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The NY Daily News.

The Ideal Teachers’ Deal
April 30, 2002

With the teachers' contract in the final stages of negotiation — money and the mayor's demand for work rule changes are still the big hangups — the Daily News has asked five experts to offer their views on what should be in the final agreement. The opinions cover a range of issues, from pay to seniority, but they share a single focus: improving the quality of education in New York City's public schools.

Rewrite the Seniority Rule


My son's math teacher at Stuyvesant High School last year transferred into the school at age 70. In more than 30 years in the system, he never taught anything more challenging than introductory high school math.

J. Cozzi Perullo, Stuyvesant's principal at the time, tried to convince him that he wasn't up to teaching at the city's premier math and science school. But he insisted on his right under the teachers' union contract to a Stuyvesant vacancy based on his years of seniority.

As the principal feared, the teacher was in way over his head. His classes became a school joke — except that it wasn't funny to his students. Many ended up with gaps in meeting Stuyvesant's tough math standards.

Versions of this story are repeated hundreds of times every year in the city schools. Principals are required to post half their job openings and fill them with a transferring teacher with seniority. The principal doesn't even have the right to interview the incoming teacher. Seniority also governs most in-school assignments.

The contract devalues academic accomplishment and hard work by teachers. Its underlying premise is that protecting teachers' jobs always trumps the rights of children to competent instruction.

If Mayor Bloomberg had been encumbered with such work rules in his media enterprises, he would have been bankrupt instead of a billionaire.

Surely he must understand that there can be no true reform of the city's education enterprise without radically rewriting this fundamentally immoral document.

Stern, a parent of two children who have been in the city
school system, is a contributing editor for City Journal.

Higher Salaries Are a Must


Our kids need a qualified teacher in every classroom. But New York City — which pays 20% to 30% less than its surrounding communities — cannot attract or retain enough certified teachers. That's the crisis that the city and the Board of Education must try to solve with our new contract, which is 18 months overdue.

Numbers tell the story: From 1998 to 2000, nearly 4,000 teachers, underpaid and disrespected, left the system to take jobs in neighboring communities. Scarsdale recently tried to raid the Bronx High School of Science for math teachers, citing its attractive teaching conditions and the fact that teachers there can make $30,000 more a year than teachers here.

Although the city has spent more than $40 million on a recruiting drive, the rate at which new teachers leave is soaring. In the early '90s, about one new teacher in 14 left school during or at the end of his or her first year. Last year, it was nearly one in four.

If city schools are going to provide the education our kids need and deserve, the first step is to make teaching a job people flock to rather than flee. An impartial panel appointed by the state has recommended an across-the-board increase of 15%, including pay for longer days, and with an additional amount for recruiting and retaining new teachers. The state would even help pay for this proposal.

The UFT and the city have agreed to use the panel's report as a basis for a settlement. But actions speak louder than words, and Mayor Bloomberg, whatever his reasons, refuses to close the deal.

Our kids and teachers have waited long enough. If the city cares about education, it has to stop using the teachers as pawns in another political battle and settle the contract now.

Weingarten is president of the United Federation of Teachers.

End Union's Veto Over
Principals' Decisions


The contract must be changed to let school principals make assignments and set policy in their own schools. Currently, almost any important decision a principal makes is subject to approval or veto by the school's union chapter chairman. That is a prescription for paralysis, and it must change.

Good managers will find ways to consult with employees and get consensus for their actions.

Second, we must end a situation in which the neediest youngsters are trapped in classrooms led by the least experienced and least prepared teachers.

The union contract has allowed senior teachers an unfettered right to transfer to more desirable schools. The board facilitates this brain drain from low-income neighborhoods by shifting money to districts and schools to cover the higher cost of veteran teachers. This must change.

The new contract must let the school system's leadership exercise a basic aspect of management — putting resources and talent where they are most needed and where they might do the most good.

Principals, superintendents and chancellors should be judged on performance, but they must have the tools to make changes. The current contract holds those tools hostage.

Domanico is senior education adviser for the Industrial
Areas Foundation, Metro New York.

Pay More for Special Skills


Teachers are paid on the basis of certain fixed standards, including the advanced degrees or graduate credits they hold and the number of years of service they have in the system.

This is a straitjacket that keeps the city from paying enough to attract teachers in shortage subjects such as science, mathematics, foreign languages and special education. It does not reward the best teachers or pay differentials sufficient to staff the most troubled schools with effective instructors.

The union says the pay of all teachers should be raised to the level they deserve before discussing differentiating salaries. But that day never comes. Teachers also say the work of a reading teacher is just as important as the work of a science teacher. But salary is not a measure of someone's intrinsic worth to society. In a market economy, salaries are determined by supply and demand.

Maintaining teachers' illusions on this matter is a luxury the city cannot afford. The cost is ultimately borne by the city's students.

Ballou, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts
in Amherst, specializes in the labor markets for teachers.

Add a Period to Each Teacher's Day


The contract should increase teacher workload by one class period daily. Teachers now work 6.33 hours per day, including a lunch break and prep period — the least of any urban district in the nation. If teachers increase their class periods to six from five a day, 10,000 positions can be eliminated by decreasing the number of so-called coverage teachers who fill in for colleagues during their prep periods.

The Independent Budget Office estimates this could generate $691 million in savings. If the city shared just 30% of this with teachers, the average pay increase would be $3,200.

Second, eliminate paid teachers' sabbaticals. The budget office says $70 million annually is given to 1,600 teachers for this paid time off. Teachers already get long summer vacations, in addition to winter and spring breaks. We need our veteran teachers in the schools.

Let's find other ways of helping teachers get additional training without taking them from the classroom.

Finally, close the worst 1% of schools (about 11) every year and reopen them with new principals who have the power to hire the staff, including assistant principals and all teachers.

Robins is a former deputy schools chancellor
for finance and administration.

©2002 New York Daily News

About Sol Stern: articles, bio, and photo



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