreement, 8% over 5 years impact the teacher negotiations?

Me: The Mayor announced the agreement will not impact the current negotiations.

Teacher: Do you have any idea of the rate going forward?

Me: No, since all the unions in the City are without contracts the “pattern bargaining” principle is difficult – the Union will argue the higher rates in the suburbs attract NYC teachers and the City will point to small increases in the suburbs in the last few years.

Teacher: What happens if negotiations stall?

Me: The fact-finders will issue their report – while the report is non-binding in the past they were the basis for settlements.

Teacher: Who gets to vote on the contract?

Me: Active teachers vote – not retirees – in the past the votes have taken place in school and each bargaining unit voted separately, for example, teachers vote for the teacher contract, secretaries for the secretary contract, etc.

Teacher: Will we have the contract before we vote?

Me: You will have the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), the legal document signed by the parties.

In Praise of Test Prep in the World of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards Tests

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Coach Anon.

In the pure, idyllic world of David Coleman, the Common Core spokesperson (watch “Bringing the Common Core to Life,” April, 2011) the only impact on kids would be teachers and each and every teacher would teach lessons within the Common Core, curriculum-free, skills-based and Common Core tests would only reflect the skills of the teacher without any impact from environment and context, an idyllic world that never existed and never will exist.

We test all kids in grades 3-8 each and every year and the tests are “high stakes,” for kids, for teachers and for schools.

Do some kids do better than others because they have “smarter” genes or “better teachers” or were “better prepared” or “studied harder” or come from a “culturally richer environment?”

Can we draw analogies with sports?

David Epstein, in The Sports Gene (2013) explores the classic question, “nature versus nurture.” Are there genes which determine success in sports, or, does practice determine success?

… he forcefully argues that no single known gene is sufficient to ensure athletic success. His answer to the question “Nature or nurture?” is both … Mr. Epstein argues that we often confuse innate talent with spirit or effort.

If “spirit and effort” are crucial factors, Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success, tells us,

“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger role preparation seems to play.”

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

We argue that preparing to play basketball or golf or preparing to take the bar exam requires practice, candidates spend innumerable hours taking a cram course, aka, test prep, to prepare themselves for the bar exam. Did your kid take an SAT prep course? Kids spend hundreds of hours preparing for the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT).

Ironically the leader of the NYC School System and the NYS Governor both bemoan excessive test prep,

Chancellor Carmen Farina’s latest message to principals encourages them not to go overboard in their preparation for state tests that begin in just three weeks.

Governor Cuomo’s hastily assembled Task Force also derided test prep,

Cuomo’s group made the same suggestion, arguing that schools should spend no more than 1 percent of instructional time on state exams, no more than 1 percent on local tests and no more than 2 percent on test prep.

Test prep is not synonymous with poor instruction, if by test prep you mean mindlessly taking practice tests you are correct. Test prep must meet the same high standards we expect from all instruction. Kids will be taking “tests” throughout their school lives – a classroom quiz, a graded classroom oral presentation, a graded essay or project, end of year summative assessments, Regents Exams, Advanced Placement Exams, SATs and/or ACTs and on and on. Preparing students to take tests is called test sophistication, and, the very same Department of Education whose current leader reminds principals “not to go overboard” has also prepared a 43-page test sophistication guide

Test taking strategies can be taught and practiced. The Guide begins by listing thirteen General Strategies: from a simple “Manage time effectively while test taking,” and moving towards some more complex strategies. The Guide discusses Essay Questions and suggests, “Use checklists to assure all parts of the question are answered,” and “Use key vocabulary words.” and provides a course in test sophistication, a lesson by lesson guide to assist students in preparing for tests.

Lloyd Bond, “My Child Doesn’t Test Well,” from Carnegie Perspectives delves,

It turns out that a sizable percentage of students perform well in their schoolwork but poorly on standardized, multiple-choice tests. Some may question whether this is a genuine phenomenon at all, arguing that low expectations and standards, and rampant grade inflation result in school “high performance” that is largely illusory. But I believe the phenomenon is real. There are students who genuinely perform well in school, but consistently do poorly on standardized tests of academic achievement. So what are the causes of poor test performance in the context of otherwise successful schoolwork?
I would propose four candidates: (1) test anxiety, (2) lack of test sophistication (or test-wiseness), (3) lack of automaticity and (4) test bias.

No one walks onto a basketball court or a golf course and excels, some are better natural athletes and will have initial success, unless they engage in thousands of hours of intelligent practice their skills will stultify.

Using test items similar to the items on the State tests on classroom tests is simply doing your job as a teacher – the State tests should not be a surprise. The State does provide “Sample ELA annotated questions” and some school districts have provided materials for their districts

Hopefully teachers do not stop regular lessons and begin weeks and weeks of test prep. Whether you call the instruction test prep or test sophistication one would hope instructional strategies would be embedded in day to day lessons. Teachers send messages, if they abhor test prep the message to the kids is clear and teachers are doing a disservice.

The decision-makers in the aeries of Washington and Albany have created a system – it is the job of the classroom teachers to teach their kids to beat the system.

