Selling the Contract

Making his case, Mulgrew says new contract draws battle lines in "war with the reformers"

PHOTO: Twitter/UFT
Members of the UFT's Delegate Assembly voting to send the proposed contract to the full union membership.

In a candid speech to teachers on Wednesday, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew offered a behind-the-scenes account of the recent contract negotiations with the city and argued that the resulting deal was the union’s best chance at winning a “war with the reformers.”

In an hour-long presentation followed by 40 minutes of questions and answers, Mulgrew promoted the terms of the agreement to the union’s Delegate Assembly, a 3,400-member group of elected teacher representatives. Following a short debate period, where one critic of the plan had his microphone shut off, the assembly agreed to send the proposed contract to the UFT’s more than 100,000 members for a ratification vote.

Speaking in blunt terms, Mulgrew also admitted that the union’s position last year on one controversial part of the new teacher evaluation system was designed to “gum up the works” when it was rolled out this year.

The proposed contract contains several changes to the evaluation system, which the state education commissioner imposed last summer after a long city-union clash over the details. Under the new agreement, teachers would be rated on a rubric of just eight items, down from 22.

A teacher pointed out during the question portion that the union lobbied last year for teachers to be rated on all 22 rubric components rather than just a handful, as the city wanted. At the time, many assumed the union opted for more components because it would give teachers more points to contest if they received poor ratings.

Mulgrew acknowledged as much Wednesday, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Chalkbeat. Members of the press were not allowed into the meeting, which was held in a banquet hall at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

“It was a strategy decision to gum up the works because we knew what their lawyers were trying to do,” Mulgrew said, referring to city officials. “That’s things I don’t get to say in public when I’m doing them, because we knew they had a plan to use the new evaluation system to go after people.”

Mulgrew said Wednesday that the union began to seek changes to the evaluations as soon as de Blasio took office.

“We had a goal that this year would be the first and only year you would work under the new evaluation system,” he told the teachers.

He also defended a part of the deal that would free some schools from certain contract provisions so they can experiment with different schedules or other changes — a plan some union members have criticized as a way to make traditional schools resemble charter schools. But Mulgrew argued that, in fact, the plan is a way to prove that traditional schools can execute innovative ideas that outmatch those of the education “reformers” who typically back charter schools.

“We are at war with the reformers,” he said. He added later, “Their ideas will absolutely destroy — forget about public education — they will destroy education in our country.”

Earlier in the speech, he singled out former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had sought to improve the city school system by increasing choice and competition, opening new schools and charter schools, and tying consequences to student test scores. Mulgrew said Bloomberg had falsely suggested the city could not afford to increase teachers’ pay, but that Mayor Bill de Blasio had worked with the union to find a way to afford the raises.

“By working with this mayor,” Mulgrew said, “we have come up with a creative way to one more time wink at Bloomberg and say, ‘Gotcha.'”

Mulgrew made clear that the union’s top priority in the contract negotiations was securing retroactive raises for its members, who have gone nearly five years without a contract and missed pay increases that most other city labor groups received.

“It is our position — it is not our God-given right, but it is our position — that we deserve those wages. And that’s what we were negotiating for first and foremost,” Mulgrew said.

Officials have insisted that the city can afford the nearly 20 percent pay bump that the proposed contract promises teachers by 2018 only because the union agreed to find significant healthcare cost savings.

So far, little has been said about how the reductions would be achieved. But Mulgrew said Wednesday that one strategy will be an audit to root out ex-spouses of union members who remain on their former partners’ health plans even after they are divorced.

He also said the union has agreed to find $1.3 billion in health-cost savings over the next four years. Then he announced a new incentive for teachers: The city has agreed that any cost savings over that target amount, up to $365 million, “would go directly to city workers in a one-time bonus check.”

The proposed contract also addresses educators in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, who are on the city payroll but lack a permanent school placement. Some teachers expressed concern Wednesday about an expedited termination process for ATRs described in the deal. Mulgrew reiterated that the process would only kick in after two successive principals document an ATR for misconduct. At that point, he said, an expedited hearing makes sense.

“I believe that fast and fair is in the best interest of anyone who has a disciplinary charge against them,” he said.

After Mulgrew spoke and answered questions for most of the meeting, the delegates were given a little less than 15 minutes to debate the proposed contract.

At one point, a teacher who opposed the deal began to argue with Mulgrew, which led to a dispute over speaking time limits. Eventually the teacher called the debate process “absolutely ridiculous and completely undemocratic.”

“Now you’re out of order,” Mulgrew replied, and called for the next speaker to begin talking.

A few minutes later, Mulgrew called a vote to send the contract proposal to the full membership, which he said was “overwhelmingly” approved.

After the meeting, some teachers criticized the union for giving opponents of the deal little time to make their case. Others complained that the union only released a detailed summary of the agreement the day of the meeting, limiting their ability to prepare questions.

“It was almost like a blind vote today,” Michael Kerr, a Brooklyn dance teacher, told Chalkbeat.

Others denounced certain parts of the deal, including the new ATR rules and the way it disburses the retroactive pay in payments spread over several years.

“If the contract expired in 2009, then why should we get the retro pay in 2020?” asked Marie Baker, a Bronx school librarian.

But many teachers said they supported the deal for economic reasons, and because they thought it would make a challenging job more manageable.

“I think it’s an excellent contract,” said Joyce Baldino, a Brooklyn teacher. She said her colleagues also back the deal — especially a provision that allots time during the school day for teachers to collaborate and communicate with parents. “We finally have time to do all the things that we’re already doing as professionals.”

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Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.