Funding penalty — Redux

Latest dispute with UFT could cost city $15 million in grants

UPDATE (7:30 p.m.): The deadline for the city Department of Education to submit a grant application to the State Education Department came and went with no signature from union president Michael Mulgrew. Read our update here.

The Department of Education has until 5:00 p.m. to get Michael Mulgrew’s signature for a grant application that could bring in as much as $15 million in funding for professional development and other teacher training resources.

Today is the deadline for districts to apply to New York’s Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Grants, a $72 million pot of money from the state’s $700 million in Race to the Top winnings. The grants are designed to encourage districts to develop policies to better retain and reward teachers — often through higher pay — who receive top ratings on their evaluations.

Some of the grants were finalized earlier this year, but a second round totals $49 million, 30 percent of which — or $15 million — New York City qualifies for.

Applications require sign-off from the teachers union, but city education officials accused United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew  on Sunday afternoon of ambushing the process to secure unrelated job benefits. They said that a final offer was rejected by union leaders on Thursday evening.

“By refusing to sign the grant and inserting unrelated issues at the eleventh hour, the UFT is once again hurting the students and schools of New York City,” Walcott said in a statement on Sunday.

City officials said they already offered some concessions to the union as part of negotiations over the grant, including a request that the proposal allot more money that went directly to schools for professional development. But they said the union also wanted reduced paper work, a persistent gripe that both teachers and principals say have taken away from their ability to focus on instructional practice.

Adam Ross, UFT’s lawyer, called the paper work “an endless stream of paper that serves no instructional purpose,” according to The Post.

The latest labor dispute threatens to cost the city millions in state and federal funding and would represent another setback for New York City schools, which have lost out on funding incentives in recent years due to its failure to negotiate an evaluation system. The city is already planning for a $250 million reduction in state aid funding because it missed a deadline to implement its teacher evaluation system earlier this year. It also could lose another $40 million in federal school improvement grants, though the city has asked to recoup a portion of that sum.

The city is finally implementing a teacher evaluation plan after Commissioner John King imposed one last month, a development that was supposed to open the door of eligibility for grants such as the STLE funds.

The grants seek to spur districts to rethink how teachers are paid, which is currently determined primarily by years of experience and through earning higher education and profession development credits. The current round of grants ask districts to develop “career ladder” programs for top teachers and require that evaluation ratings be considered for any pay raises, a policy that unions have long opposed.

The city is currently moving forward with plans to rollout a similar grant program, a $53 million teacher incentive program, which is funded federally. That grant, which also links compensation to teacher evaluations, also required UFT approval.

In response to Walcott’s comments, UFT President Michael Mulgrew blamed the city for the stalled talks, saying that education officials declined to negotiate over the weekend.

“This is just another example of DOE incompetence,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We told the DOE we would work through the weekend, but because their staff is on vacation and various other reasons, they can’t meet. So now they declare defeat and try to shift blame.”

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which has a better relationship with the city, has signed off on the grants, a city spokeswoman said.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

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

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