Tag Archives: Bill de Blasio

City/UFT Contract Negotiations Heat Up. and So Does the Opposition.

Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Mulgrew continue to praise the negotiations process; both have a great deal at stake. The Mayor has stumbled badly in his first three months, although he stumbled because the Governor tripped him. His request for a very modest tax increase on individuals earning over a half million dollars to fund pre-k for five years was extinguished by Governor Cuomo who insisted on funding prek through the state budget. The Mayor fought for a while and backed off only to see the charter school folk, with the support of the Governor, savage the Mayor with five million dollars of TV commercials and embedded pro-charter provisions in the law.

The Mayor needs a victory and the next issue are contract negotiations.

The teacher union contract expired on 10/31/09 – and currently every single public employee union has an expired contract – 150 union contracts.

Under the provisions of the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) regulations salary increases are based on both “ability to pay” and “pattern bargaining” principles. Management and labor can parse other contracts, city tax collections/expenditures, the national and local economy and agree upon percentage increases in each budget cycle since the contract expired and reasonable increases going forward. Apparently both sides have, in principle, agreed that the length of the contract will extend beyond the current term of the mayor.

In the last few days the New Teacher Project (TNTP), Educators 4 Excellence and Campbell Brown in the NY Post have all called for the dismissal of teachers in the ATR pool. (See Dan Weisberg, TNTP article here, E4E analysis here, and Campbell Brown here)

Why now?

The three groups are loosely linked, TNTP has consistently attacked teacher contract provisions, Educators 4 Excellence, a tiny Gates-funded fifth column within the union and Campbell Brown, a virulently anti-union voice, campaigning for a slot on Fox TV, fear a settlement may be in the near future and are trying to build public support for eliminating seniority-based layoffs.

Seniority-based layoffs are the basic principle of unions, perhaps the single issue that could lead to a strike. Simply put teachers and teacher union leaders would never support a contract that cedes seniority rules. The union would never negotiate away seniority-based layoffs and if management insists negotiations would stall.

The de Blasio administration has made it clear that it is moving from school closings to school fixing – the never-ending pool of excessed teachers will not continue to grow. The movement of 1,000 or so teachers into permanent jobs would be a one-time event – the ATR pool would disappear.

The hundreds of guidance counselors in the pool could be placed in Suspension Centers and GED Plus programs to provide much needed assistance to children at risk. Many teachers in the pool eligible to retire would probably retire, the vast number would be absorbed into schools and the small numbers who receive unsatisfactory ratings could be offered peer assistance and closely monitored. When the department ended two programs that provided GED services and created a new program (GED Plus) the department and the union created a method to select teachers for the new programs (Appendix I). While the ending of the ATR pool is not equivalent to the ending of District 79 the negotiating process shows that these complex issues have been resolved in the past in an amiable manner.

The Mayor needs the NY Times, the Citizens Budget Commission, the Wall Street Journal, the NY Daily News, the business community, the Governor, the “movers and shakers,” the public in general, to praise the settlement. The Mayor needs a “victory.”

The NY Post, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Michelle Rhee, Eva Moskowitz, the education (de)formers will trash any settlement.

A settlement must include contract provisions that are “progressive,” whatever that means. In other cities contracts have included some iteration of merit pay, a concept that does not appear to be on the table in New York City.

I have argued scores of arbitrations for the union – the ones that involved dollars were always the easiest to resolve – especially with the guidance of an experienced arbitrator. The cases that revolved around the interpretation of a contract clause are far more difficult because of future ramifications – both sides are chary to allow arbitrators to, in effect, write contract clauses.

The fact-finding team – led by Marty Scheinman is an extraordinarily experienced team – you could not find more skilled practitioners.

In the real world of politics the “spin” is crucial – and the de Blasio administration has been challenged in the arena of “spin.” The effectiveness of getting out your message determines the public’s opinion of mayors. When de Blasio threw out the first ball at Mets opening day – he was booed. Why? Were Mets fans criticizing his performance as mayor, or, because he’s a Red Sox fan? An astute media team would have discussed linking de Blasio and David Wright or Mookie Wilson, Mets icons.

