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.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.