The Teacher’s Candidate: The UFT Endorses Bill Thompson for Mayor

Made up of over 70,000 members, the United Federation of Teachers has demanded a voice in this upcoming mayoral election. President Michael Mulgrew told the Observer two weeks ago that he expected his union to sway the election; the reason why each Democratic candidate has gone above and beyond to court his attention. And, as of last night, it looks like one of the most powerful unions in city politics has made its decision: The UFT wants Bill Thompson as its mayor (Sorry, Anthony Weiner).

As seen above, the endorsement was announced on Twitter. The official vote came from the UFT’s 3,400-member delegate assembly after the executive board made the recommendation for Thompson.

Thompson is no stranger to the UFT. Before assuming the comptroller position, the mayoral candidate was a high school teacher and the head of the pre-mayoral-control Board of Education. However, in 2008, the UFT endorsed Democratic state Senator Kevin Parker, not Thompson, who went on to become the nominee.

Thompson’s platform includes a moratorium on school closure and additional DOE funding for school supplies. But he hasn’t made a move on the UFT’s largest concern–receiving over $3 billion in back wages from City Hall that Mulgrew believes is owed to his union from seven years without a contract.

Also, akin to John Liu’s DC37 endorsement, the UFT support for Thompson seems a bit strange when one takes a look at poll numbers: the two most prominent labor chapters have endorsed the two candidates least likely to win. Of course, it’s only June; things can and will change.

Then again, the UFT has endorsed losing candidates the past three mayoral elections. So maybe Mulgrew isn’t onto something.


The Next Educator-in-Chief: What Will the New Mayor Do With a $25 Billion Budget?

The numbers for the Education budget are in and, once again, they’re groundbreaking: In fiscal year 2014, City Hall will spend $25 billion–the most in New York City history–on a line item that takes up about a third of the overall city budget. But, with an election coming up, determining Bloomberg’s legacy–which here includes doubling the Education budget–will be permanently out of his hands. Naturally, this has spawned speculation of the next mayor’s move for the largest public school system (and budget) in the country. And, because of how this election is shaping up, the teachers’ union will be sitting at the table this time around.

The downtown throne seems to the Democrats’ to lose. Hence the poll numbers, the influx of cash and the media attention shifting toward the party that promises a progressive sequel to the Bloomberg years. Of course, it is only June. And politics is the most unpredictable force of human nature we’ve ever seen. But, for thematic purposes here, a hypothetical can be used sparingly.

Michael Mulgrew represents nearly 70,000 teachers as the head of the United Federation of Teachers and, come November, is promising a force of over 220,000 at the polls. And, for a primary that’s expecting 600,000 Democrats to show up to vote in December, that’s a number to be reckoned with. The candidates know that: Liu’s already pressing his DC37 endorsement, Weiner has promised an open-arms approach to the teachers and Quinn was reportedly outside of Mulgrew’s home the day after Sandy, waiting to help him with flooding.

In a piece entitled “Class Warfare: Teachers’ Union Boss Michael Mulgrew Claims He Can Crown the next Mayor” published yesterday, Observer senior writer Jill Colvin sat down with Mulgrew to explore that electoral notion from a constituency that hasn’t had a contract with City Hall in over five years. And, for the UFT chieftain, he’s confident that the teachers will make or break this election. “We’re not about picking a mayor,” Mulgrew told Colvin. “We’re about making a mayor, making the winner. And that’s what we’re gonna to do.”

This is a man who’s demanding $3 billion in back wages from the new Mayor while, at the same time, asking to end mayoral control – a provision that, after being renewed in 2009, will hand the winning candidate with the keys to the Department of Education to the end of 2014.

At an executive budget hearing in front of the Committee on Finance yesterday, Mulgrew, along with the firefighters union and DC37 reps, once again requested retroactive fees from the city in January and outlined DOE funding failures. “These are the kinds of problems we’ve seen over the past eleven years from this administration,” he said. “We’ve done good things working together with City Council… and we do think it’s important to reinstate the daycare slots” – another item that’s been on the Bloomberg chopping block for a few years now.