“One man invents, the next circumvents,”

City/UFT Contract Negotiations Heat Up. and So Does the Opposition.

Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Mulgrew continue to praise the negotiations process; both have a great deal at stake. The Mayor has stumbled badly in his first three months, although he stumbled because the Governor tripped him. His request for a very modest tax increase on individuals earning over a half million dollars to fund pre-k for five years was extinguished by Governor Cuomo who insisted on funding prek through the state budget. The Mayor fought for a while and backed off only to see the charter school folk, with the support of the Governor, savage the Mayor with five million dollars of TV commercials and embedded pro-charter provisions in the law.

The Mayor needs a victory and the next issue are contract negotiations.

The teacher union contract expired on 10/31/09 – and currently every single public employee union has an expired contract – 150 union contracts.

Under the provisions of the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) regulations salary increases are based on both “ability to pay” and “pattern bargaining” principles. Management and labor can parse other contracts, city tax collections/expenditures, the national and local economy and agree upon percentage increases in each budget cycle since the contract expired and reasonable increases going forward. Apparently both sides have, in principle, agreed that the length of the contract will extend beyond the current term of the mayor.

In the last few days the New Teacher Project (TNTP), Educators 4 Excellence and Campbell Brown in the NY Post have all called for the dismissal of teachers in the ATR pool. (See Dan Weisberg, TNTP article here, E4E analysis here, and Campbell Brown here)

Why now?

The three groups are loosely linked, TNTP has consistently attacked teacher contract provisions, Educators 4 Excellence, a tiny Gates-funded fifth column within the union and Campbell Brown, a virulently anti-union voice, campaigning for a slot on Fox TV, fear a settlement may be in the near future and are trying to build public support for eliminating seniority-based layoffs.

Seniority-based layoffs are the basic principle of unions, perhaps the single issue that could lead to a strike. Simply put teachers and teacher union leaders would never support a contract that cedes seniority rules. The union would never negotiate away seniority-based layoffs and if management insists negotiations would stall.

The de Blasio administration has made it clear that it is moving from school closings to school fixing – the never-ending pool of excessed teachers will not continue to grow. The movement of 1,000 or so teachers into permanent jobs would be a one-time event – the ATR pool would disappear.

The hundreds of guidance counselors in the pool could be placed in Suspension Centers and GED Plus programs to provide much needed assistance to children at risk. Many teachers in the pool eligible to retire would probably retire, the vast number would be absorbed into schools and the small numbers who receive unsatisfactory ratings could be offered peer assistance and closely monitored. When the department ended two programs that provided GED services and created a new program (GED Plus) the department and the union created a method to select teachers for the new programs (Appendix I). While the ending of the ATR pool is not equivalent to the ending of District 79 the negotiating process shows that these complex issues have been resolved in the past in an amiable manner.

The Mayor needs the NY Times, the Citizens Budget Commission, the Wall Street Journal, the NY Daily News, the business community, the Governor, the “movers and shakers,” the public in general, to praise the settlement. The Mayor needs a “victory.”

The NY Post, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Michelle Rhee, Eva Moskowitz, the education (de)formers will trash any settlement.

A settlement must include contract provisions that are “progressive,” whatever that means. In other cities contracts have included some iteration of merit pay, a concept that does not appear to be on the table in New York City.

I have argued scores of arbitrations for the union – the ones that involved dollars were always the easiest to resolve – especially with the guidance of an experienced arbitrator. The cases that revolved around the interpretation of a contract clause are far more difficult because of future ramifications – both sides are chary to allow arbitrators to, in effect, write contract clauses.

The fact-finding team – led by Marty Scheinman is an extraordinarily experienced team – you could not find more skilled practitioners.

In the real world of politics the “spin” is crucial – and the de Blasio administration has been challenged in the arena of “spin.” The effectiveness of getting out your message determines the public’s opinion of mayors. When de Blasio threw out the first ball at Mets opening day – he was booed. Why? Were Mets fans criticizing his performance as mayor, or, because he’s a Red Sox fan? An astute media team would have discussed linking de Blasio and David Wright or Mookie Wilson, Mets icons.

One would expect that whether the contract is settled in a few weeks or a few months the de Blasio team would have a game plan – a rollout. As the settlement approaches the team should have the media blitz ready to go … op ed pieces ready to go, “opinion makers” ready to go, Al Sharpton and Bill Clinton and Arne Duncan and Charles Schumer and CEOs all lined up to jump on board.

Mayor Bloomberg was masterful at messaging – it was rarely confused, it was targeted, the entire administration was on message – from the mayor to the commissioners to the press office – the press release, the opinion makers, the reporters, and the media editors were all in the messaging loop.

Of course, “it’s never over till it’s over,” and negotiations can fall off the rails, the de Blasio “offers” might not be acceptable to the union and the mayor can decide to go the Cuomo/Bloomberg route – settle with other unions and marginalize the teacher union.

The “unofficial” deadline is June 30th, the end of the fiscal year. The stakes are high.

