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New York Daily News


Mike & Randi Make a Good Deal; Schoolkids Get a Raw One

June 25, 2009

By Sol Stern

“In every respect, this agreement is a win for everyone,” said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in an end-of-the-day announcement on Monday about the deal the union just concluded with the Bloomberg administration on pension contributions for new teachers. Mayor Bloomberg echoed the win-win rhetoric and welcomed the anticipated reduction in pension costs for the city.

Amid all this celebration, nobody pointed out that the pension deal will probably wind up harming Gotham’s students, starting with their very first day at school.

There’s no doubt that the agreement is a big political victory for the mayor in an election year. So it is, too, for Weingarten, who is now also president of the American Federation of Teachers and increasingly a player on the national stage. (Yesterday, she officially announced she will leave the UFT to work only at the AFT.)

It’s probably part of a wide-ranging deal that began to come into focus last month, when Weingarten reversed her support for legislative changes that would have significantly reduced the mayor’s control of the schools. Now Bloomberg also has the union’s support for some modest pension savings over the next 20 years that will be paid by future teachers, including those transferring into the public system from private and Catholic schools.

In return, Weingarten gets a complete pass for her current members, who will now make no sacrifices to ease the city’s economic and fiscal crisis. Even more remarkably, the teachers are actually getting a shorter work year out of this deal. They no longer have to report to their schools two days before the Labor Day weekend. That means the teachers’ summer vacation this year will be a total of 101/2 weeks - not bad if you can get it, even in a healthy economy.

But contra to Weingarten and the mayor, there is nothing in this agreement for the city’s parents or for children. Those two extra teacher days before the Labor Day weekend were a crucial reform won by the mayor in the 2005 contract negotiations. The two days are widely regarded by principals as essential for getting the school year off to a smooth start. And the two days are even more vital for giving rookie teachers - normally 7,000 new teachers are hired every year - some minimum preparation before entering a classroom for the first time.

Because the city Education Department has already published a 2009-10 school calendar calling for “official school sessions for all students” starting on the day after Labor Day, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein now seems stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either the Education Department changes the school calendar and takes away a day or two of instruction for students, or it sticks to the published calendar and brings in all teachers and all students on Sept. 8.

That’s a prospect that several principals told me they found frightening. In the big comprehensive high schools, new teachers usually need a full day just to find their way around the hallways. In elementary schools, new teachers who have never before had a classroom will be standing before 25 young children within 20 minutes of reporting to work for the very first time. Even in the “bad old days” - before mayoral control - teachers had to come in for at least one day of preparation and planning before students showed up for classes in grades K-8, and two or three days before classes in the high schools.

When I asked the Education Department’s press office on Tuesday morning whether the official school calendar for students still held, I was informed I would get an answer shortly. But I have yet to receive a response (as of press time) - which leads me to believe that the department is scrambling to figure out how to minimize the damage created by this agreement. Indeed, it looks more and more that the deal was negotiated to politically benefit the mayor and the union president - and without much thought for the damaging impact it would likely have on the schools and the children.

Call that a win-win-lose.

Original Source:



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