Tag Archives: contract negotiations

Teachers Go To the Polls: Over the Next Week Union Members Will Vote on the Proposed UFT Contracts.

On Monday UFT members will begin to cast ballots in school. In my high school we set up a table by the “in-out” cards (once upon a time an actual time clock) and as teachers arrived or checked their mailboxes they picked up a ballot, signed the roster, voted, placed their ballot in an envelope, sealed the ballot, and placed in our ballot box that the shop teacher made years ago. Different chapters, actually titles, i.e., teachers, guidance counselors, school secretaries, paraprofessionals, psychologists and social worker, etc., cast separate ballots.

Social media sites, from Facebook to Twitter to blogs are urging colleagues to vote “yes” or “no.”

Facebook has hundreds of comments, with many “likes” and “dislikes,” although Facebook comments represent only a tiny fraction of total membership.

Some questions and answers:

Did the members even vote down a contract?

Yes, in 1995 teachers voted down a contract, about six month later the members approved a very similar contract.

Can the mayor or the governor or the City Council or the state legislature impose a contract?

The legislature can pass a law – which would require the votes of both houses and the approval of the governor, I don’t think it has ever happened.

At this point if a contract is voted down what are the next steps?

Both parties could go back to the bargaining table, or, the mayor could walk way and negotiate with another union, or, the fact-finding panel could release their report.

Is the fact-finding report binding?

No, although the report is public has been the basis be settlements in the past.

Does the union currently know what’s in the report?

No, although they do know the positions of the city on the issues – both sides testified at great length and placed scores of documents into evidence and witnesses were cross-examined.

Can the fact-finding report recommend that ATR’s are laid off after a period of time?


Could the legislature change the law and require the layoff of ATR’s?


Would the governor support a change in the law that would require ATR’s are laid off?

Let me answer with another question: could the governor fully support charter schools?

Are the retroactive 4% raises for 2009 and 2010 “locked in?”

Nothing is “locked in.”

Doesn’t the “pattern bargaining” principle guarantee members will receive 4 + 4 in retroactive?

No, the “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay” principles are guidance for the fact-finders; however, there is only a contract when the parties agree to a contract.

Shouldn’t we get more money going forward – the increases barely cover the cost of living?

The increases going forward are very much in line with other teacher contracts in the school districts surrounding the city.

Why do we have to wait so long for the retroactive increases?

The fiscal year begins July 1 and the city simply doesn’t have the dollars, and, the bookkeeping for the retroactive increases are under attack – the city operates under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and there is a question of how the city is paying for the raises. See New York Times,
“High-Power Tug of War Over Teachers’ Deal

Behind the scenes, a high-stakes tug of war unfolded between the city’s two most powerful elected officials: Mayor Bill de Blasio, eager to trumpet the first big labor contract of his young administration, and the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, whose team had discovered basic accounting problems with the deal.

The issue identified by Mr. Stringer will not add to the total cost of the deal, city officials said. But the comptroller’s office said it represented a breach of stringent accounting rules adopted by New York after the 1970s fiscal crisis. “Our goal from the very beginning was to protect the city’s financial integrity,” said Eric Sumberg, a spokesman for Mr. Stringer.

Some have said if we vote down the contract we have to go to the “back of the line,” behind the 151 other unions, why couldn’t we simply go back to the bargaining table?

It’s up to the city. Since 2009 Mayor Bloomberg wanted to bargain, it was the union that decided to wait for the next mayor. Both sides have to agree to go “back to the table,” and might be more advantageous for the city to negotiate with a weaker union.

What options does the city have?

They could negotiate with other unions – for example – they could move on to DC 37, the largest union, and negotiate a “pattern.”

The Police (PBA) and Firefighters have already criticized the pattern – can the police and the firefighter receive greater increases?

The fact-finding process for police and firefighters are binding – a plus and a minus – it is commonplace for the uniformed services to choose to go “to the end of the line.” hoping to extract a better settlement. – obviously there is a “risk/reward.”

Waiting so many years for the retro just doesn’t seem fair and we work so hard – don’t we deserve larger increases and a quicker payout for the retro?

Let me be honest – “fairness” and “working hard” are irrelevant in the world of high stakes negotiations – The outside world argues teachers should be paid according to student achievement? The settlement is solely up to the parties to the negotiations.

Could we go another two, three or four years without a contract?

Yes, the PERB rules end in a non-binding fact-finding report – there no requirements or time limits to complete negotiations.

Why could the Chicago Teachers go on strike?

The Illinois labor laws allow for a strike with a super majority vote of the members, teacher strikes are legal in Chicago.

