Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Unions

For twenty years in New York City, cops have gotten a free ride. In that time, we have had two Republican mayors--Giuliani served eight of those years and Bloomberg the last twelve. And for those twenty years, the right leaning PBA has been sitting pretty, while the UFT has been systematically attacked and disenfranchised. Cops are seen as heroes, which teachers are seen as incompetent bunglers who probably aren't qualified to be in the classroom.

How did this happen?

There is no doubt that our respective unions played a role. Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew have had a single strategy--to get a "seat at the table" in order to--unsucessfully--get a say in how teachers are treated. Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, isn't interested in a seat at the table. If he doesn't get what he wants, he upsets the table and throws things into chaos regardless of who he hurts.

The cops loved Giuliani (most of the time). Rudy was seen as a law-and-order guy, and an ardent defender of the cops. He was so ardent, in fact, that he supported the police when they tortured Abner Louima by sodomizing Louima with a nightstick. As in the Eric Garner case, Louima was accused of resisting arrest, so as far as Giuliani was concerned, he got what was coming to him. Guiliani continued his support of the police throughout the Amadou Diallo case, in which Diallo, an unarmed black man, was shot at 41 times and struck with 19 bullets. Although four police officers were charged with second degree murder, they were all acquitted. Giuliani presided over this mess, and empowered police who were so inclined to act with reckless abandon, a tradition that still exists today.

Giuliani claims that he made the streets safer by harassing small time criminals, but the truth is that crime dropped more dramatically under David Dinkins than it ever did under Giuliani, and crime dropped nationwide during his tenure due to factors that had nothing to do with Rudy's policies.

I saw Rudy this morning on TV, boasting that the city needs to return to a mayor (presumably like himself) who knows about security. Does anyone besides me remember that he became mayor immediately after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and was in office when the second attack hit? Or that he decided to place the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in World Trade 7, despite it being an obvious target for a terrorist attack? With mayors like him, we all need flak jackets.

Bloomberg was no better. He continued the "Broken windows" policies of his predecessor. Furthermore, he championed the Stop and Frisk policy that was so incredibly racist and divisive that a court ruled it was "indirect racial profiling". This policy, along with "broken widows" before it, made the police feel that slapping a chokehold on unarmed black men like Eric Garner was not only permissible, but their duty.

For the last twenty years, the police have had a mayor who has had their backs no matter what they did. Is it any wonder that they now revolt because we have a mayor who respects the rights of all people of this city, including the poor and minorities? Is it any wonder the police feel compelled to literally turn their backs on a mayor who dares to speak the obvious truth that young black men need to be wary when stopped by the police, because young black men are shot by police at a rate 21 times that of young white men?

Speaking of which, police officers are paid or offered time off to attend funerals of slain officers, and I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with them publicly turning their backs on de Blasio while technically on the clock. I despised Joel Klein, but had he visited my classroom, I would never have turned my back on him and refused to teach. I would have done my job as a professional. Turning my back on him would have led to charges of insubordination and my removal from the classroom.

Why is it OK for cops to make political statements during funerals? Why on earth would they want to turn the wake of one of their own into a media frenzy? What kind of disrespect does it show to the family of Officer Ramos that his funeral was transformed into a political event?

So, to turn back to the main topic here, how did our union, and teachers generally, fare during the 20 year period that cops had carte blanche in this city?

Not so well. Giuliani began the current trend toward privatization of our schools and supported a voucher system. Bloomberg was even worse, taking control of the schools and destroying community school boards. He instituted, or at least tried to institute, virtually every one of the "reforms" that his rich hedge fund buddies supported, and pushed especially hard to promote charters and remove teachers from classrooms on trumped up charges.

So basically, for the past 20 years, we have had a city which used a blunt force system of government. Let the schools be damned, as long as we are locking up people for minor offenses. Why educate children when you can wait a few years and lock them up?

Now, we have a mayor who has the opposite approach. He wants the police to do their jobs, but nothing more. He wants them to respect the rights of the citizens of this city and not treat people of color like criminals through stop and frisk. One of his first acts as mayor--and one of his major campaign promises--was to offer universal pre-K so that all kids would have an opportunity to succeed in school and we could perhaps slow down the dropout-to-prison pipeline that plagues our poor communities.

What prompted me to write this was a perusal of my own Facebook feed, which is made up, unsurprisingly, mostly of teachers. I can't tell you how many have changed their profile pictures to a thin blue line in support of the police and who are blasting de Blasio. Really, fellow teachers? Is it really that hard for you to stand up for a man who has supported our union and treated teachers with respect? Is it that hard for you stand up for a man who has made educating our children--ALL our children--his number one priority?

