Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/691 Sun, 18 Nov 2018 10:23:17 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7829-what-s-the-data-point-7-42-with-labor-commissioner-bob-linn http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7829-what-s-the-data-point-7-42-with-labor-commissioner-bob-linn whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 48 -- 7.42% with Bob Linn [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

bob linn on wtdp ben maria

Bob Linn has one of the hardest, most complicated, and under-the-radar jobs in city government: he runs the labor relations department and negotiates contracts with the city's many municipal labor unions. Linn joined the podcast to discuss his career in labor relations, both from the city side and the union side, but mainly his work under Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiating contracts that impact hundreds of thousands of city works and the rest of New Yorkers who rely on those workers and how their contracts impact city finances.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn Fri, 27 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Chance for Chancellor Carranza to Restore Teacher Trust http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7703-a-chance-for-chancellor-carranza-to-restore-teacher-trust http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7703-a-chance-for-chancellor-carranza-to-restore-teacher-trust city council brooklyn studio school

Schools Chancellor Carranza (photo: New York City Council)


I read a lot of stories about the perfidy of teachers. We aren’t perfect. Like in every line of work, some among us do bad things. Often we’re stereotyped for the actions of a few. Despite the frequent and excellent reporting of Sue Edelman in The New York Post, most people don’t know much about administrative malfeasance, however, which exists from school level right up to Tweed Courthouse, home of the Department of Education’s top staff.

Let’s say my principal wakes up one morning and decides I’m an awful pain in the neck. In fact, he wouldn’t be wrong. (If he were, I probably wouldn’t be doing my job as a teachers union chapter leader.) While we can get along well under many circumstances, when teachers are in trouble, our relationship turns adversarial. It’s my job to defend our contract, and thereby our members. But it’s not always an easy task.

Let’s say my principal claims I threw a cheeseburger at a student. We could meet, and I would tell him I did not, in fact, throw the cheeseburger. There was no cheeseburger and there is no evidence there ever was a cheeseburger. This notwithstanding, the principal could place a letter in my file stating I threw a cheeseburger. He could also state that if there were any more flying cheeseburgers, I’d face further disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination.

Let’s say the principal focuses on something that actually did happen, but has a lot of room for interpretation, like many actions. Perhaps I said good morning to a security guard and the guard did not like the way I looked at him when I did it. The principal could do an investigation (or not) and conclude that I did, in fact, say good morning. The principal could conclude that I looked at the security guard with some negative aspect, or at least the security guard believes I looked at him with a negative aspect.

That’s another letter in my file. That’s another threat to my livelihood. Aside from writing a response and attaching it to the letter, there would be nothing I could do about it. You won’t read this in the tabloids, but under our contract, members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) are not permitted to grieve, or appeal, letters in their files. It doesn’t matter if they are false, and it doesn’t matter if they are ridiculous beyond belief. The principal decides you are guilty, and that’s pretty much it.

If I continue to say “good morning” with that perceived awful look in my eye, it’s entirely possible I could face dismissal. When a principal moves to dismiss a teacher, we go before an arbitrator for a hearing. Granted, it’s unlikely an arbitrator would have me fired for saying “good morning” with a look, whether or not there actually is one. But it’s likely a principal who wrote accusations like that would scrounge for every negative piece of information available. Were the arbitrator to leave me with a job, I’d likely get a fine and be found guilty of something less consequential. In that case, I’d likely be removed from my school and made a part of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR). ATR teachers generally rotate between schools covering for absent teachers.

Sometimes principals grow very weary of UFT activists. The chapter leader of Central Park East 1, along with a UFT delegate, was removed last year. Both faced charges that were ultimately deemed frivolous. Still, it was only when the entire community rose up, particularly a strong core of parents, that the charges were dismissed. I’m sad to say that activist school community is the exception rather than the rule. I’m sadder to say I know of many other principals who do similar things. Sometimes they are removed and sent off to do who knows what, as was the principal of CPE 1. Just as frequently, they keep their jobs, continue to harrass UFT members and drive morale straight into the toilet.

UFT members are permitted to grieve principal letters under certain very specific circumstances. If the occurrence is not reduced to writing within three months, that’s a grievance. This means if it’s June, and I supposedly threw the cheeseburger in September, I can’t get a letter to file about it now. If the school administration fails to meet with the subject of the letter and discuss it before issuing the letter, they aren’t permitted to place said letter in the teacher’s file. Also, if disciplinary charges do not follow, letters are removed after three years. If not, that’s a contractual violation.

In our building at Francis Lewis High School, we have outstanding grievances for all of the above. That’s because the Department of Education “legal” division, which I imagine as a bunch of children riding stick horses and shooting cap guns, routinely advises principals to ignore very plain contractual language.

At step one in the grievance process, we meet the principal, who informs us legal says whatever he or she is doing, whether or not it violates the contract, is OK. Then, at step two, we go to offices on Gold Street, where a chancellor’s representative presides over a hearing. They have 48 school days to write a decision, which amounts to two or three months, and often they can’t even make that deadline.

When chancellor’s representatives meet deadlines, we receive emails. Why wasn’t an incident reduced to writing within 90 days of occurrence, as required by the contract? Chancellor’s reps say things like, ‘this incident is not an occurrence, and therefore did not happen when you say it did.’ They may say an incident did not become an occurrence until the principal found out about it. Time stands still, evidently, before things reach the ears of a principal. I read this stuff and I feel like I’m through the looking glass.