Remind us, what are the penalties in New York State?

Teacher strikes are against the law with penalties: Loss of an additional day’s pay for each day on strike (2:1) – on strike for five days and lose ten days pay, loss of union dues check off and court imposed fines on the union and members.

Could we have some sort of job action?

Under NYS law all job actions, and the law is strict, are considered strikes with 2:1 wage deductions and possibility other penalties.

In my view the contract falls within the “pattern” for retroactive and going forward, and, the only way to find the dollars is to spread the payments over a number of budget cycles – the non-budgetary issues address many teacher concerns and most of all the contract links labor and management, the union and the department, a major change from the last adminstration. I understand there are members who only care about dollars and the only “reform” would be to leave them alone – in the current climate the contract addresses “reforms” that involve teachers, a rarity in negotiations around the nation. Thomas Wolf wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” the past is gone – the contract, hopefully, creates a new path.

How Would Al Shanker Feel About the New Proposed UFT Contract?

Read the Contract at a Glance »
Read the FAQ »
Read the Memorandum of Agreement on educational issues »
See the salary schedules »

David Bloomfield begins a Hechinger Report article with, “I knew Al Shanker, Mr. Mulgrew, and you’re no Al Shanker.” David may be wrong, really wrong.

In 1975 Shanker negotiated a deeply unpopular contract and a few months later lent the city millions of dollars to avert a default. In retrospect he saved the city and the union; a default would have abrogated all collective bargaining agreements. Mulgrew negotiated a contract with full, compounded retroactive pay going back to 2009, and crafted paying out the billions over years going forward (see salary schedule above). The city could have simply said the dollars are gone. Additionally the contract addresses other issues at the top of teachers’ agendas: easing the requirements of the teacher evaluation law, dissolving over time the ATR pool and a mundane but important teacher issue: reducing the paperwork burden.

The PROSE schools, basically a “thin contract zone” are a cutting edge reaction to charter schools. The major charter school argument is that both union and management rules impede innovative practices. The new innovation zone will give schools wide discretion, with the approval of 65% of the staff and the chancellor/union leader.

Shanker was the only national leader to support the 1983 “A Nation At Risk,” Report. In the late eighties Shanker supported the concept of charter schools. He was far from the hard-nosed union leader defending contract provisions at all costs.

Mulgrew has taken a substantial risk; the up to two hundred thin contract PROSE schools could change the direction of teacher contract nationally, or, stumble badly.

In the world of social media the ratification process allows teachers and non-teachers to “put in their two cents” on UFT Facebook and on Twitter accounts (over 8,000 on the Facebook group). The world of social media, unfortunately, does not lend itself to informed debate, and, the discussion over the proposed contract was replete with brief snarky, nasty comments and crude back and forths between members.

Too many teachers seem oblivious to the erosion of traditional union contract provisions around the nation.

Teacher unions are in trouble and urbanized urban public schools are in more trouble The post Katrina Recovery Charter School District in New Orleans has replaced public schools, the public school system in Detroit in tatters with court-supported reductions in public employee pensions, the public school system in Philadelphia may not exist in a year or two, Chicago teachers, in spite of a vigorous, forceful union leader continues to be trashed by a mayor in the Bloomberg mold, and in Los Angeles tenure and seniority in jeopardy.

Cities are in trouble – California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, in a lecture at the New School University, paints a bleak picture of cities across the nation,

… the fate of the nation’s cities stands at a crossroads. While cities like New York appear to be doing better than ever, a rising tide of poverty and inequality threatens to undermine their progress. Meanwhile, a large group of second-tier cities, from Detroit and St. Louis to Stockton and San Bernardino, are besieged as never before. How will the mushrooming national debt and looming federal austerity regime affect these trends? Will austerity exacerbate the division between successful and struggling cities?

New York City is one of the few cities that has been growing with a continuing influx of both immigrants from abroad and from around the nation. While the city faces a growing income inequality and higher income New Yorkers are enriching the city’s coffers. with increasing calls to “tax the rich.”

There are uncertainties down the road: will the growing financial sector continue? Will tax revenues continue to increase? Can the city both meet the mayor’s aggressive new policies and fund them? Will the national economy continue to recover?

With a narrow window the union president negotiated a contract that locked in a rich contract with a range of initiatives demanded by union members and embarked on a path of creating a zone of schools with a pared-down union contract.

Teacher unions around the country can reject contract offers tied to increasing student test scores and look to the New York City model.

I think Al Shanker would be jumping up and applauding Michael Mulgrew.