After twenty years of Giuliani and Bloomberg, it's easy to see why the PBA is upset. It's not justifiable, but it is understandable.

And after those same twenty years of being beaten down by those same two men, it's hard to see why teachers aren't rallying around our current mayor.

You know what I want to see? I want to see Mulgrew hug de Blasio around the neck in a show of support. Hell, I wouldn't object if he kissed him on the lips.

To be clear, I support unions, including the PBA, But I believe that the police are a necessary evil that we must keep in check in a civilized society, while I see public education as a necessary good that should be embraced by all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Teachers Need Guns

It's time to arm teachers.

But not for the reasons you might think. Allow me to explain.

Here's what has NOT happened in the wake of the Eric Garner case in NYC:
  • Governor Cuomo has NOT made it a major policy issue to break the PBA, which he clearly does not consider a monopoly like the UFT.
  • He has NOT demanded a new evaluation system of any sort that would help weed out the "bad" cops.
  • Eva Moskowitz has NOT called for the opening of a series of "Police Success Academies" to study best practices for police officers.
  • Wendy Kopp has NOT opened a "Kopps for America" boot camp to train tightly selected individuals to patrol the city's most dangerous streets after six weeks of training.
  • Campbell Brown has NOT called the unrest in minority neighborhoods (ignited by incidents like the Garner case and the cop who twice punched a subdued teenaged boy) the "civil rights issue of our time". 
  • Campbell has likewise NOT called for an end to seniority rights nor job protections of police officers, nor has she filed a lawsuit to end those rights.
  • The New York Post has NOT written stories on a daily basis vilifying police officers.
No, all those things were directed at teachers.

Let me make sure I'm not misunderstood here. I believe the vast majority of cops, like the vast majority of teachers, truly want to serve the citizens of NYC and make it a better place. And I believe when a cop or a teacher violates the trust the public places in them, they should be removed from that position of trust after a fair hearing.

Yet despite both being part of powerful unions, teachers and police are treated very differently by politicians and the media. Why is that?

When Michael Mulgrew threatens to punch people in the face if they mess with his Common Core, I don't think anyone quakes in their boots. But when Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, essentially blames the deaths of two police officers on Mayor de Blasio (while ignoring the culpability of Officer Pantaleo), everyone takes notice. Why?

It has to be the guns. Can you envision Campbell Brown telling an auditorium filled with armed police that they are the reason why minorities can't get a fair shake in this city? Me neither. I wonder if she'd have the guts to say it to a room of armed teachers.

So we must lay down the chalk and pick up the Glock. It's time to kick ass and tell kids to spit out their bubblegum.

It's worth a shot.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Out of Sight, Out of Money

There are many things I remember about my beginning days as a teacher. I had no education training, so I was thrown into a classroom of kids without the slightest idea when I was doing. Worse than that, since I was taking over for someone going on sabbatical, the administration of my school decided it would be a great idea to take the worst problem kids in the entire school and dump them on whoever came to fill the vacancy--in this instance, me. By the time I finished my first year, four of my students were in prison, and one had been committed to a mental hospital. And these were eighth graders. How I didn't end up in a mental hospital myself is a mystery.

To top all that off, I wasn't getting paid. I don't know if the situation is better today, but veterans can confirm that it used to take the DOE forever to get people on the payroll. In my case, it took, if I recall correctly, about 3 months for me to get my first paycheck, and longer than that to get the arrears.

I'm sorry to report that things are just as crappy today as they were then. I have been officially retired now for nearly three months, and I have not gotten a pension check yet.

Oh, they warned me this could happen, with a wink and a nod as if they were only covering themselves. I was told that the reality was probably two months, tops, before I got a check as long as everything was in order.

TRS has this wonderful thing they call "advance payments" which they offer people like me to make sure we don't end up licking discarded candy wrappers in the street for nourishment. Even if they can't straighten out your paperwork immediately, they'll send you some money to tide you over.

What they don't tell you is that it takes two months to get an advance payment. And the check I got was for less than a third of what I was owed. And now, another month has passed.

If you want the gruesome numbers, I have received about $2000 of the approximately $12500 I am owed. Supposedly, I will get my first check along with all the back money at some point, but when that will be is anyone's guess.

