The City of New York and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on May 1 announced that the two sides had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.
New York City teachers have worked for five years under the terms of an old contract that expired in 2009.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the tentative agreement, on which members will soon be voting, “a landmark contract” that “demonstrates the extraordinary progress possible in public schools when a city works in partnership with educators.”
Members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a caucus of UFT members opposed to Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus, called the tentative agreement, “the contract we do not deserve” and urged members to reject it.
For five years, New York City teachers resisted efforts by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to impose his vision of corporatized education on New York’s public schools.
Among other things, Mayor Bloomberg wanted to implement a discredited merit pay system, establish a rigid evaluation system that discriminated against teachers in at risk schools, and punish teachers at schools designated for closure.
The bargaining climate changed after the new mayor Bill de Blasio took office.
The agreement that the two sides reached provides for modest across the board pay increases for each year of the contract that runs through 2018.
In addition, the city agreed to pay $3.4 billion in back pay for the five-year period that teacher pay was frozen while Mayor Bloomberg dragged out negotiations.
The back pay, however, will be paid back in increments and will not be completely paid off until the new contract expires.
The city also agreed not to raise health care premiums, but the agreement is contingent on the health care plan achieving $1.3 billion in savings generated by cost savings proposed by the union. The specifics of the union’s cost savings proposal have not been made public.
In a letter to members, Mulgrew said that the tentative agreement is “a contract for education that will not only benefit us but also the students, schools and communities we serve.”
The new contract establishes what the union calls a simpler and fairer evaluation process.
Diane Ravitch, the noted education historian and public education advocate, writes that New York City teachers will no longer be evaluated on test scores of students that they don’t teach and that evaluations will focus on a narrower set of objectives that more accurately gauge how well a teacher is performing.
In addition, fellow teachers rather than outside consultants will assist in evaluating the work of a teacher who has been rated as ineffective.
The new contract also allows for more parent involvement and teacher development.
More time has been allotted for parent-teacher conferences and teachers will have more time to communicate directly with parents.
More time has also been allotted for training that will help teachers develop their professional skills.
The extra time for parent involvement and teacher development was made possible by an agreement between the two sides to reconfigure the 2 1/2 hours a week that was added to the teacher workday in 2005.
The contract also gives schools the flexibility to experiment with innovative teaching approaches.
One of the goals of UFT during contract negotiations was to improve conditions for teachers classified as Absent Teacher Reserves (ATR). These are former teachers at schools that were closed who have been working as substitute teachers.
The new contract requires the New York City Department of Education to refer ATRs to schools that have permanent openings; however, the school principal still maintains the right to hire or not hire the person referred.
Ravitch on her blog, hailed the tentative agreement as an example of what can be accomplished when public officials stop bashing teachers and their union for the shortcomings of public educations and start working with them to solve problems.
“(The agreement) shows that in an environment of trust and respect, unions and districts can come together and agree on innovations,” writes Ravitch. “These innovations are not driven by unimaginative test-based accountability metric’s and privatization schemes. . . Rather, they are founded on principles of mutual learning, collaboration, and respect.”
Arthur Goldstein, a member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, on the other hand, disagreed with Ravitch.
Goldstein criticized the agreement because the raises weren’t big enough and because back pay is paid in increments.
Goldstein is also critical of the union leadership’s past stances.
“In this contract, the devil is in the details,” writes Goldstein. “Thus far we haven’t seen them, but history suggests a lack of foresight in insular UFT leadership, which has supported allowing teachers to become ATRs, charter schools, co-locations, the NYS APPR law, junk science teacher rating, Common Core, and mayoral control, none of which have helped public school teachers, parents or children.”