Monday, May 19, 2014

So if the contract gets voted down...What do we do next?

Two weeks ago following the announcement that the DOE and UFT had come to terms on a contract agreement, I immediately went up with this post.  Breaking down each part of the proposed contract, I felt it was clear that this was a bad deal and that I and everyone else should vote no.  I still see the same problems with the deferred money, bad pattern, and givebacks (particularly as it relates to the ATRs), but as I began tweeting the past few days I am starting to wonder what happens if we are successful in voting this down.  When I first read this deal, and after the disgusting display by Unity at the Delegate Assembly, I was 95% certain this thing was passing.  Now I do still think it will pass, but I definitely do not believe it is a sure thing.  90% of the teachers in my school say they plan to vote no, and 90% of what I hear on Facebook and twitter are no votes, but this could just be the people I associate with.  I have no idea what is happening in the functional chapters, elementary schools, Queens, Staten Island, and all the other strong Unity bases.

Still, if we do succeed in getting it voted down, I want to know what our next step is.  Reality Based Educator did a post on this same topic over the weekend and I was honestly very disheartened by the comment section.  No one seems to have any reasonable answer for how to make sure we get a better contract, and instead just chose to attack anyone who questioned the vote no plan.  Getting a contract voted down can certainly be the first step towards a better contract, but if we are not careful it can also be the first step towards waiting a very long time for a contract, or getting an even worse one.  The key players in this fight will be the rank and file teachers (of course), the UFT leadership, Mayor de Blasio, our local media, and the other NYC Unions. Now call me cynical, but I am looking at that group and the only ones who seem to have a strong interest in getting us a better deal are the rank and file, and the other NYC Unions. Here is why:

1) The Media - I am starting with the easiest one.  Almost every local media outlet in NYC has attacked teachers for years.  Many of them are shills for the reform movement, and they have all already turned on our current deal.  They want a deal that is way more reformy, and looks like the abysmal contracts we have seen in Newark, Baltimore, and DC.  Michelle Rhee also thinks are new contract doesn't have enough reform in it (although I am not sure anyone cares what she thinks these days).   The Post claims that there are still too many protections for teachers and ATRs and even called the contract "satanic" (seriously click on the link if you think I am being facetious). They also believe we deserve even less money then we are getting not more.

2) Mayor de Blasio - Now de Blasio certainly has a mixed track record as mayor so far, but one thing is definitely certain, he has been far less politically savvy as Mayor than when he ran his campaign, and really wants to get those approval ratings up.  The media killed de Blasio in the charter wars against Eva and eventually he caved.  (I partially blame the UFT for this, because we should have backed him on this and instead left him high and dry).  So despite what many people think, I believe de Blasio will side with the media on this if the contract fails.  The UFT barely supported him in the election, didn't support him against Eva/Cuomo, and will make him look like a fool again when this deal fails.  He might decide it is better for him to suddenly take a tough stance, and only give us raises for further concessions.

3) The UFT Leadership - If Mulgrew is sent back to the bargaining table by the rank-and-file of course he can spin it as a big victory for him and The Unity Caucus because he can claim that he got us an even better deal than the first one.  The problem is, this current deal is as much Mulgrew (and likely Randi) as it is de Blasio.  If the contract fails, Mulgrew looks really bad in the media, and it clearly is as much a referendum on him as it is on the contract.  (I know many people voting no, more on lack of trust in the Union at this point, than on any particular issue in the deal).  So who is to say that Mulgrew doesn't get us an even worse deal, to then turn it all back on us?  A bunch of "I told you so", and "I got us the best deal possible, and those evil lying bloggers ruined it by getting you to vote no".  So maybe just maybe, Mulgew doesn't push for a better deal. Maybe he caves to help himself politically, and screws us all in the process.  (After all, him and most of the UFT leadership are so far removed from the classroom that they really don't give a damn about what we are going through.)

4) The other unions in NYC - Now this is a group that definitely does want to see our contract voted down, and a better deal and pattern to come out of this.  After the 4+4% that we were owed anyways, we really are setting a bad precedent with 10% raises over 7 years.  The question is, how do we get these other unions to back us (or to back each other) when our UFT leadership has thrown everyone else under the bus time and time again?  Working with the other unions and putting up a united front would go a long way towards securing a better deal, but how do we accomplish this?  We should have extended an olive branch to our union brothers and sisters across the city a long time ago, and and work with them, rather than in isolation.

5) The rank and file - Of course we the teachers of NYC have the most to gain from a better contract.  Despite what some astro turf groups claim, most teachers would take stronger protections for all members (including ATRs), real improvements to the evaluation system, smaller class sizes, and better raises for this current round, over merit pay and increased PD any day.  So my question is this?  How do we push for this better deal?  What specific issues are we most concerned with and willing to fight for?  What are we willing to concede? (because it is certainly wishful thinking that we will just get everything we want and more money, by saying no).