If you're an in-service member, you got a large check on September 30 that included the retro money for the 1% pay increases over the last two years. As a new retiree, I have not gotten than money, nor has the union provided any clue when retirees will receive theirs.

So far, it seems that if you're a retiree, you're out of sight, out of mind, and pretty much out of money. I've ended my career just the way I started--waiting to get paid.

It's not a crisis for me, luckily. My bills still get paid, and I have plenty of money saved in my TDA (see Chaz's excellent piece on TDA investments, although I advise keeping it all in fixed at 7%, which, IMO, really can't be beat for steady returns and security). But it would be nice, just once, to get what I am owed in a timely way, and it's a bit discouraging to see that things haven't changed much since I started teaching.

And let's not even talk about how we won't be getting our retroactive payments on the new contract in full for another six years.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brown is the New Flack

The buzz is that Michelle Rhee is stepping down from her sullied perch as CEO of StudentsFirst, the radical ed reform group that was supposed to raise a billion dollars to attack teachers' rights, but which failed in that goal by something like 975 million. In a way, this departure is a real surprise. Once individuals like Rhee get a little juice, they are reluctant to give it up.

On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why it's surprising she lasted this long. Her husband, Kevin Johnson, was TWICE accused of molesting a student, has been called a slumlord, and was accused of misusing funds for the St. Hope Academy. Rhee herself admitted that she taped shut the mouths of some of her students. These are offences for which real teachers would be dismissed, especially if Rhee had her way. Her book, Radical, was a bomb (one of my own books on teaching still consistently outsells Rhee's by a large margin, even though her book came out last year and my book in 2006).

Rhee's harsh look and sharp tone was once perceived as no-nonsense, even though it made nails on a chalkboard sound like symphony by comparison. Now, those same qualities are a detriment to her movement, especially as her policies have produced little or no results.

The UFT was quick to hail Rhee's rumored departure as a blessing on Twitter last night. Yet, there's little doubt that the UFT shifted in a reformy direction during Rhee's tenure (pardon my use of the T word). Perhaps they feel that her leaving will take some of the spotlight off the reform movement.

Nevertheless, Nature and ed reformers abhor a vacuum, so there will be someone along shortly to take place of the preeminent media flack, Michelle Rhee. So, who will it be?

As I mentioned, I believe much of the reason for Rhee's departure is that her public persona has grown tiresome to the public. She's harsh and shrill. She generally off-putting. The reform movement needs a kinder, gentler face. So who will be crowned the new flack of the reformers?

Brown is the new flack. Campbell Brown, that is.

She's perfect for the job (this is not a compliment, as Charles Manson was perfectly suited for his job as a psychotic killer). She's attractive, knows how to deal with the media, and she comes off as charming and warm on television. The fact that she knows next to nothing about education is no barrier to entry in the ed deform field; Rhee's abbreviated stint as a teacher placed no obstacles in her path. Brown displayed her political savvy by demanding that "pervert" teachers be fired--a position that virtually no one disagrees with (provided there is actual proof to the allegations)--to catapult her into the media spotlight as a crusader for children and an education pundit. From there, she has become the face of the anti-tenure movement by jumping on the Vergara case bandwagon.

Still, some of you may wonder whether she's truly qualified for the job. For example, can her husband match the creepy credentials of Rhee's spouse, Kevin Johnson? Pssh...don't make me laugh.

Dan Senor, Campbell's husband, is on the board of Students First NY. While he has not, as far as we know, molested any teens, he eats Johnson's lunch on several other counts. He's a wealthy investment banker who regularly rubs elbows with the most filthy rich, filthy reformy characters in America. He has also been described as "the spinmeister responsible for selling the early years of the occupation of Iraq as a rosy time--even as bombs exploded daily and sectarian violence ripped apart the country". He was also called "the face of the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq." What else could you ask for from the presumptive first gentleman of reform?

When Campbell Brown bats her doe-like eyes and coos "It's for the children!", people will listen. Unfortunately, few people will ask how concerned Campbell was for the children of Iraq as bombs exploded around them and her future husband made everything sound peachy keen.

Sadly, I believe Brown is the new flack. Prepare yourselves.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mr. Talk Hangs Up His Chalk

I'm sitting here next to my school briefcase, which had formerly been stuffed with student papers. It is now stuffed with my retirement papers. Yes, gentle readers, after 26 years serving NYC public schools, I have decided to make my exit. I am retiring.

