labor pains

UFT calls latest labor conflict over evals a "misunderstanding"

The city and the union continued their back and forth over a labor complaint this week, with union president Michael Mulgrew disputing the city’s gripe as misguided.

In the latest swipe as the city and union struggle to reach a deal on teacher evaluations, the city filed a complaint with the state’s labor board Dec. 27 alleging that the UFT was negotiating in “bad faith.” The complaint also accused the union of unfairly trying to tie a deal to perks that were unrelated to the evaluation negotiations, including guaranteed “economic credit” toward a future contract, fewer school closures, and less paperwork for teachers.

Mulgrew’s reply, in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent yesterday, asked the city to drop the complaint, which Mulgrew said reflected a “serious misunderstanding.” Although the union cancelled a negotiation meeting with the city two weeks ago, the UFT still wanted to talk, Mulgrew said.

The letter was the latest in a back-and-forth being closely watched by observers who wonder whether New York’s largest district will come to a teacher evaluation deal. Governor Cuomo has set a deadline of Jan. 17 for districts to strike deals, saying that those that don’t meet the deadline will lose $250 million in state aid.

The disagreement spilled onto the airwaves today, with the both sides trading barbs over who was to blame for the current stalemate.

Mulgrew’s letter yesterday also challenged the city’s claim that the union’s concerns over school closures and paperwork for teachers were entirely unrelated to evaluations. Closing schools would “create a climate of distrust” and would “negatively impact the negotiation process,” Mulgrew wrote. Reducing teachers’ paperwork load, he said, would free up time for teachers to meet with supervisors about their performance.

The letter did not address the city’s concerns about the union’s request for economic credit to count toward future contract negotiations. In an interview today, Michael Mendel, a lead negotiator for the union, said that the request happened months ago.

“The union absolutely denies that the credit had anything to do with negotiations with the new evaluation system,” Mendel said.

In the letter, Mulgrew also wrote that while the union still “desires” an evaluation plan before Jan. 17, it’s “under no legal obligation to negotiate” before a new contract.

Under the state’s evaluation law, the city and the union aren’t required to reach a deal on evaluations until the sides hammer out a new contract. The Jan. 17 deadline, meanwhile, is separate from the evaluation law.

In the letter yesterday, Mulgrew also repeated the concern that drove him to walk away from talks two weeks ago, which is that the city has thought about how it will rollout its evaluation system once it is in place.

Those concerns are rooted in reports from teachers who described practices that were not supposed to happen but could potentially be part of a new evaluation system, such as unannounced observations. Mulgrew also wrote that the union would want a guarantee that teachers would be protected “if the process is improperly implemented.”

Mulgrew Letter

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.