The Wait Isn’t Over

May 11, 2014 — 9 Comments

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By Julie Cavanagh

Teacher/Chapter-leader P.S. 15k

A shortened version of this was published at WNYC/NPR Schoolbook 

The Wait Isn’t Over

UFT members and the children we serve have suffered over the last several years due to deteriorating learning and working conditions. The proposed new UFT contract highlights this administration’s commitment to the restoration of collaboration and communication between our union and the city. It is a welcome departure from the previous administration.

The proposed contract includes some steps forward in rebuilding respect for educators, voices of parents, and open dialogue between the city and its workers. There are changes in this proposed contract that will improve our students’ learning conditions and our working conditions. I have serious concerns, however, with several aspects of this proposal that undermine the importance of solidarity, that fall short of bringing us closer to the schools our students deserve, and that bring into question our value as workers.

Solidarity

The proposed contract will divide educators into several tiers. Once we destroy union solidarity, we destroy our union. Career ladders are nothing more than a merit pay scheme with a different name. The only incentive given here is for great teachers to leave the classroom, which is not a plan for long term school progress. Teacher leadership is critical to the success of schools, but dividing teachers by salary is not a way to achieve this goal.

Due process, job security, and fair evaluations for all educators are the foundations of any teacher’s union contract. There cannot be two sets of rules for educators. Those who were excessed through no fault of their own and were placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool should not be held to a different standard than their fellow union members.

I also hoped this contract would address pay parity.  Occupational and Physical Therapists, who are essential to the success of the children we serve, make considerably less than their educator colleagues. Paraprofessionals also deserve consideration in this contract, as they are underpaid for the important and challenging work they do.

The Schools Our Children Deserve

This proposal is a missed opportunity to improve the relationships with the communities we serve. I applaud the increased time for parent and teacher collaboration, but this step does not go far enough in advancing the policy issues that parents, educators, and our students are most concerned about.

I hoped this contract would go further in addressing issues of class size, developmentally inappropriate standards, lack of robust curriculum, targeted intervention for students, art instruction, too-large caseloads for counselors, psychologists, and social workers, over emphasis on high stakes testing, the deficit of resources for special needs children, and the continued reliance on flawed test based evaluation.

While I commend the effort to address the needs in hard-to-staff schools, I believe a different path should be taken. Wraparound services, reduced class size, additional nurses, librarians, social workers, counselors, healthy food initiatives, after-school and weekend academic programs, and extracurricular activities are all proven formulas for success, not $5,000 bonus pay. Simply, I feel this money would have been better spent on direct services to children.

I also commend the additional time for educators to work in teacher teams, engage in meaningful professional development, and complete the monumental tasks that we frankly do not currently have the time to complete. However, I am concerned that this time that has been reconfigured to support teachers leaves our children behind, because, with the information I have seen thus far, there will be no efforts to replace targeted intervention for students.

School Leadership Teams (SLTs), which consist of administrators, teachers, parents, and students at the high school level, should be empowered to make authentic decisions for their schools.  While I appreciate what I believe is the good intention behind the PROSE School Initiative, I am concerned about the possibility of “thin contracts” and the inherent acceptance of the assumption that the union contract and Chancellor Regulations have a negative impact on schools.  I would have rather seen these efforts directed at strengthening SLTs in all schools.

Our Value As Workers

UFT members are dedicated professionals, and although we didn’t become educators for the money, we do have families to raise and financial obligations that have become more difficult over the past five years.  I am a teacher, a wife, a mother, and a New Yorker; I want to live where I work and provide my son with every opportunity. I do my part to improve our schools and society for him, for all children, and for their families.

This proposed contract would have members accept raises that are less than two percent each year between 2009 – 2018, less than the rate of inflation. Salaries around the country have fallen behind, which has caused income inequality for many families of the children we serve. Every working man and woman deserves a living wage and annual cost of living increases. If our union does not take this stand, who will?

Our friends in virtually every other municipal labor union received the wage increases they deserved nearly five years ago. Today they continue to have the full 8% as part of their salary scale, even though most now also find themselves with expired contracts. UFT members will not receive these wage increases with retro-pay until 2020. In September, UFT members will walk into a 2% raise and $1,000 rather than the 8% we deserve.

If we accept this deal, other union members may be forced to accept similar bad contracts. This proposed contract sets a dangerous precedent.  Politicians now have the green light to refuse to negotiate in good faith and force pay freezes for workers, 0% pay raises, deferred raises and retro-pay and a contract that is below the rate of inflation.

The Contract Our Schools and Educators Deserve

UFT members have been without a contract for over five years. We, along with the communities we serve, have faced a tidal wave of attacks on our neighborhood schools. A new contract has the power to right these wrongs. I believe the path to real change must be traveled together. Only through the active involvement of our members, parents, and with respect for all students, can we achieve the promise of public education and the schools our children deserve.

Many teachers I know, and my amazing colleagues at PS 15, would have happily conceded some financial compensation in favor of a greater improvement to teaching and learning conditions.  Given that this contract extends beyond the next Mayoral election, we have surrendered vast opportunities for meaningful improvements and progressive “reform”.

I encourage school communities in the coming days and weeks to have collective, open and transparent discussions in their chapters, during lunch, and with their families, the kind of conversations we should be having in our union hall, to reach an informed decision on members’ ratification vote.

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9 responses to The Wait Isn’t Over

  1. 