Skipping Over the Pond on Spring Break: Reinvigorating the Teaching Engine.

A few weeks before the spring break I’d start poring over the ads in the back of the union newspaper looking for charter flights. Air Obscure would be flying off to somewhere at $100 or so each way – my taste buds would decide: Belon oysters from Brittany, rijsttafel in Amsterdam, the food court in Harrods, choucroute in Berlin or sfogliatella in Rome, I tried them all.

Some entrepreneur travel agent leased an airliner from a third string carrier and targeted, you guessed it, teachers.

We’d race home from school on the last day of classes before spring break, pack a bag, make sure we didn’t forget our passports and find the terminal – usually in some corner of the airport and off Europe. The charter flight would land at some secondary or tertiary airport – Orly in Paris, Stanhope in London, Tegel in Berlin or Fiumicino in Rome; we’d land at dawn and a sleepy custom official would yawn and stamp our passports, and we’d wonder how we would ever get to our seedy hotels from this obscure airport.

Standing at the Mur des Federes in Pere La Chaise cemetery in Paris … imagining the French troops lining up and executing the last of the Communards.

Spending a day wandering the Floriade, the once on a decade exhibition of every bulb known to man in the gardens of Zoetermeer, the Netherlands.

Crossing over into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie…

Wandering the American military cemetery in Cambridge … the endless line of grave sites of airman who died in World War 2.

The Tate, the Jeu de Palme, the Rijksmuseum … the David in Firenze, the Grand Place in Brussels …

And all tax deductible, I think, or, at least the statute of limitations has passed.

I stumbled back to class exhausted and invigorated and a better teacher. I don’t have any data, no one measured the Value-Added test scores of my students before and after each journey, I’d like to think that my enthusiasm passed on to my kids.

Low airfares, a Europass and favorable exchange rates were a boon to teachers; today, exorbitant airfares and punitive exchange rates make overseas travel virtually impossible for teachers.

I read through my travel diary from time to time, smile to myself, we didn’t get paid much but we wandered the world. I argued politics with endless Europeans, both defended and criticized my nation, The Holocaust came to life in the Jewish Museum and Cemetery in Prague, the artwork from the children at Teresienstadt, the Anne Frank House.

Teaching is so much more than writing a good lesson plan, or sticking to the 22 elements in the Danielson Frameworks, it comes from an inner glow, a burning flame.

Maybe instead of merit pay roundtrip airline tickets….?

BTW, have any interesting stories about “tripping the light fantastic” during spring break?

Share an experience in the comment box below:

Will the Success/Failure of the Pre-Kindergarten Initiaitive Determine the Future of the de Blasio Administration? Will the Common Core Wars Be Ignited by the Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum Wars?

Sharon Greenberger, the Chief Executive and CEO of the School Construction Authority was testifying before a NYS Assembly committee, there were many students on kindergarten waiting lists in Manhattan. Greenberg was explaining the method of predicting the number of kindergarten seats, projections of census data, predictive algorithms, what today we call “big data” to predict outcomes. Assembly member Linda Rosenthal interrupted, “Why didn’t you just count the number of baby carriages on Broadway?”

Mayor de Blasio came into Gracie Mansion with two education policies: rid public schools of co-located charter schools and add over 4,000 full day pre-k seats.

The Eva attack was unforeseen and the de Blasio team was unprepared – when the dust settled Mayor Bill was a loser – a big time loser.

Pre-kindergarten belongs to the mayor, there is no Eva, the success/failure is up to the mayor.

Identify Seat and Students and Match Them Up

The easy part of expanding half day to full day pre-kindergarten classes – the hard part of identifying classrooms appropriate for pre-kindergarten – bathrooms for four-year olds, sinks, furniture and the wide, wide range of learning materials. Paper, crayons, lots and lots of crayons, books, books and more books, blocks, educational toys, I-Pads loaded with the correct apps for four year olds and music players, perhaps a piano.

Principals may not be eager to give up a room for pre-kindergarten, the rooms have to be renovated, and, most importantly, the rooms must be matched to the students by neighborhood.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has already criticized the mayor’s choice of locations, claiming the seats are in low use neighborhoods and a lack of seats in high use neighborhoods.

Student Identification

The neediest students will be the most difficult to recruit – they may live in shelters, in foster homes, in projects, and their caregivers simply may not be aware of the programs, or, not be able to get themselves organized enough to hook up with the program. Half empty classrooms, kids here one day and gone the next, kids wandering in to school late, hysterical 4 year olds not wanting to leave their caregiver, again. are all critical and commonplace problems.

A Strong Parent/Caregiver Support Program

Pre-kindergarten programs need strong parent involvement programs – explaining the importance of diet, reading to children, discipline that is not punitive, how to talk with children, ask them questions, playing with them at home, talking about colors and numbers and letters, and playing; not just sitting the child in front of the TV for hours at a time.

