Why did the negotiations fall apart at the last minute? A Vengeful Mayor? Next Steps?

Why did the Mayor v. Mulgrew, aka, City v. Teacher Union negotiation crash at seemingly the last moment?

As I noted in a previous blog “the last 10%” is the steepest part of any negotiation – the parties must address the most intractable issues. In the current set of negotiations over the teacher evaluation plan required by state law the parties had been in almost round the clock talks for a week with a January 17th deadline set by the governor.

The negotiation process is “hurry up and wait,” one side makes an offer, the other side mulls the offer, discusses among themselves and eventually crafts a counteroffer, the “mulling” will take hours. At the end each session that parties agree on what they previously agreed upon.

The goal is to sign off on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and, submit a plan to the state in a rigid template format.

The current teacher evaluation law requires that the parties negotiate the “local 20%,” and the implementation of the 60% based on principal observations.

While critics of teacher evaluation plans rail against the use of assessments based on student test scores, commonly referred to as Value-Added Modeling (VAM) the New York State law requires that 20% of the score will be determined by the teacher VAM scores, or, in non-tested subjects, school/school district created Student Learning Objectives; the use of VAM is not part of the current negotiations.

The state approved plans are long and complex- most are well over a hundred pages long.

After thousands of hours the parties apparently reached an agreement Wednesday night only to have the mayor veto the plan.

One of the union negotiators detailed the process including links to department documents which are direct contradictions to claims of the mayor.

Strangely, the two issues the mayor objects to are not “hot button” issues to the rest of the education world.

The June, 2015 sunset date:

Over 90% of the approved plans, emphasize, plans approved by the commissioner, include a one or two year sunset clause. When asked about the impact of a sunset clause Commissioner King and Regent Tisch both did not foresee an issue. Regent Tisch proffered that the law would undergo changes, tweaks, over the months and years ahead. When the mayor explained that the union will allow the plan to sunset, to expire, thereby undercutting the intent of the law, he is alone, the other 700 plus plans accepted a sunset clause, as well as the state commissioner and the governor.

Is he more perceptive than all others, or, just seeking a reason to reject the plan?

Expedited processes to resolve disputes:

Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process that avoids going through lengthy and expensive litigation. In labor and commercial contracts the parties to the agreement commonly establish a process utilizing jointly selected arbitrator(s); s/he renders a final and binding decision within parameters established among the parties.

The Department, by design, has clogged the current contractual grievance process by forcing the union to take virtually all disputes before an arbitrator – there are so many cases that the process commonly takes more than a year. Once before the arbitrator the Department frequently settles the case – agrees to a non-precedential settlement. The union insisted on embedding a process that would take weeks instead of years.

Expedited arbitrations are commonplace. Under the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan that was part of the contract in the pre-Bloomberg years teachers could file grievances argued before an arbitrator in an expedited process.

The union and the department agreed on an expedited procedure to resolve disputes – an agreement that the mayor refused to accept.

The mayor has attacked the arbitration process – attacked arbitrators – which is outrageous. Arbitrators are jointly selected and can be removed from the panel by either party. To revile an arbitration process is to revile the rule of law.

January 17th has come and gone – the governor will move forward to reduce city school funding by $250m, which will lead to midyear reductions in school funding and, perhaps, the city will threaten midyear teacher layoffs.

The mayor has raised the ante.

The print media will continue to pillory the union.

Next steps: draconian midyear cuts, with possible staffing layoffs creating anger and finger pointing in the school community. Is the union responsible? Are they simply undermining an evaluation plan that is intensely unpopular among union members? Is the mayor, vengefully, going to battle the union each and every day, regardless of the consequences, until his term ends, with the support of the Post, the Daily News and the Wall Street Journal?

Will the governor allow the city and the union to dangle? To wrestle in the mud? Or, will he pressure both sides, threatening to support the elimination of “last in, first out” seniority laws? Or drag the Mikes to Albany … to Canossa … forcing them to pay homage to Andrew and hammer out a settlement?

An irony: a plan would result in supervisors and teachers engaging in a process to measure student growth at the school level – ongoing discussions about the process of teaching and learning – exactly what chancellors and union presidents want. The teacher evaluation process will identify ineffective teachers, more importantly, if implemented fairly and honestly, it will create a dialogue between school leaders and teachers and among teachers – the “talk” that is at the heart of effective teaching.

* Today, “Canossa” refers to an act of penance or submission. To “go to Canossa” is an expression – to describe doing penance, often with the connotation that it is unwilling or coerced

4 responses to “Why did the negotiations fall apart at the last minute? A Vengeful Mayor? Next Steps?

  1. Ive said it over and over again and again..This Mayor has a despisement for UNION related professions with the exception of the Police..He sees memebers of those professions as basically weak individuals who are to be “stomped upon” at his will. We have all seen his reaction to things that he wants and doesn’t get, in spite of conventional wisdom that tells him to back off..Witness the fiasco that he and his equally “Napoleonic” ally Woody Johnson tried to perpetrate on the public in their efforts to build a Jets Stadium in Battery Park City. The City Council, thankfully seeing the folly to that plan vetoed it down. Then we sw how he behaved when he didnt get his cameras all over manhattan to chatge people who had to go past them several times a day tolls. There should be a VAM in the evaluation scheme of things, but it should have qualifications. FRequently in my time as school administrator, I advocated and implemented “rotaion” of teaching assignments from year to year, I gave my lowest quartile students my best veteran teachers, who while being the best sometimes did not see their scores skyrocket or soar to some arbitrary reference point. But they did see growth. There are amyriad of reason why so, but if having a VAM means that teacher job security or teacher evaluations are to be put at risk, then the strategy of rotating senior and established teacher into lower quartile classes will not be sustainable going forward. This Mayor knwos nothing of such strategy, in all his years have any of you ever read, or heard remarks from him that in nay way would suggest that he supports TEaching as a profession, that he understands the uniqueness of NYC, I dont think so. Here is what I would like him to do when he is finished as Mayor. He should become the Principal of any low level performing school (preferably a middle school) and be subject to the kind of evaluations that he wants for everyone now. Let him make his Chancellor his AA, and then lets see what happens!


  2. Until the practioners are actively engaged in the planning and implementation of reform, education will be plagued with a malaise of mistrust and tedium which the students will take with them for even their children’s lifetime. Stoking professional fires is a sacred duty and should not be left up to the crunchers of numbers, worshippers of money, or the conceited hoarders of power.


  3. Carole Silverstein.

    Peter you really told us the way it is. My money is on our great leader.That certainly is not the Mayor.


  4. Foil Jacqueline

    Contract negotiations over the 30+ years i taught were never easy. But what is going on now seems like an impossible situation. I read these sentences in disbelief: “The mayor has attacked the arbitration process –attacked arbitrators – which is outrageous. Arbitrators are jointly selected and can be removed from the panel by either party. To revile an arbitration process is to revile the rule of law”. How can the mayor put himself above a process that has been historically an avenue to work out differences? These seem like “the worst of times”!!!!


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