October 5, 2009
With less than a month to go before the teachers union contract expires, labor negotiation veterans are forecasting a “bland” contract that will disappoint those advocating for drastic reforms both from the city and United Federation of Teachers.
One issue that many believe will be left out of this contract is what to do about the absent teacher reserve: a pool of teachers who were laid off when their schools were closed or were let go as a result of budget cuts. Currently, there are about 1,400 “excessed” teachers who receive their full salaries though most are not teaching.
In previous years, Chancellor Joel Klein has urged the city to adopt the model Chicago uses, in which teachers have a year to find new work before they’re fired. When the city pushed for an 18-month period in 2005, arbitrators rejected the proposal, yet the chancellor has continuously said that this is the system he wants to see put in place.
In response, the union has pushed Klein to do more to find jobs for the teachers he already has, saying that the city created the problem in 2005 when it aggressively lobbied to end seniority transfer and then closed schools.
Sol Stern, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said there was no chance the Chicago model would ever come to New York.
“I don’t think that would ever happen,” he said. “The union can’t just walk away from these teachers.”
Some believe that it may happen eventually, but not during the current contract talks.
The negotiations are taking place in the black hole of the mayoral election and may continue well after, but some spectators are looking at recent history as a guide to what to expect. That history includes former UFT president Randi Weingarten’s decision to support the renewal of mayoral control, which many interpret as an act that Mayor Bloomberg will have to repay the union for.
Another contract negotiation indicator is the bargaining pattern the city sets. In this case, the pattern was set in September of 2008 before Lehman Brothers’ collapse, when the city offered Teamsters Local 237 two four percent raises and almost no concessions. Later that year, when the city sat down with D.C. 37, it stuck to the pattern despite the worsening economy. Even before the UFT’s contract negotiations began, the Post reported that the city had set side the same deal — two four percent raises — for the city’s teachers.
“There’s a pattern that the city has established. It doesn’t seem to include major concessions, so that’s another obstacle,” said a former Department of Education official. “I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s a question of how hard the DOE and City Hall want to push.”
The incentive to push is there. Paying the excessed teachers’ salaries over the last four years has cost the city over a hundred million dollars. Though the city instituted a hiring freeze, forcing principals to hire teachers who are already in the system, some school leaders have resisted hiring new teachers in hopes that the freeze will end. In an ultimatum handed down last month, Klein told principals they had until October 30 to hire teachers or the salary money would be taken out of their budgets and used to pay the ATRs.
“I’m sure the mayor is saying, this is an increasing embarrassment,” said Peter Goodman, a long-time UFT member. “Bloomberg wants to get rid of this — it’s become a difficult, annoying issue. It’s become a thorn.”
Yet Goodman and others question whether the mayor has the political willpower to make the ATRs a key part of the contract negotiations.
Klein may be focused on changing the current system, but Bloomberg still has an election to win, said Tom Carroll, president of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.
“It’s the most spectacular alignment of the mayor and chancellor anywhere in the country,” he said. “But it’s not a perfect alignment. Their interests are not perfectly aligned every four years when they enter this silly political season.”
Asked whether Bloomberg considers draining the ATR pool a priority for the contract negotiations, Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, said “We do not negotiate in the media.”