One would expect that whether the contract is settled in a few weeks or a few months the de Blasio team would have a game plan – a rollout. As the settlement approaches the team should have the media blitz ready to go … op ed pieces ready to go, “opinion makers” ready to go, Al Sharpton and Bill Clinton and Arne Duncan and Charles Schumer and CEOs all lined up to jump on board.

Mayor Bloomberg was masterful at messaging – it was rarely confused, it was targeted, the entire administration was on message – from the mayor to the commissioners to the press office – the press release, the opinion makers, the reporters, and the media editors were all in the messaging loop.

Of course, “it’s never over till it’s over,” and negotiations can fall off the rails, the de Blasio “offers” might not be acceptable to the union and the mayor can decide to go the Cuomo/Bloomberg route – settle with other unions and marginalize the teacher union.

The “unofficial” deadline is June 30th, the end of the fiscal year. The stakes are high.

Will the Success/Failure of the Pre-Kindergarten Initiaitive Determine the Future of the de Blasio Administration? Will the Common Core Wars Be Ignited by the Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum Wars?

Sharon Greenberger, the Chief Executive and CEO of the School Construction Authority was testifying before a NYS Assembly committee, there were many students on kindergarten waiting lists in Manhattan. Greenberg was explaining the method of predicting the number of kindergarten seats, projections of census data, predictive algorithms, what today we call “big data” to predict outcomes. Assembly member Linda Rosenthal interrupted, “Why didn’t you just count the number of baby carriages on Broadway?”

Mayor de Blasio came into Gracie Mansion with two education policies: rid public schools of co-located charter schools and add over 4,000 full day pre-k seats.

The Eva attack was unforeseen and the de Blasio team was unprepared – when the dust settled Mayor Bill was a loser – a big time loser.

Pre-kindergarten belongs to the mayor, there is no Eva, the success/failure is up to the mayor.

Identify Seat and Students and Match Them Up

The easy part of expanding half day to full day pre-kindergarten classes – the hard part of identifying classrooms appropriate for pre-kindergarten – bathrooms for four-year olds, sinks, furniture and the wide, wide range of learning materials. Paper, crayons, lots and lots of crayons, books, books and more books, blocks, educational toys, I-Pads loaded with the correct apps for four year olds and music players, perhaps a piano.

Principals may not be eager to give up a room for pre-kindergarten, the rooms have to be renovated, and, most importantly, the rooms must be matched to the students by neighborhood.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has already criticized the mayor’s choice of locations, claiming the seats are in low use neighborhoods and a lack of seats in high use neighborhoods.

Student Identification

The neediest students will be the most difficult to recruit – they may live in shelters, in foster homes, in projects, and their caregivers simply may not be aware of the programs, or, not be able to get themselves organized enough to hook up with the program. Half empty classrooms, kids here one day and gone the next, kids wandering in to school late, hysterical 4 year olds not wanting to leave their caregiver, again. are all critical and commonplace problems.

A Strong Parent/Caregiver Support Program

Pre-kindergarten programs need strong parent involvement programs – explaining the importance of diet, reading to children, discipline that is not punitive, how to talk with children, ask them questions, playing with them at home, talking about colors and numbers and letters, and playing; not just sitting the child in front of the TV for hours at a time.

Recruiting and Training Teachers

Can the Department identify and train appropriately certified teachers and paraprofessionals so that they can hit the ground running? Can the current network structure support pre-kindergarten teachers? The vast percentage of new pre-kindergarten teachers are not currently teaching pre-kindergarten classes, will the Department run training sessions over the summer? Will network staffs be augmented with coaches with expertise in pre-kindergarten?

Selecting a Curriculum

Will the Department select a curriculum? Allow the network or the school to choose a curriculum? Will the Department opt in to the Engage NY Core Knowledge curriculum?