Recruiting and Training Teachers

Can the Department identify and train appropriately certified teachers and paraprofessionals so that they can hit the ground running? Can the current network structure support pre-kindergarten teachers? The vast percentage of new pre-kindergarten teachers are not currently teaching pre-kindergarten classes, will the Department run training sessions over the summer? Will network staffs be augmented with coaches with expertise in pre-kindergarten?

Selecting a Curriculum

Will the Department select a curriculum? Allow the network or the school to choose a curriculum? Will the Department opt in to the Engage NY Core Knowledge curriculum?

I am far from an expert, however, my pre-kindergarten experts are sharply critical of the Engage NY curriculum – they complain it is poorly-written, confusing and lacks an encompassing philosophy.

The “reggio-emilia” approach is supported by a range of private schools – and antithetical to everything the Common Core espouses. See Williamsberg Northside Curriculum Guide here,

The Montessori Model, with roots extending back into the 19th century is a child-centered model, once again, antithetical to the Common Core and has extremely loyal followers.

In this highly toxic atmosphere the selection of a curriculum can set off an explosion – the anti-Common Core versus the Child-Centered adherents.

The funding of pre-kindergartens, the dollars, are only the beginning, there will be many bumps along the road, many opportunities to be sidetracked, the Department needs skill to design and implement the program. The “reading wars” – the phonics versus whole language acolytes may be replaced by the Common Core wars – the supporters and opponents. The decisions over the choice of a pre-kindergarten curriculum may create another “war.”

Who would have thought that four year olds may determine the success, or lack thereof, of a mayoral administration?

Who Will NYSUT Endorse for Governor? Cuomo? Astorino? No One? A Yet to Be Named Working Families Party Candidate?

“Unless there is some significant change, I can’t imagine our teachers would even consider endorsing the governor,” [NYSUT President Karen] Magee said in a phone interview Monday.

Could the union back Astorino? “The field is open as to who we endorse,” she said, adding that she does not know enough about Astorino’s education policies.

In the 2010 election, NYSUT sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race.

At last weekend’s annual NYSUT convention the 2300 delegates jeered every time Cuomo’s name was mentioned. While the governor is unpopular among NYSUT members his polling is positive.

Governor Andrew Cuomo leads Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, the only declared Republican candidate for governor 61% to 26% … By a 64% to 28% voters say Cuomo is an “effective governor.”

The 600,000 members of NYSUT may have no faith in the governor, may actually despise him, may not trust him, and may feel he is solely concerned with his own advancement, willing to trade anything to benefit himself; jumping on the charter school band wagon for crass political advantage, to deprive his Republican opponent of charter school hedge fund dollars.

On the other hand he is the governor, he is the “big dog” in the state and all legislation requires his approval. If NYSUT wants a moratorium on the impact of test scores on APPR (teacher evaluation) the governor must be on board. Sitting on the table are the Dream Act, Women’s Equality and Medical Marijuana legislation and perhaps the beginnings of a major adjustment in the property tax cap: every piece of legislation ends on the governor’s desk.

At this point the governor is 35% points ahead of the only declared Republican candidate and he hasn’t even begun to run, he has a deep political war chest.

The campaign will probably be interesting if the Working Families Party (WFP) decides to run a candidate in the primary or in the general election – a candidate to the left of Cuomo who could attract liberal voters. A WFP candidate would require Cuomo to run further to the left and leave the voters in the middle up for grabs. Teachers might have an option, and, Cuomo might decide he needs a NYSUT endorsement, all speculation.

The only elected who spoke at the NYSUT Conference was the senior Senator from New York State – Charles Schumer who ran against Alfonse D’Amato for the US Senate in 1999 – he began with 3% in the early polling. D’Amato decided to run a campaign attacking teachers – Schumer never backed off, he defended teachers, and never backed away one iota. In every speech he regales the audience with his commitment to public education – he lists the schools he attended (PS 197, JHS 234 and Madison High School), he reminds us of his teachers by name, and that his daughters also went to public schools. His teachers did something right!

In 2012 I worked in President Obama’s re-election campaign – as with most teachers I disagreed with almost all his education ideas – yet – did I want Romney in the White House? Did I want a president who opposed public schools? Who supported vouchers? Who wanted to privatize Social Security? No, I worked for Obama because while I disagreed with his educational agenda he was far better than his Republican counterparts.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Chuck Schumers

New Leadership at the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT): Can the New Leadership Re-Energize the Union? Will the Members Put Aside Differences?

Every year 2,000 delegates elected by the members of the 1300 locals representing the 600,000 New York State United Teacher members gather, usually rotating annually between Buffalo and New York City, to set policy for the organization, listen to a range of speeches, honor their own and, until this year, listen to a speech by the State Commissioner and ask him questions from the floor.

While teachers in New York City struggled under the yoke of Mike Bloomberg, locals outside the city sliced budgets to comply with the 2% property tax cap, CUNY and SUNY faced increasingly proscriptive ukases from chancellors and urban upstate cities faced increasing poverty. Over the last few years the Question and Answer sessions with the Commissioner have become more and more testy. This year, no Commissioner, no members of the Regents.