If the sway at the polls proves true in September’s primaries, the Democratic contender will be forced to respond positively to the unions’ demands, no matter how unrealistic, in a budgetary sense, they may be. None of the candidates are self-financing their campaign like Bloomberg did three times; therefore, they need all the support and money they can get, presumably aware of the blowback should they not deliver on their promises. With that being said, the participation of the labor force in deliberations will carve out new lines in the way Education dollars are spent.

As of now, the $25 billion allotted to the school system next year includes a new injection of $100 million to build 24 new charter schools. The drive for private sector involvement in the DOE has been a staple of the Bloomberg administration, much to the dismay of the UFT. But, as we’ve shown, that could all change. The same goes for the $165 million set aside for the new teacher evaluation plan – one that, as we unfortunately know, has been a point of serious, serious contention between the union and the city.

In terms of imperative, however, the most important focus here is the motive. As Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office once told the Voice, “The Mayor has always said that education is a test of his mayoralty.” Since Day One, Bloomberg positioned himself as the educator-in-chief; someone who would make the DOE the magnum opus of his time in office. In his second inaugural address, in 2006, he called the children of New York City “our most important obligation” and has met that self-proclaimed passion with dollars. And, of course many would argue, one-sided, undemocratic approaches to what he thinks was and is right for the city’s schools.

For today’s candidates, that motive is a bit different. None of the contenders have placed the same emphasis on redefining what education in New York City means as Bloomberg. In turn, should they win in November, the Democrats will peg their decisions to electoral gains, losing a main driver of energy and focus that was present throughout the Bloomberg years.

So what will the next mayor do with a $25 billion education budget in 2014? Make sure it places them back in office four years down the road.


Here’s How New York City’s New Teacher Evaluation System Works

There was the drama and the mayoral temper tantrum. There were numerous missed deadlines, negotiation room walk-outs, separate plans, fed-up union members and, in the end, threats of intervention on behalf of Governor Andrew Cuomo and state education chief John King. Now, months later, after sacrificing millions of dollars for New York’s public school system and 1,000 or so jobs for teachers, New York City’s power players in education were served their teacher evaluation system by Albany on Saturday. This is what it looks like.

Before we dive deeper, let’s lay out what the goals of the new teacher evaluation system were in the first place.

First, it was to secure the $300 million in state funding for education marked out in a bill passed by the legislature in 2010. Second, the state wanted a better way for parents to recognize who was teaching their children. Third, the system needed to make it easier to identify and deal with incompetent teachers.

In the previous system, your teacher was either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” About 3 percent of New York City’s 75,000 teachers fell in the latter category. The new, Albany-based system will create four tiers instead of two. Your teacher will either be “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing,” or “ineffective.” If a teacher receives two “ineffective” ratings, this will alert higher officials to what King told reporters was a “pattern” of incompetency (read: firing in near future). So instead of pass/fail, we now have more of a letter-grade-esque method to grade our educators with more lethal consequences if you earn too many Fs.

To foster these grades, the ratings’ origins will be split two ways: principal observations (60 percent) and state assessments (40 percent). In some cases, student surveys will be included in the mix. We’re sure that will cause some other drama down the road.

As stated, the teachers’ union and Bloomberg’s Department of Education did not approve this plan because their inaction forced it to happen in the first place. However, it seems as if the mayoral and his education team are big fans.

In a statement to the press, Bloomberg praised Albany: “This is a clear win for students that will benefit generations of city public school children. King has sided with our children on nearly every major point of disagreement we had with the union’s leadership.” Education Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott agreed, too.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we finally have a teacher evaluations system after months of political bickering. What matters is that we lost millions of dollars over this damn thing. And what matters is that we can hold that loss up as a symbol of the city’s mismatched priorities.

The system is up for renewal come 2016. We’ll talk then.


Criticizing Bloomberg, Weiner Positions Himself as Teachers’ Favorite Mayor

The rocky relationship between Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s teachers has been the defining narrative of New York’s educational politics for the past decade. Troubled by layoffs and recession-based attrition by the Department of Education, the United Federation of Teachers has basically cut all ties to Hizzoner, leaving the teachers without a full-fledged contract for almost seven years now. This, of course, came to a boiling point in January’s teacher evaluations deal meltdown; one that sacrificed millions of dollars for our children. As the next mayor, Anthony Weiner wants to change all of that–the politics, the tensions, the drama–fast.

