UFT president says he’ll fight mayor’s new proposals

More than week after Mayor Bloomberg handed Chancellor Joel Klein a to-do list of items anathema to the teachers union, UFT president Michael Mulgrew is promising a fight.

In an email sent to United Federation of Teachers members this afternoon, Mulgrew said the mayor’s proposals will “damage the schools and the children of this city.” Though the subject matter is well-covered ground, the tone is angrier than usual and there’s a sense that the UFT has been badly burned.

Bloomberg’s announcement, which came mid-UFT contract negotiations, has “raised the temperature” of contract talks,” a source said.

Referring to Bloomberg’s directive to Klein to use test scores in teacher tenure decisions this year, Mulgrew writes that the UFT was already working with the city and the Gates Foundation on a teacher quality study.

“Chancellor Klein was supposed to be our partner in this potentially much more effective approach.”

In the letter, Mulgrew also blames the Department of Education for mismanaging the city’s rubber rooms and pool of excessed teachers, which the mayor has proposed to reduce through layoffs of teachers who’ve been in the pool for more than a year.

He calls Bloomberg’s proposals “simplistic” and “sheer fantasy.”

A response to the letter from DOE spokesman David Cantor follows Mulgrew’s letter.

Dear colleagues:

New York City’s students deserve a high quality education.  What’s more, the students deserve and their parents expect that their mayor and their schools’ chancellor will use their power to enact real reforms and overcome obstacles to learning.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg’s recent speech in Washington, D.C. did nothing to help meet these goals.

As New York prepares to compete for federal “Race to the Top” incentive funds, all stakeholders in the public schools should be working together to best position us to win this precious new resource. But Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have chosen to focus on and promote fake reforms, simplistic “solutions” and sheer fantasy as the answer to our schools’ problems.

Let’s start with some of the issues you as educators know full well.

ATRs: Hundreds of our teachers are now working in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), a pool of educators whose schools or programs have been downsized or closed.  There is no better example of the Department of Education’s mismanagement and failed leadership than this group of dedicated and experienced teachers.

When the ATR pool was created we warned the DOE that faulty implementation of the process would leave hundreds or even thousands of teachers without permanent assignments.  Our warning went unheeded and our prediction has been proven correct. Recently we joined with the DOE to create a policy that in similar circumstances was remarkably successful – the assignment of teachers displaced by the reorganization of alternative high schools to a school with vacancies, subject to approval by both the teacher and the principal.  The DOE has not only rejected our recommendation to expand this to all districts, it has not made substantial efforts to place ATRs;  it has refused to schedule school interviews for them;  it has also demonized them in the press, making it difficult for many to find permanent jobs.  Meanwhile, the department’s continued hiring of new teachers, including paying bonuses to recruiters, has made a bad situation even worse.

Now, when the DOE’s own data has shown dramatic increases in class sizes, it is unconscionable that the system allows over 1,000 teachers now working as substitutes rather than to help bring class sizes down.  This is an inexcusable waste of human capital and mismanagement of resources.

Rubber Rooms:  If the DOE’s ATR policy is the leading example of management ineptitude, the so-called “rubber rooms” are a close second.

We work with children, and we agree that we must err on the side of caution to protect children.  Accusations may lead to people being temporarily removed from their schools while the investigation takes place. But no reasonable observer could find any reason other than gross mismanagement for leaving teachers to sit in rubber rooms without charges for months, or even years at a time.

On average, teachers now wait in excess of 200 days while allegations undergo an initial investigation – all without any formal charges.  There is no reason these investigations can’t be completed in 30 to 60 days, at the maximum.

The rubber room debacle has been wholly created under the stewardship of Chancellor Klein.  Under prior Chancellors, educators who had been removed from classrooms worked in office or non-teaching positions where they could make some contribution to the system during investigations.  That policy should be reinstated.

The rubber rooms do not work for the students or the teachers in NYC, and we have always stood ready to fix them.  Contrary to the picture the Mayor and Chancellor have painted for tabloid editorial pages, the UFT has met with the DOE on numerous occasions to try to make the necessary changes and expedite this process.  But the administration has preferred to grandstand on this issue rather than solve it.

Student test scores:  The idea of using student scores as the principal means to evaluate teachers is a classic political crowd-pleasing stunt. Unfortunately, as anyone who really understands education knows, it’s a cheap shot.

Study after study has shown that tests cover too narrow a field, and there are too many variables in a child’s life, school and classroom, from poverty to health issues to class size, to use one year’s test scores as reliable indicator of student success, much less the success of their teachers.

The Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, and the New York State Commissioner of Education, David Steiner, have both said that the current state tests are in effect a broken measurement tool.  Preliminary results comparing the state math scores to the most reliable national test have raised grave questions about their reliability of the state tests, and our members know that the focus on these tests has led to a misguided “teach to the test” approach rather than system-wide academic improvement. In addition, the DOE’s school progress reports, based on the state tests, are highly flawed and questioned by everyone.