I am far from an expert, however, my pre-kindergarten experts are sharply critical of the Engage NY curriculum – they complain it is poorly-written, confusing and lacks an encompassing philosophy.

The “reggio-emilia” approach is supported by a range of private schools – and antithetical to everything the Common Core espouses. See Williamsberg Northside Curriculum Guide here,

The Montessori Model, with roots extending back into the 19th century is a child-centered model, once again, antithetical to the Common Core and has extremely loyal followers.

In this highly toxic atmosphere the selection of a curriculum can set off an explosion – the anti-Common Core versus the Child-Centered adherents.

The funding of pre-kindergartens, the dollars, are only the beginning, there will be many bumps along the road, many opportunities to be sidetracked, the Department needs skill to design and implement the program. The “reading wars” – the phonics versus whole language acolytes may be replaced by the Common Core wars – the supporters and opponents. The decisions over the choice of a pre-kindergarten curriculum may create another “war.”

Who would have thought that four year olds may determine the success, or lack thereof, of a mayoral administration?

Farina Negotiates in Public: Is She “Mis-Speaking” or Challenging the Union?

Speaking at a City Council hearing, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was unequivocal that the city would stick with its current policy of not forcing teachers to work in specific schools or principals to accept teachers they don’t want.

“There will be no forced placement of staff,” she told Council members. ”This is one of the things, when I come back in a couple of weeks, we’ll be happy to discuss.”

One of the ironclad rules of negotiations is that you negotiate in private, never in public, unless you want to send a message to the other side. Whether Chancellor Farina was speaking on her own or carrying a message from the de Blasio administration is crucial. After a bargaining session with the Bloomberg/Klein crowd, no matter the confidentiality agreements, you knew the NY Post or the Wall Street Journal, the Murdoch press, would have the story, at least the mayor’s side of the story, before you got back to the office.

Both de Blasio and union leader Mulgrew have answered every question about negotiations with the same answer, “We don’t negotiate in public.” the union has to ask, have the rules changed? Do Farina’s comments mean the mayor is following the Bloomberg/Klein playbook?

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool is made up of over 1,000 folks with pedagogical titles: teachers, guidance counselors, principals and assistant principals who have been bumped from their schools mosly due to school closings. The lower salaried teachers tend to get absorbed into schools, the higher salaried ATRs not so because they carry their salary under the department’s Weighted Student Funding formula.

For a couple of years the department has supported ATR Field Supervisors who regularly observe and rate ATR performance. A few percent are at the low end of the scale, the vast majority in the middle of the curve.

The ATR system costs the city $100,000,000 a year – dollars that can buy many pre-k and after school slots.

Bloomberg/Klein, and apparently Farina insisted that principals alone should choose all staff. They haven’t done such a good job! Teacher attrition continues to rise and thousands of teachers change schools every year under the Open Market system. Any teacher, regardless of seniority can move to any school – principals in higher achieving schools located in “safer” neighborhoods routinely snatch teachers from lower achieving schools in tougher neighborhoods.

30% to 40% of probationary teachers have their tenure extended, new teacher hired by current principals. There is absolutely no evidence that the current ATR system has better outcomes than simply assigning excess teachers to schools with vacancies.

For decades teachers who were excessed, bumped out of their schools due to loss of enrolment and/or funding, were routinely assigned to other schools.

Is retaining the ATR system worth a hundred million dollars a year?

At the same City Council meeting the chancellor emphasized increasing the number of guidance counselors in school, has anyone told her there are 200 or so counselors in the ATR pool, guidance counselors rotating from school to school on a weekly basis?

The chancellor also spoke to increasing the arts in schools, and hinted at using the punitive School Progress Report, a “stick” to increase arts education. For the last twelve years schools/teachers have been beaten regularly with bad letter grade and school closings – the whip and the cudgel never increase performance.

How about a competitive grant program so that schools can create arts programs?

You get a lot more with candy than with vinegar.