    In 2002 the Unity Caucus leadership crowed about collaboration with Bloomberg following years of disputes with the Guiliani administration. To prove their “reasonableness” Weingarten helped mayoral control to pass the state legislature and in 2005 she gave up the seniority rights of members which paved the way for the ATR pool.

    In 2014 the Unity Caucus leadership is once again crowing about “collaboration” with a new administration and is proving their “reasonableness” by conceding large sums to the city by deferring wage increases and allowing for a payout without interest on retroactive money. UFT members are not the only ones paying for Unity’s seat. DiBlasio will seek to impose a similar pattern on the entire municipal workforce if this tentative agreement is ratified. Hundreds of thousands of workers whose children attend NYC schools will be saddled with double zeros while rent, food and utility bills go up and up.

    “Collaboration” is the Unity Caucus fig leaf for givebacks and tradeoffs to retain their “seat at the table”. This latest version has resulted in no measures to empower parental control over the schools, to decrease class size, to increase diversity in the teaching staff, to reduce the gap between the top and bottom of the pay scale that contributes to high teacher turnover and the destabilization of school communities.

  2. 
    Adjlevin@aol.com May 11, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Contract should be seven years; the 8 % should be paid in full no later than Sept. 2015 and atrs should have the same rules as appointed teachers wrt prospective proceedings against them. just for starters.

  3. 
    Samantha Waters May 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Of course there are concerns. There will always be concerns because negotiations are a give and take. This compunded by the work relationship of the past many years which has been dismally hostile to public education and the entire public sector. BUT THAT WAS THEN….THIS IS NOW. We SHOULD accept this contract. It offers many good possibilities and opportunities. We are now working in a more friendly collaboration. Let us move forward in a positive frame of mind. What needs improvement can be dealt with in the next contract negotiation.

    • 

      So after waiting out Bloomberg you suggest to mid career and junior teachers that they wait until the next contract for improvements? I would be in a much more positive frame of mind if I received a 10 percent increase in September 2014 than 2 percent.

      I don’t see the “good possibilities and opportunities” in this tentative agreement because I can’t retire before 6/14 and collect all the retro and raises now. I, along with the large majority of working teachers will have to wait until 2020, two years after the expiration of the tentative agreement, giving what amounts to a 10 year interest free loan to the city! Teachers are supposed to be sheepish about demanding a decent wage in the wealthiest city in the USA because the 1% has insulated themselves from paying taxes and destroyed the real economy? NYC schools have the highest class size. The median NYC teacher salary is the lowest in the metro area and we have the highest cost of living. Why take it from teachers who can’t afford to rent their own apartment and pay their student loans at the same time? Why doesn’t DiBlasio and the Unity Caucus leadership ask Goldman Sachs and Bank of America executives to fork over their yearly bonuses to the DOE? Its all taxpayers bailout money anyway.

      The best part of the tentative agreement, the 4+4 salary increase, was negotiated by other municipal unions who have had this money in their pockets for the past five years. A no vote may allow the other municipal workers to do better than the double zeros that the Unity Caucus leadership “won” for the UFT membership. Let the other city unions go first.

      As for the educational improvements touted by the Unity caucus leaders, I see no reduction in class size. The huge disparity in salaries between the top and bottom of the pay scale contributes to the lowest rate of retention in the state and the destabilization of school communities, is increased by this tentative agreement. What educational improvements? Merit pay? PROSE schools? A best tokens, at worst more ways to divide, control and confuse.

  4. 

    You speak about tiers of educators. This is an attempt to muddy the waters as if extra responsibility is merit pay. It shows the lack of connection MORE has with what is really happening in the country, State and City. This is a good contract that clearly improves our working conditions. It is important that all of our members have the opportunity to have their voice heard and vote on this contract. I will be voting YES. YES for improved working conditions that are my student’s learning conditions. YES for a contract that recognizes that excellent educators have the responsibility to mentor other teachers because quality education is marked with teacher collaboration. Yes to a contract that allows for schools to innovate education with the PROSE schools upholding the values that education greats like Al Shanker held tight. And Yes to a contract that gives full retro, and remembers that if we bankrupt the city by demanding the money upfront we only hurt our brothers and sisters in other public unions.
    Yes is the only vote that makes sense.

    • 

      Working conditions are not improved. There are givebacks. There is a delay in salary with no reward for the wait. Vague on the health care issue. All very sensible reasons to vote NO.

    • 

      Dear Sancha…

      Why on earth would you say that Albert Shanker would support this contract is beyond me. His wife specifically is quoted as saying”Al would not embrace this form of ed-reform”. How old are you, anyway?

      • 

        Absolutely Al Shanker would support this contract. Remember he bailed out the city in “75 after we went on strike for nothing and they laid off 15,000 teachers. Shanker is one of the authors of ed deform from the day he supported the Nation at Risk report in 1983. Go read his bio. Oh, and class sizes plus loopholes were put into effect in 1967- Shanker was UFT president until “85. How many times when contract time came up we were told the city was broke and Unity pushed that same line on us? In 95 they tried to sell the same thing – helping Giulini with 0-0 contract – and practically the day after it was voted up the city became rich. Oh, and we rejected that first version when the Unity/UFT tried to push a 25 year longevity on us. We sent their asses back to the negotiating table and they came back with 22 years. That first NO vote has made a lot of money for every senior teacher.

  5. 

    Please have the sense not to ratify this contract. You deserve better and this is such a cope out. Even your union president can’t have a decent interaction with his teachers to discuss it’s non merits! Vote NO!

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