Believe me, it is with a heavy heart that I hang up my chalk. I love my school, I love the kids (in a figurative sense, in case Campbell Brown is reading), and I would love to experience working under a pro-teacher mayor like Bill de Blasio instead of the teacher hater, Michael Bloomberg, for whom I worked for the past 12 years.

My decision was spurred on by a number of factors. First is fatigue, I suppose you could call it. I have taught roughly 3000 students in my career. If I graded just 20 tests/papers/homeworks for each child per year (and I can hear my colleagues chortle at such a low figure), that's 60,000 papers along with millions of corrections. It makes my head hurt thinking about it.

Next is the administrative hassle. No, I don't mean administrators--I actually like mine. (One of my admins knows I write this blog, although I have never admitted it to her. This is my formal admission, MR). The paperwork that comes along with this job now is daunting. Every English teacher out there (yes, English is hit the worst) knows that we have to keep running records, pre/mid/post assessments, portfolios, hold-over folders, and a thousand other slings and arrows. I don't think I can bring myself to do it again.

But the main reason I'm calling it a day is that I want to do other things before I get too old to try them. Some of you may recall that I blogged about my brother's struggle with lung cancer; he recently lost that battle. He was only a year older than me, and his death has made me reconsider my priorities. I have devoted close to three decades to the children of NYC--that is enough. I want to devote some time to me.

Besides teaching and blogging, I am also a published writer (yes, one who gets paid to do it, not vice versa). I have quite a number of books to my credit of various genres, including education, children's fiction and non-fiction, and a number of pieces that have been published in places like The New York Times. While I doubt I'll write any more education books, I'm going to concentrate on fiction and see what happens. Obviously, although I've been successful at writing professionally, I have not been so successful that I could afford to quit teaching. Now it doesn't matter whether I can make a living at it. It's what I want to do.

I started this blog because I was being harassed at my old school and wanted a place to vent. I left that hell hole to come to my new school, where my abilities were appreciated. Despite all the turmoil in my life this past year, I am proud to say I was rated highly effective. From dud to stud. As I learned from Mel Brooks and Seinfeld, it's always best to leave on a high note.

EDIT: Just to make it clear, I am retiring from teaching, not blogging. You'll just have to put up with me a bit longer, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mr. Talk Nails It Again

Yes, the contract has been approved. But the big news is that Mr. Talk once again nailed the numbers.

Technically, the contract passed with 77% of the vote of UFT members. I predicted 75%, which was the exact percentage of teachers who voted yes. School secretaries, paras, and social workers, who are not subject to many of the provisions that regular teachers are, voted almost 85% in favor of the contract, thus skewing my numbers. Well, no one is perfect.

Certainly the contract isn't perfect, either. It opens up ATRs to near immediate firing, bows to the ed reform whims of E4E (with a "career ladder" that is merit pay) and to faux lawyers like Campbell Brown, and it defers money that we are owed so far into the future that inflation will chomp on your checks like Pacman on meth.

The question here is--what's next? I'd be willing to make another prediction--that we could flip flop the voting results and come up with a pretty good estimate of the number of teachers who had to swallow hard to vote yes on this contract. I'd wager that at least 75% of you really hate this contract--either you voted no or you voted yes because you thought this was the best that your union could do.

And if you are in the latter group, you are sadly correct. This contract is probably the best that Mulgrew and Unity could have done. Which is why they need to go.

If you believe in our union, as I do, you should not be satisfied with what Unity has done here. Many teachers will forget the ugly parts of this agreement as soon as that juicy $1000 bribe arrives. Don't be one of them. Remember this the next time you are asked whom you want to head your union. If you vote for Unity and Mulgrew, expect more of the same.

That's a prediction I can make with 100% certainty.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mr. Talk Predicts: 2014 Contract Passes in a Landslide

It's been a while since I've made any predictions on this blog. It used to be my trademark, kind of, until the agenda of the Unity folks became so transparent that just about anyone could predict what they would do next. Still, I pull out the old swami hat on occasion when the need arises, and I think we're there with this proposed contract. People want to know whether this contract will pass.

Mr. Talk predicts: Yes. Yes it will. In fact, it will be a landslide victory (for Mulgrew, but not for teachers). It will be at least 75% in favor.