Teachers are pretty stressed out under the best of circumstances. Faced with taking a day and going to a Manhattan hearing, some tell me they’re terrified and refuse to go. Others are nervous, but go anyway. I go along to try and reassure them. It’s hard, though, because I now know step two hearings are pretty much rigged and members will have to wait months for a decision, assuming there is one. I have to tell them this is just an exercise, and that we’ll have to wait for step three, arbitration, to get a fair hearing. This process can take over a year.

At least five grievances I’ve helped my colleagues write are heading to arbitration. Because these are blatant violations of contract, I expect we will win them all. But here’s the thing—arbitrators work for both the city and the union. They can’t rule one way all the time, or even nearly all the time. Assuming the arbitrators do the right thing and rule in our favor in these cases, what will happen in less obvious ones? If arbitrators try to be balanced, the city will have an edge in many cases.

I believe that’s exactly the game the city is playing. It’s a remnant of the teacher-hostile Bloomberg administration, and it’s there because Mayor de Blasio failed to clean house when he came into office. If new schools chancellor Richard Carranza wishes to turn around 16 years of bad faith, 16 years of bad morale, productive for neither teachers nor students, he’ll move quickly to turn this around. He’ll clean house at legal, and demand that all new hires actually read and respect the UFT contract.

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Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader for Francis Lewis High School. On Twitter @TeacherArthurG.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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A Chance for Chancellor Carranza to Restore Teacher Trust Thu, 31 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Fallacy of Janus at The Supreme Court http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7495-the-fallacy-of-janus-at-the-supreme-court http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7495-the-fallacy-of-janus-at-the-supreme-court uft arthurgold feb

photo: @UFT


The Supreme Court of the United States will shortly rule on the Janus v. AFSCME case. Janus contends that any and all union activity is inherently political, that no one should have to contribute anything to union activity, and that we should therefore become a “right to work” nation. That’s an interesting concept.

My union, the United Federation of Teachers, has a political fund called COPE, and I contribute. I frequently disagree with UFT candidate endorsements and decisions, but I believe it’s important to empower our union. Not all of my friends believe that, but contributions to the political fund are strictly voluntary.

Union does, however, help press for things like higher pay, better working conditions, and increased benefits. We teachers and our union are frequently criticized for those demands. I see our working conditions as student learning conditions. I see our profession as a pathway to the middle class. At least two of my former students are now my colleagues, something I’m proud of. I think it’s our responsibility to leave our profession better for future generations. Of course, others may disagree with what we strive for.

It’s entirely possible there may be a class of teachers who want more work, less pay, and fewer benefits. A ruling for Janus, which would certainly weaken unions, could help achieve that. I’m UFT chapter leader at the largest school in Queens, and I represent Democrats, Republicans, and independents. I’ve never met a single member who wanted more work, less pay, and fewer benefits, but I don’t doubt they may exist. There are over 200,000 UFT members, and I don’t know them all.

Nonetheless, I’m fascinated by the concept that Americans ought not to be compelled to contribute toward political activity that, at least in theory, benefits them. If SCOTUS rules for Janus (and smart money says it will), then this “freedom” ought not to be limited to union activity. For example, like many Americans, I don’t want to pay for Donald Trump’s golf outings. Why, then, is my money covering those trips?

In fact, I don’t really want to pay for Jared and Ivanka in the White House either. I understand Ivanka may not be taking a salary, but I’m sure she incurs expenses -- an office in the White House can’t be cost-free. Why do I need to pay for the space and upkeep? I’d like to opt out of that as well.

It’s entirely conceivable that Donald Trump may start a war to divert attention from the ever-rising tide of scandal that perpetually engulfs him. If he does, I’d rather not pay. If he ever builds that wall, I don’t want to pay for that either. I could go on.

I understand that, under the new Trump tax system, New York will be further picking up the tab for states that levy little or no income tax. Why should New Yorkers have to do that? If other states don’t wish to tax their citizens, it shouldn’t be up to us to build their roads or pay for their services. Maybe, like the union members who want more work for less pay, those states have residents who don’t want roads or services.  They should have the absolute right to live without them, and we ought not to get in their way.

Like a state or country, a union is a group of people who share an interest. Together we try to make things better for our group. We work together to advance our interests, and that’s why we have collective bargaining. I understand that, in a large union and in a democracy, I may not always agree with the direction in which we’re moving, but I have to do my part. And more broadly, I understand, as a citizen, that I have to do my part.

I freely acknowledge that our union may not be adequately representing the interests of teachers who want more work for less pay. I can understand that they may wish to opt out of union dues, even if doing so leaves them with more pay in the short run. (Call me cynical, but, if the SCOTUS ruling goes for Janus, I suspect some people who don’t want more work for less pay will also opt out just to save a few bucks.) The fact is that so-called right to work states have lower pay and fewer benefits, and that could become the norm after Janus.

However, if union activity is inherently political, so is government activity. If people are permitted to opt out of union dues, we ought to also be able to opt out of taxes. As soon as we can do that, I will consider supporting Janus.

But until that happens, everyone who benefits from a union should pay their fair share.