The union and teachers really want to like the chancellor, after all she “one of us.” Mulgrew announced at the delegates meeting that the chancellor will be invited to numerous teacher events. She will be on the stage answering questions from teachers at the breakfast section of the UFT Spring Conference.

The glow of honeymoons rapidly fades away and the reality grabs hold. Teachers want a leader who is both sensitive to the indignities of the past and willing to lead the charge into the future, negotiating a “fair” contract, with appropriate financial remuneration, as well as fixing the insanely complicated and mind-numbing teacher evaluation system. A chancellor who can stand up to Albany and lead the fight to delay the full implementation of Common Core tests, a chancellor who can lead the battle nationally to restructure the insidious impact of No Child Left Behind.

We deserve a chancellor who can stand up to Arne Duncan and the assault on public education. The education system in New York City is frayed by inattention to the needs of children, families and practitioners and being used as a place to experiment, to introduce one “idea” after another that had little to do with teaching and learning.

We need a modern-day Jeanne d’Arc.

“She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honest was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; … she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; … she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation…” Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

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.

Eva for Mayor in 2017: The Race is On …

For twenty years Republican mayors called the shots in New York, for the last twelve a pro-choice, pro-LGBT, environmentalist and pro-health mayor, a strange combination for a Republican in the era of the Tea Party. While New Yorkers tired of Mayor Bloomberg during his third term, aside from his education policies he had favorable ratings among New Yorkers. Bike lanes and parks circle and crisscross Manhattan, crime rates have plunged, visitors from around the world spend their dollars and immigrants from across the nation and the world flock to the Apple.

In the big picture New York thrived, in spite of 9/11 and in spite of the 2008 national economic meltdown, high-rise luxury building after building filled the skyline around Manhattan and Brooklyn, high end restaurants proliferated, wine bars charging sixteen dollars for a glass of cabernet with smokers puffing away in the smoking section, the streets outside of the bars.

Across the East and Harlem Rivers the economic gap widened, unemployment rates remained high, the city was moving in different directions.

New York City is “managed” by a combination of real estate developers, bankers, hedge fund managers, political elites, the same types who always run cities. One of our most famous citizens, Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the island of Nevis, from a single parent household, married Elizabeth Schuyler, from the Rensselaer family, “one of the richest and most politically influential families in the state of New York.”

In the Harvard Club or during breakfasts at the Regency or the Mandarin Oriental plans are being hatched.

In the spring of 2013 seven Democrats battled for the slot on the ballot, the Republicans battled among themselves, without a viable candidate. The elites, the power brokers were not unhappy, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson; the two leading contenders were middle of the road democrats, not too far from the core of the Bloomberg ethos.

When the dust cleared Bill de Blasio motivated voters across the city – his “A Tale of Two Cities” campaign, his anti-stop and frisk rhetoric grabbed the attention of New Yorkers, well, enough New Yorkers.

de Blasio won the Democratic primary with 40% of the primary vote: 256,000 votes out of about 3 million registered Democrats; less than 10% of the registered Democrats voted for de Blasio. In the November election only 24% of all registered voters came to the polls.

The campaign for 2017 has begun.

de Blasio is simply too far to the left for the power brokers.

While his policies may reflect the views of most New Yorkers: more affordable housing, protecting rent control, raising the minimum wage, appointing pro-tenant members to the rent guideline board, and on and on, it may not translate into re-election. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the leader of the City Council is even further to the left – the City Council is dominated by the Progressive Caucus.

The de Blasio administration threatens the domain of entrenched old guard.

Campaigns never start too early and the 2017 campaign has began: Eva Moskowitz funded TV ads smacking de Blasio over his reversal of three charter school co-location decisions effecting only 194 students. The TV commercials were ready to go before the de Blasio decision was made!

Eva may be the perfect candidate.

New York City has never had a female mayor and 60% of voters are female.

She will be richly funded.

She is creating a voter base of charter school parents and wannabe charter school parents, primarily parents of color.