There are several things that lead me to this conclusion:

Most teachers don't even know what an ATR is. Really. Ask around your school. You'll be amazed at the level of ignorance of educated people regarding what's happening to their peers. While I'm not a chapter leader, many teachers come to me to ask about union matters, because I know more than most actual CLs and people trust me. I remember telling one teacher friend of mine about ATRs. She was surprised that the union could allow this to happen, but she wasn't concerned because she believed it could only happen if you were a lousy teacher. A few months later, she was brought up on absolutely trumped up charges, fined, and told never to darken the doors of our school again. She has been in limbo ever since, despite being quite a good teacher. To sum up, most teachers think like my old friend. If they even know what an ATR is, they believe it can't happen to them. Until it does.

This contract is better than most teachers thought it would be. Since the 2005 contract disaster, most people who understand the union believed that the 2014 contract would cheat us out of the 4 + 4% increases that all other municipal unions got. Even those who know nothing about the union assumed that money was a lost cause. And although I hate to admit it, even the venerable Mrs. Talk thought I was crazy when I said we'd get it for sure. Not to brag about my fortune telling skills, but I predicted before the election of de Blasio that the new mayor would shoot for a long term contract. I thought it would be 7 years, with increases of 4, 4, 0, 0, 1, 2, 2. I wasn't far off. The new mayor had to make such a deal, because there was no way he could break the pattern. That would have meant chaos when dealing with the 150 other unions waiting for their new deal. By giving us the 4 + 4 we were owed and giving us crap for the rest of the years, the city could claim (rightly) that they didn't break the pattern and then impose the new low pattern on the rest of the unions. This is exactly what happened, except it was stretched to 9 years, with 7 years of below inflation raises.

Since expectations were so low, getting the 8% back money, as well as some money going forward, will entice many teachers to vote yes.

There's a bribe included. Just check yes on your ballot, and win $1,000 immediately, just in time to put it towards your summer vacations! In a way, this is the most cynical, despicable part of the contract. It won't be part of our permanent salaries, it likely isn't pensionable, and it's designed to push teachers in straitened circumstances to approve this contract.

The "Back of the Line" Myth. Mulgrew and his minions claim that if this contract is rejected, our union will go to the back of the line and have to wait until all other unions have settled. Many teachers believe this, but it's absurd. First of all, does anyone really believe that de Blasio wants to deal with the PBA or the Firefighter's union before he settles with us? Those are pretty strong unions with binding arbitration. If they set a higher pattern than teachers are getting, it would be a disaster for de Blasio. Secondly, we have experience here. The membership rejected a contract in 1995, and it was settled about 6 months later, if I recall correctly. Finally, even if the myth is true, what of it? You're going to have to wait for the vast majority of your money until 2016, when it will begin trickling in, and you won't get the full amount owed you until 2020. Even if de Blasio foolishly puts us at the end of the line, the line itself doesn't extend until 2020.

You think you might get some of that juicy "totally not merit pay" money. Yes, you're a great teacher. Many of you probably deserve the title of master teacher. But you won't get the job. Not unless you are the favorite of your principal or are willing to brown nose your way to the top.

We'll get murdered in the press as "greedy" teachers if we reject this contract. I hear this one all the time. Whenever someone offers me this argument about how the press will crucify us if we do/don't do something, I have to ask myself--does this person even READ the papers? The NY Daily News and the Post crucify us every day. Both rags recently harped on the "teacher" and the EMT who had been busted for selling heroin. Here's the opening paragraph from the Daily News:

A Fire Department EMT and his gal pal, a city teacher, were busted for peddling heroin and prescription drugs during a police sting operation, officials said.

It sounds as if this "gal pal" was teaching by day and dealing by night, doesn't it? What you don't learn until you dig down to the bottom of the article, is that this woman has not taught in SIX YEARS, and when she did, she taught as a sub for a total of TWO DAYS. But why pass on the opportunity to smear teachers? The NYDN and the Post never do. Are we really afraid that they're going to say bad things about us this late in the game?

We finally lose the 37.5 minutes of small group instruction. Yes, but it's reconfigured as PD. You can bet that these long, long PD sessions will be used to give you new mandates that you'll be told to carry out. You'll be begging for those kids back in short order.

We can't do any better than the current contract. Now, this one I almost believe. Given that the union has had years to formulate a plan and a union friendly mayor to deal with, it's hard to understand how we ended up with this turd of a proposal. I have little faith that Mulgrew could do any better if we sent him back to the negotiating table.

I am one of the few folks who would probably benefit by voting yes for this proposal. I am of retirement age now, and thus assured of a higher pension as well as getting my back pay, eventually. Yet, I'd never vote for a contract that sold some of our members down the river, nor would I vote for a de facto merit pay contract that would pit teacher against teacher.

