Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Why I Support the 2018 UFT Contract

A version of this appears on Diane Ravitch's blog. I may be prejudiced because I was part of the contract committee. I was intent of winning fewer observations, and I was on the evaluation committee, at least for a little while. 

As far as that goes, I was pretty happy with what we worked  out.

I have opposed several UFT contracts. The 2005 contract created the Absent Teacher Reserve, which dropped many of my brothers and sisters into a limbo from which there frequently seems no escape. The last one made us wait until 2020 to get money FDNY and NYPD had back in 2010. Our new tentative contract is not perfect, but also has some significant gains.

On the Contract Committee, we sat as big shots from the DOE told us they were not remotely interested in improving class sizes for NYC’s 1.1 million schoolchildren. I told them what it was like to teach a class of 50 plus. I told them when teachers had oversized classes, their remedy was often to give us one day off from tutoring. Where we needed help, though, was right there in the classroom. I told them the best we could do was use that period to seek therapy to deal with our 50 kids. Via new streamlined processes, this contract should at least shorten the time kids and teachers spend in oversized classes. A similar process has proven very effective with excessive paperwork.

A significant win for teachers is fewer observations. Members have been complaining to me about the frequency of observations ever since the new law came into effect. We all feel the Sword of Damocles hanging above our heads. I don’t really know why I do, because I’m fortunate enough to have a supervisor who’s Not Insane. I think, though, if we want to maintain her ability to stay Not Insane, we have to stop making her write up 200 observations a year.

Of course, this will not resolve the issue of crazy supervisors, something city teachers have been grappling with for decades. While the city plans to institute a screening process for teachers (and we’ll see what that entails) future negotiations need to focus on the issue of self-serving, self-important, foaming-at-the-mouth leaders, likely as not brainwashed by Joel Klein’s toxic Leadership Academy. This contract, at least, will create more work for supervisors who use their positions to exercise personal vendettas.

People who can’t hack teaching don’t want to be responsible for 34 kids at a time. They rise up and become the worst supervisors. They may be lazy, and they may be angry that they have to actually do observations these days rather than simply declaring teachers unsatisfactory. In fact, one principal got caught falsifying observations so as to avoid the effort altogether. Supervisors like that will now have to do additional observations if they rate teachers poorly. They may now think twice now that it can cut into their Me Time. Also, we’ve got new language to deal with supervisory retaliation.

Our new agreement gives long needed due process to paraprofessionals. I’ve seen three paraprofessionals summarily suspended by principals. One of them was able to recoup lost pay via a grievance I helped her file. Another said goodbye to me, and ten days later had a stroke. I received a call in my classroom saying one of her relatives needed to know whether or not to place her in an ambulance, since her health insurance had been discontinued. I was at a rare loss for words. The secretary on the other end of the phone wasn’t, and told the relative yes, of course, put her in the ambulance, The paraprofessional died later that day.

To me, it’s remarkable that paraprofessionals, who spend all day helping the neediest of our students, are not considered pedagogues and therefore ineligible to win tenure. Our new agreement will grant them due process rights they sorely need. No longer will principals be able to suspend them without pay indefinitely based on allegations. There will be rules for when they can be suspended, there will be time limits, and there will be a process, rather than, “Hey you, get lost, and don’t come back until I feel like having you back.” Paraprofessionals deserve more than what we’ve won for them, but this, at long last, is a start.

I’ve read arguments that we should strike, like we’ve seen in red states. We are very different from teachers in red states, who’ve been under “right to work” forever, and for whom collective bargaining may be prohibited. We aren’t making 30K a year and getting food stamps to make ends meet. We haven’t gone a decade without a raise. We aren’t paying an extra 5K more each year for health insurance. In fact, unlike much NY State, we aren’t paying health premiums at all. With our last two contracts, and with no health premiums, our pay is approaching that of some Long Island districts (without the doctorate some of them need), something I’ve not seen in my three plus decades as a teacher.

I’ve read a lot of critiques about the money. We extended our contract last year to enable parental leave for UFT members. The same critics who complained about how that diluted raises from the last contract are now attaching it to this one, making it look like the contract begins months before it actually does. That’s disingenuous. (Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of money, and I’d like to have more. I’m writing this on a MacBook that’s partially held together with Scotch Tape.)

Some people are saying the raises don't keep up with inflation. This may or may not be true, depending on which index you use. I know very well, though, that we are getting the pattern established by DC37. I also know exactly how we beat the pattern, which we did in 2005. We do that via givebacks. I’ve already mentioned the ATR. 2005 also brought us extended time. We could agree to more extra time, higher class sizes, or more extra classes, and the city would probably pay us for that. I can assure you that every person I know who opposes this contract would be up in arms about them, as would I. Right now we can’t afford to give back anything.

Concessions about the ATR were the worst thing about the 2014 contract. Thankfully, they expired and were not renewed. The second worst thing, as I recall, was having to wait ten years for money we’d earned. We could’ve had an on-time contract if only leadership agreed to sell out the ATR. UFT hung tough and refused. I don’t like waiting for money, but agreeing to allow ATR members to lose their jobs after a certain amount of time would’ve been a disaster. Any crazy principal could target any activist teacher, and we could’ve been fired at will.

I’d very much have liked to see class size reduced. I’d still like to see class size reduced, and I will work toward that. I also have no idea why we support mayoral control. (I don’t even know why de Blasio wants it, now that the state has hobbled his ability to stop Eva, forcing him to pay her rent.)

Nonetheless, this contract represents significant improvements for us. Chapter leaders, all of whom are sick of the grueling grievance procedure, will now have alternate means to quickly resolve issues involving class size, safety, curriculum, PD, supplies, and workload. Those of us who represented high schools on the UFT Executive Board pushed for fewer observations as per state law, and we were able to work with leadership to achieve it. Those of us on the UFT Contract Committee agreed that we wanted to improve the lot of 30,000 paraprofessionals, and we were able to move in that direction.

I support this contract, and I will encourage my colleagues to do so as well. This is the best contract we’ve seen in decades. It will pass by an overwhelming margin.
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