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.

Want the latest in New York City education news? Follow Chalkbeat on Facebook or @ChalkbeatNY on Twitter.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede