|NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg|
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
The Arrogance of Mayor Bloomberg is His Legacy
Our mayor being true to himself, Michael R. Bloomberg journeyed to Albany last week to lecture state legislators on his decision to blow up negotiations with our teachers union and so lose $240 million for New York City schools.
In his telling, his was a courageous act of self-destruction.
If only school officials throughout the state were as principled as he, he suggested, they would admit that teachers unions are fundamentally incapable of agreeing to measure their members honestly. And they too would blow up their negotiations and forfeit many hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid.
“Everybody is just interested in getting money and committing what I would call a fraud,” he told legislators.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Queens is a ferocious advocate for the city’s schools. She leaned forward and squinted at the mayor, as though convinced either that he was daft or that she was deaf. “Maybe I’m losing my hearing a little,” she said. “Don’t you feel some responsibility for this disaster? And it is a disaster.”
The mayor pursed his lips and wagged his head. “Money,” he explained a bit later, “is not the answer to everything.”
As it is relatively rare for a mayor to lose $240 million in one sitting, the past few weeks have been consumed by competing explanations of how Mr. Bloomberg and the union, the United Federation of Teachers, could have allowed that to happen. Listening to their accounts, it’s as though the Education Department and the union sat not in a single negotiating room, but on far sides of the moon from each other. (The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators also saw the mayor dissolve their seemingly successful negotiations in a late-night puff of smoke, although it might be seen as collateral damage in his feud with the teachers.)
In the mayor’s telling, the union — which in truth has crafty and tough negotiators — tossed down one barrier after another, much as a movie villain tosses darts in the path of pursuing police cars. He has drawn huzzahs from the editorial pages of The Daily News and The New York Post, where the perceived duplicity of the teachers union passes for religious conviction.
In particular, the mayor insisted that a deal on an evaluation system must extend for perpetuity. The teachers union, he says, pushed a two-year agreement, in hopes of sabotaging reform.
This narrative, however, falls on harder times as you cast around. John B. King Jr., state education commissioner, who was once a middle school principal and perhaps as a result seems preternaturally calm in dealing with the feuding parties, said that city negotiators had signaled that they had intended to sign off on a short-term plan.
Dr. King also gave city officials a failing grade in homework. They had failed to properly train principals and teachers in the event that a new evaluation system was put in place.
There is also the matter of handshakes. Michael Mulgrew, the union president, has described shaking on a deal with education officials at an early morning hour. Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, has described a similar scene in his negotiation.
A little later, in these accounts, Dennis M. Walcott, schools chancellor, called back and said: The boss, which is to say the mayor, says no deal.
Mediation, too, was tried. One of the more experienced mediators in New York talked with the union, and the city’s lawyers and labor commissioner.
This mediator, those on both sides say, saw a proposed path to a settlement, in which teachers rated unsatisfactory could be let go under the expired agreement. The day of the mediation, Bloomberg officials canceled.
The mayor likes to note he gave teachers a generous contract in 2005. He neglects to note that the same union generously declined to endorse his mayoral opponent that year. And his bedside manner is lacking. If you want to persuade tenured, unionized teachers to accept a rigorous new evaluation system, you might frame those efforts in terms of helping teachers to improve. The mayor prefers to oil his guillotine.
THE mayor, finally, makes for a diffident diplomat. His journeys to Albany feature elbow shots at the governor and legislators. Last week, he offered a seminar in how to turn off friends and fail to influence enemies. At one point, State Senator John A. DeFrancisco of Syracuse cast him a wry look. Our districts have negotiated agreements, often with lots of work. Yet you make insulting statements. ...
The mayor shrugged again. “If you take a look, Senator, in this state, the city school kids are doing a lot better than the rest of the state. It’s a big problem.”
No doubt it is, although city schools might get the resulting headache.