How Do You “Professionalize” Teaching Within the Context of a Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Two months into his term Mayor de Blasio’s approval ratings have nosedived, and the “tale of two cities” is the sharp disparity between white voters and black/Hispanic voters.

The mayor’s approval is 47 – 32 percent among men, 44 – 36 percent among women, 60 – 22 percent among black voters and 47 – 28 percent among Hispanic voters. White voters give him a negative 39 – 45 percent approval rating.

Is he viewed as abandoning white voters, or, as an astute friend suggests, it’s the weather.

The beginning of the year is a bummer for many — the combination of dark days, no more holidays to look forward to and never-ending bad weather make this time of year ripe for Seasonal Affected Disorder or clinical depression … The major symptoms of SAD and clinical depression are the same … You’ll experience an enduring sadness most of the day every day for at least two weeks … You’ll also experience a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

Aside from snow, and more snow, freezing day after day, your colleague in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany has created a new kind of democrat: pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, tax-cutting, small government, pro-charter school, anti-immigrant, a combination of Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillebrand

The Albany Hydra, whose “poisonous breath and blood so virulent even its tracks were deadly,” seems to have defeated the wanna-be Hercules, the mayor of Gotham.

de Blasio needs a victory.

On September 11th, the day after the Democratic primary, the questions began – how would the new mayor deal with public employee unions – all of whom have not had contracts since 2010, and teachers since 2009?

Would he cave and open the city coffers, stand firm and continue the Bloomberg obstinacy or negotiate a contract fair to union members and fair to the city?

The goal is that the New York Times, Governor Cuomo, the Citizen’s Budget Commission, the national press, the “talking heads” praise the agreement. The unions are faced with the dilemma, a clock is ticking, if they can’t negotiate a deal by the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, de Blasio may take the Bloomberg route, walking away from negotiations, a dangerous route, a risky route, a route that Bloomberg and Cuomo have taken without dire political consequences.

A weak mayor is a disaster for the union, a mayor pushed by the winds will ultimately seek out deep-pocketed so-called friends.

On the other side of the table the unions need a contract that passes membership scrutiny, i.e., contains sufficient dollars both in retroactive pay and the rate going forward, as well other non-budgetary issues attractive to union members.

The City-UFT negotiations heated up over the last few weeks and both sides “leaked” the direction of the negotiations – a finger in the air for both sides – which way are the political winds blowing – are negotiators on both sides moving in the right direction?

Retroactive increases:

Retroactive 4% raises for the 9-10, 10-11 years would cost the city $3.4 billion, if you add in a rate for the next two retroactive years and rates going forward, how would the city fund the raises? The two principles are “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.” The pattern at the conclusion of the prior teacher agreement was 4%; however, as the nation moved into the recession the city’s “ability to pay” clearly enters the equation. Once a sum is agreed upon both sides have to determine a method of payment, it is commonplace to spread retroactive raises over future budget cycles.

Rates in the new contract:

All New York City public employee contracts are long-expired – how do you apply a pattern if there is no pattern within the city? Do you look to the pattern in the state among non-teacher contracts? Cuomo negotiated contracts had meager raises. Due to the 2% property tax cap many teacher unions have negotiated interim agreements with freezes to prevent layoffs. Suburban teacher pay scales are substantially higher than pay scales in the city.

Health Plan Savings:

Health plans for city employees cost over $5 billion a year and are increasing at 10% a year. In the past increasing co-pays transferred health plan costs to employees, requiring all prescriptions are mail order is a saving for the city (removes the pharmacist as the ‘middleman”). “Early” retirees, those who retire before eligibility for Medicare have been treated as active employees, Health plans are extremely complex and whether substantial saving can found within the system without simply transferring costs to members or limiting access to services is a difficult issue.

Increases Going Forward:

The rate, the increase over the future length of the contract is also based on the pattern and the ability to pay principles. There is no pattern within the city. The union has just released a report pointing out that the exodus of teachers from the city, including a new category, mid-career teachers, can be “corrected” by increasing salaries in the city.

Each year the New York State Comptroller issues a February Report which includes an in-depth review of the New York City finances. See pages 20-23 of the NYS Comptroller February 2014 Report on NYC finances re labor negotiations, health plans and pensions: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt12-2014.pdf

Selling the Contract (non-budgetary issues):

Teachers are both professionals and work under the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement. Teachers frequently ask to be “treated as professionals,” the ability to make professional decisions, which also means being responsible for the outcomes. How do you “professionalize” teaching within the context of a collective bargaining agreement? The current system is rigidly proscriptive. The 2013-14 Instructional Expectation document drives instruction in every Network, in every school, in every classroom. ADVANCE, the teacher evaluation system is also incredibly complex; principals must enter details of every observation into a database, a couple hundred thousand observation reports in the system.

In too many schools teachers feel like well-paid assembly line workers.

The requirements of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and APPR result in a formulaic instruction. Once again, not all schools, some principals have shielded teachers from the distasteful elements, too many simply push the worst aspects into every classroom.

“Professionalization” does not mean “leave me alone and let me teach,” it means working within a team of teachers, making decisions that impact students, and, being responsible for the decisions.

For teachers near retirement I hear, “Who cares about the professional items, I want money, my pension can’t be changed.” I have one word: Detroit.

The irony is the money part of the contract may be the easy part.

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2 responses to “How Do You “Professionalize” Teaching Within the Context of a Collective Bargaining Agreement?

  1. Retired- no more Public Eemy Number One.

    Plenty of money is available for the targets of all public scorn- the teachers. The union has been flogged so repeatedly that its members are being trained to beg for crumbs.

    In the spirit of what John Liu started, the Mayor should at once work to “claw back” much of the staggering sum of money paid to the “suits,” who metastasized from Tweed to infect every school, micromanaged to death the teachers, drove out the experienced and higher-salaried in an effort to parasitically suck all institutional wisdom from the system, and finally eviscerated the enthusiasm and joy of learning from both students and their poor teachers in their management of humans by spreadsheet.

    The “suits” and toadies for Bloomberg, Klein, and Moskowitz (sadly, some post comments in these pages) should be left with the “bloated” salary of a beginning teacher, minus a symbolic one dollar.

    Those who whine and bleat about promises and contracts and so on ought to quake at the mention of the same sword of Damocles hanging over the teachers- Detroit. The social contract has been broken with impunity by the masters of the universe, and not just in the Motor City.

    Lyndon Johnson made it possible for the school system to attract large numbers of teachers who were brighter than the usual “incoming class,” and it is a shame that after a couple of decades, the decision was made to drive these people out and reject all of their experience, wisdom, and human dignity.

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  2. Professionalism does not mean “leave me alone, let me teach”.
    Okay, raising that false straw man over and over again fails to enhance your points; it only hammers in a stereotype. This makes me wary of your agenda and/or dated perception.
    As you know, it is no true stance. It’s a disgruntled employee’s lament often at times of fully justifiable frustration.

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