Reading Tea Leaves: Are There Signs of UFT/City Labor Settlements? Or, Wishful Thinking?

Politics is the art of the next best.
Otto von Bismarck

Among the many complexities of gauging the success of educational programs is the lack of instant success – it takes years to assess impact.

Pre-Kindergarten classes are universally acknowledged  to have enormous positive impact on children,

Numerous studies have shown that high-quality preschool and prekindergarten can help boost a child’s learning for the rest of his or her life. Nationally, every $1 invested in high-quality prekindergarten saves taxpayers up to $7 in reduced costs for remedial and special education, welfare, and related costs … Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist James Heckman shows that students who attend high-quality prekindergarten programs are less likely to drop out of school or repeat grades, and they are more likely to enroll in college.

However it will take a few decades to measure the effectiveness and see the impact on the kids, on society of a particular program.

The announcement by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott that they are adding 4,000 pre-kindergarten slots for the next school year in high needs neighborhoods was barely mentioned in the media .

The crowning achievement of the Bloomberg years may be reduced to a single press release.

For good or for bad the agenda is ofttimes set by the tabloid media, “if it bleeds, it leads,”

The principle that if you going to assess schools all teachers must be selected by the principal of the school resulted an unintended consequence: 1800 teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve.

For a couple of years the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), teachers who were bumped out of their schools  because of school closings, or in some cases budget cuts or register reduction, have been at or near the top of the media hit list. One reason is that the Mayor/Department has continually pressed the issue – the NY Post and the NY Daily News have railed against the practice calling for their firing in numerous editorials.

In the 2007 contract the parties agreed to a “voluntary severance” package,

The BOE may offer excessed personnel who have not secured a regular assignment after at least one year of being excessed, a voluntary severance program in an amount to be negotiated by the parties

In exchange for receipt of such severance, an excessed person shall submit an irrevocable resignation or notice of retirement.

Negotiations have ebbed and flowed.

This year the negotiations crept along for months and in the last week the offers and counter offers have bubbled to the surface as both sides issued press releases. The Mayor/Department is tying a merit pay plan to the voluntary severance package, which may or may not be about $25,000. (See Gotham Schools analysis here)  Merit pay is a nonstarter with the union.

Resolutions are never achieved if one or both sides are issuing dueling press releases.

On the other hand in a September 19th speech before a New York Times forum Chancellor Walcott includes an acknowledgement of the union in an explanation of Year Two of the New York City Teacher Effectiveness Pilot (See a detailed PowerPoint explaining the 200 plus school pilot here).

Chancellor Walcott,

Today, I would like to share – for the first time – results from our collaboration with the UFT on a teacher effectiveness pilot.

Walcott could have ignored the union, could have blasted the union, instead he chose careful language, “our collaboration with the UFT.”

In the world of collective bargaining it is these types of statements that can lead to serious bargaining. You might ask: how is it possible that at one hand the union and the Mayor/Department are bashing each other and at the same time, perhaps, offering a hand across the bargaining table?

During the Soviet years the experts, the Kremlinologists, parsed the seating arrangements on the reviewing stand for the annual May Day parade, who had moved closer or further from the Communist Party leader.

Both the mayor and the union must prepare their constituencies.

For the mayor any settlement must end up being praised by the influential media and for the union any settlement must bare the scrutiny of the membership.

We must not forget the “big dog” in the room, Governor Cuomo, is not so gently nudging both sides towards a settlement of the contentious teacher evaluation plan.

Chicago teachers will vote on their contract on October 2nd, a contract which achieved some of their goals and clearly did not achieve others. The layoff-recall provisions, as reported by Education Week,

Layoffs and Recalls
• When a school must cut positions, teachers rated “unsatisfactory” will be dismissed first, followed by probationary teachers.
• When schools are closed or consolidated, teachers will follow their students if positions are open at the receiving school.
• As part of a new hiring mechanism, displaced or laid-off tenured teachers with a “proficient” or higher rating will join new applicants on a hiring list. Principals must interview candidates for open positions from that list, including at least three tenured teachers, but will have the final say over hiring. However, the board of education must try to staff 50 percent of open positions with laid-off teachers. Tenured teachers not selected for rehire must be given a reason why.
• Laid-off teachers will receive up to 5 months of pay while in a reassignment pool, followed by 5 months of reduced pay in a pool of long-term substitutes.

(Summary and full text as released by the Chicago Teachers Union here)

The Chicago teachers will have to decide whether to accept the proposed settlement.

The teacher evaluation and ATR issues are complex and the eventual settlement will be neither a “victory” for the union, nor a “defeat” for the City.

The modern day Kremlinologists, the “Department of Education-ologists” will be reading the tea leaves and looking for the moments to reach a settlement.

The days of extracting the still beating hearts of human sacrifices as a sign of victory is probably not going to happen at the conclusion of the current negotiation.


2 responses to “Reading Tea Leaves: Are There Signs of UFT/City Labor Settlements? Or, Wishful Thinking?

  1. Peter:

    I guess we read the tea leaves differently. There will be no new contract until the Bloomberg Administration leaves office and as for the teacher evaluation issue? I hope the union stops amending the existing contract to allow it. Every time the union does this it gets the City off the hook and screws the members. The teacher evaluation process can wait for the new Mayor and the 4% increase that the NYC school system will not receive is a pittance to the DOE’s already bloated 24 billion dollar budget..


  2. Chaz

    Whether the new mayor will be open to rolling back Bloomberg policies and negotiate a favorable contract is to be determined. The union supported Dinkins over Guiliani – and had a very difficult time negotiating a contract.

    If the teacher evalaution is not negotiated by January 17th the danger is a loss of 4% … and the wraith of the governor. The govenor’s opposition to repealing LIFO is dependent upon a teacher eval plan in place.

    These are periolous times and the union must be nimble.


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