done deal

With 77 percent of the vote, UFT members approve new nine-year contract

The rank-and-file of the city teachers union voted to approve a new contract deal with the city, officials announced Tuesday, delivering long-awaited wage increases to educators and a victory to a new mayor who has pledged to improve the school system by partnering with the union.

The contract was endorsed by more than 77 percent of United Federation of Teachers members, which includes paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, secretaries, and others in addition to teachers. About 75 percent of the nearly 64,000 teachers who voted approved the deal.

The nine-year contract agreement gives teachers an eventual 19.5 percent raise, when compounded, along with retroactive pay, which teachers will receive in installments spread out over several years. In return, the union has agreed to reduce health-care costs by over $1 billion, though it is still unclear how the savings will be achieved. Many teachers have criticized the way the retroactive raises and back pay will be disbursed and worried that union members will be forced to pay for the health-care savings.

The contract introduces a number of new initiatives, including ones that would allow schools to redesign their schedules, top teachers to take on more duties for higher pay, and parents to interact more often with educators. It also simplifies the way teachers are rated and replaces time for student tutoring with time for teacher professional development.

“I believe this is a watershed moment for our school system,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

Voter turnout was high, perhaps because teachers had gone so long without casting a ballot. Union officials said 90,731 ballots were cast and counted, the highest in its history. By comparison, approximately 78,000 ballots were counted in 2006, when 91 percent of union members voted to ratify the contract.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he was “ecstatic” at the margin by which the contract passed.

“The teachers of New York City are at an all-time low in morale,” Mulgrew said, after addressing members of the negotiating team at UFT headquarters. “They’re at an all-time low in morale and yet they overwhelmingly voted to approve this contract.”

The contract includes a number of provisions that will change how teachers are paid and school days are structured.

It establishes three new positions that would give teachers additional responsibilities in exchange for extra pay ranging from $7,000 to $20,000. The city will also be able to chose “hard-to-staff” schools that serve low-income communities and where teacher turnover has been high, where teachers will be eligible for $5,000 bonuses.

“We are going to help good educators stay and grow in this profession, and usher real reform that will lift up kids across the whole system,” de Blasio said.

The contract includes time allotted for teachers to work with each other and with parents, but reduces time previously reserved for specifically for small-group instruction. The contract will also allow a set number of schools to apply to be released from certain contract rules but held accountable to new performance targets, while acting as innovation incubators for the rest of the school system.

Some critics have argued that the innovation program will not give schools enough freedom to experiment and have questioned whether replacing tutoring with professional-development time for teachers will benefit students. Those critics, including ones that frequently clash with the union, attacked new protections in the contract for educators in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, who do not have permanent placements but draw full salaries.

“Instead of delivering the real reform that students need, kids got a shorter school day and the return of ineffective teachers from the ATR pool,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY. “This squandered opportunity will be a defining legacy of Mayor de Blasio’s term.”

In a statement, members of MORE, a opposition group within the union, said they too were disappointed by the contract’s ratification.

“Different titles of teachers, with different pay and different expectations, will now be created and over ten percent of our schools will operate outside of UFT contractual rules and DOE regulations,” they said, referring to the 200 slots for schools in the innovation program. “This creates a union membership increasingly divided against itself and members who will have even less of a reason to stand together in solidarity.”

Maritza Narvaez, a pre-kindergarten teacher at P.S. 239 in Queens, said she welcomed the deal even if it does not give educators everything they sought.

“Something is better than nothing,” she said, noting the pay hike and new professional opportunities. “We’re being recognized for our hard work.”

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed reporting.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.