Apparently the testiness spread within NYSUT leadership: Was the leadership too aloof from the membership? Was the leadership reactive rather than proactive? A few months ago the behind the scenes finger-pointed increased until an opposition slate emerged.

The opposing slates were both part of Unity, the majority caucus.

NYSUT leadership – the President, Secretary/Treasurer, three Vice Presidenst, at-large Directors and Directors from geographic districts are elected for two year terms in even numbered years.

The Unity Caucus met Friday night – Michael Mulgrew moved that the caucus not endorse candidates and the convention Unity members be freed from caucus discipline. In the past caucus members committed to support candidates selected within the caucus, similar to Democrats selecting candidates in Democratic primaries.

Saturday was an awkward day, beginning with a candidates forum. There were three slates: the Iannuzzi slate (the incumbents), the McGee slate (the insurgents) and a slate from the MORE opposition caucus in New York City.

Each slate divided up the time allotted among their candidates: the audience cheered loudly for “their guy/gal,” was a little like an 8th grade GO election.

Committees met, resolutions were debated, honors and awards to members, a tribute to Peter Seeger, and, finally the locals moved to their election sites at 4:30 pm.

Each delegate casts a weighted vote – if a local has 1,000 members and sends ten delegates the delegates would carry 100 votes each.

Each delegate affixes a sticker to their ballot and bubbles in their choices on a scannable ballot. The ballots are counted by an outside organization.

While the exact votes were not announced the rumors are the McGee slate won with about 60% of the total votes cast.

Both slates, the Iannuzzi and the McGee slates spoke passionately about the need for all parties to coalesce- the importance of the union over the ambitions of either side – delegate after delegate pleaded for unity – committed to fight together for the membership – it was an impressive display of commitment to ideals of the union. Randi Weingarten made one of her best speeches – again, a call to fight together for members, for families, for students, she slammed Cuomo in the strongest terms.

At the end of the convention Karen McGee made her maiden speech – impressive – she reminded us she was the first female President in a union in which 70% of the membership was women. She’s an excellent public speaker.

One of the most popular resolutions was calling on the Board of Regents to “immediately” fire the commissioner.

While the Governor’s support for charter schools received all the ink, it will be interesting to see the result of one section of the law giving the city and state comptrollers the right to audit charter schools. The increase in state aid was substantial, the limitations on the use of student test scores and vague comments from the Governor about the need to modify APPR (teacher evaluation) did not mollify the members.

Sitting with 2,000 like-minded union members is an emotional high – converting the passion to changes in state laws and regulations are another matter.

Singing, arm in arm, Solidarity Forever is emotionally satisfying – the hard work begins after the convention delegates return to their localities around the state.

The Governor, the Attorney General, the Comptroller, the 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate will be on the ballot in November.

Cuomo’s opponent, probably Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is a conservative Republican, pro charter school, anti-Dream Act, anti-marriage equality, on the other side of just about every issue that NYSUT supports. Parent anger could jeopardize the re-election of some legislators; there are a dozen vacant seats in the legislature. How can the 600,000 NYSUT members use their clout the change the direction of state education policy?

The new NYSUT leadership will have an immediate test.

NYSUT Leadership at Stake: The Members Will Decide Who Leads the 600,000 NYS Teachers.

In the early seventies the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) locals in New York State merged into a single state federation – the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). There was considerable doubt that the merger would succeed, the organizations came from starkly different cultures – a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO and a “professional” organization.

NYSUT is incredibly diverse – New York City, locals with 100 or fewer members deep in the Adirondacks, high wealth suburbs, college teachers in the CUNY system and across the state in the SUNY system. Per capita funding is one of the most disparate in the nation; upstate urban communities have seen industry flee and the inner cities face increasingly deep poverty and less and less revenue.

NYSUT is not a union – it is a federation of 1300 local chapters. NYSUT uses dues dollars to establish and staff regional support centers around the state – the centers provide labor relations specialists and attorneys who negotiate contracts and support the locals as well as lobbying in Albany.

New York City, teachers, teachers outside of New York City and college teachers belong to different pension funds, CUNY and SUNY have chancellors selected by appointed Boards, the Board of Regents appoints a state commissioner while New York City is a mayoral control city.

For decades Tom Hobart led the NYSUT federation with élan. Tom skillfully guided the extremely diverse elements within the federation. Tom and Toni Cortese, his first vice president balanced the complexities of the needs of 600,000 members and, from the UFT, Alan Lubin, guided the political/lobbying side across the state.

NYSUT collected millions of dollars in voluntary political contributions (Committee on Political Education – COPE) and for many years has been the major contributor to political campaigns – both Republicans and Democrats.

Some months ago the unity of this extremely diverse organization began to fray. The incumbents are being challenged by a new slate – all the candidates within the same caucus (See Revive NYSUT here and a blog supporting the insurgents here)

The annual NYSUT Representative Assembly will begin on Friday evening April 4th and the election will take place on the evening of April 5th.

Rumors abound about the reasons that the split is irreconcilable:

* have the incumbents mismanaged the fiscal side of NYSUT?
* have the incumbents been tone deaf to the needs of members?
* has the split been engineered by the larger locals?