But 75% of you will. You heard it here first.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

UPDATED: Retirement Disincentive, Part II?


It took some digging, but I finally found  a definitive answer about whether those who retire AFTER June 30, 2014 will receive a pension based on the 4+4 that is not being paid out in full to in service members until 2020:

Pending ratification, the contract provides that members who retire on or before June 30, 2014, will receive payment in full for the retroactive raises in one lump sum. Members who retire on or after July 1, 2014, will be paid the retroactive money on the same schedule as in-service members: beginning Oct. 1, 2015, and ending Oct. 1, 2020. In both cases, the pension calculation at the time of retirement will include the entire 8 percent rate increase arising from 2009 and 2010 and any other pay increases that occurred during a member’s employment.


Something just struck me about the way the proposed UFT contract deals with retirement. I hope I am wrong--if anyone knows, please reply in the comments.

Yesterday, I posted how someone like myself, or anyone else set to retire in the next few years, will have to wait for retro pay as if we were in service, thus creating a disincentive to retire. The more I thought about it, the worse it became. You see, pension is based on your FAS, or Final Average Salary, which is generally the average of your salary for the final three years you worked. Here's what the union's FAQ says about that:

You will receive your full retroactive pay in a lump sum only if you retire on or before June 30, 2014. If you retire after that date, you will receive your retroactive pay on the same schedule as in-service employees. Retroactive raises would be included in the calculation of final average salary.

OK...that's fine if you've already retired. But what if, like me, you're eligible to retire AFTER June 30? What exactly does this line mean: Retroactive raises would be included in the calculation of final average salary.?

So if you retire before June 30 and your FAS is 100K (which is likely, since that's the highest salary), then your retirement benefits will be increased to reflect the retro money, i.e., your FAS will be 108K. This will increase one's pension about 4K a year (50% of the 8K). That's great.

But if you retire AFTER June 30? That part is unclear. Yes, you will receive the retro money over time like everyone else. But how will your pension be calculated? Will your FAS be 100K or 108K?

It's not a small question. That 4K difference would add up to a LOT of money over time. A person enjoying a 25 year retirement would enjoy it a whole lot less, because they would lose 100K over that time period.

So, does anyone know the answer? For those of us who must retire after June 30, will the retro be figured into the FAS? Or will we be screwed out of the money?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Retirement Disincentive

Before the proposed UFT contract came out, there were whispers that may the city would offer retirement credit instead of retro money. This made sense, because the extra credit would allow teachers to retire in droves, saving the city a bundle in salary. So, of course, this is not what happened.

Instead, when the contract was first announced, there were other whispers that anyone who chose to retire before July 1, 2015 would get the retro money in a lump sum payment instead of having to wait 5 years after their retirements. This would have caused people like myself to retire, saving the city money without having to give pension credit. This also made sense, so, of course, this is not what happened, either.

Here is what did happen, according the UFT site:
Those who retire on or before June 30, 2014 will receive full retroactive pay for time worked in a lump sum. Those who retire after June 30, 2014 and employees who have been continuously employed and are in active service as of the date of the payout will receive retroactive pay in five lump-sum payments of roughly 12.5 percent in October 2015, 12.5 percent in October 2017, 25 percent in October 2018, 25 percent in October 2019 and 25 percent in October 2020.

The problem for people like myself is that I was born in the summer, and so I won't have the age to retire for a few months after the deadline. Something tells me that putting in my papers before the deadline won't count, even though I've had my final consultation.

Speaking of which, given the time constraints, how many people will be able to retire in time to grab that lump sum? I'd be willing to bet that all the slots for final consultations were filled long ago, so the only people who will end up retiring this year will be the ones who already intended to. So instead of giving the highest salaried teachers a reason to retire, the city and UFT have actually created a retirement disincentive--we may as well hang around long enough to get the higher final average salary upon which our retirement allowance is based.

What the city and UFT should have done was agree that anyone retiring before 2020 would receive whatever retro they were owed in a lump sum upon retirement. That would give the highest salaried teachers an incentive to leave, thus saving the city money.

I was already ambivalent about retiring this year. The prospect of getting the retro money up front really pushed me towards the door. Now, I'm not so sure.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"No" Problem

The sentiments on the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook regarding the proposed new contract are pretty clear. Most members don't like this contract proposal. I don't either, and the main reason for my disdain is the treatment of ATRs. If unions don't protect their weakest members, what good are they?

