Commissioner King versus the Teachers and Principals of the State of New York, Can the Breach Be Healed?

As Commissioner King was introduced to the 1600 teacher delegates at the NYSUT Convention a few hundred teachers stood up, turned their backs and walked out of the auditorium.

The Commissioner is looked upon as an enemy, not a partner.

The tradition of NYS Commissioners of Education addressing the annual state teacher union (NYSUT) convention and answering questions from the audience is decades old. Rick Mills was tedious, aka, boring. David Steiner was frank and charming.

Commissioners and the union have always had an amicable relationship, an unspoken covenant that regardless of the disagreements both sides would work together.

The covenant is shattered.

In the spring of 2010 after months of negotiations Commissioner Steiner, NYSUT President Ianuzzi and UFT President Mulgrew agreed on a new teacher evaluation plan: 20% based on student scores on state exams and 80% negotiated between the local union and the school district and approved by the state. Last year a broad-based task force spent six months hammering out regulations to flesh out the law.

Without enthusiasm, the unions agreed to final regulations; days before the regulations were adopted by the Regents the Commissioner dramatically changed the proposal. With three dissenting votes (Cashin, Rosa and Tilles) the Regents approved the regs and the union challenged the regs in court.

The court sustained the union.

After the Governor intervened a compromise was reached. In New York City, for the first time, teachers who received an unsatisfactory rating would receive an external review.

Teachers and principals around the state were livid and Commissioner King became the subject of their ire. Carole Burris, a principal on Long Island crafted a highly critical letter, signed by a quarter of the principals in the state.

At the NYSUT Convention Vice President Maria Niera vigorously attacked the Commissioner,

“We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore!” Neira shouted out.

Vice President Andy Pallotta attacked the Governor and the legislature,

“The tax cap is also an assault on democracy, as a 60-percent super majority is now required to exceed the cap. The new pension tier is an assault on future generations that undermines their retirement security.”

“What would you call a governor,” Pallotta asked delegates, “who imposes the largest school-aid cut in the history of New York, imposes the most destructive tax cap law in the nation and who reduces the pensions of public employees?

“Well, it ain’t pro-labor!” he said to a spirited response from the crowd.

After the delegates walked out the Commissioner answered questions from the audience for a half hour – for King, a really, really long half hour.

Read the questions and King’s answers here, and, if you choose, send in your own question.

Can the relationship be rebuilt?

How did the King-NYSUT relationship deteriorate so quickly? And, can it be repaired?

Is King the culprit, or, is he just “carrying water” for the Governor?

Difficult questions.

The key to rebuilding the relationship is the Regents – the seventeen member policy board led by Merryl Tisch.

The Regents must lead – they have responsibility to heal the breech between the Commissioner, teachers and principals in the 4000 schools around the state.

We do know that if the relationship is not repaired the heart and core of the administration’s education program, the teacher evaluation plan, will eventually crash. You cannot impose a plan that is anathema to the core element of the plan: teachers and principals.

Sean Corcoran, a highly regarded NYU professor has been highly critical of the value-added model: it cannot accurately measure the predicted impact of teachers, (see article here)

It’s time for leadership.


5 responses to “Commissioner King versus the Teachers and Principals of the State of New York, Can the Breach Be Healed?

  1. We should have supported Thpson!we should have never given back our 1.25% ! When are we going to play hardball?


  2. @ Josh…I do not know the validity of this but the union always said that our recent givebacks have been to prevent layoffs. I believe the layoffs were a bluff and while I would not want to be in a position of being laid off (I am very secure in my position), I think Mulgrew should have called this bluff and if some were laid off, it would be the mayor at fault, not the union.


    • Guys
      Apples and Oranges – the reduction of the fixed value of TRS investments was reduced from 8.25% to 7% – in an era when the fixed return on investments approaches zero 7% is a spectacular return. As far as givebacks, there were none – the union worked with the City Counsel, especially Quinn (not a teacher favorite) to avoid layoffs. Outside of New York City teachers unions have agreed to a range of givebacks to avoid layffs – freezing of step increases – layoffs are commonplace around the state. Keep in mind that seniority-based layoffs are at risk. The State Senate already passed a bill ending LIFO, the Governor has an ambiguous position – in these perilous times teacher unions must be nimble. No benefit is “safe.”


      • Josh Gutterman

        Why did the three other major unions get 4% each at the same time that we received nothing? Al Shanker allowed layoffs n the union went up with raises! I was laid off n wasn’t angry since I got my job back n benefitted from the raises! The Mayor threatens all the time n we shouldn’t allow him to get away withit. Also, since other localities gave in ,their salaries in LI were way ahead of ours !


  3. Pingback: Remainders: Ravitch says N.Y. is getting the tests it’s paying for | GothamSchools

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