On October 10th, 2018 the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) announced that a contractual agreement was reached with the City of New York. On October 11th the UFT’s 400-member negotiating committee convened and voted at a morning session to recommend the tentative UFT-DOE contract to the Delegate Assembly (DA), and the next day a special Delegate Assembly was hastily convened. President Mulgrew elaborated from a PowerPoint presentation. Hard copies of the proposed contract were distributed minutes before the vote; not nearly enough time was allowed to read and digest it. The rest is history- the largely UNITY caucus-controlled attendees voted to send the tentative DOE-UFT contract agreement to the membership.
The Bronx Plan embedded in the contract sounds promising, but there are more questions than answers. In a Chalkbeat article the plan is summarized:
“The new contract creates what officials are calling ‘The Bronx Plan’, through which 180 schools will be able to pay an extra $5,000 to $8,000 to educators who take hard-to-fill positions. Two-thirds of the schools will also give educators a formal role in decision making. Both elements echo ideas that the city has tried out before but fell short of expectations. Schools that qualify for the pay incentive will be identified this fall, and, contrary to the plan’s name, could include some in other boroughs. Officials said the plan was named for the Bronx’s challenges, which include low student performance and persistently high teacher turnover.”
Parents want the best for their children: small class sizes, safe environments, high retention of teachers, more school counselors, alternatives to high suspensions, and Culturally Relevant Education (CRE) enhanced by Culturally Responsive Curriculum. Educators work closely with many parent groups. We understand their needs and they understand ours. There is a lot of work ahead, and many roadblocks to providing the schools our students deserve which are NOT addressed in the Bronx Plan:
- Undoing systemic racism
- Ending zero discipline policies in schools and incorporate restorative practices
- Creating Ethnic and Black Studies to validate the students we serve
- Ending the School to Prison Pipeline (Counselors not Cops)
- Reducing class sizes
- Ending workplace bullying of educators by supervisors
The Bronx Plan has positive aspects, but also many weaknesses that need to be addressed. Additional resources to recruit and provide additional pay to teachers in hard to staff schools is undoubtedly a positive thing, but money is only one of many factors causing high attrition rates at hard-to-staff schools.
What about the drastic and sustained loss of Black, Asian and Latinx teachers? Where is the attempt to recruit and retain them? What has the UFT done about it? What does the UFT need to do about it? Look no further than the NYC Teacher Diversity Committee’s website for a plethora of research, including that of the AFT Shanker Institute, with recommendations for politicians and unions. In addition, a recent New York Times article illustrates the significant evidence that when students are taught by educators who look like them, outcomes are significantly improved.
The Bronx Plan (aka Bronx Collaborative Model) is also positive in the sense that collaboration between the UFT Chapter Leader and administrators is emphasized as essential for improving learning conditions for students and working conditions for educators. However, what that means is that schools which may want to apply for this cohort should already have some aspect of this collaboration already in place. In schools where collaboration is not already happening, the plan would not be able to get off the ground, as it clearly states that “both the principal and the UFT chapter leader of each school have to agree to be part of the model.”
As the deadline approaches for selected schools to apply for the cohort, chapter leaders in these schools must have the autonomy to decide whether or not to participate. They should not be coerced by any principal or UFT brass to participate. The Bronx Plan embodies collaboration. It should not only be a futuristic utopian aim of success- it should be a pathway for equity and access for all stakeholders in a given school. Here is the umbrella question for stakeholders pushing the plan, “Is the contract being followed at the school selected for the Bronx Plan”?
The UFT has different data sets to gauge the level of collaboration between administrators and a chapter leader at a given school. Questions below are components of a litmus test:
- Is there ample parking at the school or in the neighborhood for the prospective educator?
- Were class size grievances filed? How many?
- Does the Chapter leader have any input into the creation of the Comprehensive Education Plan?
- Are documents submitted in time to chapter leader for the consultation and School Leadership Teams meetings? Why not?
- Were there grievances filed to obtain copies of the budget? How many times?
- Were grievances for postings filed? How many?
- Were grievances filed for per session opportunities? How many?
- Were reorganization /scheduling grievances filed? How many times?
- Were Special education complaints filed? How many?
- Were ESL complaints filed? How many?
- Were safety complaints filed? (Article 10) How many were answered by the principal?
- Are the students’ social emotional needs being addressed with resources? Is there a behavior plan? Is there a PBIS program?
- Are Restorative Justice Components being discussed.
- Guaranteed staffing (union, not contract)
- Training for staff and students
- Re-entry supports for students
- Reducing suspension rates
- Is there an effective Community Based Organization that works with the school community? How is that measured?
- Are there conversations about Culturally Relevant Education & Black Lives Matter at School
The UFT/DOE Bronx Plan is a step in the right direction, but it is not the whole story. Genuine collaboration between chapter leaders and administrators, not just the appearance of it, will be key to creating schools New York’s students, parents, and teachers deserve. Additional pay to recruit and retain teachers in hard-to-staff schools is not nothing, but honest conversations need to happen about collaboration, working conditions, and the push-out of educators of color, or the attrition rate will not budge. The problem will be fixed when administrators respect the contract and stop bullying chapter leaders and UFT members. The UFT must revive the Principals in Need of Improvement (PINI) list, who are are those persistently falling short based on the criteria listed above. The leadership has been asked many times at the UFT Delegate Assembly and at the UFT Executive Board about this list and no one seems to have an answer. This election year this will be a campaign issue and will be highlighted.
“Our Working Conditions are our Students’ Learning Conditions”
Dermott Myrie is a Chapter Leader at MS 391 – District 10