|UFT President Mike Mulgrew|
The New Mayor and the Teachers
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD,NYTIMES
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will take office facing the need to forge new labor agreements with the unions that represent nearly all of New York City’s 300,000 municipal workers. The largest of these, the United Federation of Teachers, is in a particularly sour mood. Representing 40 percent of the city’s work force, the union has been without a contract since 2009.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed, starting in 2010, that all new union contracts get a three-year freeze in base pay, to be followed by two years of raises at 1.25 percent each. During his campaign, Mr. de Blasio said that a retroactive pay raise — dating back to the expiration of the last contract — would be possible only if offset by cost savings. That’s a good start. But any sort of raise will require concessions in exchange. He will need to press the union to loosen work rules that stifle innovation and favor senior teachers over younger ones who may in fact be more talented. The union must also let go of the unspoken presumption that every teacher is entitled to a job for life. Here are some key issues:
SENIORITY Seniority trumps everything and is treated as a proxy for excellence. Under current rules, a school that has an enrollment shortfall or budget problem and has to cut one of its five math teachers cuts the least senior teacher, period. In progressive systems like the one in Washington, D.C., which has made big gains on federal assessment tests, decisions about which teachers to cut are based on a combination of factors, including how they stack up on evaluations and whether they possess special skills. The goal is to keep the most talented teachers.
Similarly, the salary schedule in New York is calculated to reward longevity, requiring 22 years to get to the top level. Teachers are also rewarded for work toward advanced degrees, but this coursework does not necessarily have any bearing on how poorly or well they teach.
Meanwhile, younger teachers start out with relatively low salaries and are at risk of leaving the system for higher pay elsewhere. The scales should be rebalanced so that teachers who are judged highly effective under the new evaluation system can move up quickly in the pay scale. Highly effective teachers should be paid more for teaching in areas with shortages or in high-need schools that have difficulty attracting qualified staff.
INACTIVE TEACHERS In 2005, the union took a brave step when it agreed to abandon a rule that guaranteed senior teachers the right to claim a job in another school — even if the new school did not want them — by bumping less experienced teachers. The change gave principals more control over who works for them, without grave damage so far to senior teachers. Six of 10 teachers who are told their position has been eliminated find jobs in other schools relatively quickly, according to the city, while an additional 10 percent simply leave the system.
Teachers who do not find positions, however, are placed in a costly reserve pool. They work as substitutes and are paid full salaries at an annual cost, according to city data, of $144 million a year. Many of them do not even seek permanent jobs, the city says. Increasingly, school systems like those in Chicago and Washington, D.C., remove inactive teachers who do not find jobs in the system within a prescribed period, through layoffs, unpaid leaves, early retirement or buyouts. Similar arrangements should be worked out in New York City.
TEACHER DISCIPLINE One particularly disturbing provision in the old contract is that it allows teachers to be absent without notice for 20 days before they are fired. The provision is not often invoked, the union says, but its very existence sends the wrong message. Moreover, there should be a clear list of offenses that, if substantiated, lead to termination. Under current rules, official investigations that uncover serious abuses like sexual misconduct are subject to review by arbitrators who can veto terminations in favor of lesser penalties.
FLEXIBLE SCHEDULES The teachers’ union has been particularly hostile to the city’s thriving charter schools, which receive public financing, are exempt from some state rules and regulations, and, on average, are outperforming traditional schools. One of their advantages is that individual charter schools can set many of their own rules, scheduling longer school days and making more time for parent-teacher conferences. Traditional schools often follow a by-the-book approach that dictates the length of the day, frequency of meetings and so on. They should be pushed toward greater flexibility.
All in all, Mr. de Blasio has serious work ahead if the city’s school are to improve