Can the New Teacher Contract Change School Culture? Can the City/Department/Union/Principals/Teachers Move from Fight to Collaborate? and, Will a New Relationship Produce More Effective Schools?

My colleague Andy Schnure had the unique ability to turn a new contract agreement into charts and graphs, union reps raced around to the schools armed with Andy’s charts meeting with teachers and explaining the new contract. Excellent lessons: teachers would turn to each other and ask questions/share comments, “turn and talk,” “pair-share,” there’s nothing like highly motivated students.

Towards the end of one meeting a teacher blurted out, “I don’t understand any of this!”

Perhaps unkindly I said, “At the end of the meeting we’ll all take a short test reviewing the charts, if you don’t pass you don’t get the raise.”

The teacher, complaining, as her colleagues suppressed smiles, “That’s not fair.”

In our cyber age I’m sure the union has distributed Excel charts, summaries of the proposed contract and the union reps are fanning out across the city explaining/answering the intricacies of the agreement.

The NY Daily News gives the agreement a “thumbs up,”

… the de Blasio agreement with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew achieves a big win in protecting the city’s books from what could have been a ruinous hit: from the billions in overhang from retroactive raises of 4% for 2009 and another 4% for 2010.

By spacing out that back pay from 2015 to 2020 — a full decade later — de Blasio and his negotiating team squared the circle of delivering hefty pay hikes to 100,000 teachers without busting the budget

Unquestionably the opinions of members will vary, some will carp that the union should have held out longer and fought for a larger slice of the budget pie, others look to the non-budgetary sections, the simplification of the teacher evaluation system, the easing of paperwork burden and the new titles created in the contract and cheer.

Next week the union’s legislative body, the Delegate Assembly will cram into union headquarters for the first step in the contract ratification process. The opposition political caucus will probably oppose the contract, passionate pleas both supporting and opposing this and that, and numerous questions asking for clarifications and after a few hours a vote.

If the delegates approve the contract (retirees are delegates but don’t vote on contracts) the contract will go to a membership referendum – usually in the schools – a secret ballot election conducted by the chapter leaders.

The contract does contain a ratification bonus – a thousand dollar payment upon contract ratification – a nice touch!

The proposed contract “borrows” from prior concepts. The Lead Teacher title is twenty years old, a $10,000 salary bump for a teacher who works with other teachers – surprisingly few schools took advantage of the title; schools that used the title were commonly schools with more collegial teacher-driven environments. The new contract creates a number of “lead” or “master” teacher titles. Turnaround schools funded with State Incentive Grant (SIG) dollars had a number of these titles, the agreement embeds the titles.

The Chancellor’s District provided 10% additional salary for teachers, a variant is included in the newly proposed contract, a decade ago Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern created an Autonomy Zone; schools were given wider latitude, a sort of “thin” contract; the new agreement proposes a school innovation zone.

Michael Mulgrew wants to move the union from a “fight” mode to a collaboration mode – a major cultural shift. The union, for decades, has played the traditional role, filing grievances, defending member rights as defined by the collective bargaining agreement, organizing parents and community organizations, lobbying at the city and state levels, and advocating for education.

The union did run innovative programs: the Dial-a-Teacher program, kids and/or parents can call from 4-7PM with a question and speak with an expert teacher and these same expert teachers can run workshops for parents and an anti-bullying hotline

For the last decade the union has been at war with an increasingly snarky administration. Battle after battle, thousands of “actions,” local demonstrations, fighting back, the union became very good at defending members and attacking the administration.

The union has not been good at changing cultures in schools.

There actually are a few hundred of schools under the radar (there are 1800 schools in the city) in which teachers and school leaders work together. Schools leaders have programmed teacher-led common planning time, a few high schools moved to a trimester system, there are twenty schools with waivers from the state to substitute portfolios and roundtable in lieu of Regents exams; unfortunately most schools are overburdened with ukases from on high and too frequently principals drive data collection over instruction.

In the early nineties the state required School and School District Leadership Teams in all schools. While the union jumped on board they did little to support efforts locally – a few districts were totally involved with enthusiastic local union endorsement, the policy at the top, from both management and labor, was benign neglect and SLTs and DLTs faded away.

A year ago at a Delegate Assembly Mulgrew asked, “How many people would support peer review (teachers playing a role in assessing other teachers)”? Only a few hands were raised.

Last week at the union’s Spring Conference Mulgrew asked, “How many of you feel comfortable with another teacher in your classroom?” Only again, only a few hands were raised.

