negotiating in public

Union: City's evaluation demands torpedoed ATR buyout option

For the last six months, teachers whose permanent positions were eliminated have known that the city might offer to pay them to leave the city’s payroll. But they haven’t known how much the option could yield, complicating their job-hunting calculus.

Now, we know, sort of — a day after UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal that the option was “dead in the water.”

The option might have been $14,000, or $25,000, or 25 percent of a teacher’s annual salary, or 20 percent, according to conflicting information the union and city released today. But both sides agreed that the deal stalled after the city made the buyout offer contingent on a different city proposal to give raises to top-rated teachers, a plan that the union had rejected back in January.

In dueling press releases, city and union officials sparred over what terms they had discussed for the buyout. City officials said they had offered to pay $25,000 to teachers who had spent more than one year in the Absent Teacher Reserve if the teachers would resign from the Department of Education.

But union officials said the city’s numbers were misleading. The $25,000 option, they said, would only have applied to ATRs with enough education and experience to put them at the top of the city’s salary scale. Other teachers who had spent more than a decade working in city schools would have netted much less, they said, because the city wanted to cap the offer at 20 percent of each teacher’s annual salary. (The city said the cap was 25 percent of the annual salary.) One-fifth of the average salary of mid-career teachers in the ATR pool, union officials said, would have amounted to just a $14,000 payout.

The city-union dispute over numbers reflected far more significant ideological differences over how to reward excellent teaching and urge weak teachers out of the system.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott first proposed the buyout plan in May during a speech in which he also vowed to purge the city’s teaching corps of teachers who receive “unsatisfactory” ratings for two years in a row. At the time, union officials said lauded the city for arriving at a policy proposal that they said they had suggested for years. As recently as mid-August, as teachers in the ATR pool rushed to find new positions, union officials said the buyout option was still in negotiations and that one might make its way to teachers this fall.

But this week, Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal, “We thought it was a ruse from the beginning.”

Union officials said they had come to that conclusion after the city responded to their counter-offer on the size of the buyout by adding a new condition to the same terms it had previously proposed. The city’s updated offer, made in late August, would have established a buyout only if the union also agreed to let the city give $25,000 raises to teachers with two consecutive “highly effective” ratings on an evaluation system that is not yet in place. The union had rejected the plan as merit pay within hours of when Bloomberg proposed it in January.

David Weiner, the Department of Education’s deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality issues, today explained that the city had paired the initiatives because the increased pay would reward top teachers and the buyout would solve a problem posed by a set of teachers he characterized as weak.

“In our opinion, ‘highly effective’ should be the most well paid teachers and by offering that salary increase we feel we could be able to retain them at much higher levels. That was something we really were incentivized to do,” Weiner said. “At the same time our ATR pool is a much lower-quality group of teachers.”

Of the 800 teachers in the ATR pool at the end of last year, a third had been brought up on disciplinary charged and nearly a third had received an “unsatisfactory” rating in the last five years, Weiner said. “Folks qualifying for this based on their data were actually a much lower-quality group of individuals,” he said.

In his last message to principals, former chancellor Joel Klein characterized members of the ATR pool as “teachers who either don’t care to, or can’t, find a job.” In fact, the ATR pool was created in a 2005 contract deal between the Bloomberg administration and the union to house teachers whose positions are eliminated, either because of budget cuts or because their schools are shrinking or closing. But the city has long criticized the ATR pool as being a drag on the city’s schools budget because its members are paid their full salaries even though they do not occupy regular teaching positions.

In a statement today, Mulgrew suggested that the city’s political stance on ATRs had adversely affected negotiations over the buyout option.

“Despite the DOE’s mismanagement of the hiring process and the political needs of the mayor, we will continue to fight for the children in our schools, and the rights of the teachers in the ATR pool who are working hard in schools every day,” he said.

He was responding to a statement from the city, in which Walcott touted not only the buyout option but also Bloomberg’s proposal to raise the salaries of teachers who land top ratings on an evaluation system that is not yet in place. The union rejected that proposal as soon as it was proposed in January.

“In an effort to block any and all progress, Mr. Mulgrew has misrepresented our offers to the public, but we will continue to make proposals that reward our best teachers and remove those who are ineffective out of the classroom and off the payroll,” Walcott said in the statement.

Both union and city officials said they had devised their buyout offers based on payouts that would likely induce ATRs to leave the system. But none of the price points they said were discussed would have swayed most of the teachers GothamSchools spoke to this fall about the buyout option.

In August, when the option was still on the negotiating table, one teacher who had spent five years in the reserve pool said she was considering not applying for new jobs because she wanted to leave the buyout option open.

“Everything I’ve taught [via the ATR pool] is outside of my license area. But the truth is, if I accept a new position, I’d be ineligible for the buyout,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified. “I might not take a position.”

But another teacher said no buyout would be large enough to convince him to give up on teaching in city schools.

And this week, a veteran teacher who is entering her second year in the ATR pool, said during a Department of Education hiring fair that companies such as IBM offer employees buyouts that equal hundreds of thousands of dollars. The department’s likely offer was just too small, said the teacher, who asked not to be identified because she was looking for another teaching position.

“The buyout wouldn’t be real,” said the teacher. “I would take it, if I could retire and not end up on the streets. It’s just not a realistic buyout if you couldn’t live on it.”

Their sentiments were similar to what other teachers told NY1 this week:

“They wouldn’t offer me enough,” said teacher Judith Allainer. “$10,000? Come on. When I’m making much more than that?”

“What would I like?” said [teacher Jonathan] Gibbs. “Give me years on my pension. If I’m a 15-year teacher, give me 20 years and I’ll take a buyout.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.