take it or leave it

Teachers on leave won't get $1,000 contract signing bonus

PHOTO: Twitter/UFT
Members of the UFT's Delegate Assembly voting to send the proposed contract to the full union membership.

Thousands of teachers taking a break from the classroom to raise a child or recover from a serious illness will be shut out of a $1,000 cash bonus that could come to members of the city teachers union as early as next week, the union confirmed Tuesday.

UFT members who are on unpaid leave are not included in a city-union deal that provides for bonus checks as soon as the proposed contract is ratified—a stipulation that has some teachers upset.

“It feels a little bit like a slight not to receive that,” said Mollie Bruhn, an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn who is taking a multi-year leave after having a child last spring.

The signing bonus is one of the few financial perks that most of the union’s 100,000 members will receive right away if the proposed $8.97 billion contract is ratified. To afford the nine-year deal — which stretches back to 2009 and forward to 2018—the city arranged for the largest cash payouts to be spread out in smaller sums over six years and not to start for another 16 months.

Bruhn, who started teaching in city schools in 2006, said she found it hard to believe that excluding teachers on leave would truly benefit taxpayers.

“There can’t be that many people who are on leave to exclude us in order to save money,” she said.

In fact, Bruhn is one of about 3,600 UFT members currently on unpaid leave, according to city officials, meaning the deal will save the city about $3.6 million this year.

A city spokesperson said the practice was consistent with contract terms negotiated under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Teachers on leave won’t be penalized if they’re out of the classroom when the retroactive payments kick in beginning in 2015. If a person is on unpaid leave at the time of a lump sum payout, they will receive it when they return to work.

Teacher and other school staff members go on unpaid leave for a variety of reasons. They include military service, personal health issues, taking care of an ailing family member, or teaching in a city charter school. Some UFT members are on leave for years and never return.

But a more common reason is related to giving birth and raising a child, though officials wouldn’t provide an exact breakdown of why UFT members were on unpaid leave.

Under city policy, teachers receive at least six weeks of unpaid maternity leave with a guarantee that their jobs will be there when they return. Union officials said that most of these teachers use sick days that they’ve either accrued from previous years or “borrowed” from future years in order to keep receiving paychecks.

Once the maternity leave period ends, many teachers and school staff extend their unpaid leave to continue raising their children. That period can last for up to four years, after which teachers are no longer guaranteed jobs if and when they want to return.

Though critical of being excluded from the bonus, Bruhn praised the flexibility of the city’s leave policy for teachers because it has allowed her to spend time with her son in his formative years.  

“It’s kind of a rare thing where you have a job that says, yeah, go ahead and take a year, or four years off,” Bruhn said.

Union officials said they expect to announce result of the voting process as early as June 3.

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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.