To be honest, if not for the ATR proposal, which will lead to the termination of many fine teachers, I would likely vote in favor of this contract. Not because I like it, but I know that voting no presents a problem.

The last, and only, time teachers voted down a contract was in 1995. Being an old timer, I remember when this happened. If you want all the details, you can read Kit Wainer's account on the Ed Notes blog. The tl;dr  of it is simply this: We voted down the contract, and were given another proposal that was only slightly less odious than the one we turned down. It sailed through the second time.

The current proposal faces the same "No" problem. If we vote it down, what will be the outcome? Will we get more money? I doubt it. Maybe the city would agree to move one of the retro payments up a year, or the $1000 signing bribe would become a $1200 signing bribe, but that would be about all we'd get. And the revised contract would sail through, just as it did in 1995.

I'm not advising anyone to vote yes for this proposal. I still intend to vote NO myself. But let's not kid ourselves. Voting down this proposal will not save the ATRs because most teachers don't even know what an ATR is, much less give a damn about saving them. The main concern of most teachers is their own pocketbooks (and in this economic environment, who can blame them?)

So by all means, vote no if that's how you feel, and I hope that is how you feel. But let's not kid ourselves about what the upshot would be. We'd be drawn and quartered in the press, and we'd end up settling for a contract that isn't a whole lot better than the one we're looking at now.

REVISED! Lose Just 9K, Plus Interest, With New Contract!

As I said, I am no math teacher, so I promised to gladly revise my numbers on the new contract if someone could show where I erred. JD2718 did just that, by showing that I neglected to take into account the retro payments the UFT promised for the years 2015-2020. Being a reader of JD's blog, I know he is a math whiz, and I refer my readers to his excellent post on the contract numbers.

Even so, I did show that a teacher at the top of the scale would lose 57K in salary while receiving far less in retro, for a difference of 9K. Even JD has not accounted for the 9K we are losing. I suspect, as a non-math teacher, that it is due to compounding, or voodoo, or possibly tree gnomes.

In any case, the 57K difference that I calculated has real consequences, because had we been given the money on time, we'd have been able to sock much of it away in TDA, which pays 7%, or some other investment which would have earned us more money than we are going to get.

In all likelihood, I'd have spent a fair amount of that money on Girl Scout Cookies, so this contract also hurts another great American institution.

I will delete my prior post, as I don't want to mislead anyone as to the real numbers. I will, however, repost the chart I made before to show where the shortfall comes from. Thanks JD, and if we ever meet, the Girl Scout Thin Mints are on me.

Salary Year
Salary with Frontloading
Salary with Backloading

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mr. Talk Weighs In on the Contract

Now that the new proposed contract has been analyzed (and given the stamp of approval by the New York Post), the REAL question that I'm sure has been burning in your minds bobs to the surface, namely:

What does Mr. Talk think about all this?

I'm glad you asked. Personally, I think it's great for people like me who are on the verge of retirement. We get to walk out the door with a decent increase and we will receive our retroactive payments immediately, unlike the vast majority of teachers who can't retire and will have to wait until 2020 to get all the money that Bloomberg stiffed us on.

I'm still voting no.

I'd vote no for any contract that sells out our members, and this one hangs the ATRs out to dry. There was no reason why ATRs couldn't have simply been sent back to the classroom and evaluated based upon the same criteria as the rest of us. Instead, the UFT decided to make it relatively easy to fire ATRs at the whim of principals who don't want to have a veteran's salary on their payroll.

There's lots more not to like here. The retro pay really isn't retro pay: if you get paid more in future years, that's a raise, not retro. Unless you retire, you will have to work another four years to see all that money. I hate the de facto merit pay and the stealth charter schools that are being created by "relaxing" contract rules (will YOUR school be chosen? Who knows?).

There are a few more things I don't like that I haven't seen discussed much elsewhere. If anyone can enlighten on these points, please do.