She is smart and aggressive.

Her supporters have four years to tear down de Blasio and four years to build up Eva’s resume.

About two years or so down the road Eva will leave the leadership of the Success charter school network and move on to another job to prepare for her run.

The NY Post will be relentless, slamming away at de Blasio every chance they get, the Wall Street Journal will join in on the editorial side. The Manhattan Institute has already begun the attack on the mayor. See Heather McDonald here and a sharp criticism of pre-k here.

In Albany the Republicans are in New York City attack mode, they passed a bill to undue Mayor de Blasio’s co-location reversals, in effect, reversing elements of mayoral control.

Parents from around the state are outraged by the impact of the Common Core State Exams and they have expressed their anger by encouraging candidates to oppose the four Regents up for re-election. The legislature ignored the parents, replaced one of the Regents with a candidate who had never applied for the position with an embarrassing lack of qualifications. Until parents can convert outrage to power at the polls they are not “players.”

Jerry Skurnik runs PrimeNY , the premier provider of election data: lists of prime voters, by district, by gender, by race, voting patterns, new voters, all the data needed to design a campaign. In the September 10, 2013 Democratic Primary election the teachers union endorsed Bill Thompson, spent significant dollars, made very attempt to bring the troops to the polls, and were not successful.

Bloomberg, virtually unknown in 2001 opted out of the NYC Campaign Finance system and spent many tens of millions of his own dollars; he repeated the efforts in 2005 and 2009.

Dollars determine elections, foot soldiers are nice, helpful, and nothing beats dollars.

Public school parents have yet to prove that they can influence the outcome of an election.

Teachers and public school parents will sneer – Eva Moskowitz can never get elected, au contraire, a well-funded, well run campaign can burnish any reputation, the TV ads of the last few weeks has shown what dollars can do. Governor Cuomo has suddenly become a fan of charter schools, the Senate Republicans, with Democratic support have jumped on the charter school band wagon. For the sans culottes, thousands of charter school kids have been driven onto the streets – in reality, 194 kids will have to either attend local schools or the charter school will have to rent space.

Dollars change minds.

de Blasio has two or three years to recover from his stumbling first few months, the battle is on … will de Blasio continue his “Tale of Two Cities” course, fighting to align the needs of the rich with the wants of the larger New York? Will de Blasio moderate and make peace with the power brokers?

The 2017 campaign is on, and, the big boys play for keeps.

Andrew Cuomo Loves Frank Underwood: The House of Cards Plays Out in New York State

A longtime political sage tells me, “The governor in his remarks yesterday at the Moskowitz rally said he long supported charters or he is beholden to the hedge funds who contributed to his campaign since 2010,” and, I would add, neither or both.

In the Netflix series House of Cards Kevin Spacey plays Frank Underwood, the demonic, amoral politician lusting after power, masterful in moving human chess pieces, more suited for the Ninth Circle of the Inferno than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Cuomo is inaccessible to the press, only managed media events, he has no public schedule, and no effective opposition on the Republican side. One of his first actions as Governor was to move the State of the State speech from the majestic Assembly chamber to the 2,000 seat convention center; from reporting to the legislators to reporting to the people, and demeaning the legislators.

The Governor led the marriage equality bill through the legislature and derailed the women’s equality agenda. With a nod to the conservative democratic primary voters in 2016, Cuomo places the responsibility for passing the Dream Act on the Republicans. After a handful of states pass medical marijuana legislation he edged the bill forward.

Somewhere a large bulletin board is counting votes – in Iowa, in New Hampshire in all the early primary states.

The 2% property tax cap has essentially frozen teacher salaries around the state, school districts are cutting courses, laying off teachers and dipping into reserves, conservatives applaud.

Geoff Decker in Chalkbeat tells us,

By one tally of the 2014 filings, Cuomo racked up at least $800,000 in donations from 27 bankers, real estate executives, business executives, philanthropists and advocacy groups who have flocked to charter schools and other education causes in recent years.

