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UFT's bad deal with NYC mayor

May 4, 2007 | Page 11

UFT member MEGAN BEHRENT analyzes the agreement on a school restructuring plan.

NEW YORK--The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a deal last week on Bloomberg's planned reorganization of the city's public schools.

While Bloomberg agreed to minor changes and concessions to the UFT and other groups that had formed a coalition against his latest attack on public education, many issues were left unresolved--and the worst elements of the plan will go through. Nevertheless, the UFT and its coalition partners called off a planned May 9 citywide rally organized around "putting the public back in public education."

The original proposal from Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein included a complete reorganization of New York City public schools, new regulations to make tenure harder for new teachers to achieve, and far-reaching changes in the way schools are funded that will make it a liability for schools to hire or keep experienced teachers and staff.

The plan provoked outrage from teachers, parents and educational advocacy groups, which rightly pointed out that the proposal would destabilize schools and penalize those that retained qualified teachers.

For the first time in many years, the attack led to the formation of a coalition, including the UFT--which represents more than 100,000 teachers and education staff in the system--immigrant rights groups like the New York City Immigration Coalition, parents' organizations and other groups, including ACORN and the Working Families Party.

The new deal agreed to by UFT leaders leaves the worst parts of Bloomberg and Klein's proposal intact.

Bloomberg did agree to more funding for English language learners, and he allowed representation from the UFT and other groups in the coalition on committees to ensure class size reduction and review tenure procedures. The mayor also made minor concessions in his funding plan to "hold harmless" schools that currently have a high number of more experienced teachers with higher salaries.

Previously, schools were allotted a budget based on the total number of teachers needed, and salary wasn't taken into account. Under the new agreement, while schools won't be immediately penalized for having more senior staff, salary would impact individual school budgets.

When a senior teacher leaves a school, the principal will have to choose whether to use the allotted funds to hire an experienced teacher with a higher salary, or a cheaper and less experienced teacher--and save the money for additional teachers or other school budgetary needs. This creates a disincentive to hire more experienced teachers and makes experience a liability for teachers seeking jobs in the city.

The new funding plan will have a drastic effect on teachers whose schools have been closed down in recent years, who are frequently assigned to schools as ATRs (essentially, a permanent substitute) while seeking a permanent job.

Previous contract negotiations weakened seniority rights for teachers seeking transfers or forced out of their schools when they are closed down, and principals have full power to decide who they want to hire, without regard to seniority or experience.

But the new plan will give principals a financial incentive not to hire teachers with experience--and could lead some administrators to harass senior teachers into leaving to free up more money in their budget.

While more experienced teachers are clearly under attack in Bloomberg's plan, newer teachers are also affected. Bloomberg agreed not to make any immediate changes to tenure, but a committee will be formed with UFT participation to review tenure procedures. Given Bloomberg's stated intention to make tenure more difficult to achieve, simply having input on a committee is no guarantee that new teachers will be protected.

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AFTER THE deal was announced, the UFT called an emergency delegate assembly where President Randi Weingarten argued for indefinitely postponing the May 9 rally.

Many delegates spoke from the floor against the proposal, saying that the deal still opens the door to privatization--since principals will now choose from a variety of instructional support services, including some private companies. Delegates also argued that canceling the rally would demobilize union members and make it more difficult to work together with parent groups that didn't support the deal.

As Michael Fiorillo, a chapter leader of Newcomers High School in Queens told the union newspaper, "These few crumbs thrown at us were based on the fact that they were terrified of teachers, parents and students coming together...The rug is being pulled out from under this germinating coalition."

Despite these objections, the delegate assembly, which is dominated by Weingarten's UNITY caucus, voted overwhelmingly to cancel the rally.

While this is a setback for union members committed to mobilizing against Bloomberg and Klein's latest attack on schools and teachers, it also demonstrates the need for more rank-and-file organization within our union to put pressure on the leadership to fight for our rights and our schools.

The opposition caucuses within the union will have a role to putting forward a strategy for mobilizing to stop the attacks on public education.

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