Joel Klein has been thrashing the union in the great rubber room war, winning battle after battle. Articles in the national (“New Yorker“) and local press portraying hundreds upon hundreds of incompetent teachers sitting around and receiving full pay year after year. The reality, of course, is different, but perception is reality.
In spite of slap down after slap down Joel was unable to raise his hand in victory, the law did not change. The legislature is the body that would have to change the law, and the legislature despises Joel.
The end of the 32 School Districts and the creation of the Tweed-driven Department of Education seized influence from the legislators, who Joel needs to change the law. As Joel traipsed up to Albany he was confronted with the very same people he had mauled. (“The hand you bite today may be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow,” wisdom from Buddy Cianci)
Somewhere in the depths of Tweed the strategists and the press folk have a large bulletin board, the DOE on one side and the UFT on the other. The list of Tweed “victories” is extensive, from closing 90 schools to Fair Student Funding to the ATR pool to the rubber room.
The problem: in spite of all the “victories,” tenure is unchanged, the court rejected the closing of 19 schools, the class size suit is in the courts and contract negotiations edge toward fact-finding.
The most disturbing piece of data, the center piece of the mayoral election was the great successes in education, yet Bloomberg outspends his opponent 20:1 and sneaks by with narrow victory, and, loses in three of the five boroughs. Afro-American voters overwhelmingly rejected the mayor.
Joel may be winning the battles but he’s losing the war.
The “rubber room” agreement takes one of the most contentious issues off the table, and it may be the first of a number of “settlements” that lead to a contract.
In the last two sets of negotiations the contract included changes in the disciplinary process, however, in spite of the changes the Department continued to cram the rubber rooms with teachers (currently 550), after all it was good politics.
In pre-Klein days about 250 teachers either sat in district offices or worked at some clerical task awaiting the completion of an investigation or the completion of their trial of charges. Whether a teacher was removed was a decision made by the local superintendent.
It was commonplace for the Office of Personnel Security to call a local Human Resources director.
A teacher at one of your schools was arrested over the weekend for public lewdness.
(sigh) What did he do?
It’s a she, Miss xxx from PS xxx was arrested for peeing in the street at 4 am.
We’ll take her back, she’s a good teacher and I know her father from the parish, time to play surrogate father.
School districts were communities built on relationships, now 60 networks with 25 schools each scattered over multiple boroughs, have no sense of community.
How can the parties be battling each other one day, signing a significant agreement the next, and go right back to battling?
Wars end with capitulation, the victor holding the still beating heart of the loser over his head and screaming his tribal chant.
Contracts are negotiated with both parties standing on the steps of City Hall praising the agreement.
The time may be approaching when the mayor decides that ending the educational battles will garner him more political creds than continuing the war.
The skill will be in crafting an agreement that is a win for the mayor and a win for the union.