We have been working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a valid, credible and measurable process that would capture the complexities of classroom teaching.  Chancellor Klein was supposed to be our partner in this potentially much more effective approach.

The real problems: At a time when the economy has decimated our city and state budgets, it was the UFT that sounded the alarm about schools being harmed by education budget cuts at the opening of the academic year.  We were the ones who rallied parents, education advocates and community organizations in a successful effort that stopped midyear reductions that would have cut services that schools and children are already receiving this year.

The members of the United Federation of Teachers have always been willing to work constructively with anyone who seeks to improve our schools and help children learn.  But we will fight — with all the resources at our command — anyone whose policies will damage the schools and the children of this city.


Michael Mulgrew


From David Cantor:

“The mayor put forward bold proposals to help New York City win President Obama’s Race to the Top competition, which will provide badly needed funds for our schools and students. While reforming some of these failed practices may make some of our partners uncomfortable, we need to do everything we can to draw down these dollars for the city’s school children.”


Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.

Civics lesson

With district’s blessing, Newark students join national school walkout against gun violence

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools Wednesday morning in a district-sanctioned protest that was part of a nationwide action calling for an end to gun violence.

At Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities in the North Ward, students gathered in the schoolyard alongside Mayor Ras Baraka and interim schools chief Robert Gregory, who offered support to the protesters and even distributed a “student protest week” curriculum to schools.

Just after 10 a.m., hundreds of students watched in silence as a group of their classmates stood in a row and released one orange balloon every minute for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people fatally shot inside a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

While the Barringer students and faculty mourned those victims they had never met, they also decried gun violence much closer to home: siblings and relatives who had been shot, times they were threatened with guns on the street. Principal Kimberly Honnick asked the crowd to remember Malik Bullock, who was a 16-year-old junior at Barringer when he was shot to death in the South Ward last April.

“Too many lives have been lost way too soon,” she said. “It is time for us to end the violence in our schools.”

School districts across the country have grappled with how to respond to walkouts, which were scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. in hundreds of schools. The student-led action, which was planned in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, is intended to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Officials in some districts — including some in New Jersey — reportedly threatened to punish students who joined in the protest. But in Newark, officials embraced the event as a civics lesson for students and a necessary reminder to lawmakers that gun violence is not limited to headline-grabbing tragedies like the one in Parkland — for young people in many cities, it’s a fact of life.

“If there’s any group of people that should be opposed to the amount of guns that reach into our communities, it’s us,” Baraka said, adding that Newark police take over 500 guns off the street each year. “People in cities like Newark, New Jersey — cities that are predominantly filled with black and brown individuals who become victims of gun violence.”

On Friday, Gregory sent families a letter saying that the district was committed to keeping students safe in the wake of the Florida shooting. All school staff will receive training in the coming weeks on topics including “active shooter drills” and evacuation procedures, the letter said.

But the note also said the district wanted to support “students’ right to make their voices heard on this important issue.” Schools were sent a curriculum for this week with suggested lessons on youth activism and the gun-control debate. While students were free to opt out of Wednesday’s protests, high schools were expected to allow students to walk out of their buildings at the designated time while middle schools were encouraged to organize indoor events.

In an interview, Gregory said gun violence in Newark is not confined to mass shootings: At least one student here is killed in a shooting each year, he said — though there have not been any so far this year. Rather than accept such violence as inevitable, Gregory said schools should teach students that they have the power to collectively push for changes — even if that means letting them walk out of class.

“Instead of trying of trying to resist it, we wanted to encourage it,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students released one balloon for each of the 17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

After Barringer’s protest, where people waved signs saying “Love,” “Enough,” and “No to gun violence, several ninth-graders described what it’s like to live in communities where guns are prevalent — despite New Jersey’s tight gun restrictions.

Jason Inoa said he was held up by someone claiming to have a gun as he walked home. Destiny Muñoz said her older brother was shot by a police officer while a cousin was recently gunned down in Florida. The Parkland massacre only compounded her fear that nowhere is safe.

“With school shootings, you feel terrified,” she said. “You feel the same way you do about being outside in the streets.”

Even as the students called for tougher gun laws, they were ambivalent about bringing more police into their schools and neighborhoods. They noted that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they said they recently read about in their freshmen social studies class, called attention to black and Hispanic people who were treated harshly or even killed by police officers.

Ninth-grader Malik Bolding said it’s important to honor the victims of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. But the country should also mourn the people who are killed in everyday gun violence and heed the protesters who are calling for it to end, he added.

“Gun violence is gun violence — it doesn’t matter who got shot,” he said. “Everybody should be heard.”