Quoting from a New York Times 2010 story, Diane Ravitch relates,

Hedge fund executives are thus emerging as perhaps the first significant political counterweight to the powerful teachers unions, which strongly oppose expanding charter schools in their current form.

After hearing from Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Williams arranged an 8 a.m. meeting last month at the Regency Hotel, that favorite spot for power breakfasts, between Mr. Cuomo and supporters of his committee, Democrats for Education Reform, who include the founders of funds like Anchorage Capital Partners, with $8 billion under management; Greenlight Capital, with $6.8 billion; and Pershing Square Capital Management, with $5.5 billion.

The blue ribbon Cuomo Education Reform panel met for over a year and faded away, the final report barely reported.

The Governor may have made a crucial error, he may have underestimated the anger of those amorphous public school parents scattered around the state. On Tuesday a joint meeting of the state legislature is scheduled to re-elect four Regents members – the votes are always pro forma – except this year. The anger over the implementation of the Common Core, the impact of the Common Core-high stakes testing has not abated; parents are badgering their electeds, demanding that their legislator not vote for the incumbents. The Assembly passed a sweeping bill calling for a moratorium on high stakes testing and a data-mining initiative. The Senate is hesitating, and may pass a similar bill. The Governor blithely ignores the bill and appoints an eleven member task force who has held two meetings at which acolytes rambled.

The Governor’s recent affaire d’amour with charter schools may very well alienate parents from Buffalo to New York to Montauk.

Dollars drive elections and Citizen’s United allow unfettered dollars to flow from the Koch brothers, from hedge fund billionaires, from the rich and therefore powerful to candidates either of their choice to oppose candidates they despise.

Bill de Blasio ran a brilliant campaign, reactivated the left, motivated the middle class, Afro-Americans, women, the outer boroughs, he was a throwback to days of yore. He is currently under vigorous assault, from the Governor who is “defeating” the Mayor, who is putting the Mayor in his place. The Governor’s other “friend,” Eva Moskowitz, is spending over a half million dollars to blanket the screen with pro charter school, anti-de Blasio TV ads.

de Blasio may end up as a one term mayor as the Cuomo-Moskowitz pas de deux destroys him, to use a House of Cards analogy, push him under a train, Cuomo’s path to the White House may be littered with unionists and parents, or, the people may rise up.

Year 3 of House of Cards may be playing out in front of us.

A Virtual Look at Contract Negotiations: A Long Spring for the Negotiators on Both Sides.

Contract negotiations are multi-faceted and complex.

Different teams sitting in different rooms mulling over printouts, offers and counteroffers; distressing amounts of time is spent caucusing with your team plotting/creating responses, crafting arguments supporting positions and waiting, waiting, waiting for a response/counter offer from the other side. The process is laborious and incremental, with many trips down the wrong path, with frequent dead ends.

As the sides close in on a settlement the negotiations tend to become round-the-clock, pushing for that last comma and semi colon in the right place.

Years ago I served on the negotiating team – the final, lengthy session, the presentation to the union executive board, the delegate assembly … I think we went fifty-four straight hours.

Under the previous administration negotiations never began, our former mayor chose leaks to the press and unkind op eds in lieu of actual negotiations.

In the “money” room the sides have to decide on the numbers – what would each percentage point cost in each year? How much would each percent from 11/1/09 until 6/30/10, and each subsequent budget cycle (7/1 till 6/30) cost out? Is the time pensionable, and, if so, how much would this add to the cost? Remember: the city contributes a rate determined by actuarial calculations each year; if teachers retired between 11/1/09 and the date of the new contract are they entitled to retro pay and a recalculation of their pension? If the answer is “yes,” how much would it add to the dollar cost of the agreement?

Before you can reach a resolution you have to agree to price tag of each negotiated segment.

The union numbers people parse past city budgets, current budget proposals, revenue and expense projections, tax receipt projections and on and on … How many new buildings are in the pipeline and how much in taxes will they generate? Can we anticipate increasing tourism and place a price tag on the anticipated additional revenue?