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Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader for Francis Lewis High School. On Twitter @TeacherArthurG.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Fallacy of Janus at The Supreme Court Mon, 26 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Paid Family Leave for City Teachers Now http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7311-paid-family-leave-for-city-teachers-now http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7311-paid-family-leave-for-city-teachers-now de Blasio classroom visit

Mayor de Blasio visits a classroom (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


Every work day for the past nine school years, I have taught and learned with young people from stressed economic backgrounds as a New York City public school teacher. Every day, I confront the realities of a system that puts short-term profits over children’s well-being and the long-term health of our city’s families.

I see scars on adolescents whose parents were forced into a bind that Mayor de Blasio has described as “the impossible choice between bonding with their child and paying their bills.”

Scars on students whose parents were unable to take the time to bond with them because of economic pressures. On others whose parents did take time off, but now struggle even more to make ends meet. I see adolescent children fall behind their peers because they have to take on responsibilities at home providing childcare to infant family members so that their parents can rush back to work.

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child confirms what those of us who work with young people know: “responsive relationships early in life are the most important factor in building sturdy brain architecture,” the neurological foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. When parents do not have time to bond with new young ones in their lives we all suffer.

For too long, New York denied the children of all city employees access to the benefits that come from paid family leave for parent-child bonding.

Nearly two years ago, Mayor de Blasio publicly recognized the foolishness embedded in this system. He created and imposed on city managers a program that provides up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

But that program penalized many managers with the loss of promised salary and vacation benefits. According to the city’s Independent Budget Office the program was not a cost to the city budget, rather it actually resulted in a savings to the city of close to $6 million. The mayor used his unilateral power to create a system where he got more than he gave up. That is not my understanding of how a “benefit” works.

In order to extend paid family leave to members of municipal labor unions, the city and unions must collectively bargain a new agreement. Teachers cannot sign on to the kind of one-sided plan that de Blasio instituted with managerial employees.

We know that governments can create family leave without breaking the bank. Cities across the country — including ones in the south and midwest that are not known for progressive social policy — have found ways to fund paid family leave policies for all city employees without going bankrupt. For example, Wake County, North Carolina funds the cost through the city budget.

We also know that negotiation means give and take. All of us understand the benefits of parental leave for children and families, but different teachers will have different understandings of the cost side. I’m a chapter leader in the UFT and I would love to have conversations about the appropriate costs of such a plan. We could have these conversations in our chapters and as a union if the mayor’s team would be up front about their calculations and requirements. But the team has provided none of these details publicly. I’m left to wonder if they are trying to accomplish the Mayor’s lofty goals without expending any resources to do so.

For 21 months, New York City has formally recognized the importance of paid family leave while accepting a policy that denies this benefit to our city’s educators and their children, as well as many thousands of other union employees and their families. Like a decision that restricts mail delivery for postal service workers, this hypocritical policy denies us what we provide to the rest of the city. The people who care for, educate, and support the young people of New York City should have the chance to care for, educate, and support our own children and families.

A good city takes care of the people who take care of it. We do this because it is the right thing to do, the right way to show value for the hard-working folks who make our city run. We also have a self-interest in providing services to city employees — services that make them more effective workers, services that make our city a more appealing place to live. Rather than treating teachers who want family leave like we are asking for a handout, the city should be partnering with us to find ways to support the youngest and most vulnerable of our city’s citizens without sacrificing the work we do. Rather than dragging its feet, the mayor’s team should use the political capital from his re-election to create a family leave policy for all employees.

In the mayor’s own words, “Paid parental leave means healthier and more financially stable families, more effective workplaces, and a stronger and more just city – which everyone can get behind.”

It’s time the administration got behind a real effort to create a parental leave program that works for everyone.

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John Troutman McCrann is a math teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Paid Family Leave for City Teachers Now Wed, 08 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Children Lose in Faulty Charter School Accounting http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7183-children-lose-in-faulty-charter-school-accounting http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7183-children-lose-in-faulty-charter-school-accounting success academy rally crop

A charter school rally (photo: @SuccessAcademy)


Questions: How do you turn a 25 percent graduation rate into a misleading claim of 100 percent success? When does a school’s 30 percent proficiency rate on an 8th grade reading test translate into the assertion that nearly half of the students passed?

Answer: when charter schools do their own accounting, and authorizers allow them to paper over the fact that huge percentages of the children who start in charter schools get driven or eased out.

Charters claim that they serve the same children as city public schools, but the truth is that they enroll and keep half the percentage of English Language Learners, dramatically fewer special education students, including those needing the highest level of intervention, and far fewer children who are homeless or in temporary housing.

district versus charter schools

Not content with starting out with more favorable demographics, many charters then rely on student attrition, boosted by draconian discipline strategies, to keep their academic numbers up. In New York City, charters enroll 8% of the students but account for 45% of the suspensions.  

Suspensions and pressure on students who struggle academically help charter schools force or ease out students with learning difficulties. And unlike regular public schools, charters often leave empty seats vacant.

As one charter organization -- Democracy Builders -- noted, when schools refuse to "backfill" or replace students who leave, the result is charters hyping their results (“artificially inflating perceived performance” in Democracy Builder’s words).

Here’s how it works.

At Success Academy Harlem 1, 73 students began first grade in 2007. By now this class has dwindled to 18 students as they reached the 11th grade. Assuming all 18 stay this year and graduate, Success Academy will no doubt claim a graduation rate of 100 percent. But in fact there are only 18 “survivors” of the original 73; even if all 18 graduate, the school should only take credit for a grad rate of 25 percent of the original cohort.

