contract sport

UFT applies pressure to a charter school balking at pay raises

Frustrated by two years of contract negotiations, the city’s teachers union is pressuring a unionized Queens charter school to make a deal.

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and other union officials held a news conference in front of Merrick Academy-Queens Public Charter School today to protest the school’s contract with a for-profit educational management organization. According to the UFT, over the last four years Merrick Academy’s board has paid over $8 million to Victory Schools, a figure that Mulgrew said was “astronomical.”

At the center of the UFT’s rally today is its ongoing contract talks with the school. Union officials said the school’s board has been dragging its feet on negotiations.

In 2007, an overwhelming majority of teachers at Merrick Academy voted to make the UFT their exclusive bargaining agent, but since then the UFT and school’s board have yet to reach a contract agreement.

Merrick Academy board chair Gerald Karikari said the union is pushing for the school to pay teachers the same salary that regular public schools offer, something he says the school can’t afford to do given the freeze in state aid. Two years ago, the school did pay roughly what districts schools pay, but since then teachers have been without a contract and without raises.

“The union is well aware that charter schools aren’t getting the same per-pupil rate,” Karikari said. “So it’s difficult for me to understand why they would tell their members this is something they’re definitely entitled to and it’s completely unfair if you’re not making what UFT members are making.”

Mulgrew said the school could afford to increase teachers’ salaries if it wasn’t overpaying its management organization.

“They’re telling us they don’t have money so we started looking through their books and they don’t have money because the Victory charter management company is taking all of it,” he said.

Karikari said the issue of payments to Victory Schools was “somewhat of a red herring.”

“The company didn’t stop teachers from receiving raises,” he said. “We couldn’t increase teacher salaries because we’re in the middle of negotiations.”

Merrick signed a contract with Victory Schools before Karikari joined the board, but he said he would reconsider the school’s contract with the organization when it expires next year.

“I have promised them a very very serious review of the management agreement and will definitely address those costs and look at other options in terms of the management of the school,” he said.

The union is also accusing Merrick’s board of hiring an anti-union law firm to represent them in the contract talks.

Mulgrew said that if negotiations don’t move at a faster pace, the union would declare an impasse and move on to state arbitration.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”