Over the weekend, Eduflack was fortunate enough to break from the mugginess of our nation’s capital to enjoy the mugginess of the capital of the world — New York City. After a busy and tough summer, I was fortunate enough to take in my fourth Mets game at Citi Field, this time preceded by the opportunity to be down on that perfect brown dirt and beautiful green grass, with my Fred Flintstone feet touching the same hallowed ground as my beloved New York Mets (before they all took to the DL this year). I even got to meet David Wright, a great treat (though odd since he is a few years younger than my youngest sister).
These trips to NYC also give me a chance to get a better sense for what is happening in NYC’s public schools. From time to time, I will wade into discussions on the great Joel Klein experiment, and will usually have my head handed to me by a group of irate New Yorkers. Why? I believe that Chancellor Klein has made some real gains in the City That Never Sleeps. Student achievement on the state standardized tests is up. The achievement gap appears to be narrowing. Graduation rates are up. Progress is being made. We may quibble on whether progress has gone far enough and deep enough, but when you are steering a ship of that size and shape, any positive progress should be acknowledged. He’s got that Broad Prize on his mantel for a reason.
For most of the summer, attention in NYC has been centered on the issue of mayoral control. Thanks to the NY State Senate, we actually had a period of a few weeks when Mayor Mike Bloomberg was not actually in control of the schools. Some used that opportunity to call for Klein’s head, trying to use the absence of the King as an excuse for a palace coup in DOE headquarters in Brooklyn. Saner heads prevailed, the Klein team stayed intact, and the good Mayor is back captaining an educational renaissance in New York.
Along the way, we lost sight of the fact that the contract between the NYC Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers is set to expire. The brouhaha over mayoral control forced us to forget that NYC’s public school teachers may soon be working without a contract. And in an urban district like NYC, that is HUGE news. Yet somehow it isn’t getting the HUGE media attention we would expect from similar issues in similar cities.
What was even more surprising, though, was the state of negotiations with the UFT. For the record, Eduflack is not a New York Times reader. When I am in NYC, my newspaper of choice is the New York Post. First and foremost, better Mets coverage. But it also provides a more “diverse” view of what is happening in the cities and the myriad of issues the boroughs are truly grappling with. So I was quite taken by a splashy story on Mayor Bloomberg’s negotiating position with UFT. These are numbers that I honestly can say rarely surface when we talk about the love/hate relationship between management and teachers in NYC.
According to the NY Post, Bloomberg is starting by placing an 8 percent pay increase on the table for all teachers. At a time when police and firefighters are at risk for furloughs and the city is looking to tax the purchase of junk food and the mere appearance of folks from New Jersey to keep the lights on, he is starting by offering a fair raise to teachers in a tough economy. Just by looking at the cards he has been dealt, well before we reveal the flop, Bloomberg is seeking to boost starting salaries in NYC schools to almost $50K a year, with veteran teachers gaining the possibility to max out at $108K by 2011. The full story can be found here.
And then we look a little deeper at the Bloomberg/UFT relationship over the years. Since Bloomberg started hopping the subway down to Gracie Mansion, he will have boosted NYC teacher pay by almost 50 percent if this base 8 percent raise takes place. There are few careers — particularly those in the public sector — that can boost those sorts of increases over the same period.
Of course, the cynics claim that Bloomberg’s starting offer is just the “pro quo” for UFT agreeing to the extension of mayoral control. But even Eduflack isn’t quite that pessimistic. Was the other 40 percent just a downpayment leading to this summer’s showdown in Albany? Or maybe, just maybe, Mayor Bloomberg and his team recognize the important role NYC’s public school teachers play in academic achievement. Better to dance with the ones who brought you national attention and the Broad Prize than to try and start over believing that the “system” and not the “teachers” are the drivers for that classroom performance.
At the end of the day, UFT may end up with more than the 8 percent that Bloomberg is anteing with. A new union president may be looking to make a statement. UFT could end up with a 10 or 11 percent boost when all is said and done. They may even be able to extract some protections from Klein’s continued push to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, at least protecting the checks and benefits for those educators that don’t fit with the chancellor’s long-term plan. And they may even manage to leave their lasting mark on any Race to the Top or Innovation Fund application that would include NYCDOE.
Nearly two decades ago, then WV Gov. Gaston Caperton became known as the “education governor” because he withstood a two-week, statewide strike of his public school teachers, ultimately giving them raises that took them from the bottom of the rankings to the low middles of state teacher pay. So what does that make Bloomberg? If he is serious about essentially boosting NYC teacher pay 50 percent in a 10-year period, “education mayor” does seem to quite do him justice, particularly if the Klein team keeps student achievement on the rise while retaining overall student numbers and getting more of them to earn that high school diploma. The term czar is now vastly overused. Maybe it is time to resurrect that terrific moniker “Little Magician” in NY again. I’m sure Martin Van Buren won’t mind.