UFT Leader Rips Mayor's 'Foolish' Teacher Attack

Chief Leader - December 08, 2009

by DAVID SIMS

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew Dec. 3 called Mayor Bloomberg "foolish" for making a Washington speech a week earlier that called for drastic reforms to the education system from the State Legislature that would undo key employee protections, saying the union was "ready to go to war" if need be.

Mr. Bloomberg's Nov. 27 speech seemed geared to press all of the union's buttons, taking on the Absent Teacher Reserve, rubber rooms and student test data. Mr. Mulgrew questioned his decision to call for changes requiring Albany approval in a national setting.

'We'll Fight If He Wants'

He also said that the Mayor's treatment of the issues, which could all be bargained with the union in ongoing contract negotiations, was "disrespectful to the Teachers of this city and the members of this union. That's someone who does not respect the collective bargaining process."

In response, he said, the UFT was gearing for battle. "We're going to be taking all the appropriate steps. If he wants to fight with us, then we will fight him," he said, without elaborating.

Noting that the UFT had worked with the city to resolve other critical issues, Mr. Mulgrew said he didn't understand why Mr. Bloomberg was going on the offensive. "I think he's making a serious mistake," he said. "Was it worth a couple of editorials in the Post and the Daily News? You'd have to ask him."

On his weekly radio show, Mr. Bloomberg didn't rise to Mr. Mulgrew's tough language, saying, "There will be plenty of time to discuss the issues. It'll be done civilly." He added that neither he nor Mr. Mulgrew would "negotiate a contract. . . in public."

The Mayor went on to say that the UFT had gotten a good deal from the city during his administration. "We have a record with the UFT of improving the quality of the Teachers, their working conditions. . . we've raised their salaries 43 percent, more than virtually any other part of city government and it was done without. . . yelling and screaming," he said. "We've done the sharing and [now] these are the tough times."

'Fake Reforms'

Mr. Mulgrew previously pushed back against the Mayor's speech in an e-mail to members, blaming the uproar over rubber rooms and the ATR on Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and his "mismanagement" of the Department of Education.

The missive said Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein had "chosen to focus on and promote fake reforms, simplistic

solutions' and sheer fantasy as the answer to our schools' problems" rather than working with the UFT.

"New York City's students deserve a high-quality education. What's more, the students deserve and their parents expect that their Mayor and their Schools Chancellor will use their power to enact real reforms and overcome obstacles to learning," Mr. Mulgrew said in the e-mail. "Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg's recent speech . . . did nothing to help meet these goals."

He called the swelling ranks of the ATR a crisis of the DOE's own making because of its overzealous closing of schools and continued hiring of new Teachers. "We warned the DOE that faulty implementation of the process would leave hundreds or even thousands of Teachers without permanent assignments," he stated. "Our warning went unheeded and our prediction has been proven correct."

The union's proposed solution, he explained, would simply assign displaced Teachers to schools with vacancies, subject to approval by both the Teacher and the Principal. While this had worked in alternative high schools, the DOE rejected its expansion. Mr. Bloomberg's speech called for the firing of excessed Teachers who can't find a job within a year.

'Not Trying to Place ATRs'

Meanwhile, the pool continues to grow, Mr. Mulgrew lamented, because the DOE "has not made substantial efforts to place ATRs; it has refused to schedule school interviews for them; it has also demonized them in the press."

Mr. Bloomberg also slammed the perpetuation of the rubber rooms, where Teachers who have been accused of misconduct often languish for years at full salary while awaiting a decision on their cases. Mr. Mulgrew said that "Teachers now wait in excess of 200 days while allegations undergo an initial investigation-all without any formal charges. There is no reason these investigations can't be completed in 30 to 60 days, at the maximum."

Before the administration of Mr. Klein, educators facing charges could still work for the DOE in office and other non-Teaching positions to help save the city money, Mr. Mulgrew pointed out. "That policy should be reinstated," he said. "The UFT has met with the DOE on numerous occasions to try to make the necessary changes and expedite this process. But the administration has preferred to grandstand on this issue rather than solve it."

He also reiterated the union's position on student data, noting "that tests cover too narrow a field" to be used "as reliable indicator of student success, much less the success of their Teachers."

Instead, "We have been working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a valid, credible and measurable process that would capture the complexities of classroom teaching," Mr. Mulgrew said. "Chancellor Klein was supposed to be our partner in this potentially much more effective approach."