On a campaign stop in Bronx’s Co-op City last Sunday, the former Congressman took on the issue of education with hope and difference. “The fact is that being this long without a contract is an opportunity for the next mayor. It really is,” he said. “I mean, to be honest with you, I like the idea that if I’m fortunate enough to get elected, I’m going to have a chance to engage in these conversations fresh.”

Weiner continued with a criticism of Bloomberg’s approach as well as a major shout-out to the unions – a bastion of support that, should he advance further in this race, he’s desperately going to need. “Would any business treat its employees–meaning teachers–as badly as their boss is treating them? […] It’s frankly just not a productive way to be a boss. I’m not going to do that. I honor the teachers and contributions they make.”

The poll numbers show that Weiner’s main objective right now is to take down Christine Quinn’s frontrunner momentum. His entry into the race has forced the Democratic roster into a three-person split: one where it’s Quinn’s to lose, Weiner’s to advance, and de Blasio’s to salvage. With these statements in mind, the move made by Weiner on education is particularly strategic for two reasons.

First, as previously mentioned, he wants to preview himself as the union defender. The Democrats’ labor foundation is still struggling with Quinn; most recently, the paid sick leave bill was definitely a legislative victory for her with the unions, but the workers’ big chiefs aren’t forgetting that it took her two years and an impending election to switch sides on the matter. Also, she’s been characterized as Bloomberg 2.0 for her help in handing the mayor a third term and, if the unions despise anything in city government, it’s Bloomberg.

That brings us to the next point. Read Weiner’s statements about the current mayor as “Hey, I’m not gonna act like Bloomberg and, by saying that, I’m not gonna act like Quinn either.” His willingness to criticize Bloomberg’s treatment of teachers posits him as the anti-Quinn–a persona he needs to emphasize in coming months if he wants to stay alive in this race. Of course, we cannot forget that, at its core, this election is all about Bloomberg and his legacy.

The campaign stop on Sunday is the beginning of Weiner’s never-too-late entry into this race, one where he’ll have to characterize himself again and again. If this is what he’s bringing to the table, he’s off to a good start.


A Few Teachers Beg Albany to Help Evaluate Them in New Ad Campaign

It’s not every day that employees ask their higher-ups to evaluate them more rigorously, but that’s what a few city public school teachers asked for in an ad campaign launched by Educators 4 Excellence yesterday.

There’s surely nothing wrong with wanting to be held to a high standard. But, some critics have dismissed the credibility of E4E’s campaign due to the financial support that it has received from big money players in the ed-reform movement, *including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — an organization known for promoting teacher evaluation policies that undo many of the safeguards to job security that you’d expect a teacher to want.

The teachers in the E4E commercial, which can be seen above, call on Albany to intervene in the stalled negotiations between the United Federation of Teachers and the City.

“A meaningful evaluation system will tell me what’s working and help me do better for my students.” Jemal Graham, a seventh grade math teacher in Queens, says in the video-ad.

A “meaningful evaluation system” is certainly ideal, but the city’s real hang-up in its negotiations with the UFT is over whether or not the Department of Education will have the power to fire teachers — not whether the evaluations provide “meaningful” enough feedback. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city rejected the UFT’s demand to have the evaluation deal sunset in June 2015 because it could block the city from firing teachers who were found ineffective for two consecutive years.

To avoid missing out on increases in state funding, a bunch of other districts in the state agreed to one-year evaluation deals. Bloomberg has repeatedly called those agreements fraudulent — arguing that the teacher’s unions won’t have anything to lose. Gov. Andrew Cuomo rebuffs that claim, noting that districts and unions will be compelled to extend those deals due to the annual threat of losing increases in state aid if no evaluation deal is in place.

We reported earlier today that Cuomo is expected to introduce legislation at some point this week that would grant the state the authority to arbitrate a deal between the UFT and the city if the two parties fail to reach an agreement by the September deadline. The two sides have already missed out on $250 million in state funding increases for the 2012-2013 school year, when the two sides failed to come to an agreement on a teacher-evaluation deal in January.