Success enrollment

The same logic can be applied to test score claims. Teaching Firms of America Professional Prep Charter School in Brooklyn claims that nearly half -- 47 percent -- of its sixth graders were proficient on the most recent state reading test. But that sixth grade class had only 36 students, far short of the 57 students who were in that class in third grade.

So counting the vanished children, only 30 percent of the original cohort actually scored proficient on the 2017 reading test, a rate well below the 40 percent passing rate average for all public schools.

None of these facts will stop charter propagandists from repeating misleading claims about their schools’ “success.” But charter authorizers, especially the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, need to be considering these issues as charters come up for re-authorization.

The committee has recently taken a tougher line against some charters, criticizing the chair of the board of Success Academy, Dan Loeb, for his indefensible statements comparing the actions of State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and teachers unions with the KKK.

But the committee's recent proposal -- to permit some charter schools to drastically reduce the amount of preparation teachers must undergo in order to be certified – is an ill-considered favor for a sector that has proven itself not only incapable of honest accounting, but also unable to retain a qualified workforce.

If charter schools are to perform their original mission -- to act as laboratories of innovation -- it is up to authorizers to ensure that charter schools take seriously their obligation to educate all kinds of children, and to give New York parents a realistic view of both their successes and their failures.

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Michael Mulgrew is the President of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter @UFT.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: this opinion column has been corrected to reflect that one organization cited is Democracy Builders, not Democracy Prep as originally stated.

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Children Lose in Faulty Charter School Accounting Mon, 11 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7121-with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7121-with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations 23589013804 3bdd4cedec z

Mayor de Blasio at DC 37's union headquarters (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As numerous labor contracts for thousands of city employees begin to expire, the de Blasio administration is already in the midst of new talks with municipal unions. The process revisits a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early tenure -- when the city faced an unprecedented situation wherein all the city’s labor contracts were expired -- and of the incumbent mayor’s first-term record: de Blasio regularly boasts of bringing to terms the outstanding workforce uncertainty he inherited.

With negotiations underway with several unions, fiscal watchdogs say the de Blasio administration needs to implement cost cutting and efficiency measures while ensuring contracts are resolved without inordinate delay.

Upon taking office, de Blasio and his team, led by labor relations chief Bob Linn and budget director Dean Fuleihan, moved to quickly settle the city’s labor union contracts, all of which had been expired for years under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the city’s 355,286 employees, 337,666 are represented by unions and the city settled contracts with all but 1,350 or 0.4 percent of them. But, even as the administration touts that success, both sides are already back at the table as 30 of the settled contracts have expired, between 2016 and 2017, and 27 more are set to expire in the next few months. Bob Linn and his team are in regular negotiations, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, and he was not made available for an interview based on that busy schedule.

Fiscal watchdogs generally praise the administration’s efforts in settling the expired contracts, particularly the inclusion of healthcare savings for the first time and reasonable wage increases, but recommend improvements that will ensure long-term fiscal stability. Some wanted to see municipal employees required to contribute to their health care, but that did not happen, while others said the administration should not have pushed the cost of retroactive raises as far into future budget obligations.

Among those unions whose contracts have expired are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents around 22,200 rank-and-file NYPD officers, and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents more than 8,000 firefighters. De Blasio and the PBA just celebrated coming to terms on a largely retroactive contract in January.

In September, the contract for District Council 37, the union that represents the second-largest group of civilian employees in the city, is due to expire. With more than 84,000 city employees on its rolls, accounting for about 25 percent of unionized city employees, DC 37 is second to only the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union whose deal was perhaps most-anticipated and, when reached in 2014, set the “pattern” for the other unions in terms of annual raises.

Unions, including the likes of DC37, UFT, PBA,1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, also employ significant political clout in the city. DC 37 and its affiliated political action committee, for instance, have made campaign contributions to candidates for mayor (they donated the maximum $4,950 to de Blasio), public advocate, comptroller and City Council. DC 37 endorsed de Blasio for reelection in January. The endorsement came just two days after the mayor released his preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 that proposed creating 100 new school crossing guard supervisor positions, which were created for DC 37 workers. The mayor later denied that the endorsement was part of the deal, and the positions were eventually included in the adopted budget that passed in June. De Blasio has also been endorsed for reelection by a number of other prominent city unions. The PBA, which has been a thorny opponent of Mayor de Blasio and the progressive-dominated City Council, has decided to focus on swaying City Council races in this year’s election cycle. It’s unclear if the union will get involved in the mayoral race. De Blasio is seen as an overwhelming favorite in both the primary and the general, in no small part because of his support from labor unions, which help drive voter turnout in what are expected to be very low participation elections.

Union labor issues pose significant challenges to the city’s fiscal health, particularly if -- or when -- the city experiences an economic downturn, experts say.

“One of the measures of prudence is what the costs were supposed to be when Mayor de Blasio took office compared to what they actually are,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. The last budget under Mayor Bloomberg predicted that salaries and wages for city employees in fiscal year 2018 would account for $26.4 billion in the city’s budget, Gelinas pointed out, but have actually reached nearly $27.3 billion. “That clearly adds strain to the budget,” she said.

Part of the increase stems from pay raises that didn’t match accompanying savings. “The mayor signed these agreements without really asking for givebacks in return,” Gelinas said.