Mulgrew continued with what has become a union mantra: “the answers are in the room” – in other words, we don’t need outside experts, the Aussies,’ the Teachers College Writing Project, etc. To his credit Mulgrew continued – we have to get used to working together, observing other teachers and having other teachers observe us.

For decades the teaching culture has been to close your door and teach and from the central level to collect data and issue memorandum requiring this or that – ultimately leadership/supervision by compliance tools.

School leaders have become much better collectors and monitors of data than instructional leaders – how many school leaders actually ever teach a class or sit with teachers to discuss kids. A very senior old timer had a sign on his desk – “If there is no learning there is no teaching.” Tweed agreed, and chose to determine learning by test results rather than on the ground, in classrooms, working with kids and teachers.

De Blasio, Farina and Mulgrew are all on board – they are committed to creating a far more collaborative environment at the school level – convincing school leaders that leadership means “getting dirty,” spending most of their time in classrooms and working with teachers and convincing teachers that inviting a principal into their room or looking forward to sharing new ideas with colleagues is perfectly acceptable, a sea change.

The months of intense negotiations were the easy part – actually making contract language more than words on a page of a challenge.

The best way to fight the naysayers, those who believe unionized schools can never provide adequate instruction will only be squelched by creating more effective schools.

Hopefully a year or so down the road the union newspaper will not have to feature a chapter fighting against an abusive principal and feature a school-based effective reform.

“Participation reduces resistance” is a core principal of personnel and organization change. The window is open – whether the union and its members can seize the day is the challenge.

Read a summary of the contract from Chalkbeat here

If you have a question you can help build the soon-to-be-posted FAQ here

Where Can Mayor de Blasio Find $8 Billion? The Legacy of Michael Bloomberg

UPDATE (May 1, 9:00am): Newspapers report an announcement of a contract settlement later today

In November, 2009 your mortgage bill didn’t arrive – you put the dollars aside, must be some kind of a glitch. As the months go by the mortgage bill continues not to arrive, you really did want that extra pair of shoes, the really nice dress, those playoff tickets on Stubhub way beyond what you can afford. The months turn into years and you incorporate the dollars into your day-to-day expenses. Suddenly, last month the mortgage bill arrives along with an arrears bill for the four and a half years of missed payments – how the hell can you come up with four and half years of mortgage payments?

Mayor de Blasio faces the same dilemma – his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, simply allowed every union contract to expire and incorporated the “saved” dollars into the city budget. There are currently 152 expired city unionized employee contracts – well over 300,000 employees.

The UFT, the teachers union, is the first union to enter into negotiations, and, whatever is decided will set the pattern for all other unions.

The NY Daily News, citing “sources,” suggests “one deal being discussed,”

One deal being discussed with the United Federation of Teachers would give them retroactive raises for most of the five years the contract has been expired at a rate of 4%, 4%, 0%, 1% and 2% — although it is unclear how the payout would be distributed to ease the punch to the city’s pocketbook. Teachers would then get raises of 2% and 2%, the source said.

“The reports are not accurate,” Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for de Blasio, said.

Salary decisions are based upon principles within laws governing public employee bargaining in New York State established by the Public Employee Relation Board (PERB). Under PERB regulations expired contracts remain in effect until the successor agreement is negotiated – teachers earning less than maximum continued to receive step and longevity increases after the contract expired on October 31, 2009. The rates being negotiated, both retroactive and prospective are based on two principles, “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.”

The negotiations in New York City have moved from mediation to impasse to the appointment of a fact-finding panel. The fact-finding process, basically an arbitration-like proceeding has moved through the steps: both sides have submitted documents, witnesses testified, and, with the election and a new administration, the fact-finders reverted to a mediation role. The fact-finding panel can issue a public non-binding decision, while not binding it is almost always the basis for the final settlement. It is commonplace for fact-finding reports to contain items that both sides agreed to during negotiations and the fact-finders essentially “take the heat” for items that either side feels they could not agree to publicly. Ideally agreements are made by the parties; both sides always worry about allowing “outsiders,” the arbitrators, to make decisions for the parties.

Take a look at a fact-finding report from a small school district: http://www.perb.ny.gov/pdf/m2010-300.pdf

The Mayor, similar to the guy who wasn’t paying his mortgage is faced with finding the dollars to fill the “holes” that have been filled by not granting raises and using the “saved” dollars for day-to-day operations and somehow finding both billions of dollars “owed” for retroactive raises and dollars for prospective raises.

Both the new Mayor and the union leaders are friendly; both sides agree that employees are entitled to raises – both retroactive and prospective – the Mayor – accurately – asks: where can I find the billions? The union argues, quite correctly, that members should not be punished for excesses of the former mayor.