Interestingly this a not a philosophical split between different caucuses – all the candidates are within the Unity Caucus – the caucus that has dominated the federation for decades.

For the anti-Unity folk it’s a Randi Weingarten plot, the press points to a dispute between Vice President Andy Palotta and President Dick Iannuzzi. Others just think that NYSUT has been slow to respond to the attacks on public education by the governor, the commissioner and most members of the board of regents.

Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reports,

Iannuzzi is losing ground among local unions whose delegates will vote at a convention in early April.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers, said his members are frustrated that the current leadership wasn’t as aggressive as they’d hoped in responding to the state’s rollout of the controversial Common Core standards.

“Many of the Buffalo teachers have not been satisfied with the positions that NYSUT has taken,” Rumore told Capital on Wednesday. “Let’s put it this way: If anything, we are leaning toward a change in direction, but we haven’t made a formal decision yet.”

Yonkers Federation of Teachers president Patricia Puleo said her union’s delegates are free to decide for themselves who they’ll vote for in April, and she questioned whether new leadership would make a difference in how the state Education Department goes forward with implementation of the Common Core standards. But she recognized that the city’s teachers have grown frustrated.

“People are so upset that they are willing to make whatever changes they can,” Puleo said.

Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, said his delegates aren’t sure how they’ll vote.
“We have to do what is best for our local, and we are waiting until we have thoroughly discussed where both slates are at in terms of what will work best for us in the long term,” Ahern said.

Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said teachers have been dissatisfied with Iannuzzi’s handling of some issues in the past, they “have also noted a marked change in his position with the call for a moratorium and with spearheading the vote of no confidence against Commissioner King,” he said.

“I think there is considerable dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out,” Urbanski continued, “and I think they want a stronger position to be taken by NYSUT than NYSUT has managed to take until now. There is absolutely no question about that. But they don’t want change for the sake of change; they want change in position and the issues to be the focus point, not personalities.”

United University Professions, a union of about 33,000 SUNY professors and other employees, will back the challengers.
Higher education institutions in the state are facing different issues than elementary and secondary schools, and UUP president Frederick Kowal said a primary focus has been the financial troubles of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, which might close. He’s unhappy with NYSUT’s involvement in professors’ fight to keep it open.

Universities have also faced state aid cuts. NYSUT launched an advertising campaign earlier this month advocating boosts in funding for SUNY and CUNY. But Kowal said his union has had to rely on its own lobbying.

“There needs to be a consistent and long-running commitment to the needs of members and locals,” Kowal said. “It’s just not enough to see a flurry of activity as a contested election approaches.”

Sometime late Saturday night the votes will be counted and the incumbents or the insurgents will prevail. What is crucially important is that the transition, if it occurs, is an orderly transition. The worst thing that could happen is if the losers attempt to undercut the winners.

Politics is complicated, it’s easy to attack the governor or the commissioner or the legislature, and it’s difficult to impact policy decisions. You influence lawmakers one vote, one meeting at a time, by developing relationships. As Tip O’Neill, the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives so famously noted, “All politics is local.”

A contingent of CUNY students was meeting with an Albany legislator; they were vigorously demanding more money for the city colleges to prevent a tuition increase. The legislator asked whether the students would campaign for higher taxes, or, what programs should they reduce to add funds to colleges, the students got frustrated, angry, and threatened, “We won’t vote for you – we’ll campaign against you.” The legislator asked, “Will you work with me to find a solution?” The students angrily stalked out of the office. The legislator took the sign-in list and ran it into the computer – none of the students were registered Democrats – they were not eligible to vote in the primary in which candidates were selected.

An hour later we met with a lobbyist and some clients – they advocated for legislation and left a detailed folder with a suggested bill.

In my former school district the school board, the superintendent, the parent associations and school union leaders met with all the local legislators and provided them with a legislative agenda for the district and followed up with Albany visits and visits to the legislator’s community office.

One would hope that teacher union local presidents have excellent relationships with local electeds, that they communicate regularly, that with the assistance of the NYSUT lobbying team they are a presence in their district. Impacting policy is not an e-blast or a one-time trip to Albany – it is a day-to-day process.

For the UFT the major issue is negotiating a contract and relief from the onerous requirements of the teacher evaluation plan, for CUNY the fight is over Pathways, for SUNY the proposed closing of Downstate Medical Center, outside of New York City the property tax cap, all locals are fighting for increased state aid, locals and groups of locals have diverse interests and needs.

The voters are the elected delegates representing the membership of the 1300 local unions. The “voters” vote in proportion to the members they represent – local unions decide on the number of delegates to send to the Representative Assembly. Each voter bubbles in the candidates of their choice on a ballot with a barcode – the ballots are scanned and the totals available a few hours after the closing of the polls – Saturday night.

While it is commonplace to speculate about backroom deals and grand strategies frequently disagreements are what they seem. Members of organizations become dissatisfied and an alternate leader emerges – this is what democracy is all about.

