contract killers

Panel of union critics say de Blasio lost big on the UFT contract

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Panelists at a discussion on the teachers contract.

What the city and the United Federation of Teachers have hailed as a historically collaborative agreement adds up to little more than giveaways for the teachers union, critics argued at a panel event on Monday morning.

As a result, panelists said, a new contract for teachers reflects plenty of missed opportunities for the de Blasio administration.

“It’s likely to have no net benefit for kids at all,” said Dan Weisberg, the city’s former education labor chief who now regularly pans the city as vice president at TNTP, an education consulting and research organization.

The criticism is unsurprising, since the event featured pundits who often spar with the UFT over how to hire, fire and pay public school teachers. But it is a reminder that the contract will continue to be closely scrutinized, especially as its most ambitious initiatives begin to transition into reality this summer and fall.

The discussion came nearly two weeks after UFT members approved the contract by a three-to-one margin. And the contract has been praised for its emphasis on professional development and teacher retention, including from most of the city’s elected officials and State Education Commissioner John King.

Public opinion polls, meanwhile, suggests that New Yorkers are relatively ambivalent toward the contract.

Under the deal, teachers will see their salaries increase by 19.5 percent over the next four years. The raises include two 4 percent bumps that other city workers received in 2009 and 2010, as well as pay that UFT members would have accumulated had those raises been in place during those years.

Nicole Gelinas, a columnist and a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that hosted the event, said the choice to provide all of the retroactive pay means that Mayor Bill de Blasio will have a harder time funding other government programs.

“Is this really part of a progressive agenda, in that it takes resources away from infrastructure investments and from the city’s ability to spend on social programs and even basic public services?” said Gelinas.

Perhaps the nicest thing said about the contract came from Charles Brecher, the research director for the Citizens Budget Commission. He agreed that de Blasio didn’t have to give the retroactive pay, but noted that the way the city delayed and spread out the payments made the deal more affordable than it they could have been.

“If you’re going to do it, this was a pretty good way to do it,” Brecher said.

The contract deal also creates new positions that will allow some teachers to earn more in exchange for taking on additional responsibilities, a bonus program for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and changes to school schedules to increase time for teacher training.

Weisberg and Jenny Sedlis, head of StudentsFirstNY, one of the event’s sponsors, said that the contract wasn’t as ambitious as de Blasio and Mulgrew have made it sound. The hard-to-staff initiative, for instance, gives $5,000 bonuses to teachers working in schools with difficult student populations, but it isn’t targeted at recruiting the school system’s top teachers, Sedlis said.

Sedlis also criticized the union’s role in deciding which teachers and schools will get selected for some of the pay perks outlined in the contract, since the UFT and the city each have veto power over those decisions.

“It appears that UFT leadership will get to select which teachers get bonuses,” Sedlis said, referring to the hard-to-staff initiative.

De Blasio and union President Michael Mulgrew have touted their shared vision for education policy as being central to the deal, which de Blasio has said will “transform” the city’s public education system. The friendliness between City Hall and the teachers union stands in stark contrast to their toxic relationship during the final years of the Bloomberg administration, when negotiations over a contract and teacher evaluations stalled.

Weisberg, who left the department in 2009, said that the relationship was less contentious earlier on in Bloomberg’s tenure. But he said disagreement between labor and management is healthy and suggested that the city’s current relationship with the UFT was too cozy.

“You can have a tense relationship, a sometimes adversarial relationship, and a productive relationship,” Weisberg said. “But in order to do that, you have to be willing to have some tough digs, some tough arguments.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to the criticism. But Mulgrew shot back at the policies supported by the the think tank that co-hosted the event.

“If we followed the advice the Manhattan Institute, the city’s public schools would have closed long ago,” he said in a statement.

Don’t miss the latest news about New York City schools: Follow Chalkbeat NY on Facebook.

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

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