The leader of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, in the draft City Council budget asks for an increase of a thousand police officers and both the Police Commissioner and the Mayor respond: we’d rather use the dollars for raises for current employees.

While there is no statutory date for completing negotiations both sides are anxious to complete the negotiations before the end of the fiscal year – June 30th.

The Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC) hasn’t even begun negotiations over city employee health plans – city costs continue to escalate sharply, and, the current health plan costs are over a billion bucks a year. The MLC health plan negotiations will be tough with the city asking for “savings” and the unions resisting transferring salary increases to paying to maintain health benefits.

Parallel to the “dollar” negotiations with the city are the non-budgetary negotiations with the Department of Education. On the top of the list are changes in the teacher evaluation law, these are three-way negotiations – the plan must be approved by the State Education Department and falls under state law. Both the union and the department are unhappy with the state-imposed teacher evaluation plan so one can expect a settlement that results in a much simpler plan.

The core issue: $$$$

Stretching out retroactive payments two, three or four budget cycles is obvious – how many more budget cycles are necessary so that the city has the “ability to pay”?

There is a narrow window: the union leader, the mayor and the chancellor actually appear to like each other – the union members like their union leader, the mayor and the chancellor – this is a rare moment – on the other hand teachers ask: “show me the money.”

Teachers would love a saner teacher evaluation plan, reducing of the current testing fiasco, removing the fear of school closings and exile into the ATR pool and generally leadership that supports and respects teachers; teachers are not willing to attribute a dollar value to these issues.

How do you come to a “fair” agreement, and define “fair” as an agreement that both sides accept as “fair” along with the larger public, remember the day after you win an election you begin running for the next election. The mayor cannot afford to be pilloried by the press and the elites, he needs a settlement that is widely accepted as fair to the city.

If an agreement is not reached by June 30th the window could close, the “warmth” turn to a “chill,” and a fact-finders’ report can contain items anathema to the union and its members.

This is not a New York City only event – mayors, union leaders, teachers, electeds, policy-makers, the media, across the nation are taking a deep look at New York City. Can unions and city leaders negotiate contracts that are both fiscally responsible and educationally ambitious and inventive?

A couple of years down the road Detroit, Philadelphia and Newark may no longer have public schools with other cities not far behind.

Without being overly dramatic the future of unionized public schools in urban school districts across the nation may be decided in the next two months in New York City.

Why Are Contract Negotiations Taking So Long? and, Other Questions You Wanted to Ask

Teacher: Why are the negotiations taking so long?

Me: Because the guy on the other side of the table, Bob Linn, the Director of Labor Relations for NYC is vigorously opposing the demands of the union, that’s his job.

Teacher: Other unions received 4% increases in 2008 – why don’t teachers receive the same increases?

Me: The City is undoubtedly arguing that the Union chose not to accept offers from the City which were well below 4% and should not benefit retroactively – that being said the PERB principles of “ability to pay” and “pattern bargaining” will eventually play the major role in determining salary – both retroactively and going forward.

Teacher: If the City and Union agree to a rate that teachers should have received on November 1, 2009 would we receive that rate each year up until the new contract is negotiated?

Me: Probably not. As the 2008 fiscal crisis deepened the City offers in negotiations with unions decreased sharply as well as asking for give backs, analyzing the fiscal situation of the City, the mayor’s budget in 2011 and 2012 contained substantial teachers layoffs which the City Council restored. Where did the money come from to avert the layoffs? The City will argue the funds used to avoid layoffs should be “credited” against potential salary increases, the Union will vigorously disagree.

Teacher: Once the parties agree on the total amount of retroactive pay will all teachers receive the same rate?

Me: This is another matter for negotiations – should teachers who have resigned receive retroactive pay? Should the retroactive pay be pensionable for teachers who have already retired?

Teacher: Will receive the retroactive pay be paid in a lump sum?

Me: Highly unlikely – we’re talking about billions of dollars, the City and the Union will probably agree on a number of payments over several budget cycles.

Teacher: The Mayor has mentioned that contracts must include cost savings – what does he mean?

Me: Each year the Comptroller determines how much the city has to pay to fund the pension system: New York City has a defined benefit pension system – a pension is the result of years of service and the salary at retirement and actuarial calculations determine the required city payments. The calculations are significantly impacted by the fluctuations in the stock market.

… the taxpayer-financed pension contribution rate payable in the fall of 2015 will rise to 17.53 percent of teacher payrolls, or 1.28 percent above the contribution payable this coming September.