Will the representatives of the 600,000 member NYSUT decide to stick with the current leadership or opt for a new team – I suspect they will opt for the new team.

Leaders require a “third ear,” Joyce Brown, a psychologist and President of FIT describes her process,

I have a third ear. I listen, and I really pay attention and try very hard to understand the nuances. I tell people that I will listen to what they say, and will try to incorporate what I can from their suggestions if I think they fit the objective we’re trying to achieve. If we’re not going to do what they’re suggesting, I’ll tell them why. I think people deserve that. I will tell you why, and then we will proceed. I think it works, because people feel that they were listened to, and were given the respect of an answer about why I might disagree. You gain a lot by being respectful of people’s ideas.

The current NYSUT leadership appears to have lost contact with their membership – too many members feel the leadership is neither listening nor leading. Leadership requires a deft touch – the membership goals may be unrealistic – do you follow the membership even though you know the path is futile or guide the membership to another path, even though they are reluctant?

In New York City Michael Mulgrew is a popular leader – he won the last union election with almost 90% of the vote, there is an active opposition, a former very oppositional mayor – with currently a much friendlier mayor Mulgrew will have to negotiate a contract and satisfy his members – some may have unrealistic expectations. Senior teachers want as much money as possible to augment their pensions; younger members want job security and “respect,” aka, better working conditions. Mulgrew will have to check the pulse of his membership and craft an agreement that satisfies members across the board.

Apparently NYSUT leadership was unable to find a middle ground, hence the leadership struggle.

The members will decide.

On a personal note: I have worked with candidates on both sides of the struggle and have always found them dedicated and hard-working – I hope that once the membership decides the factions can come together for the benefit of the membership.

Screened Schools, School Integration, the Portfolio Model: Will the Mayor Support Policies to Foster School Integration? Neighborhood Schools? We’re Waiting.

Over 200 schools and programs within schools in the New York City school system are screened schools, that means that school leaders pick their students, a few of the schools require auditions, others a score on state tests, or, the proper juice.

Scholar’s Academy in Rockaway is a fully screened grades 6-12 school with 36% Black and Hispanic students, surrounding schools are almost all Black and Hispanic. Scholars has virtually no Special Education students, no English language learners while surrounding schools have 20% Special Education students and 10% English language learners

Scholars is not uncommon. The purpose of the schools/programs are political, usually the result of lobbying by an elected official or an active neighborhood, to create a “special” program, let’s be honest, the purpose is to segregate the school by race and class.

The department calls the constant creation of new schools a portfolio model. Schools “advertise” themselves, parents select schools, and schools that are not selected and/or have poor scores are closed. The Bloomberg administration closed 150 schools.

The new schools are “limited, unscreened,” (schools have a limited choice over applicants) or “screened” (schools require an audition or a scores on state tests); the system is envisioned as continually creating and closing schools.

An unintended consequence is the segregation of schools – the “involved” parents scramble to seek out the “best” schools, parents with “social capital,” the poorest parents, parents living in projects or the poorest neighborhoods send their kids to schools closest to their homes.

The number of screened programs has accelerated during the twelve years of the Bloomberg year; however, the “active” communities have successfully convinced the city leadership, the Board of Education and the Department of Education to create “separate and unequal” schools for decades. Mark Twain Middle School in Coney Island was created forty years ago to provide a “gifted and talented” school in a totally Black community. If your child had the appropriate test scores or the appropriate influence on the community school board your child gained acceptance to the school.

District 3, the Upper West Side, of Manhattan created a number of small, “specialized” schools with impressive names within larger buildings; schools segregated by race and class.

A just-released ACLU Report finds New York the most segregated state in the nation, and, makes a number of recommendations,

On the state level, it proposes that New York develop and maintain interdistrict transfer programs, regional magnets, student assignment or choice policies that include civil right standards, and diverse teaching staff. The Civil Rights Project also proposes breaking down district boundaries in the New York City suburbs and that New York City make racial desegregation a priority.

The testing schools have few Black and Latino students,

Fewer and fewer Black and Latino students are admitted into New York City’s prestigious academic high schools each year. In 2013, only 12% of the 5,229 students accepted into the city’s eight elite test schools were Black or Latino. At three of the schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech, state law mandates that admission be based on the high-stakes tests. But at the other five, the city is free to use other criteria, but it does not.

The Daily Beast reports,

… the report’s authors found that New York State has the nation’s most segregated public schools—dubiously led by the demographic patterns in New York City’s schools. They found that “over 90 percent of black students in the New York metro attended majority-minority schools—those with 50% or greater minority students.” Perhaps even more telling, around three-quarters of these students attended schools with student bodies that were at or above 90 percent minority students.

Parents, all parents, want their kids in the best schools, the safest schools, schools with the best teachers, the best facilities, and are willing to do whatever is necessary to get their kids into the perceived “best” schools

The ACLU Report is potentially political dynamite, the supporters of the ACLU Report tracks closely with the supporters of de Blasio – will he promote the recommendations in the Report?

If you think the pushback from suburban parents over the Common Core tests was extreme; wait until you tell parents the ability to choose their school would be relegated to a school integration initiative.