  • It seems we will NOT be getting interest on the "retro" money. If that money had gone into our TDAs like it should have back in 2009, we'd be earning 7% on it. Instead, your "retro" money will be LOSING value because it's not earning that interest and inflation will continue to gnaw away at it before you ever see a penny. 
  • While there we some adjustments made to the evaluation system, the burden of proof at a 3020 termination hearing is still on teachers. In other words, if you are found ineffective, you will have to prove, somehow, that you are not or be fired. This should have been addressed in the new contract
  • Artifacts are gone. While I hate that word, artifacts were one of the few ways teachers had of demonstrating that they were effective. While I know that compiling artifacts was a pain in the ass, it at least gave us ONE way to counter bogus evaluations. Now that is gone.
  • Campbell Brown and E4E both got their way in this contract. Brown has apparently succeeded in persuading the DOE that they need to get tougher with teachers who abuse children, even when there is absolutely no proof that any abuse has taken place. E4E got their merit pay. This all proves that if you have big money backing you, you can get the union to bend over.
  • It appears we will all be given a "new curriculum" that we will be forced to teach, even if it stinks on ice (and it will).
The only positive things I've found in the contract are 1. that sabbaticals are apparently still in place, and 2. the 37.5 minutes of faux instruction is history (but I'm reserving judgment on this one until I see what they replace it with and how much paperwork it will involve).

So, weighing the positive against the negative, there's only one thing to do. I don't mean voting "no"--that will make no difference whatsoever as this POS contract will sail through. What you should do is retire.

That's my plan. See you in Florida.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Bills and One Andy

Ever since the snow day that wasn't, I've heard lots of teachers grumbling about Mayor de Blasio. It's as if teachers were just looking for a reason to carry on the mayor bashing that became so fashionable in the Bloomberg years. For the record, I think de Blasio should have closed the schools that day, but he at least made an attempt to make an early call. It was the wrong call, but it was better than waiting until 6 AM like we used to have to do with Bloomberg.

I have been a supporter of de Blasio from the beginning, when he was considered a non-contender for the mayoral race and Mulgrew was trying to make a "king" out of Bill Thompson, the man our fearless union leader failed to support the last time around.

One of de Blasio's problems is that he is an actual progressive, not a liberal in conservative's clothing, like Governor Cuomo. When Bill takes progressive stances, he is killed in the billionaire controlled press. His biggest transgressions so far seem to have been his sneaux pas, and allowing his security people to run a stop sign.

If you only read the Post, you'd think that's all he's done. But in reality, he's championed many of the causes he said he would when he ran, despite the political price:

He stood up to Eva Mosowitz and her program of manifest destiny for charter schools. That was the correct thing to do--the only problem was he was undercut by phony Democrat Cuomo who bravely stood up for Eva and her charter school cronies who have spent freely on politicians who support them. Cuomo would probably have stood up for Hitler given enough Deutsche marks.

He pushed hard for his pre-K plan, and looked to fund it the right way--by tapping the super rich who have benefitted so lavishly from government largesse. Cuomo, of course, undercut him again, because our governor can not stand the idea of his rich pals paying even one more cent to help the downtrodden in NYC. However it turns out, it's clear that without de Blasio's passion for Pre-K, nothing would have gotten done.

He has proposed 200,000 affordable housing units to be built. He has said he would require builders to put aside affordable housing, rather than merely suggesting it, as his predecessors did.

He promised to end stop and frisk profiling that has been a blight on this city for years. He kept that promise the other day by dropping the appeal Bloomberg filed to keep stop and frisk in place. In doing this, de Blasio has gone a long way toward healing the rift between minorities and police.

He is keeping his promise to end horse carriage rides in NYC, an issue near and dear to animal advocates such as myself.

In short, de Blasio, who won an overwhelming majority of the vote while running on a progressive platform, is now being crucified by many for actually carrying out that platform.

I have no idea how our contract will turn out, but I suspect that in the end we will get something close to the 4+4 that we are asking for, along with retroactive pay in some form. That other Bill that the UFT supported--Thompson--was on record as saying the city could not afford such raises. Does anyone think we had a chance of getting them in a Thompson administration? Would that other Bill have carried out the progressive plans that de Blasio has? I doubt it. Do you think Andy Cuomo will come around and support public school teachers the way he supports Eva Moskowitz, who makes FIVE TIMES as much as the most senior teachers without ever having taught a class?

So, if you're a teacher, you should be supporting de Blasio. As a true progressive, he will not look to bust our union the way Bloomberg did, nor undermine us as Cuomo does. For those teachers who have taken to bashing de Blasio, let me ask one question. Who do you think will be a better friend to teachers? The other Bill? Sellout Andy? Joe Lhota?

I understand many of you are still honked off about having to go to work during a snow storm. Get over it. We've got a mayor who supports public schools and looks to end charters. He's union friendly. He's looking to improve education through universal Pre-K.

If teachers don't get behind de Blasio in a big way, you may just have four years of Mayor Moskowitz to look forward to soon.