Will a Teacher Evaluation Agreement Be Reached in NYC? a Contract? an ATR Agreement?

At a 90-minute interview on Wednesday evening Chancellor Tisch was optimistic, more than optimistic that a teacher evaluation plan agreement will be reached by the mid-January deadline. The Chancellor is either a glass half full type of person, has her ear at the door, or a little bit of both. If an agreement is not reached the city faces the loss of $300 million, and, the union the wraith of that guy living in sin in the executive mansion in Albany.

Almost under the radar the Public Employees Relation Board (PERB) has assigned three arbitrators to the fact-finding panel that will eventually recommend a new contract.

From time to time the department and the union have discussed some sort of separation incentive for ATRs.

These are not different people, the union negotiating committee members and the NYC Office of Labor Relations (OLR), with department input, has been discussing all three issues for months.

Let me make it clear: I have absolutely no “inside” information. The parties, rightfully, keep the discussions/negotiations close to the vest.

Teacher Evaluation: 495 of the 700 school districts in New York State have submitted plans; while the plans are dense, frequently over 100 pages in length, they are rather “vanilla.” In the 60% section many of the plans call for “one announced and one unannounced lesson observation a year, a few involve peer involvement in the evaluation process. A complex piece that will continue to evolve is how to assess the almost 80% of teachers who teach non-tested subjects. The SED is a using a Student Learning Objective (SLO) format to assess teachers in non-tested subjects for the 20% section of th law – I strongly suggest that you view the videos that describe which students will be assessed, called the 50% Rule, an overview, called SLO 101  and the 34-slide roadmap. Remember: you will be tested on your understanding of SLOs and your next check will be withheld if you don’t received at least a “developing” score on understanding the SLO process. (Only joking …)

The contending sides have had innumerable meetings – from my perspective the current U-rating appeal procedure is broken – almost all of the unsatisfactory ratings are sustained by the chancellor – in the former days perhaps 90% were sustained … it was a reasonably equitable process. The negotiating gulf is significant but not huge. I frequently hear cries – “Why do we have to agree at all? Let’s give up the money; the City Council will fill in the lost dollars.” Well, there is no guarantee and thousands of teachers would be laid off, and, let’s not forget the governor’s 70 plus percent approval rating. The governor has taken the position that there is no need to amend the seniority layoff laws (“last in, first out”) due to the teacher evaluation law which, in theory, will rid the system of incompetent teachers. No agreement, the “last in, first out” may be gone – including the ATR pool – it could mean excess = layoff. The union leadership must be nimble. (See discussion of Newark Contract ratification debate here)

As Chancellor Tisch explained, “five years down the road the system may look very different.” As we move into years two and beyond the plan will be tweaked, perhaps numerous times.

The Teacher Contact: The fact-finding process, very quietly, has begun. Months, many months, down the road, absent an agreement in the interim the panel will produce a fact-finding report which is not binding but in the past has provided a framework for contract settlements.

The cynics argue: don’t go to fact-finding, wait for the next mayor. Who is to say the next mayor will open the city coffers? Who is to say that by January of 2014 the nation is not in a “double-dip” recession? Or, a Romney presidency will sharply reduce dollars to education and to states driving the city to draconian cuts in funding and services?

Remember little things like health plans for active and retired members are negotiated separately from the contract and currently cost over a billion dollars a year. In other words, once again, the union leadership must be smart.

In Albany there is growing pressure to amend the Triborough Law, which requires that expired contracts remain in place until the successor agreement is in place.

These are perilous times for teachers and teacher unions.

The ATR Mess: The city and the union have, once again, been discussing some sort of separation incentive, a lump sum payment to encourage retirement or irrevocable resignation. I know teachers ask why not a buy-out – allowing teachers to retire before they have accumulated sufficient years or age – that type of  settlement probably requires approval by an outside actuary and legislative action.

Deadlines result in pressures on both sides and the governor set a mid-January deadline for negotiating a teacher evaluation plan. The possible loss of $300 million would devastate a school system already reeling from a series of cuts. For the mayor ending his mayoral tenure with dramatic cuts and teacher layoffs may be unpalatable. On the union side appearing recalcitrant and angering a powerful governor could have dire consequences.

In baseball trades you will occasionally read about a trade with a “player to be named.” One side added a “sweetener,” a low minor leaguer from among a wide choice of players; both sides want fans and the media to praise the trade.

The mayor has to stand on the podium and tell the public, “…this settlement is good for the children and the City of New York,” and the union president needs the support of his union members who vote on the plan (only active members, not retirees vote).

A ticking clock may speed up the pace of the negotiating process.

Endgame is a skill, in chess and contract negotiations.

One response to “Will a Teacher Evaluation Agreement Be Reached in NYC? a Contract? an ATR Agreement?

  1. Peter:

    I usually agree with you but not here.

    First, any Mayor would be insane not to start out their term with labor peace with the teachers and iis imposssible to believe the union will negotiate with the Mayor when he already stated that there will be no retroactive raises.

    Second, the Governor already said that the Triborough Amendment will not be open for discussion under his Administration. Therefore, it is not an issue.

    Third, it is the ATR issue, not the ATR mess, The union has been very firm in not selling out the ATR and I take Michael Mulgrew at his word when it comes to protecting the ATRs..


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