Maria Doulis, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ point. Doulis said the last round of negotiations lacked a needed focus on efficiency in work rules, for instance negotiating staggered shifts for NYCHA workers or the causes of overtime in uniformed departments. “Those are important but weren’t done last time because the pressure was to get [agreements] done quickly and responsibly.”

But Doulis also said that the city had shown significant progress by working collaboratively with the unions on including health care savings in the negotiations. The de Blasio administration bargained with the Municipal Labor Committee, which collectively represents the city’s labor unions, to implement what it pegged as $3.4 billion in health care savings -- from $400 million in fiscal year 2015 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2018. There are a variety of measures in those savings plans, including a focus on preventive care so that union members avoid costly emergency room visits. Savings in excess of that projection are meant to provide bonuses to the city workforce. Doulis said the administration should build on that success.

The urgency with which the administration moved in 2014 to put labor agreements in place owed to long-expired contracts. But that also meant the city missed an opportunity to agree upon significant savings, Doulis said. “The savings that can come from productivity enhancements can only be recognized prospectively, not retroactively,” she said. “So it’s important to get contracts done in a timely way. Letting contracts go too long introduces fiscal risk to the city. And employees need to be able to plan their lives too.”

Gelinas reiterated that urgency is costly in labor negotiations. “Expired contracts, de Blasio really used that as an excuse,” she said. “It’s not good to have them expired for years on end but it’s not good to do a bad deal just to say that you did a deal.”

Gelinas said the city has fared well so far because of a strong and stable economy, and that a downturn after such an extended period of expansion would put the city in fiscal jeopardy as well as give the mayor less flexibility to cut costs. “Health care costs are increasing less fast than a few years ago,” she acknowledged, “but they’re still going up. The only reason the city can afford it is the economy is doing so well.”

She insisted that any further salary and wage increases should be paid for with cuts in the costs of benefits, namely health care. Although pensions are another part of the equation, and the city’s pension obligations have ballooned over the years, the city has a limited role in that respect since pensions are decided by the state Legislature.

In a view shared by other fiscal watchdogs, Gelinas suggested that workers share some of the costs, which currently fall almost entirely on taxpayers because of guaranteed benefits for city employees. She noted that health care benefits currently cost the city $10.1 billion and will grow to $11.7 billion in two years. “Keeping that from growing would be good savings,” she said. “Avoid the increase and share costs half and half with workers.”

And the onus is on the mayor to devise creative solutions, she said. “Bill de Blasio certainly hasn’t wanted to cut labor costs in his first term,” she said.

De Blasio, for his part, has recognized health care savings as an avenue where the city can go further. “I think the last agreement was very affirming to me that there's, again, much more where that came from,” he said at the annual State Financial Control Board meeting on August 2, referring to health care costs for public employees. “There's a willingness from our labor partners to think creatively. They understand this is about the longer term fiscal health of the city, they understand that if they want government to be effective, we have to keep finding healthcare savings, and I think there's a surprisingly strong atmosphere of partnership compared to, sort of, what the assumptions were previously. I think everyone has become sober together about the fact that we have to do a lot more on that front, and it is available to us.”

Asked about the current round of negotiations, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said the process was ongoing. “When this Administration came into office, no city worker was under contract,” Goldstein emailed. “Today, over 99 percent of the unions have reached a fair deal. As contracts begin to expire over the next year, we're confident we'll once again be able to reach deals that are both fair to workers and fair to taxpayers.”

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations Thu, 10 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Schools Can't Suspend Their Way to Success http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6891-charter-schools-can-t-suspend-their-way-to-success http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6891-charter-schools-can-t-suspend-their-way-to-success mulgrew classroom

Michael Mulgrew, the author (photo: UFT)


Children who miss 20 or more days of school in New York City have lost so much instruction time that they are classified as chronically absent, which studies have linked to lower test scores and higher dropout rates.

So it is hard to see the educational purpose behind Success Academy's suspending a special-needs 7-year-old for 45 days, even if some form of alternative instruction was provided. This one recent example is part of a much larger pattern, both for Success Academy and the larger charter school sector it is the leader of.

Sadly, Success Academy is far from the outlier in the charter sector in the use of suspensions as a punitive tool.

A 2016 study by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found charters nationwide suspended African-American and special-needs students at a disproportionately higher rate than their white or non-disabled classmates. The report was the first national review of charter school discipline.

In New York City, although the charter school student population was less than 7 percent of the system's total enrollment, charter schools accounted for nearly 42 percent of all suspensions, according to a review by The Atlantic of 2014 state suspension data.

Charter schools accounted for 48 of the top 50 New York City schools with the highest suspension rates for the same year. The Icahn Charter #7 in the Bronx reported giving out 142 suspensions to its 99 students that year, the highest suspension rate in the city. Achievement First Crown Heights Charter reported issuing 200 suspensions to its roughly 940 students that same year.

Teachers know that there is a place for suspension of children who are dangerous to themselves or others, or who constantly make learning impossible for their classmates. The UFT fought to ensure that the system's new discipline policy included the ability for a principal to suspend even the youngest children, though the potential loss of learning time means that suspension should always be a last resort.

But we also know that it takes time, energy, and public scrutiny to move from punitive, after-the-fact discipline codes to pro-active, restorative practices that can change school climate. At the UFT, we have joined with the city Department of Education to create a package of training and techniques to help staff identify and deal with issues proactively, known as the Positive Learning Collaborative.