“New York has missed every deadline for the implementation of this evaluation system and we simply can’t afford to kick the can down the road any longer,” said Sydney Morris, a co-founder of E4E said in a release. “Our teachers are tired of empty promises, ready for a system that will give them the feedback and support they need and deserve, and want enough time to be able to implement this effectively so that it actually improves teaching and learning.”

Speaking without any real authority — just common sense — one would assume that most teachers aren’t champing at the bit to put a system in place that reduces their job security. And, while it’s nice that Cuomo will ensure that the city won’t lose out on $220 million more dollars, (the state likely owes the city billions by the way), Bruce Baker, a professor of education at Rutgers and a statistical analyst, told the Voice last month that the evaluation measures used by the city and the state aren’t very reliable measures of teacher performance:

“My concern would be over the rigidly specified heavy use of things like either the city’s value-added measures, or especially the stage-growth measures which the state is kind of mandating be part of the evaluations . . . I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing better evaluations, and that we shouldn’t be smartly integrating data into the evaluation, including student performance and growth data. What I am saying about [these] policy prescriptions is they’re trying to do it in a particularly dumbass way.”</block quote>

So, it would appear that E4E is calling for evaluations that will likely bring more job loss than phenomenal feedback. But, why should E4E take heat for its ads?

After all, it’s just an organization — as described to Gotham Schools — started by a couple of fed-up city teachers, Morris and fellow E4E cofounder Evan Stone. Through perseverance and determination for educational justice, E4E grew in just three years from a small band of passionate educators into a full-on national organization with reach in multiple cities, an impeccably designed website, and enough funding to launch a week-long television ad-campaign in New York City.

Rafael Gondim, an seventh-grade teacher in Queens, says during his spot in the ad that he just wants to get better.

“With feedback and support, I will be a stronger teacher for my students,” he said.

*previously stated that E4E also receives funding from Democrats for Education Reform


Here’s Why Bloomberg And The UFT Couldn’t Come To A Deal On Teacher Evaluations

It’s official: as of yesterday afternoon, the teachers union and the Mayor’s education officials both walked out on negotiations for a teacher evaluations deal worth millions. That means that the January 17th deadline has come and went, placing New York State out of Race to the Top fund consideration. And it’s all because these two parties simply could not get along.

Apparently, when the UFT and D.O.E. met last night, there was still hope on both sides that something would be done. Education Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott told reporters “we were very, very close.” President Michael Mulgrew of the UFT agreed: “It is particularly painful to make this announcement because last night our negotiators had reached a deal.”
So what the hell happened? Let the blaming game begin.

“Mayor Bloomberg blew the deal up in the early hours today, and despite the involvement of state officials, we could not put it back together,” Mr. Mulgrew said. In response, the Mayor took a classic emotional route to accuse the teachers’ union of squandering here: “In failing to reach an agreement, the saddest part is that our students will pay the cost. I can’t tell you how much it pains me to see this happening.”

It’s hard to say who’s really responsible for everything that’s happened. Some blame the state for placing this weight on municipal authorities; in other words, if the entire state knew how volatile the relationship between the UFT and Bloomberg administration is, why would Albany outsource negotiations to them?
But, with the history between these two, it’s clear that each player wants to come out of this as the attempted compromiser. Like when Mr. Mulgrew went ahead and notified Governor Cuomo (who refuses to extend the deadline) that no deal would be reached by midnight last night because of “the intransigence of the Bloomberg administration,” citing the current bus strike as a prime example of this. And the same kind of emotions were fired from the Mayor’s office towards the teachers’ union.
The Mayor told reporters that the talks self-imploded for him partially due to the deal’s expiration date. In the pact that was temporarily reached, the agreement between the two parties would end in two years, meaning that the next Mayor would have to fix this problem down the road. Except the teacher evaluations are two-year-long tests of performance so, with that being said, having an expiration date that matched the length of the evaluations wouldn’t really work. Mr. Bloomberg also found fault with the unions’ request to double the arbitration hearings.
Regardless, it doesn’t matter. When push comes to shove, we’re still in the same boat as before: the City has no teacher evaluation deal and, as a result, students across the State are out a few (hundreds of) millions or so. In terms of price tag, this is the worst proliferation of the ratchet tensions between our Mayor and our teachers in recent memory. Politics is all that needs to be said here.