In the early 80’s the city contribution rate was 20% of teacher payrolls; by the late 90’s the rate decreased to less than 1% and over the last 12 years contribution rate has sharply increased.

In New York City, over the past 12 years our pension costs have gone from $1.5 billion to $8.2 billion. That’s almost a 500 percent increase — when inflation totaled only 35 percent.

Tier 6 will be a less costly pension plan, although it will take decades for the impact to be reflected in the city contribution rate. If the stock market jumps the city contribution rate will decline over time, and, visa versa.

The negotiations do not impact pensions – pensions are legislative – however, with the default in Detroit and the federal courts deciding that federal bankruptcy laws trump state constitutions, unions are concerned with the viability of pension plans.

Teacher: Does the teacher union negotiate health plans?

Me: No, the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) negotiates health plans for all city employees; however, UFT President Mulgrew and Bob Linn, the City labor guy will play major roles – the current contract negotiations will not specifically impact health plans, the MLC and the City will be negotiating health plans later.

Health plan costs have been sky rocketing over the last decade,

… health insurance costs [over the four years] are projected to grow about 40 percent, outpacing the next highest expenditure, debt service, at 30 percent. Health insurance will rise to nearly $7 billion in 2016, when it will equal 80 percent of the city’s projected budget deficit.

The Citizens’ Budget Commission argues

… that the current health plan costs for both active and retired employees are not sustainable,

The city’s policies are most generous with respect to retirees. It’s extremely rare for public employers to pay the full cost of the premium for family coverage for retirees under age 65. For those over age 65, no other government surveyed reimbursed all retirees and their spouses for the premium cost of Medicare Part B; most offer no reimbursement at all.

There’s no getting around the reality that the taxpayers’ obligations for health insurance for city employees and retirees will have to be controlled through premium-sharing. The CBC estimates that annual savings of $1.7 billion can be achieved by requiring contributions of up to 25 percent from employees and 50 percent from retirees, and eliminating the Medicare Part B reimbursement.

Teachers: So, the contract could give us a raise and the increased health plan costs can erode some of the increase?

Me: It’s possible.

Teacher: Would we lose some health plan coverage?

Me: In the past the health plan co-pays were increased and the benefits, the coverage, was not reduced; however, the plans could offer a wider range of choices at different price points.

Teacher: Will the just announced MTA-TWU labor agreement, 8% over 5 years impact the teacher negotiations?

Me: The Mayor announced the agreement will not impact the current negotiations.

Teacher: Do you have any idea of the rate going forward?

Me: No, since all the unions in the City are without contracts the “pattern bargaining” principle is difficult – the Union will argue the higher rates in the suburbs attract NYC teachers and the City will point to small increases in the suburbs in the last few years.

Teacher: What happens if negotiations stall?

Me: The fact-finders will issue their report – while the report is non-binding in the past they were the basis for settlements.

Teacher: Who gets to vote on the contract?

Me: Active teachers vote – not retirees – in the past the votes have taken place in school and each bargaining unit voted separately, for example, teachers vote for the teacher contract, secretaries for the secretary contract, etc.

Teacher: Will we have the contract before we vote?

Me: You will have the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), the legal document signed by the parties.

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.

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

The Art of Negotiations: Keeping the Eye on the Prize – Staying Focused in a World of Conflict

This has been a bad week for Bill de Blasio.

After opposing co-location of charter schools in public school buildings de Blasio only reverses a handful of Bloomberg co-location decisions, and is sharply criticized by his supporters. Eva and company spend half a million to plaster TV ads shredding the new mayor, and, his “friend” in Albany, Governor Cuomo, after blocking his universal pre-K plan shows up at the charter school rally praising his new-found allies, who , BTW, contributed hundreds of thousands to his campaign chest. Chancellor Farina “misspeaks” a few times over finding space for the “un-co-located” new charter schools.

Whispers about a one-term mayor ….

Teachers howl, “Where is the union? Why aren’t they buying ad time to counter Eva? Why don’t they attack the Governor?”

The answer is simple: The goal of the union is to negotiate the best possible contract, not be sidetracked by other issues, not picking new fights.

Mayor de Blasio and the union will benefit greatly by a contract, however, that said; it has to be the “right” contract. The specter of David Dinkins hangs over the process. With the strong support of the union Dinkins defeated three-time incumbent Koch in the primary and a hard-charging Rudy Giuliani in the general election. Negotiations with the UFT, the teacher union dragged on and on – eighteen months beyond the expiration of the contract – the UFT ran radio and TV ads chiding Dinkins, a contract was finally reached a few months before the election. The union membership was hostile to Dinkins, the union made no endorsement, and twenty years of Republican mayors followed.