Beginning in the 70′s the courts ordered forced busing to foster school integration,

... in the Supreme Court’s 1971 decision, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, one of the first attempts to implement a large-scale urban desegregation plan. Swann called for district-wide desegregation and allowed for the use of busing to achieve integration, finding that the times and distances involved in the desegregation plan were no more onerous than those involved in the busing already undertaken by Charlotte for non-desegregation purposes. Court-ordered busing, as it came to be known, was fiercely attacked, not least by the administration of President Richard Nixon. Busing was criticized as undermining the sanctity of neighborhood schools, as social engineering, as impractical and unworkable, and as intrusive and inappropriate judicial meddling.

The Courts became less aggressive and eventually ceased to order forced busing. The ACLU Report is a throwback to a prior era – calling for policies akin to forced busing.

What would make far more sense would be the support of neighborhood schools – schools that could work with the range of assets in the community – social services, police, housing, health, job placement, the services that would enhance schools.

Will de Blasio tackle revising the portfolio model?

As we begin the fourth month of the de Blasio administration we await major announcements impacting schools.

Cuomo at the Helm: Wheeling and Dealing to Mollify Parents and Teachers and Positioning Himself for the Gubernatorial (and Presidential?) Runs.

Politics, n. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.

Over the last few days the key players shuttled from meeting to meeting, phone calls, strategy sessions, and different groups with different goals.

For the governor planning his gubernatorial run, and, just if, a run for the presidency.

Supporting charter schools deprives his opponent, probably Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, of funds from the deep-pocketed hedge funders. Not supporting the Dream Act and supporting the Compassionate Care Act (medical marijuana) is part of a strategy to carve out a space separate and apart from other possible 2016 contenders and assure a November 2014 overwhelming majority.

Commissioner John King and most of the Board of Regents blithely moved ahead with the full and speedy implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Common Core tests. Parent anger over the widespread student failures on the state tests never abated, the anger grew and grew.

The governor and legislature needed an answer – how could they assuage the parent anger?

As part of the budget negotiators crafted a compromise,

ALBANY >> As New York students began taking English language arts assessments on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said parents and students should be relieved knowing that the second round of Common Core-aligned test scores will not be included on students’ permanent transcripts under the new budget deal.

“Parents can now exhale, students can now exhale, the test scores don’t count,” Cuomo said during a ceremonial signing of the budget.

Students began the three-day testing Tuesday and were to continue through Thursday.

Under the budget passed Monday night, scores on Common Core-aligned tests for students from third to eighth grade will remain off their transcripts through 2018 and school districts will be prevented from using the scores as the sole way for determining student placement. (http://www.dailyfreeman.com/general-news/20140401/ny-budget-delays-putting-common-core-test-scores-on-students-records)

The commissioner insisted that the feds required an annual test for students in grades 3-8, and steadfastly refused to postpone the offering of the test. The last minute 37-page resolution delayed the impact of the tests; however, parents were not mollified.

Don’t tell the kids: would they try if they knew “the test scores don’t count”?

The decision to emasculate the exams did not impact teachers – the scores may not count for student but according to the governor they would count for teachers, or would they?

The morning after the legislature passed the weighty budget the governor tossed a fillip to teachers.

The Daily News reports,

“We have to deal with the issue of the effect of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations,” Cuomo said. “If you say Common Core testing was premature for students and you just halted the grades on the transcript, then what is your opinion about the impact of Common Core testing on teachers evaluation and what should be done. That is an issue that we have not addressed and we need to address before the end of the session, in my opinion.”

Arne Duncan must be apoplectic, instead of his buddy Commissioner King pushing ahead with the full implementation of year 2 of the Common Core tests New York State is taking a pass – pushing the impact of the tests to after 2018. The Secretary can challenge the Governor – threaten to withhold federal dollars – shake the federal stick at big, bad New York State. Or, just move on down the road and ignore the folks in the Empire State; of course, to ignore New York State may encourage other states to sidle around the federal regs and threats.

The next step is to craft a solution for teachers, “if … Common Core testing was premature for students … what is your opinion about the impact of Common Core testing on teachers evaluation … we need to address before the end of the school year.”

Cuomo is in the process of deftly marginalizing his opponent and making himself more acceptable to parents and teachers.

Power brokers craft solutions, oftentimes pragmatic solutions that serve the needs of the interests of the seats at the table.

Back in the summer of 1787 fifty-four white, male, mostly rich power brokers spent a summer in Philadelphia at a secret meeting – today we call it the Constitutional Convention. Madison, Hamilton and their co-conspirators made deals – they knew slavery was immoral and also knew that to insist on ending slavery was a fatal stumbling block to a deal. (See Lawrence Goldstone, Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution (2005) and Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (2001).

Arne Duncan and Andrew Cuomo are not Madison and Hamilton. Duncan bullied and bribed and cajoled states to adopt his personal agenda – Cuomo, the pragmatist, is simply moving chess pieces, and positioning him in upcoming elections.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956), Women As Outlaws