United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Schools Chancellor Harold Levy are feuding over a new labor contract. Weingarten mocks Levy for hiring a Madison Avenue ad agency to conduct a one-year, $8 million campaign to recruit teachers, arguing that unless the city agrees to a 25% across-the-board raise, current teachers will continue to leave in droves.
Levy agrees a big pay increase is needed to respond to teacher shortages, but vows not to sign off unless the city gets major concessions from the UFT on work-rule reforms.
Yet Levy and Weingarten are only one phone conversation away from a deal that would immediately put more experienced teachers in the schools. They should agree to scrap an outdated contract clause that says teachers recruited from other jurisdictions get no more than five years of salary credit, no matter how many years of experience they have.
The clause is a relic from the time when qualified candidates were actually begging for jobs in city schools. Keeping it in the face of a dire teacher shortage is just another example of the system's proclivity for shooting itself in the foot.
The city is practically the only school district in the state that has such a limitation. Suburban districts â€” which compete with the city for teaching talent â€” give their superintendents the discretion to award newly recruited teachers credit for previous years of service. Thus, a prized math teacher from Connecticut with 12 years' experience will likely have all 12 years recognized by suburban districts, as opposed to five years by the city.
The difference between what the city can offer that teacher now and what it would pay her if the restrictive pay clause were removed is about $15,000 annually.
"This whole situation is irrational," says Danny Jaye, chairman of the math department at Stuyvesant High School (attended by my son). "With one bold move, we could begin to recruit math and science teachers from the suburbs, just as they have been doing to us. Plus, I could retain my MVP teacher, who is being wooed by neighboring school districts willing to recognize his 11 years as a university professor in Romania."
To its credit, the UFT has proposed eliminating the five-year cap. In a 1999 meeting with then-Deputy Schools Chancellor Harry Spence, Weingarten pointed out that the clause is an albatross. Spence didn't disagree, but said the issue should be bargained in the next contract. Spence later told me the Board of Education didn't want to give anything to the UFT "without getting something back."
But getting more experienced teachers is not a favor to the UFT. It's a question of improving schools.
And Levy needn't fear that Mayor Giuliani would block him from unilaterally getting rid of the five-year limit. Deputy Mayor Anthony Coles, who oversees education matters, told me recently that, apart from the mayor's position on the amount of any across-the-board raises, "We support paying teachers for the years of experience they actually have."
So make that phone call to the UFT, Chancellor Levy. You'll be doing the kids a favor, while at the same time giving your $8 million recruitment campaign a lot more credibility.