In another room the health plan negotiators representing the Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC) are engaged in the enormously complex discussions. It is a three-way discussion: the city, the union and the feds. How does the Affordable Care Act impact health plans for NYC active and retired employees? Are current active and retired employee health plans “Cadillac” plans, and, if so, are elements of the plan taxable?

How will retroactive salary be paid out? All at once? Over two or three budget cycles?

In another room the “non-budgetary” issues are on the table.

Management is wary about relinquishing managerial prerogatives; unions defend what has been previously embedded in the contract.

Once the parties have an agreement the union has to “sell” the settlement to the membership and the mayor has to “sell” the settlement to the media/the elites and the broader public.

Will the headline praise or pan the settlement?

Teachers have told me, “Who cares what the settlement costs, that’s not a concern of the union, the city will just have to figure it out, we’re entitled to a raise, we earned it, and the city just has to pay it?

My answer is: Wisconsin.

Scott Walker, the Governor is Wisconsin, and a cooperative legislature, effectively ended collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Public employee unions in Wisconsin are beyond life support – they are moribund.

Read the frightening story: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/business/wisconsins-legacy-for-unions.html?hpw&rref=business

Some of you may have gone to Wisconsin to support our brothers and sisters, participated in recall elections for state senators who voted on “the wrong side,” all to no avail. The public was not sympathetic to the unions, and, Scott Walker is now mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

The “unofficial” voters on any contract settlement are the people of the City of New York.

The teachers union has spent years working with communities across the city: parents, civic associations, and other unions, block associations, electeds on the local level, faith-based leaders, in the parlance of labor, an “organizing model.” Thousands upon thousands of union members participating in local campaigns, from volunteering to spending time in Louisiana after Katrina, to working right here in New York City on Hurricane Sandy relief, from going to Haiti to work on field hospitals to trekking with parents to fight for a stop light on a corner or to prevent a school from closing or to fight against co-locating a charter school in a public school building.

The work of the union has paid off, Sol Stern in the Manhattan Journal (Special Issue, 2013) wrote,

according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics … New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

The public is fickle, to continue the support of the populace union leadership has to craft a contract that is viewed by the public as fair to teachers and fair to the city.

Mayor de Blasio’s State of the City speech addressed affordable housing,

“In total, we pledge to preserve or construct nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing – enough to house between 400,000 and 500,000 New Yorkers — to help working people by literally putting a roof over their heads” … Mr. Bloomberg invested heavily in affordable housing, but Mr. de Blasio won office promising to do more. He has said he would require major residential projects to include units for low- and moderate-income residents. He has also said he would invest $1 billion of city pension funds in creating lower-rent units.

Decisions on the investment of pension funds are controlled by the trustees of the funds and require the approval of the union-appointed trustees who have a legal fiduciary responsibility. While there is no connection whatsoever between the contract negotiations and the pension fund trustees the enthusiastic support of the investment by the union could resonate well with New Yorkers.

In 1975 as the city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy Al Shanker supported a plan in which the Teacher Retirement System purchased city bonds to avert default, a default that could have freed the city of all contractual responsibility, a la Detroit today.

In one room a team is discussing the teacher evaluation plan.

The elements of the plan are set in law and regulation and a final plan must be approved by the state commissioner. The current New York City plan is a mess – the plan was written by the commissioner and basically is much too complex. Both management and labor want to simplify the plan; however, the plan must be approved in Albany.

Yes, complex with many, many moving parts.

At the same time the negotiators are engaged the city budget plans are moving forward. The mayor’s proposed budget is silent on dollars for collective bargaining. The City Council will hold hearings, the fifty-one council members will argue for projects for their districts, Community Planning Boards will support or oppose budget initiatives and in the waning days of June a budget will be agreed upon.

The unions and the mayor want to reach an agreement – there are no guarantees – the economy impacts negotiations – so – don’t spend that retroactive salary just yet.