I wrote this post, not to be an alarmist or spread the Michael Mulgrew message of (we vote no and go to the back of the line), but rather to be pragmatic about the whole thing.  If this contract really does get voted down then we need to have a specific action plan to make things better or the whole thing blows up in our face.  Worst case scenario is we end up with an even worse contract, the reformers and media get their way, and Mulgrew comes out looking even better for the next election.  Best case scenario is we get a better contract, more respect, the UFT opposition grows stronger for the next election, and we build bridges with our union brothers and sisters.  (That is a pretty big gap if you ask me so we better make sure we get the latter rather than the former).  In order to make this a win...

We need to find a way to take back the message from the media and the politicians.  (Teachers are not greedy, or resistant to change, we just want fair pay and the type of change that we know in our hearts is best for our students).  

We need to work with the other unions to show the mayor, and the media that a fair deal is not just best for us it is the best for our city.  We are the backbone of NYC and without a vibrant middle class that can afford the outrageous cost of living this city is doomed.

We need to find a way to work with the mayor and not against him. We should show him that we can be a strong political ally but only if he is willing to work with us and listen too us.

Finally, we need to get parents and students on our side.  Parents are becoming a stronger voice in education everyday, but we need to make our issues their issues.  Most parents get their information on education from the media that attacks us daily, they see some of the things that hurts their children (like over testing, common core, and large classes).  We need to build off that momentum and again build bridges.

So what does everyone out there think?  Is there any chance this deal gets voted down?  If it does, what would you need changed to vote yes on the next one? How can we be sure that the next deal is better and not worse?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vote No! Updated 5/2 with the details on raises.

So we finally have it folks, a proposed new UFT contract.  I have to be honest, I was really optimistic on this one.  I think de Blasio is a decent human being, and we have been out a contract for so so long that things had to get better right?  Wrong.  While the UFT is already spinning this as a huge win for its members, and I see many excited folks on social media, on close examination this seems like a very weak deal.  Here are the highlights that the UFT put out earlier today.  Upon close examination most are not highlights at all.
TEACHER PAY: Updated with the most recent info from ICEUFT
UFT members in the new contract will get the 4 % + 4% salary increases that other city workers unions received back in 2009 and 2010, but we won't see the money until 2015-2020.

For the seven years from 2011 to 2018, where the UFT will set the pattern for raises that other city unions will now follow, we will be getting a total of 10% in raises for seven years plus a $1,000 signing bonus.  That works out to less than 1.5% per year.

Specifically, this is how the CFO crunched the numbers:

2009-2010 = 4% raise
2010-2011 = 4% raise
2011-2012 = 0% raise but we will get a $1,000 signing bonus if we ratify the contract.
Nov 2012- April 2013 = 0% raise
May 1, 2013 = 1% raise
May 1, 2014 = 1% raise
May 1, 2015 = 1% raise
May 1, 2016 = 1% raise
May 1, 2017 = 2.5% raise
May 1, 2018 = 3.0% raise
Total: 18% (compounded it will be a little more)

For those of you expecting to go back in the fall and at least have the 4%+4% added to your pay, forget it.

The 4 % + 4% that other unions received in 2009-10 will not be added to our pay until the increases kick in one year at a time starting in 2015.  Here is how the 8% will be added in:

May 1, 2015 = 2%
May 1, 2016 = 2%
May 1, 2017 = 2%
May 1, 2018 = 2%

All we get added to our salaries now if we ratify is 1% for 2013 followed by 1% for 2014 and the $1,000 bonus.

The 8% won't be added to our salaries fully until 2018 and the retroactive money the city owes us since 2009 won't be coming soon either.  Here is the schedule for the retroactive payments:

October 1, 2015- 12.5% lump sum
October 1, 2016 - Nothing
October 1, 2017 - 12.5% lump sum
October 1, 2018 - 25% lump sum
October 1, 2019 - 25% lump sum
October 1, 2020 - 25% lump sum