At schools enrolled for three years in this joint venture, suspensions are down, as are the kinds of incidents that used to trigger them. And perhaps more important, the satisfaction of children, staff, and parents in the schools is up.

Charters need to do similar work, and do it publicly to regain the trust of the public, particularly parents and students.

***
Michael Mulgrew is president of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter @UFT.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Charter Schools Can't Suspend Their Way to Success Tue, 25 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Facts About Fair Student Funding in New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6828-facts-about-fair-student-funding-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6828-facts-about-fair-student-funding-in-new-york-city james merriman nyccsc

James Merriman, the author


The New York City Independent Budget Office, the nonpartisan government watchdog, recently issued a report with some startling findings: Students in public charter schools will receive a lot less public funding and support this year than students in district schools. How much less? The IBO found that the gap started at $1,100 per student if the charter school is co-located in a public school building and shot up to nearly $5,000 if it isn’t.

And, the IBO found that the future is even grimmer—that gap will grow in 2017-18 and beyond as district expenditures rise by billions more a year.

None of this is a surprise to those in charter schools. For the past several years, they have watched as Mayor de Blasio poured millions into failing Renewal Schools, and increased the district’s budget to pay for raises for teachers. As a result, DOE’s budget has grown by 16% over the last three years while the amount that charter schools receive grew by only 3.7%.

That’s why this year the city’s public charter schools and the families they serve are united around getting more equitable funding. Proposals put forth by Governor Cuomo and the state Senate are a step in the right direction.

Apparently, though, simple fairness in funding between a child in a district school and a child in a charter school is an idea that UFT President Michael Mulgrew cannot stomach. That’s why the UFT is throwing everything it can at the wall to deny charter students more funding, hoping that people will ignore the IBO’s findings.

The UFT’s latest hail Mary is a “report” that shows that the 216 public charter schools in New York City last year had substantial cash assets, some $325 million. Thus, says Mulgrew, charter schools don’t need additional funding.

Unfortunately for the union, the report doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

If you average $325 million across the city’s 216 charter schools, that means each school has roughly $1.5 million in the bank. It’s a pittance when you take into account that charter schools are organized as not-for-profits and best financial practice requires that they maintain three to six months of operating revenue as cash on hand. After all, a public charter school doesn’t have a dedicated tax base, can’t go to the bank (or state) and quickly access credit if they get hit with unexpected expenses like needing to fix a roof or put in a new boiler. That’s why so many schools prudently hold funds to plan for emergencies.

The UFT also ignores the fact that, unlike their district counterparts, charter schools have to find their own buildings where they can create new schools or expand. They don’t have multi-billion dollar capital budgets as does the city for its own schools. At the same time, the UFT has been pressuring Mayor de Blasio to squeeze public charter schools by refusing them space in district-owned buildings.

In other words, the UFT has done its darndest to create conditions that have caused charter schools to plan for a rainy day and then damned them for buying an umbrella.

These inconsistencies don’t surprise us, but they do become a distraction from the real story about New York City’s charter schools – that they are consistently among the best and most popular public schools in the state, particularly for disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic students. Not focusing on that is undoubtedly the UFT’s intention. But in the end we are confident lawmakers will make their budget decision on the merits, and here the facts are clear: charter schools aren’t receiving their fair share of funding. They, and the children they educate, deserve to. It’s that simple.

***
James Merriman is CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. On Twitter @Charter411.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Facts About Fair Student Funding in New York City Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Charters: Flush With Cash, Yet Still Trying to Pull Funds from Neighborhood Public Schools http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6824-charters-flush-with-cash-yet-still-trying-to-pull-funds-from-neighborhood-public-schools http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6824-charters-flush-with-cash-yet-still-trying-to-pull-funds-from-neighborhood-public-schools uft teacher floor

(photo: UFT)


Even as they are pleading poverty to the Legislature in Albany, charter schools across New York State are sitting on nearly half a billion dollars in cash and unrestricted assets.

An investigation by the state teachers union has shown that New York City charter schools alone have at least $323 million in unrestricted net assets, most of it in cash. When you add in charters in the rest of New York State, the sector as a whole has unrestricted assets of more than $450 million.

Those are resources that can be used to pay for academic programs, support staff, and rent of school facilities.

But despite these available funds, New York's charter chains are lobbying for more public support in the form of increased tuition reimbursements, additional rent subsidies, and the elimination of the cap on the number of charters – all of which would siphon off public funds that could go to the state’s traditional public schools.

Charters are famously resistant to transparency, and anyone wanting to find out how much cash charters have on hand, or how much they pay their top managers, has to track down audits and non-profit tax returns on the internet.

A review of these documents shows that in New York City alone the Uncommon Schools chain has cash and unrestricted assets totaling more than $28 million; Success Academy has more than $22 million; and Democracy Prep have more than $14 million.

Ignoring these facts, Republicans in the state Senate have proposed to eliminate the charter cap and drain an additional $334 million statewide that could go to traditional public schools, sending that money instead to charters.

Charter cheerleaders constantly complain that the UFT is an enemy of charters. But the fact is that we represent teachers at a number of New York City charter schools and support their original purpose: to be incubators of innovation that can then be spread across the public school system.

But to achieve that goal, charters have to be a vibrant part of the system and also be accountable to parents and taxpayers. Right now, New York charters are not.

