on the table

What the teachers' contract talks are all about, part I: Back pay and excessed teachers

As the city and the teachers union move closer to an agreement on a new contract, the issues under the microscope are coming into focus.

To teachers, the contract negotiations represent hope for a pay raise. For principals and teachers struggling to handle the implementation of the Common Core learning standards and a new evaluation system, the talks could lead to extra time in the school day. And for economic analysts, the negotiations will be a harbinger of the city’s fiscal outlook.

The outcome will offer a first look at how Mayor Bill de Blasio will deal with political allies when they’re on the other side of the negotiating table. De Blasio said during the election last year that he would be a tough negotiator with unions because they endorsed other candidates in the Democratic primary.

“I am unburdened by the support of the municipal labor unions,” de Blasio said last August. He was eventually endorsed by the UFT and other unions in the general election.

Both sides have their own priorities. Here’s a look at the biggest issues they’re working through.

1. Giving retroactive pay

The city’s teachers union has been without a contract for nearly five years, longer than any other municipal labor force. UFT negotiators are now demanding two chunks of back pay, and what de Blasio agrees to give them will set a standard for raises for the other 150 outstanding union contracts the city is facing.

The issue: The pay scales for teachers and other school personnel within the UFT have been unchanged since 2009, though most teachers have seen their salaries increase anyway thanks to scheduled pay bumps.

The union’s top priority now is getting $3.4 billion of back pay for the first two years its members worked without a contract. That would match up with what other unions got in 2008, when the UFT and principals union sat out of a round of collective bargaining.

The union is also negotiating a second round of back pay for the third, fourth, and fifth years its members worked without a contract. The outcome of that negotiation is being closely watched by more than educators, since it will likely establish a bargaining pattern for more than 150 municipal labor contracts that the city is looking to settle in the coming months.

On the table: City officials have said they simply can’t afford to pay an initial $3.4 billion round of back pay as a lump sum. On top of that, de Blasio’s aides have reportedly floated a long-term deal that would spread those raises for teachers out over several years instead. (Union insider Peter Goodman recently wrote that both sides may have agreed on a contract that would expire after de Blasio is up for reelection in 2017.)

All teachers currently in the system will get some raise under that plan, though how much will depend on how long they’ve been in the system.

All told, the city could be on the hook more than $8 billion if the city follows that pattern with other unions, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group. Budget analysts say would hurt the city’s fiscal outlook for years to come.

2. Revamping the Absent Teacher Reserve

After pay raises, figuring out what to do with “excessed” teachers who can’t find full-time posts is the biggest sticking point in contract talks. Both sides have long agreed that the current system doesn’t work, but haven’t been able to agree on a solution. New leadership at City Hall could finally break what has been a years-long stalemate.

The issue: The city is paying the salaries of nearly 1,200 teachers without full-time positions. Most were let go from previous jobs because of budget cuts or because their schools were closed, and others have received low ratings on their evaluations or were let go for disciplinary reasons. Last year, the city said that pool cost an estimated $105 million.

Many newly-excessed teachers find new posts quickly. But as of last spring, 59 percent of ATR members had been in the pool for two or more years, according to Department of Education data.

To the Bloomberg administration, and groups now pushing its agenda, the ATR pool is made up of weak teachers who should be removed from the city’s payroll. But educators contend there are plenty of competent teachers in the pool who could be contributing in schools if they were given a legitimate chance.

“It is a complete waste of such talent that these people are not being used in schools right now,” Mulgrew said in a radio interview in February.

The issue, some say, is a hiring system that means veteran teachers, with their higher salaries, are more likely to be passed over by principals who want to save money and hire new teachers.

“One principal cut short an interview by telling me that she would not hire me because I was tenured and too set in my ways,” Jonathan Joseph, who wrote on Chalkbeat this week that he was in the ATR pool for three years before finding a new job. “Another admitted to me that she liked me and my resume, but it was cheaper to hire a Teaching Fellow.”

On the table: In the past, Bloomberg and Mulgrew flirted with the idea of offering a buyout to long-term excessed teachers, but as their relationship deteriorated in the administration’s waning years, so did the possibility of an agreement.

Bloomberg’s final buyout offer last fall included no perks and just a four-month time limit for ATRs to find a job before getting laid off, which officials said would save the city at least $63 million each year.

But the proposed solutions have changed in dramatic ways since de Blasio took office, sources say.

Negotiators aren’t discussing ways to get rid of excessed teachers, some sources say. They’re instead focused on returning them to classrooms for longer-term teaching assignments—they currently rotate among schools weekly—and on finding ways to incentivize principals to hire from the pool.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has repeatedly insisted that she’ll protect principals’ power to hire the teachers they want—a principle known as “mutual consent hiring.” What’s still unclear is how teachers could be matched with schools and what kinds of incentives Fariña might offer principals.

Up next: tackling teacher evaluations and training time.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.