We will not be made "whole" for Bloomberg denying us the raises that other city unions got 5 years ago until 2020.  
This seems to be the big highlight for everyone but let's think about what we are really getting.  After the 4 + 4 for 09/10, we get 1.3% a year over 7 years (below the rate of inflation).  Just think about how much your rent has gone up in the past few years alone.  This is the awful pattern we are setting for every other union in the city, who are by all reports (rightfully) outraged that we would agree to this. UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I may have been misreading part of this.  Not only are we not going to get the back pay until 2015-2020, but the step increases that go with that as well.  So for all of use foolishly thinking that at the very least we would be making about 10% more than we do now this September were wrong. In fact we will only be making about 2% more, and we won't see the rest of that money for years and years to come.
The new contract clarifies and simplifies the evaluation process. Evaluations will now be focused on 8 components instead of the current 22.
Under the current system, teachers in grades or subjects not covered by tests can be evaluated in part on schoolwide measures that include results for many students they do not teach.  Under the new contract, teachers in non-tested subjects or grades will have the option to be evaluated on the results of students they actually teach.
The union and the DOE will work to expand the available assessments. 
All this basically does is lighten the load on administrators.  Will we be observed fewer times?  Will our evaluations still be tied to our students' test scores?  Will we still have to waste 4+ days a year giving ridiculous MOSL exams?
Under the new contract, the DOE is obliged after Oct. 15 to send an ATR to any school in the district/borough with a vacancy in the teacher’s license area. The principal retains the discretion to keep the teacher or return him or her to the ATR pool.
This is probably the most egregious part of it all.  While the UFT is not "highlighting" this, apparently once these ATRS are dumped by the Principal, which according to the Chancellor can be in as soon as "one day" after they are assigned,  the city can move to terminate them in a 3020 hearing.  Call me cynical, but this certainly looks like the ATRS were sold out, and that there will be mass firings in the coming years.
The union’s 2005 contract lengthened the school day by 2.5 hours each week, or 150 minutes.
The proposed contract reconfigures the 2.5 hours added to the week in 2005, and recovers an additional 80 minutes each month by eliminating a number of faculty meetings and conferences.
Under the new contact – unless a school votes for an alternative — an 80-minute block of time on Mondays will be devoted to school-based professional development and a 35-minute period every Tuesday for professional work, such as collaboration between teachers across subjects or grades. The remainder of the repurposed time will be used for parent contact (see below).
All I can say is, that this sounds like it will turn out to be an absolute mess.  I honestly have never met one teacher who thinks the solution to the educational crisis is less time with students and more time in PD.  In fact, I know a lot of teachers who save up their sick days just to call out on Brooklyn/Queens day.  I am all for meaningful PD, but 90% of PD I have ever attended is anything but meaningful, and it certainly seems a lot less meaningful then tutoring struggling students.
The agreement creates a 40-minute period every Tuesday for teachers to reach out to parents by email, letter, telephone or face-to-face meetings. Teachers can also use this time to create newsletters, school or class websites or other strategies to increase contact between parents and teachers.
It increases the length of the parent-teacher conferences from 2.5 to 3 hours and doubles the number of evening parent-teacher conferences from 2 to 4 each school year. Evening conference will be held in September, November, March and May.
The first part of this actually does not seem like such a bad idea.  If I had built in time every week specifically for parent outreach I believe I would do more or it.  I also won't complain about the second part since parents have a right to get involved in their child's education.  It does seem kind of like a waste to do this at all levels though, since the vast majority of high school parents don't attend parent teacher conferences to begin with.
The new contract provides a mechanism for schools to innovate by seeking exemptions to certain Chancellor’s Regulations or UFT contract provisions that could result in initiatives such as a different school day and year; greater teacher voice in hiring decisions; or wider variations in how a school day is laid out.
A joint DOE-UFT panel will review proposals and select up to 200 schools for the program.  For a school to participate, the principal and 65% of UFT staff in the building must agree to the proposal.
I honestly was stunned when I read this.  Did the UFT actually just agree to turn 10% of the schools in NYC into pseudo charter schools?  Why would any public school teacher vote to take away their own contract provisions?  I doubt many (if any) schools will sign up for this, but once you make changes like this it will be very hard to go back.  Besides, schools already have the SBO provision and can make minor tweaks to the contract (including work day) if they like.  I honestly only see this ending very badly.
The agreement obligates the Department of Education to provide all educators in core subjects with appropriate curriculum.
It also includes new rules to reduce excessive paperwork, including the creation of duplicative and unnecessary electronic records.
Another silly clause.  The DOE should have always been obligated to provide curriculum, but even if they do the likelihood that it is good curriculum is slim.  The only way I see this working, is if the city pays teams of teachers to come in over the summer and develop curriculum together.  Anyone who has used EngageNY or Pearson ReadyGen knows just how much most provided curriculum is worth.   As for excessive paper work, this is already (supposedly) protected in our current contract.  However, I have never seen a successful "excessive paperwork" grievance and I doubt this will change a thing.
The proposed contract includes leadership positions that will allow teachers to remain connected to the classroom while still expanding their reach. “Model Teachers” will be empowered to work with teachers in their own school to improve instruction by opening up their classrooms to their colleagues. “Teacher Ambassadors” will be paired with a sister school for a year to share and develop best academic practices. Both posts pay $7,500 a year on top of salary.
“Master Teachers” will be responsible for sharing best practices in their school and reviewing its impact on student achievement. The post pays $20,000 a year on top of salary.
Finally, this is the biggest change in the entire contract.  I would like to see the details of these proposals before I give major comments, but it seems like these gigs always cost a lot of money and have little results in improving student outcomes. From what I have seen generally, these jobs end up being hundreds of extra hours of work that are not worth the extra pay.  If you want to do more to develop curriculum, or work with other teachers, there are plenty of per session opportunities at both the school and city level that can earn a teacher a few thousand extra dollars over the course of a year, and if you want to be an administrator you might as well just become an administrator.

The bottom line here, is that the money is not nearly as good as it sounds (or the UFT is spinning it), and there are a lot of give backs, and proposals which I am very very skeptical about.  Maybe I will change my mind once I read all the find print, but as of right now I plan to vote no on this contract.  If de Blasio is really a labor friendly mayor I think we could have done far better than this, and it is worth holding out for a better deal.