Despite a 2010 change in charter law, too many charter chains still fail to accept and keep all students, and they have significantly lower numbers of English language learners, special education students, and homeless children than neighborhood public schools.

And too many charter chains have fought even the most basic accountability measures, such as audits of their finances or reviews of their school discipline policies.

As budget negotiations continue in Albany, the state Assembly right now is seeking to hold charters more accountable.

Charters would have to be transparent in how they raise and spend their funds to make sure tax dollars are spent in the classroom. They would need to report how much they pay their top managers and management companies.

They would need to abide by guidelines that they accept and keep all children and make sure the number of high-needs children they educate is comparable to the number educated in neighboring public schools.

As a measure of good faith, one of the first things charters could do is to acknowledge that many of their schools do not need the tuition and rent hikes they seek, particularly when their increases would come at the expense of New York City’s neighborhood public schools.

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Michael Mulgrew is President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On Twitter @UFT.

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Charters: Flush With Cash, Yet Still Trying to Pull Funds from Neighborhood Public Schools Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Players in 2009 Mayoral Control Fight Take Different Positions in 2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6349-players-in-2009-mayoral-control-fight-take-different-positions-in-2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6349-players-in-2009-mayoral-control-fight-take-different-positions-in-2016 de blasio albany testimony state senate

De Blasio testifies in Albany, May 4 (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


In 2009, then rank-and-file Assembly Member Carl Heastie was the lead sponsor of a bill designed to weaken then Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ability to determine education policy in New York City. Seven years later, Assembly Speaker Heastie is thought to be Mayor Bill de Blasio’s greatest ally in the fight to renew the system of mayoral control of city schools as is.

The 2009 bill, called the Better Schools Act, would have removed the mayor’s ability to name the majority of members of the Panel For Educational Policy, allowed the city’s Independent Budget Office to audit "financial investments and academic achievement," and provided training for parents and teachers to be more involved in the system.

The bill never came to a vote in the Assembly as then Speaker Sheldon Silver was a supporter of mayoral control. The bill died in the education committee two years in a row. It did, however, get a vote in the Senate in July 2009 where it was voted down. Bloomberg, in 2002 the first mayor given mayoral control of schools, won a six-year extension.

That extension came due mid-way through de Blasio’s second year in office last year and the mayor was given just one year more as his ongoing conflicts with Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, dominated policy-making in a turbulent Albany rocked by scandal.

Both Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo disagree with de Blasio on several aspects of education policy, like support for charter schools, while also having major political problems with the mayor.

Cuomo has proposed a three-year extension and stayed out of the public discussion, but the dynamics between de Blasio and Senate Republicans appear to have killed any chance at a nuanced debate as an extension is again being considered and de Blasio was asked to participate in two May hearings on mayoral control of the schools. He attended the first, in Albany, and sat for four hours of testimony, but declined to appear at the second, in New York City, letting his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña appear. Senate Republicans, especially Majority Leader John Flanagan, were not happy.

The irony, which applies to many involved in this education debate, is that de Blasio’s belief in the concentrated system of power that mayoral control provides more closely aligns with his biggest critics, while de Blasio’s allies are forced to support a system they largely criticized under Bloomberg.

Education reform groups, largely funded by major donors to Senate Republicans, have staged protests of de Blasio’s policies, but continue to support mayoral control as a governing system. The city’s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), was often at odds with Bloomberg and is very close with de Blasio, but has not been a vocal supporter of mayoral control. The UFT and Senate Republicans are often antagonists and the union declined to testify at either hearing this month.

Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Staten Island, was a cosponsor of the Better Schools Act and said it was obvious to her why the tune in Albany has changed. “Then it was Bloomberg and now it’s de Blasio. It’s just about who is mayor,” Savino told Gotham Gazette. “Quite frankly politics has taken over the issue in both houses. We should be talking about how to make the system better. The concerns everyone had in 2009 are still concerns today. If the PEP was a problem then, the PEP is a problem now. If parental involvement was a problem then, it’s a problem now.”

Heastie’s office did not return request for comment on his past support of the bill and whether he would be interested in voting on a bill that alters the current school governance system. A spokesperson for Senate Republicans declined to comment on Heastie’s support and whether Flanagan is considering changes to mayoral control. Flanagan has been critical of de Blasio on a number of fronts, including in a statement after the mayor’s Albany testimony in which Flanagan said de Blasio had not answered questions to his satisfaction.

The Better Schools Act would have expanded the PEP from 13 to 17 members serving two-year terms, with the mayor appointing eight members, each borough president one, one by the City Council, one by the Governor, and one by each head of the Assembly and Senate majorities.

Now, the panel’s 13 members include eight appointed by the mayor and one each by the five borough presidents.

“Bloomberg had gravitas and immense wealth; de Blasio has neither,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, when asked what he saw as the major difference between the 2009 and 2016 battles for extending mayoral control.

In 2009 Senate Republicans were Bloomberg’s greatest ally. The mayor was seen by many as the conference’s financier, but for the first time in decades they were technically no longer in control of the chamber. That is until then Senator Dean Skelos teamed with rogue Democratic Senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate to stage a coup, suddenly casting a leadership vote that other Democrats protested. The following legal and political battles saw the chamber sit empty for months. State government was crippled and mayoral control expired. Technically, the system reverted back to the old Board of Educaiton set-up with more decentralized power, something many have called inefficient, ineffective, and rife with nepotism and corruption.