State, Not UFT, Screwed Kids Out $250 Million With Teacher Eval Demands

For a sample of the over-wrought backlash that the United Federation of Teachers will face after failing to come to an agreement with the city on a new teacher evaluation system this afternoon, go check out today’s opinion section in the NY Daily News.

In an impressive show of mutual-strokage, the News published an opinion piece by former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., entitled “A Stubborn Union Blocks Reform,” opposite its editorial headlined “Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew is about to cost the city millions in state aid.”

Now that the UFT and the city failed to reach an agreement, we will see whether the post-deadline headlines can match the narrow one-sidedness of the stories in the Daily News this morning. Even the most half-assed attempt to assess the situation beyond its most superficial layers should prevent New Yorkers, and highly-circulated newspapers, from heaping all the blame on the union.

“It’s an easy sell to the public that we’ve got to have accountability for teachers and that obviously test scores and how well kids do on tests matters, but if you scratch below the surface at all, I think the public can see that maybe that’s not [all there is to the story],” Bruce Baker, a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers University, tells the Voice.

It’s odd that there’s no real mention in this conversation about of the billions in funding that the state has failed to provide the city with in recent years. Yet, it had the nerve to hold our public schools hostage with a $250 million ultimatum.

In 2003, the N.Y. State Court of Appeals sided with the Campaign for Fiscal Equality in its case against the state of N.Y. — finding that the city’s public school students were “not receiving the constitutionally-mandated opportunity for a sound basic education.”The decision called for the state to set a minimum mark for the amount of money it must allocate to the city to help it meet that constitutional requirement.

Based on the minimum amount the state calculated, which Baker argues was severely low-balled, the court ruled in 2004 that the city should receive an estimated $ 4.7 billion in additional funds from the state. Lo and behold, the CFE is currently considering legal action against the state again for its failure to pay out those court-mandated payments. And, before anyone uses the economic downturn as an excuse, the state had already failed to comply with funding mandate before the meltdown occurred.

“It’s a slap in the face for the state to be dangling this,” Baker says. “Now the state is saying we’ll give you this $300 million as opposed to the $3.4 billion we owe you…but only if you cave to our demands on a teacher evaluation model. I don’t think I’ve seen enough, if any, discussion of that.”

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that the UFT ultimately has itself to blame for this mess. It agreed to negotiate a new teacher evaluation system in order to help the city tap into the federal funds secured by the state through President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which forces states to comply with all sorts of ed-reformer goodies if they want additional federal dollars–goodies such as increased teacher scrutiny.

In the union’s defense, they were right to fight tooth-and-nail against any teacher evaluation system that calls for heavy reliance on often unreliable and unpredictable testing data.

“My concern would be over the rigidly specified heavy use of things like either the city’s value-added measures, or especially the stage-growth measures which the state is kind of mandating be part of the evaluations,” Baker says. “They could be less useful than the city’s measures. But the big issue is the forcing of rigid decision framework around these measures that really aren’t up to the task.”

Baker is not opposed to using testing data as a means of evaluation, but agreed that the union was right to avoid forcing its teachers to be bound to an inflexible system of evaluation.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing better evaluations, and that we shouldn’t be smartly integrating data into the evaluation, including student performance and growth data,” Baker says. “What I am saying about [these] policy prescriptions is they’re trying to do it in a particularly dumbass way.”

It seems pointless to place blame on Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the failed deal. To paraphrase the words of football coach Dennis Green, “he is who we thought he was.” We already know his agenda is to support the ed-reform policies in the city’s public school system. Any opportunity to chip away at teacher job security is a welcome one for him.

It was a win/win. Even though he didn’t get the evaluation system he would have liked, he can now casually depict the union as the evil empire that cost kids hundreds of millions of dollars–kind of like he did at a news conference this afternoon:

“Unfortunately every time we approached a deal in recent days, the UFT moved the finish line back instead of working with us to tie up the loose ends of this agreement, they continued to insert unrelated extraneous issues into the negotiations,” Bloomberg said. “The saddest part is that our students will pay the cost.”

