human capital

Dispute over layoff bills boils down to a question: now or later?

The argument that heated up today between city officials, Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the state legislature over abolishing the state’s seniority-based layoff system for teachers essentially boils down to one thing: timing.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Education officials want to do away with the “last-in, first-out” system immediately so that they can use new criteria to lay off teachers at the end of this school year. Cuomo and other state officials — several of whom support changing the layoff system generally — counter that abandoning seniority-based layoffs must wait until the state has a better system it can use instead.

Yesterday, Cuomo introduced a bill that would speed implementation of the teacher evaluation bill that Albany passed last May up by a year but did not propose any changes to the layoff system. City officials immediately blasted the bill as “a sham” and a distraction, and Bloomberg said today the governor’s proposal “simply kicks the can down the road.”

Part of the disagreement lies in whether or not the city and the state have time to kick that can. City officials speak of the need to change the layoff system with a sense of urgency, arguing that a budget crisis necessitates laying off more than 4,000 teachers this year.

But many people — including the teachers union, the governor and some state legislators — are skeptical of the mayor’s timeline. The union accuses the city of scare-mongering and argues that the city has the funds to preserve teachers’ jobs. The governor has said that his proposed cuts to education funding also should not prompt teacher layoffs this year.

“There are many in the legislature who are not convinced that the mayor’s layoff threats are real,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. “Over the last several budget cycles, the mayor has threatened layoffs that have never come to pass.”

Jeffries said that he was willing to consider changing the seniority-based layoff system. But he said that he is not willing to grant the city greater flexibility in choosing which teachers to fire before a more objective system is put in place. And he said that he is not yet convinced that the city does not have the time to develop that system.

“To what degree is the layoff threat real? Is there reserve funding sufficient to prevent layoffs? What amount of additional state funding is necessary to ensure that not a single teacher is laid off this year?” Jeffries said. “This information will be necessary for the legislature to make any sort of informed decision over the coming weeks.”

Cuomo has said repeatedly that he believes that merit should eventually be a factor in determining which teacher lose their jobs. His bill is meant to address the concern — voiced by critics of the mayor’s push to lay off teachers based on merit rather than seniority — that the city and state do not yet have a reliable method to determine “merit.”

Critics of State Senator John Flanagan’s complex bill, which is backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and passed the Senate yesterday, argue that it relies too heavily on principal’s subjective evaluations of teachers, which in some documented cases have been abused.

“It is time to move beyond the so-called ‘last in, first out’ system of relying exclusively on seniority,” Cuomo said last night in a statement. “However, we need a legitimate evaluation system to rely upon. This will help make a statewide evaluation system ready and allow us to replace ‘last in, first out.'”

City officials and opponents of seniority-based layoffs countered today that abandoning “last-in, first-out” cannot be done incrementally as the teacher evaluation system improves.

Joe Williams, the head of Democrats for Education Reform and one of the most outspoken critics of the current layoff system, said he agreed with the governor that a robust and fair evaluation system should be put in place. “However, that system must be instituted alongside a crystal clear law that eliminates [last-in, first-out] and forces merit to be taken into account when laying off teachers,” Williams said.

Under the original evaluation law that Cuomo wants to change, only teachers of tested grades and subjects would start receiving rankings next school year. If Cuomo’s amendment is passed, all teachers in all grades would be ranked next year.

That would mean that by next year, state and local districts will need to come up with a system to judge student growth in all grades and subjects that currently don’t have standardized tests. State officials are currently developing regulations to guide those new measures; the bill gives officials a June deadline to complete those guidelines.

But the original evaluation law also requires districts to negotiate parts of how they will measure student growth with their local unions, and Cuomo’s bill is silent on those negotiations. City officials argued today that could allow the new evaluations — and therefore, a merit-based layoff system — to be delayed if negotiations stall.

“The acceleration of the timelines in the bill is artificial, as districts and unions are not compelled to change their current evaluation process until they’ve successfully negotiated new collective bargaining agreements,” wrote Deputy Chancellor John White today in a memo released to reporters.

Superintendent search

Nashville school official is one of four finalists to become Newark’s next superintendent

Sito Narcisse

A top Nashville schools official is one of four finalists vying to become Newark’s next superintendent.

Newark’s school board has not announced the finalists, but Sito Narcisse, currently chief of schools of the 88,000-student Metro Nashville Public School system, is in the running, Chalkbeat has learned. Narcisse, who has also been a high-ranking official in two large Maryland school districts and a principal in Boston and Pittsburgh, confirmed the news on Monday. The son of Haitian immigrants who spoke French-Creole at home as a child growing up on Long Island, he later helped open two high schools for recent immigrants who were still learning English.

The other finalists, Chalkbeat has previously reported, are former Baltimore city schools chief Andres Alonso, Newark Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory, and Newark Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon. (Alonso previously declined to comment, and Leon did not respond to an email.)

Newark’s last state-appointed superintendent, Christopher Cerf, stepped down on Feb. 1 when the school board officially regained control of the district after 22 years of management by the state. As the district transitions back to local supervision, it must adhere to a state plan that stipulated that there be a national search for the next superintendent and three finalists for the full board to vote on. However, the state last month granted a request by the board to name four finalists instead of three.

