pay raise

Hinting at education platform, GOP's Joe Lhota backs merit pay

A screenshot from the Daily News' livestream coverage.
A screenshot from the Daily News’ livestream coverage.

Joe Lhota wants to bring performance-based pay for teachers to New York City finally and he thinks he can convince a union that’s long been opposed to the idea.

Making his debut on education in a forum hosted by the New York Daily News last night, Lhota said he would seek to replicate Newark’s new merit pay system if he became mayor.

He hailed the Bloomberg administration’s record on education and aligned himself with the mayor on policies of closing low-performing schools and supporting charter schools. But he said the Bloomberg legacy was incomplete.

“The one piece that’s missing is working with the union for merit pay and changing their approach,” Lhota said in an interview after the forum.

Lhota also said teachers should receive pay bumps if they teach a high-demand subject or work in the toughest schools.

Pressed to explain how he’d achieve a compensation system that’s based on performance, since the United Federation of Teachers has always opposed individual merit pay initiatives, Lhota, a Republican, said he wouldn’t have to start from scratch. On stage and in the interview, he repeatedly referenced Newark’s landmark teacher contract passed by the city’s union last year and praised the role that former UFT president Randi Weingarten, now president of the American Federation of Teachers, played in getting the deal done.

“There’s a road map for it,” Lhota said. “[Randi Weingarten] was integrally involved in Newark with Governor Christie in determining how the merit pay would work.”

“Seeing Randi at the table … was a true sea change for teachers and their unions, that they’re willing to go the extra step to make merit pay happen,” he added.

Lhota didn’t specify how to fund the bonuses. Newark’s system will cost at least $50 million and is paid for now entirely by private funds, most of which will come from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic foundation.

Performance-based pay for teachers is a thorny issue in New York City, which piloted a version of merit pay in 200 schools in 2007. The pilot enabled schools to give out up to $3,000 bonuses to teachers if the school improved its progress report results. But a study of student achievement in those schools found that test scores did not improve and actually dropped in middle school grades.

That pilot was launched collaboratively by Mayor Bloomberg and Weingarten, but quietly shelved in 2010.  Last year, Bloomberg proposed giving $20,000 bonuses to individual teachers rated highly effective two years in a row, a proposal that the union quickly shut the door on. The city and union have not yet reached a deal on an evaluation system to rate teachers on a more detailed level.

Still, Lhota expressed optimism that he could get UFT President Michael Mulgrew to come around. He said that working with the union to lobby the Governor and state legislature for more equitable funding for New York City would be a top priority.

“You know, when I deal with unions I always try to find common ground,” Lhota said. “Common ground here would be getting a fair share for the New York City Department of Education. And I can’t see a better partner in doing that other than Michael Mulgrew.”

In a statement, Mulgrew said he remained opposed to merit pay and declined to take up Lhota’s invitation to collaborate.

“We don’t negotiate in public with officeholders, much less with candidates for office,” Mulgrew said. “But there’s no evidence that individual merit pay addresses the real need of our schools — helping children learn.”

Lhota was one of seven mayoral candidates at the forum, which included four likely Democratic candidates — Christine Quinn, John Liu, Bill De Blasio and Bill Thompson — and two other Republican candidates — Tom Allon and John Catsimatidis.

Allon has also called for individual merit pay. But while Quinn, the Democratic frontrunner, has said she would consider paying teachers more to staff high-need subjects and schools, she has rejected the notion of individual merit pay based on teacher performance, saying that data do not support the practice. On Tuesday, when moderator Errol Louis asked who opposed a merit pay system, all of the Democratic candidates raised their hands.

The 90-minute event focused squarely on education and covered a variety of contentious issues, including school closures, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and the teacher contract.

Lhota has an uphill climb against his established Democratic rivals. Although he is the Republican frontrunner, recent polling data shows that many New Yorkers still aren’t familiar with Lhota, a former investment banker, top aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and most recently, Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.