Mulgrew essentially called him a liar.

“I just watched the mayor hold a press conference where I have never seen such a blatant misrepresentation of the facts,” Mulgrew said at UFT Headquarters this afternoon. “We will have the opportunity 11 months from now where we will be able to work with an administration on making our school system better.”

Baker believes that a failed deal might ultimately be best for the city.

“I’m sure they could use the money, but I don’t think that’s the big issue,” Baker said. “I hate to see them have to leave that on the table, but it still might be the better way to go.”


The Mayor’s D.O.E. and UFT Will Resume Talks Today, Just Hours Before $300M Deadline

For whatever reason, “coming down to the wire” doesn’t cut it here. Maybe it’s the $300 million that’s at stake. Who knows.

As we reported last week, a deadline has been set for tomorrow on statewide teacher evaluation deals. If achieved, the state will qualify for millions in Race to the Top grants from Washington, which will help fulfill a staked-out 4 percent increase in education funding from Governor Cuomo’s office. The rest of New York’s schools are waiting on the city to negotiate this relatively touchy subject.
But that’s no surprise: The two parties — the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers — have had longstanding politics between each other for years now. The fact that the teachers haven’t had a contract with the mayor’s office since 2007 doesn’t help. And Bloomberg likening the UFT to the NRA two weeks ago didn’t, either. For many more reasons than none, the talks stalled some time before Christmas, letting the intensity of this issue build up like a student writing a 30-page paper on existentialism the night before it’s due.
But, hopefully, students are in luck: the AP has reported that the two parties have agreed to come back to the table this afternoon. While the clock ticks away, it’ll be their last attempt to fix a mess that could have widespread repercussions. But no pressure or anything.
The Voice will keep you updated.



Teachers’ Union Prez Mike Mulgrew Hit With Woodshop Sex and Blackmail Accusations

Nothing like a quick sex scandal to spice up a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

In a 73-page lawsuit filed by a Manhattan teacher, the President of the United Federation of Teachers prez Michael Mulgrew, known for his heated relationship with Bloomberg’s Education Department, has been accused of having sex with a guidance counselor at the high school he used to teach at in Brooklyn.

Apparently, a custodian walked in on him and Emma Camacho-Mendez in the workshop and, once caught, they forced the worker and the principal of the school to keep their mouths shut. Also, according to the suit, Camancho-Mendez was rewarded with a UFT job paying $22,000 a year on top of her $85,000 guidance counselor salary.

However, as with every scandalous accusation, there is an overblown twist. And this one is serious: the lawsuit also name-drops Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other high officials as knowing about the incident.

One word: blackmail.

Andrew Ostrowsky, the math teacher from Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts who filed the lawsuit, has stated that, in order to get labor concessions passed in their favor, Bloomberg’s Education Department used the information against Mulgrew. If that accusation is true, this is a plotline of Oscar-winning proportions.

Mulgrew assumed the position in 2009 after Randi Weingarten, who the lawsuit claims knew about it as well but hid it for reputation reasons, stepped down to become the head of the American Federation of Teachers (United? America? Whatever). He was elected to a three-year term afterwards and denies all accusations of sexual mischief.

“This lawsuit is a catalog of absurd, false charges which we expect the court to dismiss,” said Dick Riley, a UFT spokesperson. Camacho-Mendez said she has never heard the allegations until now as well.

But it looks like the courts will have an easy time dismissing this one. It is reported that the lawyer of Ostrowsky, Joy Hachstadt, has no evidence whatsoever to present to the court and that her and her client are actually on the lookout for some. All they have now is “hearsay” evidence, which, in terms of the legal world, is near the equivalency of a $2 bill.

Ostrowsky also mentions in the suit that he was unfairly targeted for firing with a bad teacher rating and demands reparations for emotional distress. That might not be the best information to put into an argument to present in front of a jury. Quickly, the 73 pages becomes Angry Ex-Worker Seeking Revenge Vs. Boss.

We’ll see what the court thinks of that dyanmic in the coming days.