Both union president Mulgrew and the Mayor have made it clear – they want a contract for the end of the fiscal year – June 30th.

Dean Fuleihan, the new Budget Director, clearly signaled one direction for the negotiations,

“We’re going to treat the workforce with the respect that they have not been treated with, but at the same time protect the taxpayers and do something that’s affordable,” Dean Fuleihan said at the first hearing on de Blasio’s proposed $74 billion budget.

“There have to be offsetting savings. And (de Blasio) specifically mentioned and has repeatedly mentioned health savings.”

All 300,000 city employees have been working under expired labor contracts, some for more than five years. The unions are demanding more than $7 billion in retroactive pay hikes.

Fuleihan repeatedly stressed that saving money on the skyrocketing cost of health benefits would have to be part of any deal with the unions.

We’re looking to sit down and see if we can come up with some ideas that can save everybody money,” said Harry Nespoli of the Municipal Labor Committee.

But he said he would resist making workers pay more for premiums, noting they already are responsible for co-pays.

“That’s going to be a problem. … We want to make sure that whatever changes; the quality of the health care stays the same.”

Are health plans part of the teacher contract negotiations?

No and Yes.

The UFT does not negotiate health plans, the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), a coalition representing the 300,000 city employees negotiates, however, health plan costs are part of the size of the package. “Savings” in health coverage adds potential dollars to the retroactive pay/salary rate increase pool.

The cost of city employee health plans have been skyrocketing and the Affordable Care Act complicates an already thorny issue.

For teachers a major item is retroactive pay, the teacher contract expired on 11/1/09 – over four years ago. The union retroactive pay claims, for all city employees, reportedly would cost the city $7 billion: well beyond what is possible in one budget cycle (7/1 until 6/30).

Unions argue that “pattern bargaining” requires retroactive pay at a rate of 4% – the last raises prior to the mayoral decision not to negotiate with any union. Clearly the city will point to the fall 2008 fiscal crisis and use an “ability to pay” claim. The long overdue fact-finders report will probably address the issues, the report is not binding.

Much of the “negotiations” involve the number crunchers from both sides, gaining an agreement on a wide range of statistical projections.

An example: If the city and the union had negotiated a union what would have been the rate? What are projected tax revenues over the next year(s)?

Once the city and the union agree upon a dollar package, how will it be paid? Pensionable? Nonpensionable? A combination? Paid over one, two or three budget cycles?

After dealing with the past, the retroactive – what is the rate going forward – the increase in the new contract and the length of the contract?

The union wants a “going-out” rate as high as possible; the rate on the day before the new contract begins, the new rate, and the “going-forward” rate is built on the “going-out rate.”

While the budgetary issues are the core of the negotiations there are a range of non-budgetary issues.

* Should the ATR pool be eliminated, and, if so, what is the dollar savings for the city? A win-win issue, both sides would benefit.

* If both sides want to increase “collaboration” at the school level, can you “mandate” collaboration through contract language?

* Can the grievance process/dispute resolution process be streamlined? Instead of disputes taking months, or a year to resolve can disputes be resolved in weeks?

* Can the teacher discipline procedures also be streamlined? The current time frames have been reduced on paper; however, too many cases drag out, partially due to the former administration’s reticence to go before an arbitrator.

In each set of negotiations the parties have discussed a simpler contract, sometimes referred to as a “thin contract.” Some schools use the School-Based Option section of the contract to “amend” contract provisions while others modify the contract quietly below the radar.

Charter school advocates aver that rigid contract provisions impede innovation – a “thin contract” zone would counter that assertion.

At the end of weeks of long intense sessions the sides will move closer and closer, and, one side says, “We need a “sweetener,” something to make the contract more acceptable, more saleable to their side.

The mayor is an enormous advocate of affordable housing – his platform included building 200,000 new units. How do you pay for the housing? Developers want to build high income housing – there is a much higher return on investment. One suggestion: unions allow pension fund dollars to be invested in bonds to pay for affordable housing and that units are carved out for union members. Currently affordable housing uses AMI (Area Median Income) – an amount which would bar new teachers, they earn too much money – a “carve out” for teachers would achieve both purposes – pension fund dollars for affordable housing and units for teachers. Not part of a contract, however, an agreement that would gain support for the contract among the cognoscenti.

For the union, members have to vote to accept the agreement and for the city the agreement has to have the support of the influence makers – the New York Times, the Citizen’s Budget Commission, the City Council, the range of advocacy organizations, and, the public at large, Governor and candidate Andrew Cuomo announcing “This contract agreement is fair to teachers and a win for the City of New York” would be a wonderful plus.