The finalists will introduce themselves to the public at a forum on Friday, though the audience will not be allowed to ask questions. The school board will then interview the candidates in private on Saturday, before they are expected to make their selection at the public board meeting on May 22.

Narcisse was also a semifinalist for the superintendent position in Duval County, Florida until Monday, when the school board there voted not to advance him to the second round of interviews, according to the district’s website. (Unlike Newark, that school system posted all the candidates’ applications online and will livestream the school board’s interviews with the finalists.)

Alonso, the other candidate from outside Newark, was recently in the running to become Los Angeles’ next superintendent before withdrawing his name last month. Both he and Narcisse may face an uphill battle in Newark, where several board members and many residents have said they would prefer a local educator to run the school system now that it is back in local hands after decades of state oversight.

In an interview Monday, Narcisse told Chalkbeat that if he was hired in Newark he would work hard to get to know the district and “become a part of that community.” He added that many of the schools he oversaw in Tennessee and Maryland served low-income students who dealt with trauma and poverty similar to the kinds faced by many Newark students.

“I know I’m not from Newark,” he said. “But the children of Newark have the same set of issues, the same set of challenges.”

Narcisse began his career as a high-school French teacher in a suburban district outside Nashville, before opening a public school in Pittsburgh and then taking over a struggling high school in Boston. He later held district leadership roles in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he helped design the new schools for immigrants still learning English.

In 2016, he became chief of schools for the Metro Nashville system, the second-highest position in the district, where he is responsible for overseeing 169 schools. In that role, he helped establish a high school where students can earn associate’s degrees, brought new science and technology programs into the middle schools, and participated in a public-private partnership to boost students’ reading skills, he said. His salary is $185,000 per year, according to his application for the Duval County position.

He said that he has absorbed several lessons over the years on how to improve struggling schools: Find a strong principal, provide lots of staff training, and invest in extra support services for students. He also cited another lesson that could be especially apt in Newark, where many residents rejected the sweeping policy changes enacted by Cami Anderson, a prior state-appointed superintendent.

“The other part is to not to do reform to them — but to be a part of the work with them,” he said, referring to community members. “That’s how change and sustainability happens.”

family matters

Lashing out at de Blasio administration, Mulgrew says educators lack paid parental leave because of ‘gender bias’

PHOTO: Philissa Cramer
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew tore into the city Monday for not providing paid parental leave to city teachers, calling the situation a case of “gender bias.”

Mulgrew, whose union is 77 percent women, was among the leaders testifying about the need for a paid parental leave policy Monday at a joint hearing of the City Council’s committees on education and civil service and labor.

In some of his harshest criticism of the de Blasio administration, Mulgrew criticized city leaders for saying leave should be negotiated in contract talks and come with concessions.

“I believe this is clearly gender bias on behalf of the City of New York and I do believe now it’s being used completely as a bargaining chip against our union, the union with the high female [membership],” Mulgrew said. “So I’m quite aggravated and pissed off at the city on this whole thing.”

Under the Department of Education’s current policy, teachers who want paid leave after having a baby must use accrued sick days. The policy applies only to birth mothers, not educators who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

The UFT’s fight, spurred in part by a petition that went viral last fall, comes after the city extended six weeks of fully paid time off to its non-union workforce in 2016, covering about 20,000 managerial employees.

The city has pointed out that those workers made concessions, including giving up raises and vacation days, in exchange for their leave. The administration has also estimated that extending this program to all UFT members could cost $1 billion over four years.

Bob Linn, the city’s labor commissioner, testified Monday that paid leave was an issue that would be addressed during negotiations with the UFT, whose contract expires in November. “We will be reaching agreements on this issue,” he said.

Here’s what three UFT members who spoke Monday told the council:

Carolyn Dugan, a special education teacher in Manhattan at PS/IS 180

“I went into labor at my school because I was trying to save all my sick days for my maternity leave.
I wanted to maximize the little time I had with my newborn, so instead of taking a few days to rest before the baby was born, I worked up to very last moment and I ended up going into labor at
work.”

Eric Rubin-Perez, a school counselor at the John F. Kennedy Jr. School in Queens

“I had managed to save over 65 days in my bank that I had always planned on using for child care leave. I attended a UFT workshop on paternity leave in the fall of 2013. To my shock, I learned that as a father I was only allowed to use three personal days. It didn’t matter how many days I had saved in my bank, I was not able to use any of them. All those times I made the treacherous commute in the snow to my school in Elmhurst, Queens, from my home in Suffolk County, or when I came back to work after oral surgery didn’t matter, because I could not use any of my days. My husband who worked on Long Island got six weeks of paid paternity leave so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get anything.”

PHOTO: Jessica Jean-Marie
Teacher Jessica Jean-Marie returned to work last week.

Jessica Jean-Marie, teacher in New York City public schools

“Last week, I returned from maternity leave after 11 weeks from having my second child. I tried working until I went into labor so that I could have a full 12 weeks — six weeks using sick days and six weeks off payroll on unpaid child care leave — at home with my son. I couldn’t do it. The physical pain and the mental stress became too much. I worked up until the week of my due date, hoping my son would come sooner than later so I can maximize my leave. He arrived three days past due.”