When Democrats regained control of the chamber in 2009 then Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson insisted on making a number of changes to mayoral control to increase parental involvement, angering Bloomberg. Sampson and other Democrats continued to hold a grudge against Bloomberg for his generous financial support of Senate Republicans.

Despite their general support for Bloomberg, a number of city-based Republicans at the time also advocated changes to increase parental participation in education decision making.

Some of the major players against mayoral control included Sampson, Espada and Senators Carl Kruger and Shirley Huntley. All of them have since been convicted on corruption charges (as has Skelos).

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a group that is opposed to mayoral control, said she recalls being disillusioned after having a much-anticipated meeting with Assembly Speaker Silver (also since convicted on corruption charges). “He just shrugged and blew us off. We made no headway with him whatsoever,” said Haimson. “We didn't have a chance in hell getting anything through because Shelly Silver wouldn't do anything and we knew Senate Republicans were going to do anything Bloomberg wanted, that was very clear.”

Eventually Bloomberg abandoned negotiating with Senate Democrats and invoked Neville Chamberlain in a an interview. Senate Democrats were outraged saying Bloomberg had compared them to Nazis. Asked by a reporter whether he meant to compare Democratic state senators to Nazis, Bloomberg replied: “I certainly did. What part of that did they not understand? This is ridiculous." The mayor’s team later walked things back, saying he hadn’t heard the question.

The New York Post, meanwhile, ran a month-long series of pieces highlighting the benefits of mayoral control, titled “City Schools, City Rules.” The Post later celebrated its own coverage, running an August 2009 story with collected quotes from public officials, including Bloomberg, praising its reporting on the subject and taking some credit for the deal that was reached. Post front pages that spring had been unsparing, salacious attacks on the dysfunction in Albany - the paper even sent a clown and had her pose for pictures with legislators. Those pictures later became even more salacious covers.

The deal that was struck gave Bloomberg a six-year extension, but included new checks and balances: the IBO with more oversight over education spending, required hearings over the potential closure of underperforming schools, and Panel for Education Policy approval of Department of Education contracts worth more than $1 million.

Last year, as mayoral control was heading toward sunset, the Legislature was rocked by the indictments of its legislative leaders - Silver and Skelos. The Legislature was finding its footing under the new leadership of Assembly Speaker Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Flanagan as the mayoral control deadline approached. Bloomberg was no longer mayor, his large donations to Senate Republicans had ceased. Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and de Blasio were developing a strong alliance.

De Blasio not only wasn’t donating to Republican candidates - quite the opposite - he was finding creative ways to donate to swing-district Democratic candidates in their bids to unseat Republicans and win back control of the chamber. Flanagan balked at proposals to renew mayoral control by the six years it been extended under Bloomberg or even the three proposed by Gov. Cuomo and others. De Blasio was calling for it to be made permanent. When the legislative session’s “big ugly” hodgepodge of legislation was unveiled, de Blasio was left with a somewhat shocking one-year extension.

The mayor knew Senate Republicans were behind the minimal renewal, but he also blamed Cuomo for not going to bat for him - part of why de Blasio unleashed a very public tirade against Cuomo on June 30.

This year, de Blasio’s position is even weaker and Albany only slightly less chaotic. The year started with the convictions of both Skelos and Silver and then news of federal investigations into de Blasio’s fund-raising and Cuomo’s economic development programs. Senate Republicans are now on edge as they lost the seat Skelos held for decades to Democrat Todd Kaminsky and they face the prospects of a number of aging and retiring members. But the de Blasio scandal has given them hope as the probe into his 2014 fundraising for those state Senate races has led investigators to a number of districts with races that could determine control of the chamber. Democrats are sure to continue to dominate the Assembly. Carl Heastie remains de Blasio’s most important Albany ally.

Flanagan has held hearings on mayoral control over de Blasio’s head. The first hearing, on May 4, went smoothly by most accounts, with Democrats and Republicans praising the mayor’s responses and saying they expected a renewal. But Flanagan later issued a statement criticizing the mayor’s testimony, saying, “Too often, the mayor showed a disturbing lack of personal knowledge about the city schools. In addition, he has left too many unanswered questions and failed to provide specifics on many of the issues raised by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Until that occurs, I will not entrust this mayor with the awesome responsibility of operating the New York City school system.”

De Blasio then decided not to testify at the second hearing last week, further angering Flanagan.

"I am extremely disappointed the Mayor doesn't believe this hearing is significant enough to attend," he said. "With the future of mayoral control at stake, Mayor de Blasio has left too many unanswered questions about his stewardship of the New York City school system."

During both hearings this year, Democratic Senators have repeatedly mentioned that they favor renewing mayoral control for de Blasio but are concerned about how another mayor might run the system. The issues of oversight and parental involvement have been raised yet again by people on both sides of the aisle. De Blasio and many others - including the 100-plus business leaders who announced their endorsement of an immediate extension - have argued that the discussion is not about a particular mayor’s policies, but about the mayoral control system as a governance structure.

“Politics seems to be major factor in people's positions now, and politics should not decide the governance of the education system for the largest city in the country,” said Haimson. “Whether you are for or against a particular mayor shouldn't come into it. It is supposed to be about whether the system works.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Players in 2009 Mayoral Control Fight Take Different Positions in 2016 Sun, 22 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000