Teacher opinions range from, “I’m retiring soon, I only care about money,” to “I have a long way to go – I’m mostly concerned with professionalism, with working conditions.”

In the final days negotiations move from a science, parsing numbers, to an art, the crafting of a settlement.

Michael Mulgrew and Bill de Blasio, hopefully, will become the best of friends

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

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.

Midnight Oils Burn at Tweed as the Rollout of Policies Begin: The Beginning of a Road to the White House?

The midwinter recess is a pause, a week to decompress, to catch a flight and lay on a beach with an adult beverage in hand, sleeping late, reading that pile of books that have been gathering dust, movies, movies, movies, and the nightmare that wakes you up sweating at night, the upcoming state tests.

At Tweed the lights are burning late, Carmen Farina, Tony Shorris, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg and Ursulina Ramirez, the new team, are creating a new Department of Education, a phoenix rising from the ashes, an opportunity, a few brief months to place their stamp, to rebrand sixteen hundred schools and 1.1 million children. An awesome task.

Across the courtyard in City Hall the spinners are working on the media campaign, The Post will savage the decisions, the Eva Moskowitz corps, the Manhattan Institute, the Fordham Institute, even Bill Gates will be plotting how to respond, how to both undercut and derail the initiatives.

Bill de Blasio is bucking the tide, a progressive in an era of rampant conservatism, a mayor who opposes charter schools, committed to public schools, a mayor with one leg in the sixties and one in the future.

The conflict with Governor Cuomo over pre-k will resolve itself – both leaders, the governor of one of the most influential states in the nation and the mayor of Gotham City – the two most powerful politicians in New York State – politicians who need each other.

The co-location of charter schools in public school buildings will only impact a couple of dozen schools; it will also send a ringing message across the political stratosphere. The upcoming reorganization of the school system – networks, geographic districts or a hybrid will impact every school, and only create a ripple.

Charging rent to charter schools will flash around the internet.

The negotiation of the teacher contract can move teacher negotiations in a new direction. The major issues for teachers are back pay – retroactive pay back to November 1, 2009, the expiration of the last contract and “respect.” Will the contract simply increase salary with a few fillips for teachers, or, will the contract move in a new direction? And, if so, what direction?

The highly touted Baltimore teacher contract (2010) replaced step increases, increases based on longevity to increases based on “achievement units,” including teacher evaluations into the salary schedule. The contract was widely praised by Arne Duncan and other reformers and undoubtedly would not fly in New York.

Can de Blasio and UFT President Mulgrew carve out a new path – a de Blasio path – a path not praised by Arne Duncan or Gates, a path in the new urban philosophy addressing the tale of two cities.

Governors and mayors are under the thrall of elitist education reformers, from Arne Duncan to the billionaire faux soothsayers who claim to foretell the future, ignoring inequality, pampering the one tenth of one percent, the widest gap in income since the 1920s, Bill de Blasio stands alone. Over the months, over the years the Mayor of New York can emerge as the leader of a new left, a revival of the tarnished liberal reputation with roots leading back to JFK and Lyndon Johnson.

The route is rocky with gaping potholes, the chancellor and the mayor cannot afford the disaster of the last snowstorm, with snow falling at two inches an hour, with hardy winds blowing, the chancellor blithely chirped,

“It has totally stopped snowing. It’s absolutely a beautiful day out there right now,” she said at a morning news conference in Brooklyn with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Asked to elaborate, Farina said, “Coming down the stairs, the most obvious thing is it stopped snowing. The second thing, it’s getting warmer – which means that theoretically the snow will start melting.”

The mayor cannot afford missteps, cannot afford ridicule – the stakes are too high.

Andrea Elliot was just awarded the prestigious Polk Award for local reporting for the five-part “Invisible Child” – the story of the life of a middle school student living in a homeless shelter frames the de Blasio agenda. The shelter is surrounded by glittering high raise rental and million dollar condominiums. A perfect example of the tale of two cities. Whether de Blasio can build thousands of units of affordable housing is years down the road. Whether he can impact the education of the public school children of the City of New York will be decided in upcoming months.

Big city mayors around the country are under assault, Rahm Emanuel is at war with the Chicago Teachers Union, and the new mayor in Los Angeles has retained the extraordinarily unpopular superintendent of schools, John Deasy.

Don’t think that Bill isn’t thinking about a run for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue down the road – and path begins with education policies … winning over suburban moms and voters of color converts to electoral votes.